Icon Diploma Student

Learning to see with the eye of the heart

Posts from the ‘Christian iconography’ category

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

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

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

All gone quiet

It’s all hands on deck at home as finishing off seems to take almost as long as actually painting an icon. Our last icon session is only days away and details of the graduation show next month are now up on the PSTA website. I would be delighted if you could come along though I know many of you are miles away. It promises to be a great show as my fellow students have produced some breath-taking work.

I plan to continue with the blog after the course has finished as I haven’t posted any where near as much as I had intended.

I will be back in touch when I get a moment and will leave you with these two icons which are almost complete…varnishing, picture hooks and cord still to add.

iconpainting of St Hilda of Whitby by Ronnie Cruwys

St Hilda of Whitby

Icon painting in egg tempera of St Francis of Assisi

St Francis of Assis

Thanks for reading!

Ronnie

 

 

 

Shell Gold Shine

agate burnisher on shell gold

Burnishing shell gold

The finishing touches to this icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary (based on an icon in St Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai) has taken me almost as long as it took to paint!

This was the stage I left it at two years ago.

1 edit blessed virgin mary

Still to finish: Halo, gold assist on robe, stars, lettering, warm highlights on face, paint sides red.

This is one of the first icons that I painted with Aidan. We worked on the mandilion in class and painted our second portrait format icon at home which I wrote about here. I chose the two prototypes from an iconostasis in St Catherine’s monastery, Sinai, here is the prototype.

As the two icons will be displayed as a pair, I worked on them together but I hadn’t appreciated the amount of work that goes into the last stages.

Virgin and Christ icons cruwys

My first two diploma icons – unfinished

The halo takes a bit of practice. I used a compass with an ink attachment (like this example) and load the nib up with shellac and red ochre pigment. Do some sample lines until you get the right thickness to draw a line without blobbing – I haven’t mastered it yet so don’t want to lead you astray showing my technique. However, it helps to have the circle drawn to the right size on tracing paper to help locate the centre point. I used thick card to protect the surface of the icon from the compass point, though a wooden ruler with felt beneath would be better.

scribing halo

Setting up to scribe the halo

I wanted to learn how to make shell gold for the assist. It’s gold leaf ground down and washed so thoroughly that it becomes liquid gold when mixed with gum arabic. It can be applied finely with a brush and burnished to a high shine. I had tried to make it following instructions from my fellow students and various websites, but couldn’t get it to stick or to shine so I booked onto Anita Chowdry’s two day workshop in June.

liquid 24ct gold

Two books of 24 ct gold leaf being ground up by hand with honey

I had no idea just how much grinding, washing and filtering is required to get the rich shine but here’s a link to an example of one of Anita’s shell gold workshops. Anita will be writing a book about the technique so I suggest you sign up to her newsletter to learn more.

Applying shell gold

Painting shell gold assist on the Blessed Virgin’s head dress.

The icon is now away being photographed.

Sorry about the delay between posts. It’s pretty hectic getting things together for the exhibition. I intend to continue this blog after the diploma finishes as there is much I have still to share.

Thanks for reading,

Ronnie

 

 

 

 

‘I Saw Him!’

mary Magdalene tells the disciples Christ has risen

Mary Magdalene is first with the good news ‘I have seen the Lord!’

Good morning and Happy Easter!

Romanesque manuscripts are a rich resource for iconographers. I have often wondered how a manuscript image would work painted on to a gessoed board instead of vellum. I had a small maple board (approx 6″x 8″) already prepared so I set aside the homework on my nativity icon to work on this small experimental piece during Lent.

I chose this image of Mary Magdalene announcing her news to the discples. It’s from the St Alban’s Psalter, one of several known to have been created at or for St Albans Abbey in the 12th century. I love their expressions and the long thin draperies contrasted with oversized hands and feet.

Icon board first stage of work for St Albans Psalter

Outline of figures added and oil gilding applied.

I transferred the outlines from my line drawing in red ochre then applied several layers of acrylic gold size (with some red ochre added to provide a contrast against the gesso) to adhere the transfer gold.

I then applied the base colours, including the richly coloured Caput Mortum for the background.

Ground terre verte azurite on icon board

Building up the layers of garment colours

7 a Magdalene and disciples st Albans

Gritty pigment

Some of my pigments are quite gritty. I like this varied texture on backgrounds but it’s hopeless to work with on tiny faces and details so I ground them up with a slab and muller and a spoon of water until they were very smooth.

The blue I used was a gift from my son who has recently been to Japan. While he was there he went to the new shop ‘Pigment‘ especially to buy me some! Here’s a sample of Azurite which I ground up and by levigating the mix I ground out three beautiful blues.

grinding up pigment from Tokyo PIGMENT

Kyojyo Gosu 6 Azurite from ‘Pigment’ in Tokyo

As the terre verte was too gritty to underpaint the small features on the faces, I used black and yellow to make green instead.

Underpainting faces

Underpainting faces using Maimeri yellow and a touch of ivory black

applying membrane to face painting

Adding the membrane to faces using maimeri yellow and white, a dash of red added later

6 face highlights

Building up highlights on the faces and adding the hair

The faces still seemed too pale so I added a few washes of French Ochre Havanna (also called Warm Ochre). Looking at the faces and hair this close up I can see there is still some work needed.

7 final faces

Deepening the shadows, adding vermillion to the eyes and white highlights

I added several layers of malachite over the terre verte to give this rich green.

8 St ALbans Psalter Magdalene announces news

The almost finished article.

To see the original manuscript, please visit the St Albans’s Psalter here and this icon is now available to buy from my Etsy shop here.

Wishing you all a blessed and happy Easter and as Mary Magdalene first said: ‘He is Risen!’

Thanks for reading

Ronnie

P.S. Prints and cards are now available of this icon from Smith York Printer

 

Perfect Proportions: Anglo-Saxon Style

Aethelwold group

Hello icon friends,

Next along in the lettering posts is an example of some gorgeous Anglo-Saxon; the magnificent Benedictional of St Aethelwold. The original manuscript is held by the British Library and considered to be one of their greatest treasures: “A Masterpiece of Anglo-Saxon art”.

f70 r Christ in Majesty TRINITAS British Library

Lettering from St Aethelwold manuscript held by the British Library

The images have all been digitised and are available to see through the British Library’s website here. There is a great deal of embellishment on the images but zoom in past all this and have a close look at the way the garments have been painted on the figures in particular the colours, composition and fabric folds – some wonderful examples for iconographers.

f4r St Peter and 2 apostles crop brit Library

St Peter and two apostles

This entire book was written by the scribe Godeman for St Æthelwold, Bishop of Winchester from 963-984 and is one of the earliest and most significant surviving examples of the Anglo-Saxon Winchester scriptorium.

Born c AD 909, the aptly named Aethelwold “noble ruler”, was key to the transformation of English religious life. He initiated the reform of the Benedictine Rule which culminated with his written document Regularis Concordia.

Godeman, the scribe, was a monk at the Old Minster, Winchester. He may have belonged to the group of monks from the Abbey at Abingdon that Æthelwold placed in Winchester Cathedral as part of the renewal of the Benedictine Rule. The artist for the illuminations has not been identified although some scholars attribute these to Godeman too.

Here are just a few examples of the lettering in this manuscript – the British Library is a fantastic resource and there are many good quality images of this Benedictional available to study online.

Having studied as many examples of each of the letters available, here are my attempts to create a painted Anglo Saxon style alphabet which would suit icons which depict Anglo Saxon Saints, or saints contemporary with this period (listed at the end of this post).

 

PATER a.jpg

ET FILIVS a.jpg

I have saved the full set of letters which you can download and save to your desktop as a six page pdf document here: Aethelwold Letters 

Thanks for reading and I will leave you with some suggestions for saints which may lend themselves to icons using this script:

Some saints associated directly and indirectly with the manuscript:

St Swithun                            St Aethelwold     St Dunstan            St Cuthbert

St Æthelthryth                     St Benedict           St Vedast               St Stephen

St Aetheldreda                     St Edgar                 St Gregory

St Mary Magdalene             St John the Baptist

 

 

SOME SAINTS CONTEMPORARY WITH THIS PERIOD

Gaudentius (Radim Gaudentius) born 970 d 1020 Archbishop of Niezno

Firmian d 1020

Heribert of Cologne (Herbert) b 970 d 1021

Herve d 1021

Berward of Hildesheim b 960 d 1022 Bishop of Hildesheim

Theodoric of Orleans b 980 d 1022 Bishop of Orleans

Agatha Hildegard d 1024

Henry II, Holy Roman Emperor b972  d1024

Romauld 952 d1057

Fulbert of Chartres 970—1028 Bishop of Chartres

Elfleda (Ethelfleda) d.1030

963 Athanasius the Athonite buys the island of Kyra-Panagia from the                     Byzantine noblemen of Constantinople as a dependency of Mount Athos.

 

969 Olga of Kiev, grandmother of the Grand Prince Vladimir of Kiev

978 Edward the Martyr, King of England, March 18.

988 Dunstan, Abp. of Canterbury, May 19.

980 Translation of the holy relics of Birinus of Dorchester from Winchester to a new shrine, September 4 by St. AEthelwold.

 

 

 

 

Colour Crunching

3 Stones variety of colour

Variety of colour in a handful of washed ‘Chrysocolla’

A very happy New Year to you! Hope you are all blessed with a little peace wherever you are over these twelve days of Christmas.

Our final icon for the diploma course will be a festal icon. I have chosen the Nativity in which I am planning to use some soft earth colours. To get me set up for the year ahead, I’ve been crunching minerals to make my own pigments with some surprising results.

I had a small batch of Chrysocolla which I bought from the Lapidary Shop in Burslem, Staffordshire. This is a bright blue-green copper based mineral, closely associated with malachite and azurite.

1 Chrysocolla rough stones

Chrysocolla as rough cut mineral fragments

Before I began to grind it with a pestle and mortar, I separated out some of the brighter and darker pieces to divide it into three batches.  This post is mostly photos so please join me for a minute to enjoy the gorgeous rich colours which have emerged from this exciting mineral.

 

2 Chrysocolla washing stones

First wash the chrysocolla to remove debris, then let it dry out.

4 Chrysocolla colour variants

Grind with pestle and mortar before fine-grinding on the slab and muller.  Note the jars for levigating the finely ground mix scooped up from the slab.

Crunch about a tablespoon at a time until it is the texture of fine salt. Then tip the powder on to the slab, add a tablespoon of water and grind until really smooth, anything from 5 to 10 minutes with firm rotating movement.

The next few photos will give you an idea of the variety of greens which can be found in this mineral.

5 Chrysocolla.jpg

Add water by the spoon to the pigment. Use a plastic palette knife to scoope the mix back to the middle.

6 Chrysocolla

Copper green

7 Chrysocolla

Earth green

When the pigment is smooth and fine, use a spatula and a mop paintbrush to scoop up the mix and drop into a jar of water. Let it settle for half an hour, then pour off the top water into another jar and let that settle. Have another jar of water to rinse your brush in between batches and you will collect more pigment as you go along. I used over a dozen jars for this process.

8 Chrysocolla

Softer earth green

9 chrysocolla

Blue green

I poured the mix from the bottom of the jars onto plates as it dries out faster. When it’s dried, use a stiff brush and gather it into a jar.

10 Drying pigments

levigated chrysocolla pigment

Variety of greens all from separating and levigating the ground pigment.

To see Aidan Hart demonstrating this process in one of the diploma classes, please have a look at the You Tube video Aidan Hart demonstrates grinding azurite pigment.

I now have a great selection of greens! I also ground up some Haemetite, azurite, pyrites and malachite. All came out pretty well.

Thanks for reading.

Ronnie

jars of pigment

Array of green pigments all from the same batch of chrysocolla.

Fragments of beauty from 8th C Avranches

Avranches banner 2a
Painted letters in the style of 8th century French uncial hand

I began my dissertation for the Icon Diploma with lettering discovered in Mont St Michel, France.  The style is a majuscule script known as ‘uncial’, written in capital letters, in common use from the 4th to the 8th century by both Latin and Greek scribes.

I stumbled upon this exceptional 8th century lettering some fifteen years ago, whilst on a family holiday in Normandy. Mont St Michel is home to some beautiful illuminated manuscripts, some of which can be seen by request in the town hall at Avranches, nearby.

Guerison du Paralytique 1 rev.jpg

Guerison du Paralytique, from the Gospel of St Mark

Whilst there, I bought the book l’Enluminure Romane au Mont-Saint-Michel” by Monique Dosdat which includes several fragments from a Book of Gospels. There are only a few of these pages which survive – the author and dedication are unknown.

Their history is intriguing as they were discovered bound into a later manuscript, at Mont St Michel. The two pages are identified by their full titles:

  1. “Fragment d’un Evangeliaire, Vllle siecle, Annonce aux Bergers, Luke 2, 12. Avranches, BM, ms 48.
  2.  “Fragment d’un Evangeliaire, Vllle siecle, Guerison du Paralytique, Marc, 2, 5-12  Avranches, BM, ms 71.

The author Dosdat writes: “These pages are an impressive witness of a beautiful, perfectly legible uncial lettering, its characters uniting a classic uncial calligraphy born in 4th Century Italy under the influence of Irish round hand lettering”.

This scribe had mastered the art of consistency, spacing, layout and rhythm so that the text itself is a work of art.

So let’s look at the lettering as examples for use on icons. This script would lend itself to early Celtic or French saints. The following studies are my second attempt at translating this quilled hand into painted letters.  I have ‘waisted’ the uprights and some letters will need to be refined but feel free to print them off and use them if you wish. I can see the serifs on the letter ‘C’ are pretty clumsy – so use the body of the letter C instead.

ABCDEF

DDD

Looking at the two types of ‘D’ used in the same manuscript.

GIJKLN

OGEC

MAQ

The right hand stroke of the letter A is a little top heavy.

ORSTUV

 

 

PQLH

 

WXXYZ

These ‘X’ and ‘Y’ letters are my favourite!

Thanks for reading.

Ronnie