Icon Diploma Student

Learning to see with the eye of the heart

Posts from the ‘Christian iconography’ category

Hallowed be thy Name

Lettering on handmade book

Hand made book covers for the dissertation showing four different manuscript lettering styles.

Hello icon friends,

Part of  the icon course includes submitting a dissertation. This sounded quite daunting but Aidan has been great at keeping this in perspective explaining that it is really just an essay on a subject which we are passionate about – something we can share with the rest of the students. I will be sharing my subject in stages here and will start off with an overview of my subject.

I was encouraged early on in the course when Aidan spoke about illuminated manuscripts as a rich resource for western iconongraphers. I have loved calligraphy and illuminated manuscripts since I was at school and so my dissertation subject was waiting in the wings: ‘A comparative study of four illuminated manuscripts as a resource for lettering on contemporary western icons’.

Hand painted illuminated letters

Finished letter samples and bound lettering books

The best part for me about this subject was when, on the very first day of the course, Aidan explained how it is the name on an icon that makes it an icon:

We venerate the icon that bears the name”.

It struck me how important it was to apply the same care to naming the icon as given to painting the image itself. When we are named in Baptism, the sacrament leaves an indelible spiritual mark of belonging to Christ on the soul and thus our chosen name becomes an intrinsic part of who we are. Solomon declared that:

“A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches” (Prov. 22:1).

The significance of naming is a wonderfully rich subject but my dissertation is a practical one based on writing out alphabets interpreted from the lettering of four manuscripts, which I will briefly touch on here. I will go through each manuscript study in stages in subsequent posts.

The first manuscript I chose was a European example of an early 8th century uncial hand, taken from an unidentified manuscript from Mont St Michel which I named ‘Avranches‘ for the purpose of my study:

Avranches manuscript

Example of lettering from the Avranches manuscript

Avranches lettering

Samples of gilded lettering in the ‘Avranches’ style and the hand bound book of lettering.

Gilded letter G from Avranches

Gilded example of letter G from the ‘Avranches’ manuscript.

The second is the Anglo-Saxon Benedictional of St Aethelwold, written in Winchester 963-984, by the scribe Godeman.

gilded lettering

Examples of gilded letters and hand bound book of Aethelwold lettering

Aethelwold benedictional

Gilding the letter X from the Aethelwold Benedictional.

Gilded letter sample on heavyweight, hot-pressed watercolour paper, using gesso made from the recipe when I attended Patricia Lovett’s Gilding and Illumination skills course. Vellum makes the ideal surface for gilded letters but these are lettering studies rather than finished pieces.

Gilded letter X

Gilded letter X from the Aethelwold Benedicitonal

Gilded letters D and S

Letters D and S in the Aethelwold style

The third and fourth manuscripts were written about the same time but one written in Bury St Edmonds the other in the Holy Land – the latter providing context for my study.

lettering of the Bury Bible

Bury Lettering on the hand bound book of letters

The Bury Bible is an example of High Romanesque style, written c.1130-1135 AD, and is a spectacular work of art by the hand of Master Hugo, considered one of the earliest professionally documented artists in England.

letter A gilded in 23 ct gold leaf

Gilded letter A from the Bury Bible

letter N Bury Bible

Illuminated Letter N based on the Bury Bible manuscript

The Melisende Psalter was my fourth and final study.

melisend Psalter pic of dissertation work

Gilded letters and hand bound book of lettering based on the Melisende Psalter

It is written in the style known as ‘protogothic’ by a group of six artists and a scribe, thought to be of French or Italian origin, in the scriptorium of the Monastery of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem, between 1134 and 1143 not long before the second crusade.

Illuminated letter A

Letter A from the Melisende Psalter, painted with Azurite and Terre Verte.

gilded letter B

Here’s B taken from the Melisende Psalter – painted in egg tempera with lapiz lazuli and terre verte.

My choice was also influenced by the availability of clear letter examples within the manuscripts. I was looking for enough images of each letter to study and compose an alphabet in the spirit of the original. That’s more than enough for now. Hope it has sparked a little interest in the subject!

letter C

Last example from the Melisende Psalter – letter C

Before I sign off,  I would like to say a big thank you to those who take the trouble to get in touch. I really appreciate hearing from you:-)

Thanks for reading.

Ronnie

Sketching Thessaloniki – a glimpse of an ancient land

Terracotta jars in Thessaloniki

Amphorae used in the wine and oil trade, 3rd to 6th Century, Thessaloniki, Greece

I’m not long back from our field trip to Thessaloniki, Greece; a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Travelling with a small group of icon diploma students, all passionate about our subject, we visited the mosaics and wall paintings in the ancient churches of Thessaloniki, led by Aidan Hart and supported by the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts.

The places we visited didn’t allow flash photography so most of my photos are a little too fuzzy to share here. However, I kept a sketch book and though most of these pen and ink drawings were done in 5-10 minutes, I hope they give you a flavour of the trip.

If you are really interested in looking at the wall paintings that we visited, here is a link which is well worth bookmarking and which I only discovered on my return, it’s a database of Byzantine art: Princeton University.

Hospitality from Harry at the Vlatadon Monastery

Hospitality from Harry at the Vlatadon Monastery – Greek coffee and ‘Greek Delight’

pen and ink sketch of 5th Century mosaics

Fragments of rich greens and blues of 5th century mosaics in the Church of Acheiropoietos

pen and ink sketch of Greek icon

500 year old icon of the ‘Hope of the Hopeless’

pen and ink sketch of Thessaloniki

Sketch of the apse and iconostasis in the Church of Archeiropoietos

pen and ink sketch of Greek cats

Basking Greek cats and a fragment of Roman archaeology

pen and ink sketch of Greek balcony

Balcony beside the Ecclesiastical Museum, Thessaloniki

agia Sophia pen and ink sketch

Looking toward the apse of Agia Sophia, Thessaloniki and the glow of the golden mosaics.

pen and ink sketch of Agia Sophia

Detail from the ceiling west of the dome of the Agia Sophia, Thessaloniki

tree sketch

Shape of a Greek tree in a planter

Well in the Crypt of St Demitrios, Thessaloniki, where the saint was martyred

Well in the Crypt of St Demitrios, Thessaloniki, where the saint (an officer in the Roman army) was martyred in AD303. The 7th C basilica was built on the ruins of a Roman bath complex.

Nicholas Orphanos

Nicholas Orphanos – wall paintings attributed to the school of Panselinos.

Hosios David Thessaloniki sketch

Mosaic of the ‘Beardless Christ’ in the apse of Hosios David, depicting the vision of Ezekiel, late 5th C

Finally, I will leave you with a few more sketches of life from the Museum of Byzantine Culture, Thessaloniki.

sketch of greek necklaces

Necklaces and bracelets – delicate and fresh colours from the 2nd to 6th centuries.

oil lamp Byzantine

5th century lamp of Thessaloniki – approx 80mm x 60mm

column capital

Cube capital engraved with a cross which is formed by four diagonally carved oil or wine amphorae.

Thanks for reading.

Ronnie

Drawing Heavenly Bodies: Virgin and Child Enthroned with attendant Archangels Raphael and Michael

pencil drawing of icon of virgin and child enthroned

Cartoon of the Virgin and Child Enthroned

Hello icon friends,

The summer before I embarked on the icon diploma course, I asked Aidan if there were any practical steps I could take to help my ability as a student icon painter. His answer was immediate: ‘Learn to draw!’ So I signed up to a really good local drawing class with David Brammeld and a year later Drawing the Street was born, not long before I was accepted on the Diploma course.

Drawing is becoming a way of life for me and I am always exploring ways to develop. There are many online classes and one which I have found refreshing and energetic is Sketchbook Skook

In the meantime, there is so much to learn with icon painting that I thought that I could share my cartoons of the figures for the triptych I’m working on, which might help you get started with your own icon studies.

You should be able to save these drawn images to your computers and print them off on A4.

The four images of the Angels of Chora are all borrowed from Aidan’s library. I hope to be able to credit the photographer in an update to this post.

Meanwhile, happy drawing!

Ronnie

pencil drawing of angel of Chora

Archangel Michael after one of the Angels of Chora

pencil drawing of Archangel Raphael

Archangel Raphael line drawing after one of the angels of Chora

Now for the full size images:

Virgin and Child Enthroned line drawing low res

angel of chora pencil drawing

Full length drawing of Archangel Michael taken from an angel of Chora

pencil drawing of Archangel Raphael

Archangel raphael full length line drawing

Image of Angel of Chora

Angel of Chora image courtesy of Aidan Hart’s image library

image of Angel of Chora

Angel of Chora images all courtesy of Aidan Hart’s image library.

Angel of chora

Angel of Chora images all courtesy of Aidan Hart’s image library.

angle of Chora black and white

Angel of Chora – images all courtesy of Aidan Hart’s image library.

Angels of Chora

Archangel in Monochrome

Face of Archangel Raphael in a monochrome study

Warmest greetings icon friends!

Our summer visitors have all gone home, my dissertation for the icon diploma has been handed in (more on that in another post) and our icon classes resumed last week with Aidan Hart in time to celebrate the feast of St Michael and All Angels.

Having spent a couple of months away from the paintbrush, I felt I would benefit from painting a monochrome. Besides, I had already stretched some 300gsm watercolour paper (Fabriano Artistico hot pressed), and had the images already prepared in outline.

painting the lines of st Michael in monochrome

First lines applied on Archangel Michael in English Red Light pigment

These are the same images of the Angels of Chora which I am using in my triptych (see previous post).  I haven’t painted the faces on any of the figures in the triptych yet, so these monochromes have been helpful in getting me back in the painting groove.

Modelling icon garments

Building up the layers of pigment to model the garments.

archangels Raphael and Michael

Background added of pure azurite pigment

I really enjoy painting monochromes. It’s relaxing not having to think about colour and to simply concentrate on the form, looking at the areas of light and shade. I also wanted these studies to stand on their own, so I gilded the haloes and garment highlights.

If ever you feel daunted by the prospect of painting an icon, this is a really good place to start.

I love the deep blue-greys of the Chora angel backgrounds. They give a wonderful feeling of a heavenly sky. It is quite a challenge to match colours, for one thing, even if you know that the colour used was azurite, this can vary according to the quality of the stone and where it was mined. For these studies, I applied over a dozen washes of azurite – the pigment which I ground from a small rock bought from Burslem Lapidary shop, then a few washes of Indigo from Cornelissens.

I used acrylic gold size, applied in two layers, then after ten minutes or so, I applied some transfer gold leaf (from Wrights of Lymm) once it had gone tacky. If you add a pinch of red pigment to the size, it helps to give some depth to the background as well as show you where you’ve painted.

gold transfer leaf

Adding gold leaf to Archangel Michael’s halo

After applying the gold leaf to the halo, I then used a compass with a dip pen attachment to draw a circle to frame it. This is fiddly and I haven’t mastered it at all yet and ended up with a line thicker than I intended.

thick line around halo

Halo line a bit too thick.

I had used a sheet of cardboard over the image to protect the face/paper from getting a compass puncture mark right in the middle of Raphael’s brow. The thickness of the card had a knock-on effect of dislocating my circle by a few millimetres – I will try a sheet of acetate cut to size next time.

Here are the finished studies. They are not the best photographs but hopefully give you an idea of the end result.

monochrome archangel Michael

Complete study of  Archangel Michael

Archangel raphael

Complete study of Archangel Raphael in monochrome

That’s all for now.

Many thanks for reading. Ronnie

PS Aidan has recently been filmed whilst painting an icon and has been included as part of Simon Schama’s Face of Britain series.

PPS Prints and cards of Archangels Michael and Raphael are now available from Smith York Printers.

More on the Triptych: Azurite on Archangels Raphael and Michael

azupainting icon with azurite pigment

Azurite blue pigments on the icon of Raphael and Michael

This is a very short post as I am not long back from the icon course. Tomorrow I am meeting my American family, then we are all heading up to Scotland for a week. It will be a while before I can post again so here are a few pictures of work in progress taken during our latest icon session.

angels egg tempera

Figures of Archangel Raphael and Michael, building up washes and highlights.

TRIP 5a

Adding indigo to low lights increases depth in the fabric.

Trip 6

Adding a background and wings

wrapping up on day 3

Wrapping up on day 3

details on the cloth

details on the cloth

That’s it for now – good night all and thanks for reading.

Ronnie

Three days on a Triptych

icon class

Icon Diploma Students taken at Aidan Hart’s May session 2015

Hello icon friends and class mates,

I’m just back from a three day intensive painting our standing/seated figures. I brought my gilded triptych centre panel already prepared with the image transferred so I could start to paint in class.

icon outline drawing

Transferring outline on to gessoed panel

Just to rewind a little, I photocopied my drawing on to tracing paper to locate the outline prior to water gilding. After gilding, I rubbed red ochre pigment into the back of the tracing paper/drawing itself (rather than using an intermediary sheet), and using a fine propelling pencil with a fairly hard lead, transferred the image on to the board.

tracing paper drawing

Drawing of icon on tracing paper

Once all the main lines were transferred on to the board, a weak mix of pigment fixed the lines in place. I then began the underpainting and modelling of the garments.

underpainting icon

First stage of underpainting

Aidan suggested that I used Red Ochre for the Blessed Virgin’s upper garment as it has some blue in it. I also used Lapiz Lazuli Dark, a beautiful natural blue and Ivory Black to deepen both colours; all pigments are from Cornelissen’s.

ivory black and red ochre

Ivory black and Red Ochre pigments

Both pigments are very strong so I mixed them up separately first, then blended. For the underpainting I used a lovely size 2 Roubloff 1010 kolinsky sable brush which I had recently ordered from Vesta-k. It has a really sharp point and holds the pigment well.

underpainting garments

Building up the underpainting of the garments

I mixed black to the lapiz lazuli and red ochre in varying degrees to give depth to the underpainting. The deeper shadows are painted using a lot of black in the mix.

lapiz lazuli

First layer of membrane applied using a wash of pure Lapiz lazuli over the underpainting.

membranes on icon

Membranes on the garments

Pure red ochre and lapiz membranes washed over the underpainting with a very thin layer of lapiz washed over the red afterwards to unite the garments.

After several layers of membrane, I applied a nourishing layer of 20% egg 80% water and let it dry before going over the shadows and adding highlights. Aidan suggested fine layers of pure white dry-brushed over the membrane to give translucent layers of highlights.

The underpainting of the Christ Child is in English Yellow Ochre with a little Red Ochre added to model the form. The colours are painted quite densely as the garments will be gilded using shell gold assist. I understand from my class mate Lee that for the crispest, most gleaming gold lines, hand-made shell gold is the way to go – thanks Lee! Watch this space for adventures in making shell gold – I rang Wrights of Lymm for a couple of books of gold today!

three days work

Three days work

Thanks for reading.

Ronnie

Gilding the Triptych

gilding a triptcyh

Gilding a triptych

I’d like to share a few thoughts following my attempts to water gild the triptych. It’s Spring here in UK and I love the lighter days and milder weather. I opted to work in the conservatory for the even light and to be immersed in the burst of new green in the garden.  I often have cold hands so the warmth in here is wonderful for loosening up my fingers ready for gilding. It’s better to gild in cool, damp weather but I thought I might just get away with it being mild – nope, I didnt! So here is my first tip: if gilding a large area in warmer weather, do it in two or three stages as the bole dries out so quickly. You need time to burnish the gold whilst the bole is still relatively soft soon after double gilding. With hindsight, I should have gilded and burnished all the raised areas as one complete area first, then gilded and burnished all the flat areas afterwards.

raised border gilding

Gilding the Kivotos

Masking out the gesso was helpful as carefully scraping the gold off the gesso after gilding can take an hour or so. For the fiddly areas, I used a sharp scalpel to score along the edges in the same way as I did with the bole (See previous post). The other thing which helped was thirteen layers of bole. These were just enough to cover the tiny air holes in the gesso and the patches of scrim which had shown through. If you are about to gild, then I can recommend Aidan Hart’s class demonstration video clip here on You Tube.

gilding a door to the icon triptych

Double gilding over the first layer of loose gold on one of the doors

Masking fluid saves time scraping gold from gesso

Masking fluid saves time scraping gold from gesso

gilding kit

Some ingredients for gilding – cat drinking the water for brush-cleaning is optional!

A phone (switched off) makes a handy 10mm/half inch prop to lift the icon board so the water flows away from previously gilded areas. Hand cream is useful to rub on the back of your hand before brushing the squirrel tip across – this helps the gold leaf stick to the tip. Vodka is added to the gilding mix together with Buxton water (PH neutral). I used gold leaf, 23 and 3/4 carat loose, extra thick from Wrights of Lymm, Cheshire. The small jar contains size prepared from rabbit skin glue granules. Other gilding kit consists of a squirrel mop ( the large brush to the top right), a gilder’s cushion and gilder’s knife to cut the gold leaf. Having a cat in the midst is not ideal as hairs blow into the mix. However, at the moment our cat is still out-of-sorts having recently lost her companion and won’t settle unless she has company nearby. If you are about to water gild an icon – here is our class crib sheet of Gilders’ Tips which may help.

Gilding complete

Gilding complete

This actually looks a lot better than it does in real life but I am glad the gilding is done. Some parts are smooth, some pretty rough in spite of a solid week’s work. Here’s a close-up on the burnishing marks as a result of letting it dry out too much:

Burnishing marks

Burnishing marks

Once again, thanks for reading and all the best with your own endeavours. Ronnie

Triptych begins

Bole and water gilding a triptych

Gilding a Triptych

Hello Icon Friends,

I’ve begun work on a triptych for my sister Anne, in Australia. She made a lighthearted requests some 7 or 8 years ago, saying how much she would love to have one of those icons that ‘open out’. I never forgot her wish and it was wonderful when Aidan confirmed that standing and seated figures were part of the curriculum so my triptych could be included in the course work.

triptych treated with cuprinol

Treating the oak with Cuprinol

Dylan Hartley, in Ironbridge hand-made the quarter-sawn oak panels and gessoed them ready for me to sand. With the great benefit of hindsight, I should have asked him to treat them with Cuprinol in the workshop so they could be covered evenly on all sides – but it was only when I thought about posting the boards to Australia that I realised they would need to be treated due to their strict import regulations. A few days after I had applied the treatment and varnished the oak, the boards warped but the gesso was unharmed – no cracks.

sketch drawings for triptych

Planning the triptych layout: Upper panels include the Holy Face in the Mandilion, with Bethlehem and the New Jerusalem either side.

Anne had told me what she had in mind for this triptych: Arhcangel Raphael (the Shining One who Heals) and Archangel Michael, the Warrior, either side of the Blessed Virgin and Child. Aidan introduced me to the magnificent angels of Chora to adapt to fit the side panels – the original wall paintings fit in tapered panels set within a domed ceiling.

angel of chora

Detail of one of the Angels of Chora

Next stage was to prepare the gessoed panels by sanding in sequence through the grades of sandpaper from 80 grit to 1200 grit to prepare for water gilding. it took the best part of three full days to sand and bole the boards ready for gilding.

sanding the gesso

Sanding off the scratches and bumps in the gesso

sanding gesso

Sanding back too far

With all the irregular surfaces and curves covered in gesso, it was difficult to sand back enough to articulate the shapes without also revealing some of the linen scrim. As soon as I saw the scrim, I avoided the area and only smoothed it with the finer grades of sandpaper. It eventually covered (almost) under 13 layers of bole.

bole on triptych

Bole applied to triptych

It is very fiddly to apply layers of bole around narrow spaces so this time I masked the whole area out with masking fluid with a little added pigment.

masking gesso

Masking out the gesso before applying the bole

Before removing the masking fluid, I scored the edges to avoid lifting the bole.

Removing masking fluid

Removing masking fluid by scoring a clean edge with a sharp blade.

More on gilding in the next post – with a few tips on what not to do!

Thanks for reading,

Ronnie

Archangel Gabriel – egg tempera on watercolour paper

angel gabriel

Archangel Gabriel on water colour paper

Hello icon friends, While I was recovering from the fractures, I was keen to get my arm painting or drawing again in some way. Since I was pretty limited in my mobility, I decided to make use of some pre-stretched water colour paper which was mounted on a board light enough to handle. I really liked the monochrome studies which we painted in egg tempera on paper and thought I would tackle some different garments as a way of practice before returning to make amends to the hashed up garments of St Francis.

egg tempera on paper

Drawing on to stretched water colour paper

This proved to be a delightful exercise and although it doesn’t have the translucency of painting on to a gessoed board, the results are surprisingly soft and gentle. It is also a great way of practicing if you don’t have an icon board to hand.

Underpainting garments, hair and face

Underpainting garments, hair and face

The paper is 300gsm Fabriano cold pressed water colour paper, which accepts the pigment really easily once it has been stretched. I dampened the paper again where I was painting large areas which helped to blend the pigments.

adding pigment to hair and wings


Underpainting the wings and adding membrane to hair

For the garments, I chose English Red Deep with a little Raw Umber and for the wings, I chose French Ochre Havanna with a dash of English Red Deep. The blue in the garments and hair band is Ultramarine Blue light with a dash of Raw Umber and the background is the same blue but with a little Ivory black added.

4a  angel

Adding membrane to the face and to garments

5a angelapply facial highlights

applying garment highlights

applying garment highlights

Highlights added to garments and face

Highlights added to garments and face

Applying gold leaf to the halo and wings

Applying gold leaf to the halo and wings

Prints and cards of Archangel Gabriel are now available to buy from Smith York Printers

Working with St Francis

st Francis

Work in progress on St Francis of Assisi

Hello icon friends,

A very happy Easter to you all and a warm welcome to the recent people following my blog. You have nudged me back to the desk to post some work after being away for far too long. Thank you!

I have a backlog of four icon boards to finish but thought I would start with a summary of work to one of my half figure icons – St Francis, chosen as I am so often calling on his help with one or the other of our pets. I can only trust St Francis knows best as he doesn’t always answer prayers with what I want to hear.

pencil sketch over drawing

Starting with a pencil sketch

I am referring to Aidan Hart’s image of St Francis (the one with him holding a robin) for this icon and began with a pencil sketch which I photocopied and went over with a black line ready to transfer on to a birch ply board prepared by Dylan Hartley.

lines transferred

Transferring lines using red ochre rubbed into a sheet of paper

light wash in red ochre on icon

Light wash of red ochre to define the forms

I have learnt to go very lightly with these first lines on the face, especially the lines on upper moustache and below the eyes. Use pigment with no egg so that the lines aren’t fixed and hard.

face underpainting of st francis

Underpainting the face and garments

I used Cornelissen’s Terre Verte with a dash of Stuart Stevenson’s yellow Ochre light to underpaint the face, making sure that it was dark enough to withstand 3-4 layers of membrane.The membrane was the same yellow ochre with a small dash of English Red Light.

membrane layer on face

First membrane layer applied to the face

membrane layers

Building up the membrane layers

I applied four membranes to the face as I was looking for a warm, even Mediterranean skin tone. The underpainting was just still visible. Some of the dry pigments brushed off as the egg tempera mix had got a little weak but I remembered the benefit of applying a nourishing layer of egg stock (approx 80% water 20% egg)  which helped stabilise the pigments.

face highlights

Adding highlights to the face

background layers

Building up the background layers

I am not going into the garments here as I made a bit of a hash of them! I used varying mixes of English Red Light and Ivory Black but I was too heavy-handed with the darks. I lost the translucency and almost sanded the whole lot off to start again, but Aidan thought they could be improved so I persevered. I am glad I did.  I recalled from one of the weeks spent at Walcott Hall that Avana is a pigment that can rescue many a difficult colour situation. I applied several thin washes and it seemed to soften the starkness of the red robes and evened the shading a little so I could almost start afresh with the highlights.

adding red ochre

Adding English Red highlights to cheeks, mouth, eyelids and nose

Adding light washes of English Red Light really adds warmth to the face. I still have the eyes to finish but the next stage is the background, halo and lettering and making good some of the highlights follwing my last class review.

Thanks for joining me here and if you are still reading, I am sorry I haven’t posted for so long as I had a bit of a set back when I fell and fractured my pelvis (in 3 places) and my drawing arm in two places – I only fell over our own back door step! I am well and truly on the mend now though and gradually catching up.

This post is dedicated to Leo; as I said not so long ago, we are only ever their keepers.

Thanks for reading.

Ronnie

Ollie and Leo

Ollie and Leo