Icon Diploma Student

Learning to see with the eye of the heart

Oil Gilding the Council of Archangel Michael (pt2)

Summer is the best time for gessoing icon boards. It’s a messy job and I like to make the most of working outside especially sanding the boards. I wrote about the method of gessoing on an earlier post here.

3 sanding the large icon board.jpg

Making the most of a dry sunny day to sand the gesso smooth

I felt that the icon of the Council of the Archangel Michael should be painted on a large board as there are a lot of figures. I don’t know the size of the original icon, but small faces can be tricky so the size I went for was the optimum I can work with at home: 40 x 42cm. With it being cut from 24mm birch ply it’s quite heavy.

I placed the board on a towel to prevent it from sliding around the table whilst I sand. Red ochre rubbed over the surface helps to show up any scratches I had missed.

Once it had been sanded down with 1200 grade sandpaper, it was ready to oil gild. I chose the oil gilding method (matt finish gold) because it’s more robust than water gilding.  Having so many figures and faces it will be handled quite a bit during painting.

finding scratches

Red ochre shows up scratches which still need to be sanded

I moved my drawings on to tracing paper so it was ready to transcribe on to the gesso. Although it is possible to oil gild after painting, I prefer to gild before painting the faces. I find both methods of gilding challenging so I will keep practising!

It isn’t necessary to scribe the areas to be gilded with the oil gilding method but I find it helps contain the shellac. Aidan Hart protects the gesso from the compass points with a wooden ruler which works very well but if you don’t have a ruler to hand, several layers of masking tape over some card helps (see photos below).

transcribing halo on icon

compass points on gesso

Protecting the gesso from compass puncture marks

Anyone of a ‘certain age’ will understand when I say that some red ochre rubbed over the scribed areas helps me to see where I’m going!

transcribing drawing

Aidan taught us the following method of oil gilding which I will summarise below. You can also see some amatuer video clips from our class demonstration on You Tube here.

Gold transfer leaf is applied on to several layers of shellac but first the gesso is sealed by painting on a thin layer of tinted shellac. Tinting is done with a pinch of red ochre or vermillion. Leave it to dry for a day then lightly sand working your way through the sandpaper grades from 600-1200. The following day, repeat the process but using untinted shellac. Leave it for a day and then sand as before.

shellac on halos for icon gilding

Shellac ready to sand

It is then ready to gild. Aidan suggested using Le Franc’s 3 hour gold size. Shake well then apply one very thin layer and place it in a dust free place, like a plastic box.

Wait for an hour at least (1-3 hours) then test whether it is ready to gild by touching the surface with your knuckle. If it squeaks, it is ready to apply gold transfer leaf. If not, wait a little longer and re-test. Drying time depends on the thickness of the layer and the drying conditions.

Small areas of shellac are fiddly to sand smooth and as you can see under the scrutiny of the camera, there are a few missing dots. However, I’ve since touched these up with some shell gold.

oil gilding on icon

Oil gilded halos

Wait two or three hours and then it should be ready to polish the gold using a gilder’s mop, working from light to medium pressure.

After waiting a few days to let the gilding harden, I could carry on with transferring the rest of my drawing.

transfer of whole drawing

Gilding complete, time to transcribe the rest of the drawing

I kept the compass protection pads on so I could add the halo outlines as soon as the sky had been painted. That’s all for this post but I will sign off with a photo of the icon a bit further along.

underpainting icon of Council of Archangel Michael

Outlines of figures applied and underpainting begins

Once again, thanks for reading!

Ronnie

Archangels in Blossom Street (Pt1)

Icon of Archangel gabriel resting on pic of Blossom Street

Archangel Gabriel in Blossom Street York

Kim and Jules run the Blossom Street Gallery, just outside Micklegate Bar in York. They stock my Drawing the Street limited edition prints and in February this year, I called in to catch up with them having finished the icon diploma.

I had a tiny icon of Archangel Gabriel with me which I brought out to show them as I was telling them about the course. One thing led to another and I am now booked in for a joint exhibition of icons and streets next Spring!

I had a few ideas for themes for the icon exhibition, but none were really firing me up, so I sent a request up to the heavens and within the day I had my theme and central icon. I subscribe to a blog by ‘Hokku’ and this timely post landed in my inbox:https://russianicons.wordpress.com/2017/03/20/the-council-of-the-archangel-michael/

Blossom Street Gallery is almost opposite my former school, All Saints, previously called The Bar Convent when I attended. There was a school legend that the Archangel Michael had once appeared there to protect the convent from imminent danger. So, when I saw this icon called ‘the Council of the Archangel Michael, I knew I had found my centre piece icon and my theme ‘A Gathering of Angels’.

A year isn’t long to prepare for an icon exhibition so I got started with the drawings.  It was a wonderful way to focus during what turned out to be a bumpy few months.

 

I made an unplanned visit to my sister in Perth WA who was unwell but I find sketching and drawing icon figures very calming.  I wrote a little about the visit over here.

The Council of Archangel Michael is a rich icon and full of life so I drew the main figures separately in turn. I drew the cherubim below late into the evening while my sister rested. I smile and am so grateful for all the help we are still recieving from these celestial helpers.

pencil drawing of cherubim

Cherubim from the Council of Archangel Michael icon

pencil drawing of young christ and seraphim

Drawing of the young Christ within a circle of seraphim

pencil drawing of Council of Angels

Full drawing ready to transcribe

The overall drawing is too big for me to scan at home but the photo gives you an idea of the overall composition. The finished icon will be just over 40cm square.

Hope you will join me as the rest of this icon unfolds!

Thanks for reading – more to follow soon.

Ronnie

St David the Dendrite (part 3 of 3)

Here’s the icon of St David taking shape. It is painted on a long thin board, 25mm birch ply. This post is mostly photos but always happy to hear from you if you have any questions.

icon painting studio

St David the Dendrite (tree dweller) of Thessaloniki

St David the dendrite of thessaloniki icon

Lines transcribed in red ochre on to gessoed board (photo enhanced for clarity)

The masking tape is to protect the gesso from the compass point.

terre verte pigment on icon

First washes of terre verte over background

adding a wash of lapis lazuli over the terre verte

Adding a wash of lapis lazuli over the terre verte

green background on icon of st david

Finishing background so I can add outline to halo

underpainting the face

underpainting the face

jaipur paint brush in use

David and Crystal visited India and brought me back a brush from Jaipur

completed icon (in part) of St David with his open hand feeding a robin

completed icon (in part) of St David with his open hand feeding a robin

7 membrane over face

Membrane applied in thin layers to face using yellow maimeri and a dash of english red ochre light.

Thanks for reading!

Ronnie

Living up a Tree (St David pt 2 of 3)

study on watercolour paper of st david of thessaloniki

St David offering food to a bird

Before I began to paint an icon of St David the Dendrite, I sat down to draw him. There are many lovely icons of St David, but there is one fresco in particular which really appealed to me.  The saint is depicted as an elongated figure with a toe-length beard wearing a light ochre garment set against a green background, amidst a leafy almond tree.

I haven’t been able to find the name of the iconographer to acknowledge him or her and would love to hear from you if you recognise the original fresco image.

pencil sketch of st David

Pencil sketch of Saint David up a tree with print of fresco image alongside

I used this fresco image as a reference to make my own drawing sketched on watercolour paper. Adding colour was the best way of seeing how it would look on the long thin icon board which I had already gessoed using a thick 25mm birch ply.

pencil sketch of st David

Pencil drawing of St David the Dendrite

I referred to my library of icon images to find male saints which helped me to construct the face.

 

English ochre and black - colour palette

Colour palette – English ochre and black

Here’s the overall study with some more icons of this tree dweller.

st david of thessaloniki icon

Drawing and study on watercolour paper together with reference images

This icon study is now available to buy in my Etsy shop here. I will sign off with an image of my finished study in black and white.

drawing st David
Drawing of St David of Thessaloniki

Last part of this article will be about the finished icon…to be continued soon.

Thanks for reading,

Ronnie

 

St David the Dendrite (pt 1 of 3)

Mosaic of Christ in Majesty at Hosios David, Thessaloniki

Mosaic of Christ in Majesty at Hosios David, Thessaloniki

I’d like to dedicate the next few posts to my brother David, in Canada who will shortly be celebrating his 70th birthday. This will only be a matter of weeks after my nephew Joe marries Yasmin, so it’s a momentous time for the Canadian Sharps.

Reflecting on our icon diploma trip to Thessaloniki in 2015, one place remains firmly in my mind – Hosios David; Hosios/Osios is the title used for a monastic male saint in Greek. This was the first place we visited, climbing up the hill, looking out over the city and sea, then finding it was closed!

Janina, Keith and Susan climbing the streets aof Thessaloniki

Janina, Keith and Susan climbing the streets of Thessaloniki

The church is dedicated to St David, one of the patron saints of Thessaloniki, a 6th century Dendrite or ‘tree dweller’ and renowned ‘holy fool’.

Thessaloniki has a lot of happy memories for our family. We first heard about it when David drove his new Hillman overland from UK to Bahrain with Mum in 1975, forty years before our diploma trip. We lived in Bahrain for a few years and David taught at Gulf Technical College.

 

 

Entrance to the church of St David the Dendrite of Thessaloniki

Entrance to the church of St David the Dendrite of Thessaloniki

We went back to Hosios David later in the week and this time we went inside this late 5th century church which has a full mosaic of the vision of Ezekiel made in the late fifth/early sixth century.

St David the Dendrite came from Mesopotamia and became a monk at the Monastery of Saints Merkourios and Theodore outside Thessaloniki.

From Wikipedia he was: ‘Famed for his sound advice, he was hounded by crowds seeking words of wisdom and prayer. Wishing a quiet, contemplative life, David fled to the seclusion of an almond tree, where he lived for three years.  He left the tree to petition the Byzantine emperor Justinian the Great in Constantinople to send soldiers to defend Thessaloniki from attack. David died in 540 as his ship was en route to Macedonia.’

Hokku writes: ‘After that time, an angel appeared to him (David), saying that God had heard his prayers, but that it was time for David to climb down and live in a monastic cell like other monks.  Because of his eccentric asceticism, David gained a local reputation as a holy man and healer, and was visited by many people seeking his help.’

The church is full of wonderful mosaics and frescos. The lighting was low but here are a few photos.

first glimpse of the mosaic in the apse

First glimpse of the 5-6th C mosaic in the apse with an icon of St David the Dendrite at the right

Hosios David Thessaloniki sketch

Sketch of the mosaic of the ‘Beardless Christ’ in the apse of Hosios David

Detail of a fresco of the nativity

Detail of a fresco of the nativity

detail of mosaic

Glimpse of mosaic in the apse, St David’s church, Thessaloniki

thessaloniki cat

Thessaloniki cat

St David is commemorated on June 26 by the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church on July 17.

To be continued…

Thanks for reading

Ronnie

Cornelia and Hironmoy remembered

paionting of lord krishna on watercolour paper

Lord Krishna

My great aunt, Cornelia Maria Georgina Sharp, was born on 8th December 1891, the second child in a family of six. It was years later that we discovered a little more of this courageous woman’s life when Dad’s cousin researched into what had happened to his absent father.

I am touching on her story here as I was delighted to be commissioned to paint an icon of Lord Krishna, the god of compassion, tenderness and love in Hinduism and happy that we have a family connection to this rich faith.

lord krishna outline drawing

Transcribing the lines of outline drawing onto paper

In brief, Cornelia, a young English Catholic woman working in service, married a young Indian Hindu man named Hironmoy Roy-Chowdury in the Church of the Holy Rood, Watford. All the more extraordinary was that her new husband was the nephew of poet and winner of the Nobel Prize for literature  Rabindranath Tagore 

Hironmoy was a sculptor studying at the Royal College of Art. Their only child, Francis Roy Chowdury (Dad’s cousin), was born in October 1914 two months after the outbreak of the first world war. The marriage wasn’t to last long as Hironmoy went to France to volunteer in an abulance unit and then his family heard of the marriage and insisted he return to India.

2 line on paper

First lines on paper

Back to the icon of Lord Krishna where I’ve depicted him as a young man playing the flute, standing on a lotus flower. He is painted on 600gsm hot pressed paper mounted on a 25mm ply board rather than on gesso thereby avoiding the use of rabbit skin size.

gold leaf on lord krishna drawing

Applying 24 carat transfer gold leaf over acrylic size coloured with a little red ochre

lord krishna on heavenly gold background

Lord Krishna standing against the gold of heaven

5 underpainting

Underpainting the figure and garments

egg tempera

Applying the paint in thin layers

lapis lazuli

Flesh tones painted in Lapis Lazuli

The colours on images of Lord Krishna are vibrant but to avoid them clashing, I limited the palette to English red ochre, yellow ochre maimeri, lapis lazuli, black and white. The greens were mixed from malachite.

I chose to use Lapis Lazuli as its deep, celestial blue remains the symbol of royalty and honor, gods and power, spirit and vision, wisdom and truth. Its name comes from the Latin lapis, “stone,” and the Persian lazhuward, “blue.”

qualities of Lord krishna

Some of the many qualities with which Lord Krishna is associated

Lord Krishna painted using the icon method

Lord Krishna ready for his new home

There must be enough for a book on the subject of Cornelia and Hironmoy’s brief lives together and it is a treasure that we know of this through their son’s research.

I will close with a quote from ‘Fruit Gathering’ by Rabindranath Tagore;

        ‘Send me the love which is cool and pure like your rain that blesses the thirsty earth       and fills the homely earthen jars.

         Send me the love that would soak down into the centre of being, and from there would spread like the unseen sap through the branching tree of life, giving birth to fruits and flowers.’

Thanks for reading,

Ronnie

Cold gesso, no bubbles

apply cold gesso

Class demonstration by Janina on how to apply gesso cold.

One of the many benefits of our time on the icon course was how much we learnt from each other as well as from our tutor Aidan Hart and from the icon board and church furniture maker Dylan Hartley. I have written about our time learning how to apply gesso warm but today I would like to share what our group learned from one of our fellow students, Janina Zang. Janina gave us a demonstration of how to apply the gesso chilled, when it had set like a jelly. She had learned this technique from a Benedictine monk.

preparation of gessoing board.

Scrim glued to the ply board.

There are two significant advantages to this method. The cold gesso means that there are hardly any bubbles as you apply it, and if you can’t finish applying all the layers in one day, put a damp tea towel over the boards, go to bed and resume the work the next day.

You still need to prepare the ingredients as for the warm method and have most of the following ready:

ronnie cruwys illustration for gesso

Kit for gessoing is still the same but the spatula is a different shape.

The recipe is exactly the same as given in Aidan’s book. 

Follow Aidan’s instructions for the gesso mix and apply the glue and the scrim layers. Let the boards dry out for a day then make up the gesso mix in the quanity that you need, remembering to seive it and decant back to the container. The only difference is that from here,  you put it in the fridge and leave it overnight.

rabbit size to make gesso for icons

Cornelissens whiting spooned into the rabbit skin size

This is the best part. The following morning, the gesso is good to go. Just take enough gesso out of the fridge to work on for the next few hours. Allow it to warm up to room temperature for half an hour and you have a full day to get straight down to applying the gesso to the boards. Keep your working gesso in a plastic sandwich box to prevent it drying out – especially on a hot day. Top up from your main supply in the fridge during the day.

The gesso has a consistency of blancmanche and all the pin sized bubbles disappear as you spread the gesso on the board in thin layers using a wide spatula. Fifteen layers takes the gesso up to a thickness you can sand without reaching through to the scrim.

using a spatula to apply the gesso in thin layers

Use a spatula to apply the gesso in thin layers

Keep a bucket of water beside you to rinse off the spatula from time to time as you can see it clogs up quickly in warm weather. I had quite a few boards I wanted to gesso as I’m preparing for an exhibition next Spring 2018, at the Blossom Street Gallery in my old home town of York.

icon boards laid out to gesso

boards laid out on towels to gesso

The large board will be for my main icon, but more on that in another post.

Gesso on iconboards

Gesso drying off outside under shelter

During the gesso process, the sides get splashed and set very hard. The easiest way to clean these up is with a small electric palm sander, like the Makita.

Splashes of gesso on sides of boards

Splashes of gesso on sides of boards

I sit the boards in a towel clamped in a work bench outside and the boards then have a lovely crisp edge.

iconboards sanded and ready

All done!

I’m very happy with how these have turned out – not pin hole bubble in sight!

Big thanks to Janina and the Benedictines for sharing this method!

Thanks to you too for reading.

Ronnie

Calling on the Apostle of Hope

icon of St Jude Thaddeus

Saint Jude Thaddeus

St Jude, or Thaddeus, has for centuries been known as the Patron Saint of The Impossible or ‘Hopeless Cases’. St Jude was a familiar name to us during childhood as Mum would often call on his help when things got difficult for friends or family at home or abroad.

It’s Pentecost as I write here tonight and it seems appropriate to share my work on St Jude as he was one of Jesus’s twelve apostles who received the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

2 St Jude Drawing 1.jpg

Pencil drawing of St Jude

The name Thaddeus means ‘aimiable’ or ‘loving’. St Jude strikes me as a gentle saint who is also known as ‘the Apostle of Hope’. There is a great deal of unrest from recent tragic events in London and Manchester and with election week ahead I’m calling on this saint of hope in the midst of anxiety and will trust him to guide each of us to make wise and loving choices in the days ahead.

I will sign off with a few photos of St Jude taking shape as an icon and say thanks again for reading.

Ronnie.

dog tooth burnisher on water gilding

Burnishing the gold on the halo

St Jude's face underpainting

Underpainting the face

st jude underpainting icon

St Jude underpainting hair and beard

Membrane technique

Applying the membrane in flesh tones over the face

egg tempera painting st Jude

Applying a coat of egg stock – dilute wash as a final nourishing layer

apostle of Hope icon of st Jude

Icon complete – St Jude, the Apostle of Hope

P.S. This icon is being professionally photo-scanned and prints and cards will shortly be available to buy from Smith York Printers here

Membrane Technique for icon faces

icon painter's work space

Spring cleaned workspace

I’ve had a few requests for a glimpse at my notes from the icon diploma course taught by Aidan Hart at the PSTA. There are a lot to sift through and they’re a bit illegible, even to me. However, I plan to revisit and re-write them at each stage of painting an icon but bear with me as this may take a while!

painting with italian Gold Ochre pigment and Ivory black

Underpainting the faces

I’ve already made a start with the pigment grinding crib sheet and now that I’m currently underpainting an icon, I’ve written up my notes for this stage. They are on my website on the Crib Sheet page and I will share a link at the end of this post.

underpainting face of Blessed Virgin and Christ Child

Underpainting complete

For the underpainting, I’ve found that mixing an earth green from Italian yellow ochre and ivory black has been a little less sticky than using terre verte.

Don’t forget to apply a dilute wash over all the unpainted areas before applying the membrane or it won’t cover evenly.

I still find it tricky to apply the membrane layers evenly but at least I know better not to fiddle with uneven areas. Just go and do something else for a few hours to let it properly dry then apply another couple of thin layers.

icon painting with membrane technique

Three layers of thinly painted membrane applied

Next stage is applying the shading and highlights, but for now here are my notes: Membrane technique part one underpainting and membrane

By the way, the pigment grinding demonstration went well. More on the results of that when I use the pigment to paint!

finished mid tones on an icon face

Five layers of the membrane applied

Thanks for reading,

Ronnie

Crib Sheet No 1: Grinding Azurite to make Pigment for Paint

azurite-from-burslem-lapidary

Azurite in its mineral form

I recently volunteered to give a demonstration of grinding minerals to make pigment for painting to a local networking group – W.I.R.E. (Women in Rural Enterprises). I haven’t given a demonstration before but since it will be a small friendly audience, it’s a good place for me to make a start.

slab and muller with azurite

Slab and muller to grind up the pigment

I’ve written several times already about grinding pigments but this time I’ve gathered my notes together as a crib sheet which you can downdoad grinding-azurite-for-painting-by-ronnie-cruwysas a four page pdf.

I’ve also just set up a fixed page on this website, called ‘Crib Sheets’, which I hope to add to in future. This first set of notes has been saved to the new page and I hope to add many more…well, that’s the plan!

Thanks for reading.

Ronnie