When I completed this icon back in 2018, I was unaware of the names of the angels standing behind the three most prominent archangels. However, when looking up old notes and running a few google searches, I’ve since discovered that similar icon examples show that the figures standing directly behind are as follows: to the left are Jegudiel and Selaphiel and on the right hand side, Uriel and Barachiel.
To follow on from the last blog post, I’d like to look at the stages of painting the angel faces. There’s a lot of them! The prototype that I’m referring to is a 19th century Russian icon The faces are captivating.
When painting a new icon, I start by making my own drawing to work from.
The underpainting stage looks quite rough and clunky but it helps to get strong definition at this stage.
It’s somewhere at the stage when the first few layers of highlights go on that you think the face is nothing as you had intended!
These are small faces to paint so every brush move counts. Taking a black and white photo and printing it out at a larger size helps as then I take a pencil/crayon and work over it by referring back to my drawing and observing where I need to make changes.
This icon is now spoken for and soon will be making its way to a loving home.
Just a reminder that I’m holding a ten year anniversary sale on all my remaining icons listed here. As soon as someone makes an enquiry, I place it on hold and remove it from the list. I’m happy to give people time to consider.
As always, thanks for reading and happy icon painting.
When painting a large icon, it helps to try and progress things evenly across the panel. I’d like to show you how I approached this in this post but also want to focus on the steps taken as I painted the Christ Child at the heart of this icon. I also have some exciting news… more about that at the end of this post.
An icon with so many figures and halos can be quite tricky to paint so it’s worth pausing to think about the sequence of work. Top of the list is to remove the protective pads as soon as I can; they can leave a sticky residue if left on too long.
Before I scribe defining lines around the halos, a certain amount of painting needs to be done around them first. The halo lines are adjacent to the hair of neighbouring angels and central the blue ring also touches the halos of the Seraphim. These need to be painted and allowed time to thoroughly dry out. I’ve found that when scribing lines on paint that hasn’t dried or ‘tempered’ for a day or so tends to spread.
At the centre of this icon is the young Christ with one hand raised in blessing and the other holding a scroll. The young boy is wearing a rich vermillion cloak and sash, radiating a gold (yellow ochre maimeri) light contained in an outer circle of seraphim. I decided not to paint all the garments surrounding the ring as I thought I would be able to work fairly neatly up to these edges.
I referred back to my initial drawing to trace and transcribe the face.
I have learnt to be very careful with strong lines when underpainting a face – they can be hard to integrate later. Better to have just a few key lines in the right places as reference points to move from then shade in thin layers, building up depth gradually around the cheeks, below chin and brow, to the side of nose and under the hairline.
Below you can see I’m building up all the faces at the same time, gradually deeping the shading. I’ve used yellow ochre maimeri and a tiny dash of ivory black to give a greenish yellow underpainting. You can also use Terre Verte for underpainting faces but this pigment can be quite sticky for painting small fine facial details.
It’s worth going quite dark with the shading – it will all get held together by the membrane layers. Don’t forget to add a few glazes of your egg mix – diluted with a few drops of water and let it dry before you add the membrane. These are tiny details but they help bring it all together. The egg seals the gesso below to provide an even surface for the next layers.
I’ve used English Red Ochre light and Yello Maimeri for the membrane layers. Add just enough membranes to make out the features. At this stage I leave things for at least a week and work on other areas. This is only something I’ve learnt. The more this layer is left to temper, the easier it is for you to correct mistakes without making a hole back to the gesso. You can read about that one here!
Darkening shadows and defining the features with ochre avana.
Building up highlights with very thin layers of yellow maimeri mixed with titanium white.
If at any time the highlights look too stark, add a few thin layers of French Ochre Havanna to even things out.
Finally, add whites of eyes, black pupils and eyelids, the lettering, ribbons, shell gold and fine jewel details on the garments.
Now for that exciting news… This year I’m celebrating ten years of icon painting and sharing my work here on this blog. As a big thank you for your company and comments over the years I am offering ALL my icons (including this one) in stock listed here at half price for the month of February. This offer will not be found on any social media page as it is excusive to all my readers, past icon buyers, friends and family. Postage will be added at cost and the icons will be sold on a first come first served basis – please get in touch if you would like one.
As always, thank you for reading and happy icon painting!
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.
You can see this icon completed and framed together with a few other icons here on my Etsy shop page.
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!
In the meantime, trusting you all into the care of our celestial helpers.
As I said in my previous post, I felt that this icon wasn’t quite complete. It wasn’t just the modelling and highlights on Archangel Michael’s face – but I felt it lacked presence. Since I had glazed the entire icon, I was prepared to work on it as a whole. I started with the face and applied thin layers of French Ochre Havanna, that lovely warm pigment that blends and evens out the different flesh tones.
I’ve learnt to leave some time between the underpainting of the face and applying the highlights. Letting the new paint rest for a few days works well as it is too easy to make holes in the layers when it is fresh. This is a small face, only 2.5cm brow to chin, so I need to be careful!
In the meantime, I had made a decision to extend the dark skies beyond the circle to balance the mountain area. The beauty of well-tempered paint is that it forms quite a hard surface after a year or so. With the dilute egg glaze acting as an isolating layer, I could easily remove the new paint if it didn’t look right. I had also decided to firm up the border in a deep red ochre.
Here you can see the red letters disappearing behind the indigo.
Using tracing paper with some titanium white pigment rubbed into the back, I transcribed the lettering and painted it back on.
Going back to the face, I added the highlights back in, gave the hair a glaze of red ochre deep and a touch of ivory black and added the missing ribbons which signify listening.
I then added a wash of lapiz lazuli over the cloak and inner ring.
Final touch was to take the liner pen and draw the lines back crisply over the new red border. All in all, about week’s work but I was much happier with it!
You can see more details of the finished icon here and as always, thanks for reading!
Have you ever looked back on something you’ve done and thought there was something not quite right, but didn’t know what to do about it? I have a suggestion. Leave it for a few years, get on with learning, developing and practicing and then revisit it with fresh eyes and a bit of courage to dive in and make the changes as you see fit.
The icon above shows part of the completed icon ready to go to an exhibition in York in Spring of 2018.
At the time, I was happy with the composition, content and colours of this icon of Archangel Michael. It was one I had given a lot of thought to – I wanted to paint an icon to show the story of how many centuries ago, the sisters in the Bar Convent, York, had called upon Archangel Michael’s help during a mob riot and their small community was under threat. The Archangel appeared on the roof of the convent – astride a white horse – and the mob fled.
The Bar Convent, Blossom Street, York was my school between 1971-4. It has joined the archives on my Drawing the Street project along with the buildings opposite, including Blossom Street Gallery where I held an exhibition called ‘A Street of Angels’ back in Spring 2018.
The icon was based on apocalypse protoypes which refer to the Book of Revelation where ‘There was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon’. I felt it was a powerful example to reflect the experience that the sisters had at that time. I looked up a number of apocolypes protoytpes to work out my own version.
Here’s my drawing – full size at 53 x 42 cm.
All that said, whenever I looked at the icon, I felt that it wasn’t quite complete. I wasn’t happy with Archangel Michael’s face – the light/modelling of his forehead wasn’t handled well and so I set myself up to just work over the face. I started by waking up the surface using a thin glaze one 1 part egg mix to 10 parts water – but decided to glaze over the entire icon (apart from the gilding) to give myself room to work on it as a whole. I applied several glazes and left it to settle for a few days.
I will continue with the decisions and steps taken in the next post as I realised there were a few other things that didn’t feel right. If you have read this far and want to see how it turned out – you can see it here.
Stay well and thank you for reading and all the kind comments:-)
I recently unwrapped a pair of standing angel icons which I painted three years ago for the exhibition ‘A Street of Angels’ in York at Blossom Street Gallery. I remember thinking that the faces weren’t quite right but time had run out as we were relocating up to Scotland and so they went on display, got packed away afterwards and that was that.
Life has taken quite a turn since and I don’t get much time to paint icons however I have committed to revisiting and finishing off all the icons that had things that I considered weren’t quite right. I thought that it would be worth sharing how I get along with this exercise as it is a bit of an adventure!
Here are the two icons before I started work on them. It was Archangel Raphael’s expression that I thought needed most work. It’s hard to tell from these photos but the blending was a bit heavy handed and if I was to refresh one, then I should work on them both for consistency.
First thing was to ‘wake up’ the surface with several coats of an egg glaze. Using the tempera mix, I made a glaze with about 1 drop of egg to 10 drops of water. I also made a protective paper cover for the gilding and taped it down. Looking at these photos, the faces don’t seem so bad, but they were just not properly finished.
I let the glazes settle for a few days, then using the wonderful pigment French Ochre Havanna, I applied three or four glazes over the face. This pigment is warm and a great one to calm down clumsy highlights. These faces are fairly small, about 2cm from hairline to chin, so I used fine brushes for the details.
Applying glazes over the entire face.
I’m putting on the darker tones here, with a 1010 kolinsky sable brush. I’ve mixed some English yellow ochre, raw umber and ivory black. I also used Ochre Avana which is another really versatile pigment. I have deepened the hair line and then used a thin egg glaze to feather and blend away the hard lines next to the brow. To get the highlights, I used Yellow Maimeri and titanium white, but I also added a small amount of French Havanna to keep the highlights a warm gold. I mix small quantities in this ceramic palette which comes with a lid – perfect to stop them drying out and keep the cats off!
I find that taking photos of my work as I go along helps as I can zoom in and see exactly where I need to tidy up. The other thing I do now is to add very thin glazes of ochre havanna as it helps with blending especially after I have been remodelling.
I added highlights in thin, thin layers, softened and shaped the eyebrows, moved the brow highlights to the right, eased back the highlights on the right of the neck, added vermillion to the nose tip, upper lip, under the chin and inner eye. Added white highlights to the eyes, with the sides of the eyes a grey mixed with black and white. Added a very thin glaze of vermillion to warm the cheeks. Then added the hair highlights back and added the ribbons which I had missed altogether. The finished face is on the left. I’m happy with this as the expression is much kinder! You can see the finished icon in my Etsy shop.
I hope that this is helpful in some way with your own icon painting. Thank you to everyone who has followed this blog during the quiet years, but I will go through the same process with Archangel Raphael in my next post.