Icon Diploma Student

Learning to see with the eye of the heart

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,






4 Responses to “Shell Gold Shine”

  1. 1annemarie

    Thank you!
    I will try again making shell gold, I did not succeed with it when I tried quite some time ago…
    Beautiful icons!

  2. ronniecruwys

    Thank you Anne Marie! All the best with making shell gold. All I can say is when you think you have finished grinding up the gold, keep going for another twenty minutes. Then when you think the gold has been washed enough, wash it again! Add the gum arabic a small drop at a time. Too much and it won’t shine. Ronnie

  3. Sister Benedict

    Dear RonnieThanks for keeping in touch. What a lot of skilled work goes into it.I don’t know if you have seen it on our website, but our Mother Prioress died on 29th June. She was 84 and her health was giving trouble but she was still working as Infirmarian etc etc. So we are trying to cope with this. There are now 6 of us, including Mother Gertrude the retired Abbess who is in quite advanced Parkinsons & dementia. We have several people working for us, garde, cleaning etc. but the situation is quite difficult. We have put the planned alterations to the kitchen on hold.Love & prayersSister Benedict

    • ronniecruwys

      Dear Sr Benedict,
      I was very sorry to hear about Mother Prioress, you must all miss her terribly, may she rest in peace. It sounds like things are difficult all round for you. I will keep you all in my prayers for the strength to get through these days and for better times ahead. Thanks for writing,and my best wishes to you all. Love Ronnie


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