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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”’
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,