Artist allows ‘glass magic’ to take over her creations

kayoneil3By Jennifer Pund
Inspired by nature, artist Kay O’Neil’s commitment to detail, creative use of color and personal integrity to her craft is what gives her stained glass creations that “O’Neil Appeal.” Using a slew of talents—from drawing to an eye for color—she transforms each unique hand-drawn sketch into dynamic works of stained glass art. For over 25 years, she has worked with many clients, from large business to personal pieces, working together to produce the perfect artwork for each setting.

O’Neil draws inspiration from plants, animals and flowers that exist free in nature. “I go to nature and see what strikes me as a subject to work with, and I always find something,” she said. “If Andrew Wyeth can paint an entire painting of a blade of grass, it doesn’t matter what your subject is, it’s what you do with it that’s important. To me, what is also important for an artist, is to interpret [their] surroundings and put it on canvas, or, in my line of work, make them in glass.”

kayoneil2She learned to work with stained glass from a friend in the 1980s and fell in love with the process. She says she enjoys researching images and drawing meticulous pencil drawings to capture the detail. “I like to combine in my works of art, intense areas of detail contrasted with areas that are minimal and free that allow the viewer to carry on the reality in their own minds. That way people participate in my work, just by observing and enjoying my work,” she said. “Glass allows me to have access to all of those processes.”

The research is easy, according to the artist, but doing the pencil sketching and “pulling off the final design” is the hardest part. “I can do some remarkably life-like pencil work to make images come to life on paper, but that is time consuming and tedious work,” she said. “In my way of thinking, if an artist is only concerned about doing meticulous detail work to make thinks look “real,” why not just take a picture? But if I interpret what I see, then I add my influence and perspective, it might help other people enjoy nature just a little longer.”

Once the hand sketching is done, she can then loosen up the pencil work to turn into designs by “letting the glass magic take over” and interpret the two-dimensional pencil drawing into a stained glass design.  “Once I have a strong design for glass, then I start looking for just the right glass piece to match the colors I need and make the subject look as convincing as possible,” she said.

kayoneil1The process continues by creating the physical shapes with the use of different pieces of glass in sections to produce the overall image. “I use thick and thin lines to emphasize certain areas to show intense detail.  I also use my creative eye for color to bring in elements of fun, wonder and joy,” she said. “I have heard many people say that my choice of bold colors and craftsmanship in the design process and in the execution of my work show a unique understanding of art.”

O’Neil loves the way nature continues to change her completed pieces. “What I find so  fascinating about glasswork is the finished product never looks the same from day to day. The sun shining through a window allows Mother Nature to participate in how the window will look today, or at different times of the day,” she said. “Colored glass in the sunlight, well, it doesn’t get any better than that.”

Teaching others the magic of glasswork is rewarding for O’Neil as well as the student. “Adults need creativity, it’s the food that feeds the Universe, it is life itself,” she said. “We all need instruction and most of all encouragement, that’s what I provide in my lessons. I keep it easy, casual, and fun.”

She says learning the process is important, then students can explore and get into some fun projects. “It’s a thrill for me to see the light bulb snap on when a student ‘gets it’ and realized that they can do this and have fun being creative,” she said. “My students go out to do more things and have the confidence to know they can be creative and make things.”

Originally from Missouri, O’Neil moved to Colorado after a quick trip to Boulder left her with a vow to move to the area as soon as she could. It was just a year after that O’Neil began to call Colorado home. “I had wanted to leave Missouri for a long time as I didn’t really like the Bible Belt, the humidity and the bugs.”

While in Missouri, she built a steady reputation for creative, good work which led her to do some custom work for Bass Pro based out of Springfield, where her shop was once located. “I ended up doing a lot of glasswork for Bass Pro and Big Cedar Lodge in the Ozarks.

“Not only is the stained glass amazing in itself, but the color and the layout Kay created works in harmony with the interior of the Big Cedar Lodge Museum,” Big Cedar Lodge executives said.

O’Neil loves to do custom pieces and finds meeting the clients in person leads to a better end product. “I’d rather [people] come to my shop and we can jam on ideas for their project and come up with something fun to make,” she said. “Plus designing with a person in mind makes the art and glass work personal and fun for them and me. I like to give each job the attention to detail that it deserves. That doesn’t always pay the bills because I always do more work than some people can pay for, but my reputation demands it and I always want to be proud of the art I produce. It’s important for me to use the talent that I was given, to create art especially art concerning nature, and then get the art to people who can appreciate it.”

To learn more about  O’Neil and Rocky Mountain Art, call 202-717-5794 or check out her website at or find her on Facebook. To talk about a custom order or sign up for classes, call 303-258-7465.

Originally published in the December 2015 issue of the MMAC Monthly

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