Icon Diploma Student

Learning to see with the eye of the heart

‘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 and this icon is now available to buy from my Etsy shop here.

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

Thanks for reading


P.S. Prints and cards are now available of this icon from Smith York Printer


10 Responses to “‘I Saw Him!’”

  1. Gay Pogue

    He is risen!!!!!

    Happy Easter back at you. It is still dark and 21 degrees. Pretty today but more snow all this week. Hugs.

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. Sister Benedict

    Happy Easter Ronnie
    Thank you so much for sharing your icon work.
    Love & prayers
    Sister Benedict

  3. njacacia

    Ronnie, thanks for entering a link for the Japanese pigment shop. I have already purchased pigments from Russia and Finland. They are to be had for a pittance compared to the U.S. and it is only the mailing costs that prohibit their regular use. But, it is interesting to see and sometimes purchase as a treat. I enjoy reading your blog. regards. olga

    • ronniecruwys

      Hi Olga,
      Lovely to hear from you and glad you enjoy the blog. Hearing from other icon lovers from around the globe keeps me motivated to continue to share what I am learning and doing. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. Best wishes, Ronnie

  4. Bethan

    Your page is wonderful to read; a delight for the eye and heart. Have you ever made contact with the tiny Orthodox Church in Blaenau Ffestiniog, North Wales, and met Father Deiniol? He would be very interested in your Icon studies and paintings . Does one have to have had some ‘art’ training before embarking on Icon painting. I am an elderly retired priest with some artistic leanings but alas no formal training.
    cofion caredig ( kind regards – in Welsh!)

    • ronniecruwys

      Hello Bethan,

      Receiving messages like this makes me keep on posting on my blog! Thank you so much and for your lovely Welsh greeting! I haven’t heard of the church in Ffestiniog, but my icon teacher Aidan Hart, based in Shrewsbury, may know of it, so thank you for letting me know.

      In answer to your question, Aidan welcomes people on his course who have no formal art education and at the same time encourages us all to learn to draw well and to study as many of the great artists as we can – contemporary, abstract and traditional. Perhaps you could attend one of Aidan’s one week workshops in Walcott Hall, near Bishops Castle near the Welsh borders? You would learn a lot. It’s never too late to start to learn icon painting and it is a wonderful way to meditate, pray and enjoy yourself all in one!

      Aidan started his classes with monochrome exercises. You could always get some smooth thick watercolour paper, (300gsm Hot pressed)and try a study of a face. We start with a light underdrawing, then build up the shadows and form in very thin layers of paint. Good quality watercolour paint would work fine for this.

      Thanks again for your time taken to comment.
      Warmest wishes, Ronnie


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