Icon Diploma Student

Learning to see with the eye of the heart

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

Herald of Spring

Greetings icon friends!

Warmest wishes for Candlemas on Thursday!  Here’s Archangel Gabriel, first icon of 2017.

icon by Cruwys

Archangel Gabriel

This post is short and sweet while I’m gathering my thoughts on varnishing icons…or rather questions. I’d love to hear of people’s preferences – there seem to be so many options yet each with drawbacks.

Bye for now

Ronnie

PS Prints and cards of this icon are now available from Smith York Printers.

Thy Perfect Light

1-christ-child-in-manger

For our third and final year, we each worked on a festal icon of our choice. We were invited to study different prototoypes and design our own icon emphasising a particular aspect of the feast. I chose the Nativity, with a theme of praise and thanksgiving.

what shall we offer thee.jpg

Given all the figures in this icon, I set it all out to fit on a large birch ply board. To get some practice first,  I painted a few colour studies in egg tempera on very thick, smooth watercolour paper then mounted them all in a work book.

2-cover

I prefer working on the smaller individual studies as I found it a bit awkward to work on the large board – in many ways it wasn’t anywhere near large enough! I love how in frescos, the scenes are painted almost life size.

Nicholas orphanos.jpg

Church of St Nicholas Orphanos, Thessaloniki

The images which follow are mostly from my workbook.

2b-virgin-and-child

3-angel-cluster

For now though, I would just like to thank you once again for reading and for joining me as I make my way learning how to paint icons.

I wish you all a peaceful and blessed Christmas and will be back in touch in the New Year.

Ronnie

4-o-star-of-wonder

5-magi

6-st-joseph

Saint Joseph

 

6a-nativity-of-the-lord

Cropped section from the finished icon (which can be seen in full in the Gallery section of this blog).

7-nativity-cartoon-a4-ronnie-cruwys-resized

For the love of colour

So how did the work of twelve icon diploma graduates end up in the window of L. Cornelissen this month?

man looking in window of Cornelissens

Pausing to read about the icons on display (photo courtesy John Cruwys)

It’s hard to pinpoint where this great moment began but my long held love of calligraphy  and illuminated manuscripts led me to learn how to gild with Patricia Lovett. We’ve kept in touch over the past 12 years and through mutual friends on social media, I have also to come to know and admire the work of another artist and calligrapher Lin Kerr. Both Patricia and Lin are natural teachers, love colour and their enthusiasm for their art is infectious.

One of the common threads linking us has been Cornelissen’s, home to pigments, gold, gesso and some of the most obscure ingredients for icon painters and artists alike.

Lin had spotted one of my Instagram posts ‘Eccleshall Gold’ on vellum and tipped me off that Patricia was setting up an exhibition ‘Gold on Parchment‘ on behalf of the Heritage Crafts Association, for London Craft Week 2016 at Cornelissen’s. This was to promote work on vellum/parchment following the results of the campaign to keep the acts of parliament recorded on vellum.

Eccleshall High street on vellum unframed

Eccleshall Gold

Patricia kindly agreed to include both this and ‘Armenian Nativity‘, a piece that I was working on for the icon diploma.  The range of work on display demonstrated many of the gilders’ tools and pigments sold inside Cornelissen’s and naturally drew people into the shop. This little icon on vellum seemed to attract quite a bit of interest – possibly the vibrant contrast of the vermillion agains the deep blues? Who knows, but this was the link that led to the current window exhibition by The PSTA‘s icon diploma graduates, only a few months later.

 

illuminated manusript armenina nativity

st-albans-psalter1-cruwys

I couldn’t resist following on with two more icons based on an illuminated manuscript – this time the St Albans Psalter, both pigment rich examples.

icons-cornelissens2-cruwys

Passer-by stops for a photo (photo JLC)

mary-magdalene-announces-res-to-disciples-cruwys

Mary Magdalene announces the resurrection of Christ to the Disciples

three-maries-at-the-tomb-ronniecruwys

Three Maries at the empty tomb of Christ

So this is our last week on show in the heart of London as the display comes down on Friday. It has been an honour and such a blast – thanks from all of us icon graduates to Nicholas Walt and the staff at Cornelissens for our moment of glory in your window and not forgetting Patricia and Lin who were instrumental in making all this happen.

Thanks for reading,

Ronnie

Lettering of the Melisende Psalter

hand made book of the Melisende letters

‘Melisende’ –  lettering from the 12th c

Long overdue, but here’s the last installment from my dissertation on lettering which would be lovely to see adapted for use on contemporary western icons. For the last subject, I chose the Melisende Psalter, an extraordinarily beautiful example of ‘East meets West’.

It was written in Latin and thought to have been produced in the scriptorium of the Monastery of the Holy Sepulchre, in the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem sometime between 1131 and 1143. It is attributed to the work of six artists, and a scribe who are thought to be of French or Italian origin as the work reflects their backgrounds.

The introduction features 24 full page miniatures of scenes from the life of Christ, with Greek inscriptions, painted with gold backgrounds.

Annunciation Melisende Psalter British Library crop.png

Detail from the Annunciation (image from the digitised British Library Manuscript)

The manuscript is held in the British Library Manuscripts Department (Ref Egerton MS 1139), London.   

The word psalter derives from the old English word psaltere/saltere which came from church Latin Psalterium and simply means ‘a volume containing the Book of Psalms’. These hand written and illuminated books often had other devotional material bound in as well and were most widely owned by wealthy lay persons. They predate the later emergence of the ‘Book of Hours’.

5-a-melisende

Letter A adapted from the Melisende Psalter

Looking at the letters in this manuscript, it was hard to know where to begin as there are so many examples to choose from. It really is a rich resource for both iconographers and calligraphers alike.

I decided to illuminate a few letters to bring out their qualities as stand alone designs. The letters are confident and stems terminate with a flourish and the double stems add a light but strong quality to the letters. This example is painted with Azurite and Malachite. I have applied a few washes of azurite over the malachite to get this velvety soft green.

letter B Melisende

Melisende letter B

This example is painted with lapis lazuli and malachite. I’ve washed a few layers of blue over the green to deepen the green and offset the brightness of the gold.

The letters themselves are on raised gesso – a slightly more flexible mix to the gesso used for icons. This is Patricia Lovett’s recipe and it gives a flexible surface which burnishes up a treat when gold leaf is applied. Patricia’s book ‘Illumination Gold and Colour’ gives more practical guidance on this and is on sale at Cornelissen’s in London (or by mail order)  where you can get all the materials needed to paint your own letters. If you do get a chance to visit Cornelissens in the next few weeks, you will see some of the work by the icon diploma students on display in the window – more about this in the next post.

Before I share the letters which I painted from this manuscript, I’d like to give you a taster of one of the illuminations in this psalter as how it’s a useful resource for icon painters.

magi bring ing gifts melisende

Melisende Psalter – Magi bringing gifts to the Christ Child, Image from the British Library Digital library

To see this image and others in the psalter, here’s the link to the British Library page.

I love the movement of the Magi and how their composition directs the viewer’s eye to observe them placing their gifts at the feet of the Christ Child under the stern direction of the angel. Even though these are tiny paintings, they are dynamic and vibrant.

Back to the lettering. I’ve attached an eight page document with a full alphabet of hand painted letters which are an interpretation of the letters in the Melisende Psalter. Feel free to print them off or save them till later for use on your own icons. I would love to see them in use one day! 11-melisende-letters-v1

letter C Melisende gilded lapis lazuli

Letter C in Lapis lazuli – based on examples in the Melisende Psalter

Thanks for reading,

Ronnie

Show Time!

fixing icons at exhibtion

Icon hanging begins – and no – I’ve not driven Iain to smoking – yet!

I’m still getting over this last week. It’s been intense; a wonderful and unforgettable week. Lots of planning, packing, dawn starts, long car trips, carting, hanging, dismantling and so on.  I’m a relative local living in Staffordshire so my friends travelling from Sweden, Germany and Dublin must be feeling exhausted.

I’m going to add a few practical tips for anyone who is planning an exhibition. Plan well ahead. Bring large and small spirit levels, electric drill with selection of screws, pencil, measuring tape, portable steps, blu tack, plenty of bubble wrap, sellotape, pritt stick, masking tape, the cling film roll tape that protect sides of pictures, plastic crates with lids, flask and snacks.

icons in back of car

Wrap up the icons well.

When the car load was dropped off outside the PSTA, in Shoreditch, the doors weren’t yet open. Although not raining, it was overcast and I was glad the icons were all in waterproof containers and well wrapped. Pre-book your car park in London – it’s much cheaper.

Ronnie And the mandilion

Placing the Mandilion

Invite family and friends to help. My husband helped me put all the icons up and our son arrived with his camera and took this shot and a few others. It was non-stop all day – you have to work at quite a pace to get finished before closing time.

icons by Ronnie Cruwys

Sun glancing in from the rooflights

Bring a tube of polyfiller and a scraper as there is the inevitable re-shuffle to get things right. Thanks to Romsay at the PSTA, for finding some white paint and a roller too!

Icons by Ronnie Cruwys

Most of my work up

Susan, a fellow student – or graduate (that sounds good!) kindly lent me this table as I wanted to share my Nativity workbook, lettering books and some of my course work folders. I will write a little more about the Nativity workbook on another post.

visitor to triptych

Triptych up and an early visitor arrives

While we were putting up our work in the main exhibition area, Aidan was busy placing more work out in the foyer.

Aidan putting icons up at PSTA Shoreditch

Aidan displaying students’ icons in the foyer

We left the PSTA late Saturday afternoon with Aidan kindly finishing up for us.  When I returned on Tuesday for the Preview, this was the glowing view from Charlotte Road. The evening went in a whirl – I wanted to speak to so many more visitors than I did – to thank you all so much for coming and for being part of this blessed and beautiful stage in our life as fledgling icon painters.

My thanks go to the PSTA for running this course but especially to Aidan Hart for his spiritual guidance, patience and his innate joy shared with us, his diploma students, throughout the last three years as he has taught us how to see with the eye of the heart.

9 PSTA.jpg

All quiet before the doors open for the Preview  

I hope to be able to share a link to photos of all our work once these have all been co-ordinated on a photo-sharing site, but the next post will be about our exhibition now up in Cornelissen’s…watch this space!

Thanks for reading,

Ronnie

8-sisters

My sister –  this one is Meggie!

 

 

 

Just a little triptych please? No rush.

tryptich icon by ronnie cruwys

Tryptic of Blessed Virgin Enthroned with the Christ Child surrounded by Archangels Michael and Raphael

I’m ‘Number 5’ in a family of six and we straddle the globe from USA to Australia with me here in the UK. We all ask each other favours every now and then, but I think this has to be the slowest request ever to turn around for my dear sister Anne! It was nine years ago that she asked me to paint her a ‘little triptych’ – I was still a brunette back then!

Aidan has suggested that if you are asked to paint an icon that you know nothing about – just go ahead and do it, and learn as you go. This is what has happened here. Saying yes to this request has drawn me into the world of icons, leaving the day job behind. I was relieved when Aidan accepted that these could be part of my set diploma pieces of standing and seated figures, which has meant that I have been able to learn as I go with Aidan’s guidance.

Dylan Hartley, Simon Morris, Ronnie Cruwys with triptych

Right to left: Dylan Hartley, Simon Morris, Ronnie Cruwys

Today I went to collect the finished icon from the workshop where Dylan Hartley made the oak boards, hand-carved the kivotos and gessoed it for me and where Simon Morris of Smith York Fine Art Printers has photo-scanned it, spending hours getting the studio lighting just right so as to reduce the glare from the gilding. Simon has scanned all the icons on this website as well as the printing for my street drawings over at Drawing the Street.

I have written a little about this triptych before in an earlier post when I began work on it here  and as I began to paint here. Further notes on painting the garments here.

Virgin and Child

Blessed Mother and Christ Child

As always with a finished icon, you see so many places which could do with revisiting. Faces and hands are my  weak spots. Feet too, but the slippers help!

The icon will be up in the PSTA Diploma Show in London next week, then will be part of the ‘Spirit Matters’ exhibition in Cornelissen’s window from 25th October to 16th November. From there it will make its way to Australia  where it will be part of Anne’s prayer corner in her home. We all have a lot to be thankful for but especially me with such a loving and supportive family and this sister in particular – I’m so glad she asked!

Thanks for reading,

Ronnie

anne and Ron

Sisters!