Some artists choose to work exclusively with watercolors. Others prefer oils or charcoal. Still others work with fabrics.
For Meltem Tunar of Arlington Heights, her medium of choice is glass.
And in homes and churches all over Illinois and Wisconsin, Tunar is making her mark by transforming clear glass windows into works of art.
"You can change the whole appearance of a home by adding stained glass accent windows," Tunar explained, "so I do a lot of work with interior designers."
In homes, she has done a range of work, from windows to entry doors with sidelights and transoms, interior library doors, kitchen or bathroom cabinet doors and even stained glass domes and etched shower doors. Tunar is also able to rework existing stained glass pieces, cleaning them and replacing broken pieces with fresh glass.
Of course, her work in churches mainly involves large windows and doors.
She has a contractor who handles the installation once a piece is complete.
"Each piece is very original and very creative and I love that," the mother of one teenage daughter said.
"I work for a big cross-section of people," Tunar explained. "They all have big homes and they don't want to buy windows from retail stores because they want their homes to be unique and rich-looking, and to make them feel comfortable and at home."
The Turkish-born artist works out of a studio in her Arlington Heights garage, but the pieces she produces look more like they have been pulled from the great edifices of the world.
Depending upon the complexity of the job and her workload, the completion of a window takes three to six weeks after the design phase, she said.
"Decorative glass options include traditional leaded, stained glass, beveled, sand etched and sand carved, textured, overlay and hand painted," Tunar's Web site, meltemtunarstainedglass.com, explains. "Infinite styles are available including contemporary, Tiffany, religious themes, medieval, Prairie and Victorian."
Tunar has an entire catalog of glass colors, textures and looks from which to choose. She asks her clients to work with her as they choose each and every color that will go into a custom piece of glass.
Some of the glass is iridescent. Some is opaque. Some have swirls of color running through them and others are heavily textured. There are many choices to be made, she said.
Tunar and her clients can also choose to make leaded glass windows clear with no color at all, but with lots of bevels and texturing to make them impossible to see through. Or they can save money by applying color to clear windows with film overlays that are cut into pieces to replicate the look of stained glass.
Sometimes she even chooses to mix several types of glass and types of techniques in one window. For example in a recent window she created, the design in a woman's dress was painted and then fused onto the glass by an artist Tunar hired. She then incorporated that piece of painted glass into the overall design. That stained glass window also included clear beveled glass pieces in its border and some beveled glass "jewels" of various sizes that were dropped in as accent pieces. Etched and carved glass can also be mixed with standard stained glass for maximum variety.
"Meltem has been doing very intricate designs all of her life. I have seen things that she drew as a child in Turkey. She has a tremendous artistic talent and that is a real gift for her," said her husband, Jack Muckerheide. "When she meets with a client she has the ability to quickly sketch out her interpretation of what they want and they can work from there."
The cost of Tunar's work can vary greatly depending upon the materials, time involved and size of the piece. In general, she said, a 2-by-5-foot window costs about $1,900. Installation would be an extra charge.
A graduate of the Marmara University Fine Arts School in Istanbul, Tunar worked in a graphic arts studio in Turkey for three years before immigrating to the United States 17 years ago. She then did the same type of work for several years when she first came here.
However, Tunar didn't enjoy all of the computer work involved and she longed to enjoy touching her work and getting close to the colors. So she took a job with the now-defunct Alexander Studios in Arlington Heights, a stained glass company, and that is where she learned to produce the art that she remembered admiring in her home country's many old Ottoman buildings.
Her many experiences in art and her natural ability meant that she only needed to learn the intricacies of working with glass. It wasn't long before she was doing side jobs and had set up a small studio at home.
She learned the importance of concentration, maintaining a constant pressure and speed and not stopping and starting during a cut, which is executed with a special knife.
"You only have one chance to make that cut, so people can't be talking to you while you are working," Tunar said.
She works on top of a scale drawing of the window she is creating and makes the cuts by looking through the glass to follow the lines beneath. If the glass is difficult to see through, Tunar puts a light board underneath the scale drawing to enhance it. If the glass is impossible to see through, she cuts an exact template of the piece she needs, places it on top of the glass sheet and cuts around the paper template.
The lead pieces which connect the individual pieces of glass are very bendable and can be shaped with the fingers. But larger windows need to be reinforced in places with much stiffer zinc rods. And while Tunar generally installs her exterior windows with a pane of clear insulated glass on either side for energy efficiency and safety, sometime homeowners choose to have the stained glass alone. Then she needs to add a special cement to the lead pieces for added strength.
Tunar is gradually building her Meltem Tunar Stained Glass business, now that Alexander Studios has gone out of business. She completed all of the formalities with the state early this year and has begun marketing herself beyond the customers who knew her work through friends and her work at Alexander.
"I don't have a showroom yet and I work from my home," Tunar admitted. "I think that I will keep my studio at home because I like being able to work at all hours. But I will probably get a showroom eventually. Right now I just go to customers' homes and show them my portfolio. And I recently had a Web site done.
"My eventual dream is to bring to the United States some of the Ottoman style historic stained glass that I grew up with," she said. "There is a huge difference between the stained glass that you see in Europe and the stained glass that you see in Turkey.
"Ottoman windows are more geometric and since they were made for Muslims, there are no human images," Tunar continued. "Turkish windows, just like the Turkish Iznik pottery, use lots of florals and geometric borders and the dominant colors are blue, green and red. Some animals, like the ibis bird, are also seen, but not people."
Meltem Tunar can be reached at (847) 577-7879.