Northern Grace

monochrome study of st hilda of whitby on fabriano paper

St Hilda of Whitby

St Hilda had been left to one side as a drawing on stretched paper (fabriano artistico 300gsm hot pressed) for the past two years.  I chose to paint St Hilda because she is a local saint to me. When I was a youngster, Mum and Dad used to take us to Whitby on family trips and as a teenager, I worked in York Minster, close to where she was baptised, so she has always been there in the background.

The drawing was in preparation for my painted panel icon which I last wrote about here, but had always intended to paint it. Today was the day.

Here’s the drawing in full – I’ve darkened the photo so you can see my construction and correction lines. After erasing lines that might be distracting, I began painting using a blend of pigments which I know are really warm and earthy.

2 Hilda first washes of colour

Building up the tones

There are some pigment combinations which are lovely to work with – one of which is French Ochre Sahara and French Ochre Havanna. Pigments look quite soft on water colour paper.

3 Pigments ochre sahara

Mixing pigments

Mixing up pigments is best done separately (unlike how I’ve shown!) then add small quantities of the stronger colour to the weaker colour. A very strong pigment, such as English Red Ochre, would overwhelm any other pigment and has to be used sparingly when mixing.

When all the painting was done, I gilded the halo.

St Hilda work in prog Cruwys

Gilding paper is a breeze compared with water or oil gilding an icon boards!  I used Roberson’s acrylic gold size which works well with transfer gold . The size is painted on in two layers, thinned down with a few drops of water. The first layer seals the paper. (Tip: If you rub some washing up liquid into the brush before you use the size, it’s easier to wash out after and protects the brush).  I add a touch of red ochre to show where I’ve painted and to give some background to the gold.

5 applying gold size to halo

Applying gold size to the halo

It’s been good to reflect on the life of this strong northern saint, patron of learning and culture especially in these post-Brexit days. St Hilda lived through dangerous and difficult times – her father was murdered when she was a child. Baptised in 627AD, close to the place where York Minster now stands, she grew up as a noble woman but later became the founding abbess of a monastery in Whitby. More pertinently, as a Celtic Christian, she chose to graciously accept a vote at the Synod of Whitby which didn’t go the way she had wished. Quoting from this last link:

     ‘In Northumbria, along with the politics of the time, there were two strains of Catholic Christianity, and they could not be reconciled: Celtic and Roman. Celtic Christianity, which emanated from Ireland, was less structured than the Roman variety. The Celts were independent, wandering from place to place all over Europe, where they would establish centers of learning and teach. Celtic Christianity relied on monasteries and abbeys where the abbot was supreme rather than the cathedral and bishop system the Romans followed. The Romans viewed the Celtic brand of Christianity as “rural.”’

6 st Hilda monochrome gilded Cruwys.jpg

Completed study on paper

If you would like to read a little more about St Hilda, there is a good write-up about her life by the Order of the Holy Paraclete here.

We still live in troubled times and it helps to connect with the saints. Hilda was considered so wise that kings and princes sought her advice. The Venerable Bede describes her:

“All who knew her called her mother because of her outstanding devotion and grace”.

Thanks for reading,

Ronnie

Shell Gold Shine

agate burnisher on shell gold

Burnishing shell gold

The finishing touches to this icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary (based on an icon in St Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai) has taken me almost as long as it took to paint!

This was the stage I left it at two years ago.

1 edit blessed virgin mary

Still to finish: Halo, gold assist on robe, stars, lettering, warm highlights on face, paint sides red.

This is one of the first icons that I painted with Aidan. We worked on the mandilion in class and painted our second portrait format icon at home which I wrote about here. I chose the two prototypes from an iconostasis in St Catherine’s monastery, Sinai, here is the prototype.

As the two icons will be displayed as a pair, I worked on them together but I hadn’t appreciated the amount of work that goes into the last stages.

Virgin and Christ icons cruwys

My first two diploma icons – unfinished

The halo takes a bit of practice. I used a compass with an ink attachment (like this example) and load the nib up with shellac and red ochre pigment. Do some sample lines until you get the right thickness to draw a line without blobbing – I haven’t mastered it yet so don’t want to lead you astray showing my technique. However, it helps to have the circle drawn to the right size on tracing paper to help locate the centre point. I used thick card to protect the surface of the icon from the compass point, though a wooden ruler with felt beneath would be better.

scribing halo

Setting up to scribe the halo

I wanted to learn how to make shell gold for the assist. It’s gold leaf ground down and washed so thoroughly that it becomes liquid gold when mixed with gum arabic. It can be applied finely with a brush and burnished to a high shine. I had tried to make it following instructions from my fellow students and various websites, but couldn’t get it to stick or to shine so I booked onto Anita Chowdry’s two day workshop in June.

liquid 24ct gold

Two books of 24 ct gold leaf being ground up by hand with honey

I had no idea just how much grinding, washing and filtering is required to get the rich shine but here’s a link to an example of one of Anita’s shell gold workshops. Anita will be writing a book about the technique so I suggest you sign up to her newsletter to learn more.

Applying shell gold

Painting shell gold assist on the Blessed Virgin’s head dress.

The icon is now away being photographed.

Sorry about the delay between posts. It’s pretty hectic getting things together for the exhibition. I intend to continue this blog after the diploma finishes as there is much I have still to share.

Thanks for reading,

Ronnie

 

 

 

 

Face lifts and highlights

banner mandilion

It’s now feeling uncomfortably close to the end of this course – and I haven’t finished one of my set icon pieces!  So, for the last few days I have knuckled down and revisited my first project, the Mandilion. It’s been untouched now for two years and looking back I’ve learned a bit but there is much more still to practice.

Before we go on, if you’d like to see the earlier stages of this mandilion project, you can look back here and a bit later here.

I deliberately stopped working on the mandilion as I wanted to get a bit more experience under my belt before I finished it. I’m glad I did as looking at it afresh, I could see quite a few things that need attention.

Before I set to work, I had a good look again at the prototype that I’m working from:

icon of Sinai Christ Pantocrator

Christ from the Grand Deeisis, St Catherine’s monastery, Sinai

mandilion  before editing.jpg

My version of the mandilion from two years ago.

Here’s the list of the main things to work on:

  1. Halo too bright. Vibrant lapis lazuli competes too much with the face.
  2. Left side is the ‘nearer’ side yet the righ eye is much bigger. Rebalance eyes and brow.
  3. Hair is a bit dull and lifeless.
  4. Facial tones lacks warmth.
  5. Strengthen eyebrows and shadows.
1 Rub out halo on mandilion.jpg

Scrubbing off the bright blue

Since it’s such a long time since I’ve worked on the icon, I started by applying a couple  of glaze coats over the entire face and hair to provide a key between old and new. When these had dried I then applied two thin glazes of French Ochre Havanna over the face (but not hair/eyes). Whilst it was drying, I made a start removing the bright blue halo and the unsightly black lines – what was I thinking?! I still wanted a blue halo but not as vivid, so I used a flat headed brush to soak the paint and scrub most of it off. The black lines had set quite hard though and I ended up carefully scraping them off with the tip of a blade.

3 halo and hair mandilion.jpg

Underpainting the halo and adding shading to the hair parting

I had seen a graded blue halo on a contemporary mandilion which I thought would work, and began by underpainting the bands of blue using lapis lazuli dark, titanium white and a touch of ivory black .

4 fine coat of white.jpg

When the paint is dry, I applied a weak egg glaze, then added a fine mist coat of white.

At first, the fine coat of white seems to cloak the colour too much but if it is applied as a thin layer, it soon dries much lighter and transulcent. It took three or four mist coats before the blues blended and softened.

While the paint was drying, I made a start on modelling the hair. I applied ivory black in thin layers to the parting and to the sides of the head to strengthen the form, paying attention to the ‘waves’ and the ‘ripples’.

5 modelling hair 2.jpg

To add a little warmth to the hair, I added a thin layer of English Red Ochre either side of some of the ripples towards the front.

Now for the eye surgery. The eye on the right was much too big, especially as it is on the receding side. I applied a thin layer of white over the upper eye lid and it looked green! I reduced the right hand side of the iris and lowered the shadow between lid and brow. When all dry, I then applied French ochre havanah over the eye flesh to help harmonise the colours.

eye op 1.jpg

Eye surgery – lowering the upper lid and lifting the lower lid

Then, on the pic below, you can see where I added the new line of the upper eye lid. I may revisit this eye, but it’s step in the right direction.

 

 

red and green

Red shadow under hair on near side to help it advance, green to the right

Warm colours advance and cool colours recede and you can often find faces with a wash of red somewhere on the near side and cool green on the far side.  On this icon, the left side of the face is the nearest, so I used a thin wash of red ochre under the hair line to add a warm shadow and a light green (cool)  on the right to help this side recede.

eye surgery 2

I added a little more cinnabar to the lips, corners of eyes, nose and ears (after this photo was taken) and will let it settle overnight.

Thanks for reading.

Ronnie

 

 

 

Armenian Nativity on Vellum

1 banner armenian nativity Cruwys

Armenian Nativity on Vellum

Every now and then, I come across a manuscript or icon that captivates me. This is one of those pieces. The original can be seen here attributed to Toros Roslin, the 13th century Armenian illuminator.

Although I’m currently working on a large nativity icon for the diploma (which we have to compose ourselves rather than copy)  I side-tracked to paint this particular nativity scene on vellum as Aidan has encouraged us to study other icons to really get into the essence of the feast we have chosen.

Some 12 years ago, I went to Patricia Lovett’s Traditional Skills and Gilding course, which she ran over four days. I learnt how to stretch vellum and to prepare it for painting and gilding and she ignited an enthusiasm for this art which helped direct me towards embarking on the icon diploma. I had a piece of goatskin vellum from William Cowley already stretched on to a plywood board ready for painting so I set straight to work transferring the cartoon on to the vellum in the same way as I would for an icon, by rubbing red pigment in to the back of the cartoon paper, then setting the pigment with a watery red ochre line.

Red drawing outlines on to vellum

Transfer the cartoon on to the vellum

Next step was to lay the gesso for gilding. When we were on Patricia’s gilding course, she advised us to make detailed notes on the method. For anyone who would like to learn more, my notes from one of the gilding days are here and I would also recommend Patricia’s books and dvd’s on gilding available through her website. The ‘Gilding gesso on vellum’ notes can be downloaded as a pdf here.

First washes of Caput Mortum on vellum

Caput mortum used for the earth and shepherd figure

gesso on vellum

Laying gesso for halos, irregularities to be scraped and burnished then gilded.

close up of the gesso halo on St Joseph

Note the pin prick holes in the gesso that shouldn’t be there!

gold leaf on vellum

Applying the first layer of loose gold leaf

lapis lazuli and azurite pigments applied

Layers of azurite and lapiz applied to reach a deep blue within the cave

First wash of Caput Mortuum pigment applied on the earth and shepherd.

Blessed Virgin and Christ child painted in egg tempera on vellum

Close up of the tiny faces of the Blessed Virgin and Christ child

9 finished armenian nativity Cruwys

Completed illumination on vellum of the Armenian Nativity

Colour palette: Caput Mortuum, Azurite, Lapis lazuli dark, vermillion, terre verte, ivory black and titanium white.

All these pigments can be obtained from L. Cornelissen & Son, Great Russell Street, London where this piece is now on display as part of the Heritage Craft Association‘s exhibition with Cornelissen’s celebrating ‘Gold on Parchment’, for the upcoming London Craft Week, where some practical demonstrations will be taking place.

Thanks for reading!

Ronnie

 

Back to lettering Bury Style

4 Letter A Bury

Gilded Letter A adapted from the Bury Bible

I’d like to pick up where I left off on my previous taster post of the Bury Bible’s Romanesque lettering (you can refer back to it here). I’d like to share some examples which I’ve gathered from this great work which may be suitable for naming saints of this period, for example:

Some saints with direct or indirect associations with this manuscript or who lived during the early 12th Century:

Edmund the Martyr (also known as St Edmund or Edmund of East Anglia, died 20 November 869

St Anselm feast day 21 April

St Cellach (Ceilach Keilach) b1080 Ireland d 1129 Archbishop Armagh

St Elisabeth Rose, Benedictine nun, b 1130 Courtenay France

St Stephen Harding, b 1059, d 1134 co-founder of Cistercian order

St William of York, England, b 1154, Archbishop of York

St Wulfric, b 1080, Bristol, England

St Thomas Becket of Canterbury, b1118, Cheapside, London, martyr

St Hildegarde of Bingen b 1098, Germany

St Lawrence O’Toole, b1125, Kildare, Ireland, Archbishop Dublin

St Gilbert of Sempringham, b 1083

St Bartholomew of Farne b1193, Whitby Northumbria

I’m hoping that the painted letters which I’m sharing here will be clear enough to save to your desktop for your own use. They need a bit more refining but they are a reasonable start. If you do get round to using them – I would love to see your work!

lettering based on bury bible

Letters A to D ‘Bury Style’

lettering in red ochre

Letters E to J ‘Bury Style’

KLMNOP

letters K to P ‘Bury Style’

 

4 Letter N Bury

Crisp balanced lines of the Bury letter N

QRSTVW.jpg

Letters Q to W ‘Bury Style’

UXYYZM

Letters U to Z (plus an extra fancy M) ‘Bury Style’

Hope these are useful some day and thanks for reading!

Ronnie

‘I Saw Him!’

mary Magdalene tells the disciples Christ has risen

Mary Magdalene is first with the good news ‘I have seen the Lord!’

Good morning and Happy Easter!

Romanesque manuscripts are a rich resource for iconographers. I have often wondered how a manuscript image would work painted on to a gessoed board instead of vellum. I had a small maple board (approx 6″x 8″) already prepared so I set aside the homework on my nativity icon to work on this small experimental piece during Lent.

I chose this image of Mary Magdalene announcing her news to the discples. It’s from the St Alban’s Psalter, one of several known to have been created at or for St Albans Abbey in the 12th century. I love their expressions and the long thin draperies contrasted with oversized hands and feet.

Icon board first stage of work for St Albans Psalter

Outline of figures added and oil gilding applied.

I transferred the outlines from my line drawing in red ochre then applied several layers of acrylic gold size (with some red ochre added to provide a contrast against the gesso) to adhere the transfer gold.

I then applied the base colours, including the richly coloured Caput Mortum for the background.

Ground terre verte azurite on icon board

Building up the layers of garment colours

7 a Magdalene and disciples st Albans

Gritty pigment

Some of my pigments are quite gritty. I like this varied texture on backgrounds but it’s hopeless to work with on tiny faces and details so I ground them up with a slab and muller and a spoon of water until they were very smooth.

The blue I used was a gift from my son who has recently been to Japan. While he was there he went to the new shop ‘Pigment‘ especially to buy me some! Here’s a sample of Azurite which I ground up and by levigating the mix I ground out three beautiful blues.

grinding up pigment from Tokyo PIGMENT

Kyojyo Gosu 6 Azurite from ‘Pigment’ in Tokyo

As the terre verte was too gritty to underpaint the small features on the faces, I used black and yellow to make green instead.

Underpainting faces

Underpainting faces using Maimeri yellow and a touch of ivory black

applying membrane to face painting

Adding the membrane to faces using maimeri yellow and white, a dash of red added later

6 face highlights

Building up highlights on the faces and adding the hair

The faces still seemed too pale so I added a few washes of French Ochre Havanna (also called Warm Ochre). Looking at the faces and hair this close up I can see there is still some work needed.

7 final faces

Deepening the shadows, adding vermillion to the eyes and white highlights

I added several layers of malachite over the terre verte to give this rich green.

8 St ALbans Psalter Magdalene announces news

The almost finished article.

To see the original manuscript, please visit the St Albans’s Psalter here.

Wishing you all a blessed and happy Easter and as Mary Magdalene first said: ‘He is Risen!’

Thanks for reading

Ronnie

 

 

Wetfold drapery Romanesque style

Monochrome study of St John The Evangelist

Monochrome study of St John the Evangelist, from the Lambeth Bible

At the start of our course, Aidan asked us to practice painting figures in monochrome. My first few studies were pretty awful but when I got accustomed to the egg tempera, I really enjoyed painting the lively fabric drapery known as the ‘wetfold’ style which was used in the manuscripts of the Romanesque period.

This is an unmistakable style; the garments articulate the figures in sweeping curves. The style is seen in several great manuscripts of the period including the Lambeth Bible.

Illuminated manuscript, English, c.1146. From the Lambeth Bible, Ms.3, fol.258 v. London, Lambeth Palace Library.

Illuminated manuscript, English, c.1146. From the Lambeth Bible, Ms.3, fol.258 v. London, Lambeth Palace Library.

The above illustration also gives us a glimpse of the interwoven lettering of the period.

The next stage of my study of lettering for icons comes from possibly the most beautiful manuscript of the Romanesque period, the great Bury Bible. It’s largely the work  of Master Hugo (c.1130-1160), the earliest professional artist documented in England. He was a multi-talented craftsman who produced various items for Bury: a great bell in the crossing tower, a set of decorated metal church doors, and a beautiful cross for the abbey choir. Master Hugo’s places of origin and training remain elusive but there is some speculation that he travelled within Byzantium given his dramatic style of work.

It’s a rich source of imagery for iconographers looking for inspiration from an historic western perspective.

Red ochre painting of Aaron on watercolour paper

Monochrome study in ‘English red ochre light‘ of Aaron from the Bury Bible

Further examples of the wetfold drapery technique can be found in other manuscripts of the period, the example below also shows interesting examples of buildings and trees.

I’ve been busy working on my final icon for the diploma course – a large festal icon of the Nativity. It seems a bit odd to write about this in the middle of Lent so I will write about it a bit later! In the meantime, I will sign off with a taster of my lettering from the Bury Bible below.

Thanks for reading,

Ronnie

PS if anyone has an Instagram account, I have been posting photos of my work in progress under the name of icondiplomastudent, you can see it here.

a

 ‘A’ based on lettering found in the  Bury Bible