Canton artist brings stained glass paintings to HVCA in Highland

By Stephanie Sokol for The Oakland Press

J. Susan Aitken loves the look of stained glass. But instead of working in that medium, she captures its likeness through her paintings.

Stained glass became her subject after a trip with her children years ago to Italy and France, where she was captivated by the beautifully ornate windows. She describes the experience as “unforgettable.”

Aitken’s paintings will be featured at Huron Valley Center for the Arts in her exhibition, “Synthesis of Color & Light: A stained glass effect,” through March 1. Works being shown are a collection showcasing all of her work in the stained glass genre.

“Why paint in the style of stained glass is really a good question — especially since those who originally created stained glass for cathedrals were actually attempting to achieve painterly effects using the beauty of glass,” Aitken says. “I appreciate the irony. It was not a single “ah-ha” moment, but rather a few things through which the idea materialized.”

Working on an easel at her Canton home studio, the former art teacher, who also has experience with book illustration, creates a bright 3-dimensional feeling.

One challenge of using stained glass as her subject is figuring out how to manifest the illusion of reflection. Aitken achieves the feeling of light and luminosity by combining varieties of a single color and lightly brushing over them with a dry brush.

She also sometimes adds lighter values in a single color, to make it “appear as if light might be coming through,” a process she says is similar to that of stained glass art itself.

Aitken glass Ocean Blues
J. Susan Aitken’s stained glass-effect paintings, including “Ocean Blues,” is on display at the Huron Valley Council for the Arts in Highland Township. (Courtesy HVCA)

“Instead of the reflective light of glass, there is a constant luminescent quality created through painting technique which is not dependent on outside light,” Aitken says.

She has many pieces she “created for the sake of color, pattern and geometry,” including “Trinity Design,” “Geometric Blues” and “Crimson Pop.” Others explore nature, storytelling and symbolism, including images of statues, flowers and gargoyles. While some are inspired by actual stained glass she’s seen in real life, including windows from Detroit churches, most come from Aitken’s own imagination.

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