They are not the same
James Hogan – a designer and glass painter who worked on many windows in Liverpool Cathedral – made this observation:
Stained glass painting has no relation whatsoever to picture painting.
It is an art of its own, dealing with the transmission of light through coloured material, whilst painting is the application of a coloured pigment on a flat surface upon which light is reflected.
A neat, analytical distinction, this.
As you would expect, it risks disqualifying substantial quantities of painting on glass.
But never mind that for now. I am sure that the ladies on my left will set dear Hogan straight.
And also never mind Hogan’s assumption that stained glass painting is an art. Ah, “art” is such a slippery word – especially in these post-modern times of ours.
Instead, join me on a journey to the Dark Side.
This way, please.
Venture to the Dark Side
Now, since you are reading this by virtue of your personal interest in stained glass painting, here is an important exercise for you to try.
The very next time you paint stained glass, focus your mind on Hogan’s words.
Focus on how you use using paint to modify the transmission of light as it passes through the glass to reach your eyes.
So, as you apply the paint, observe how you are blocking light by painting shadows.
Feel what it is like to reject the distracting proposal that the stained glass painter is someone who “paints with light”.
Instead, and more usefully, experience what it is to see yourself as someone who paints with darkness, as someone who creates the impression of form by laying down shadows in between the light.
Yes, “painting with darkness” is an admirably down-to-earth description which can concentrate our minds on the actual task in hand, and – this is the important thing – thereby help us do it better.
My learned colleague, Dr. Byrne, has just badgered me with a quote from Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations:
“A picture held us captive, and we could not get outside it.”
Section 115, says the good Doctor. But should I trust an Oxford man? As I recall, Oxford didn’t behave awfully well during the English Civil War, although I grudgingly suppose this did do something to preserve our stained glass heritage from vicious looting.
Well, the considered advice from both of us to you, our fellow glass painters, is that you must escape captivity from this experientially misleading picture that, when you paint stained glass, you “paint with light”.
“Paint with light” you do not. You paint with darkness.
And what is more, you’ll find this is a really useful way of feeling and thinking about the process of painting on glass. (In this connection, glass painting is rather like drawing with charcoal.)
And, to return to Hogan’s observation, it is your painted darkness which modifies the light that is transmitted through the glass.
Go on, then: go paint with darkness. (Just maybe find some other way of describing it when you talk with clients. You don’t want them reaching for the panic button …)
P.S. Please do read the comments and also add your own – we want to know what you think.
P.P.S And I’ve just seen that Stephen has logged on with a post plus a glass painting video which make the point nicely. Watch the video right here.