Icon Diploma Student

Learning to see with the eye of the heart

Posts from the ‘Archangel Gabriel’ category

Archangel Gabriel – A Listening Ear

Every now and again, I’m asked how to get started icon painting. I always recommend painting monochromes on smooth (hot pressed) best quality watercolour paper. I recall the first time I saw some of these red ochre studies by Aidan Hart’s past students and I found them captivating. They were on the wall in a workshop given by Aidan Hart at Walcot Hall over 10 years ago.

Archangel Gabriel – large completed monochrome
Use a very thin light line of ‘English Red Light’ red ochre egg tempera with a sable brush to mark the outlines.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been having a bit of a sort out of my studio (and my overspill areas). Over the last few years I’ve gathered quite a gallery of work that’s lying unseen as I have no more wall space!

I made a decision to go through all my work and list it for sale in my Etsy shop as I can’t keep holding on to things – there’s no room to move! Also, letting go of things makes way for the new so let’s make a start with looking back over this large monochrome of Archangel Gabriel.

Gradually build up the shape of the face in very thin washes. I’ve been impatient with the dark hair lines

Before I go any further, I have already written about this monochrome here. It’s really interesting to reflect back on this post from 8 years ago as I’ve become a lot kinder to myself. I can see that things I once thought weren’t good enough actually were a great foundation – they just needed a bit more work and creativity. SO – if you are being hard on yourself – put your work away for a few years then revisit when you have had a few edges knocked off and away you go – again!

Building up the forms of the hair and face

The best way to start as always is with a drawing. Sometime this too can be daunting so be kind to yourself – this is a learning process. You can always make a tracing of the icon you want to paint by outlining the main forms to get familiar with the shapes, shadows, proportions and lines. You could also try laying a grid over the prototype, then draw into your own grid at a larger scale. This can help you can anchor the key features.

With this monochrome – I drew onto a large sheet of cartridge paper (inexpensive paper is fine for this stage), then traced over and rubbed red ochre pigment into the back of the tracing paper. It is them ready to transcribe on to the watercolour paper. You could use pencil but the graphite smudges and I wanted to keep the paper clean.

The paper has been stretched with a damp sponge and taped to a board.

I use Fabriano Artistico Hot pressed watercolour paper, 300gsm. You can use other brands, but the weight and the hot pressed finish are really well suited to monochromes. I stretched this one but I didn’t really need to. Even though the paper can buckle, it can also be flattened as I discovered later. There are plenty of You Tube videos to help you do this but in short: face the artwork down on a clean dry sheet of paper, place a spray dampened sheet of paper over the back, then place a pile of books on top and leave for a few days. This works a treat.

The face of Archangel Gabriel…but there’s something missing…

Once you have the red ochre line in place from the tracing – it’s best to fix it in place using a dilute mix of egg tempera in red ochre or whatever colour you are using – the red/gold/earth ochres all work well. I think the most valuable thing I’ve learnt from painting these is not to rush them – work in the finest layers you can and build up very gradually.

The almost finished Archangel – with a finely layered background of very thin washes of red ochre.

Looking back through my old notes from Aidan’s class, I wrote as follows:

Eyebrows: When painting the eyebrows, the top line is soft and the ends are also soft. Look at an eyebrow, the hair is densest lower down, then feathers upwards (not as I have done here!). When painting the brow, show the graduation of tone. Facial features grow out of the background. Find the high point of the eyebrow in relation to the rest of the curved brow. Pay attention to the descent of the brow.

Lips: Look at the lips in profile, the light falls and hits the lower lip, the upper lip is drawker and in shadow. The lower lip projects and the recess below the lip is alos in shade. Note the gap at the corner of the lips.

This monochrome of Archangel Gabriel has only had a few brief outings since my diploma. Once in a short lived exhibition at the Bar Convent in York and a couple of weeks on the walls of the Tolbooth, Lanark. Lockdowns – say no more!

Protect the icon with paper and start to map the outline of the head band

When I looked at this the other day I realised there was something missing…the hairband and ribbons! This is quite significant as Archangel Gabriel is the patron of communication and this goes two ways – listening and responding. The ribbons either side of the ears are symbolic of listening – important! I had based this icon on the prototype of the Ustyug Annunciation icon. This doesn’t show the ribbons but since I have learnt the symbolism of the ribbons – they are too significant to leave out – so on they go – very late but much needed additions.

Adding a film of titanium white to form the headband
Final headband and ear ribbons

Gold leaf is not the best surface to paint over but I laid a dilute layer of egg tempera mix first, let it dry and built up in layers. I used quite a lot of egg mixed with the white pigment and applied it thinly. It goes on with a lot of beading at first but as it dries, each layer helps the next.

Finished monochrome of Archangel Gabriel.

The finished size of the overall mounted work is 50 x 70cm and now listed in my Etsy shop. Postage and insurance have shot up, especially overseas. The weight, packaging and protecting the glass of a large frame really bumps up the price so I’ve taken this out of its frame and will post in its mount and backing ready for the new owner to frame.

As always, thanks for reading and for still being here on this meandering path with me 🙂

Ronnie

Michaelmas

As September gives way into darker evenings and mornings, it pulls back many memories of the ancestral hearth for our family. It’s a time of remembering our loved ones and lighting a candle. It is the time to honour the Archangels on the feast of Michaelmas.

This was a triptych which I painted for my sister – she had seen a small version years ago and loved the way the doors opened up for the big reveal and had wondered if I could ever paint one for her one day. I’m so glad I did!

The images for these two Archangels which stand either side of the Blessed Mother and the Christ Child are based on the frescoes of Chora in Istanbul, seen high up in the dome.

I’ve written about this triptych previously in this blog but for this evening, I wanted to include a sequence of work-in-progress photos of an icon which I painted on watercolour paper of Archangel Gabriel.

If you haven’t got a gessoed board ready prepared, some heavy 300-400gsm+ smooth hot pressed watercolour paper is a really beautiful surface to work on. If you can find cotton content paper then it will be archival and long lasting in the right conditions.

You will see from this photo that I’ve used a pencil grid to help draw the image – don’t hesitate to use all the help you can get as you go along. Turning the master image upside down to refer to also helps you to tune into the areas of light and shade, angles/directions, hard and soft edges and so on.

I have under-painted the face in the pigment Terre Verte. You could also use Yellow Maimeri and ivory black to get a different green.

I have used a mix of English Red Deep and French Ochre Havanna for the hair, wings and robes.

This is a thin wash of Yellow Ochre Maimeri and a touch of Red Ochre light for the membrane over the skin. The red ochres are really strong pigments so you will only need a diluted drop of it for warmth.

Adding the facial highlights in thin layers of Yellow ochre Maimeri and titanium white
Building up very thin layers to model the face
Adding shell gold to the wings

You can see this icon completed and framed together with a few other icons here on my Etsy shop page.

Final details of the red line around the halo and ribbons to denote listening

And finally to close this post on the Triptych – here it is complete in the UK and ready to fly to Australia – with my Aussie sis joining in a wee family gathering!

Triptych in UK – sister in Aus!
Sisters!

In the meantime, trusting you all into the care of our celestial helpers.

As always, thanks for reading,

Ronnie