Icon Diploma Student

Learning to see with the eye of the heart

Back Down to Earth


Hello Icon friends,

A lot has been going on since I last posted. We had a wonderful family gathering in Perth WA, for my niece’s wedding. It was an entire week of celebrating – not only over a very happy couple, but also over my sister, the bride’s mum, who has made a monumental recovery since her bone marrow transplant last year. She is living proof of answered prayer and we made the most of every minute together. I know I am digressing but this day was terrific and I have to share a photo:

Wedding of Sophie and Pat

Some of my siblings, left to right David, Margaret, Denis, Veronica (me), Anne (bride’s mum), Pat and Sophie. My younger sister Stephanie had nipped off – it is hard to round up all six siblings even when we are together!

One of the first things I did to help settle me back down to earth was to start on my icon homework. We have set pieces for our course, one of which is the Mandilion – the Face Not Made with Hands, which must be painted on a board with the kivitos – where the wood is chiselled out to form a raised wooden border (more about this in a later post). Our set pieces mean that we explore a full range of icons from close up faces, to busts, standing and seated figures and festal icons with groups of figures.

The hardwood icon panels with the kivitos are works of art in their own right, labour intensive though costly for the student. That said, I would really like to do the Mandilion close to life size together with a matching sized icon of Our Lady alongside. After a lot of searching through images, I was so excited to discover the perfect pair of images of the Virgin and Christ from the 13th C Grand Deeisis in amongst the icons of St Catherine’s monastery, Sinai. I will keep to the image of Christ for this post.

icon of Sinai Christ Pantocrator

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

So our homework was to sketch or paint a monochrome study of our chosen mandilion.  I will come clean on my drawing – I pencilled out a broad grid. Now this is not the way to go in the long run! Aidan is trying hard to get us to draw without a grid, by learning to observe. It is no excuse but I was short of time (see above!) and wanted to prepare at least two drawings for him to check at our May session.

pencil sketch of the mandilion

Preliminary pencil sketch – the grid is NOT the way to go!

I should have thought a bit more at this stage but I was concentrating on the face rather than the whole composition. We are given a fixed rectangular proportion for the mandilion board and I have chosen 310mm x 400mm for mine. The face sits neatly into a square and the hair falls into the lower part. As the image I have chosen doesn’t have the falling hair, I should have considered this sooner so as to weave it more naturally into the composition.

Mandilion first wash

First wash in dilute egg tempera

Building up the image in light washes

Building up the image in light washes

Egg tempera washes on the Mandilion

Building up the depth of washes

This is another point where I went adrift around the areas of flesh and beard. The moustache should taper more to the right to leave a channel of bare skin.  I also should define the beard and soften the edges. As you see, this is not the stage to paint on plaits!

Finished egg tempera mandilion

Mandilion study complete

In addition to these obervations, Aidan also showed me there was work to do on the nose, at the bridge and round the bowl and at the tip where the shading should be dark only below the nostrils.  The jaw line needs better definition too and the hair should fall further down to balance the composition.

I am really glad that I worked on this study and will repeat the process again soon as I need to increase the whole image by about 10% to fit more comfortably on my board. Painting the icon in monochrome first is a great way to become familiar with the subject and there is no better way than just getting stuck in and doing your best.

Thanks for reading!




2 Responses to “Back Down to Earth”

  1. Sister Benedict

    Thank you for the family photo and all the fascinating icon details.


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