Icon Diploma Student

Learning to see with the eye of the heart

Posts from the ‘icon painting’ category

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

White horse and Indigo skies part 2 of 2

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!

White Horse and Indigo Skies (part 1 of 2)

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.

Detail shows Blossom Street buildings in disarray. A small gilded heart strikes the dragon’s mouth.

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:-)

Ronnie

Our Lady of Mount Carmel

Our Lady of Mt. Carmel is the patroness of the Carmelite Order.

Har Ha-karmel is the Hebrew name for Mount Carmel, a mountain range in north-west Israel. The name dates back to biblical times and is derived from the Hebrew word kerem, meaning ‘vineyard’ or ‘orchard’, referring to the mountains’ fertile soil over the centuries. Since I live on the side of ‘Black Hill’ an Iron Age hill fort with grapes growing in the greenhouse (yes in Scotland!) and apples in the orchard, I can picture a place rich with human history.

Mount Carmel is mentioned as a holy mountain in ancient Egyptian records and was also sacred to the early Christian hermits who settled there during the 12-13th centuries. These early Carmelites built a chapel dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, calling her the ‘Lady of the Place’.  

Our Lady is holding a scapular, known as a sacramental – a symbol of devotion to her.

The bright gold lines over the Christ Child’s garments are called ‘Assiste’ which I painted using 24 carat shell gold. I made this shell gold at a fantastic weekend workshop with Anita Chowdry when she had her studio on Woburn Walk, Bloomsbury. If you would like to make your own shell gold, Anita wrote a book describing the technique in great detail which is available as a downloadable book from her website above.

Making shell gold involves breaking down gold leaf into minute particles – washed away of any debris and mixed with pure gum arabic. It involves a lot of patience and a very clean room – no pet hairs! Hopeless for me now!

A year or so later and we were back down to London for UCL architecture summer show – which started with breakfast along Woburn Walk and a sketch. It is also not that far from Cornelissens where you can buy ready made shell gold – it’s a beautiful product but if you have the time, dedication and patience, but it is Anita’s recipe that really sparkles.

It’s not easy capturing the sparkle of the shine of water gilding and Assiste without seeing reflections of a mobile phone!

Here’s the finished icon painted a year or so ago. I’ve searched high and low for work-in-progress photos but they have been lost in the mix. The Virgin’s gown is painted mostly in lapis lazuli, with washes of red ochre and thin layers of Titanium white highlights, and French Ochre Havanna for the Christ Child’s garment. The background is water gilded in 24 carat gold.

The feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is celebrated on July 16.

Thanks as always for reading. The finished icon is now listed on my Etsy shop

Always we begin again

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.

Glazes of French Ochre Havanna even out the skin tones and deepen the gold mid tones. I also applied a few washes of English Red Ochre Light over the hair to deepen the mid-tones so I could tidy up the modelling. I’ve found that leaving the glazes to dry overnight means less likelihood of making holes in it when applying the next layers.

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!

Painting on the first layer of face highlights

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.

Thanks as ever for reading and your patience!

Ronnie

Archangels in Blossom Street (Pt1)

Icon of Archangel gabriel resting on pic of Blossom Street

Archangel Gabriel in Blossom Street York

Kim and Jules run the Blossom Street Gallery, just outside Micklegate Bar in York. They stock my Drawing the Street limited edition prints and in February this year, I called in to catch up with them having finished the icon diploma.

I had a tiny icon of Archangel Gabriel with me which I brought out to show them as I was telling them about the course. One thing led to another and I am now booked in for a joint exhibition of icons and streets next Spring!

I had a few ideas for themes for the icon exhibition, but none were really firing me up, so I sent a request up to the heavens and within the day I had my theme and central icon. I subscribe to a blog by ‘Hokku’ and this timely post landed in my inbox:https://russianicons.wordpress.com/2017/03/20/the-council-of-the-archangel-michael/

Blossom Street Gallery is almost opposite my former school, All Saints, previously called The Bar Convent when I attended. There was a school legend that the Archangel Michael had once appeared there to protect the convent from imminent danger. So, when I saw this icon called ‘the Council of the Archangel Michael, I knew I had found my centre piece icon and my theme ‘A Gathering of Angels’.

A year isn’t long to prepare for an icon exhibition so I got started with the drawings.  It was a wonderful way to focus during what turned out to be a bumpy few months.

 

I made an unplanned visit to my sister in Perth WA who was unwell but I find sketching and drawing icon figures very calming.  I wrote a little about the visit over here.

The Council of Archangel Michael is a rich icon and full of life so I drew the main figures separately in turn. I drew the cherubim below late into the evening while my sister rested. I smile and am so grateful for all the help we are still recieving from these celestial helpers.

pencil drawing of cherubim

Cherubim from the Council of Archangel Michael icon

pencil drawing of young christ and seraphim

Drawing of the young Christ within a circle of seraphim

pencil drawing of Council of Angels

Full drawing ready to transcribe

The overall drawing is too big for me to scan at home but the photo gives you an idea of the overall composition. The finished icon will be just over 40cm square.

Hope you will join me as the rest of this icon unfolds!

Thanks for reading – more to follow soon.

Ronnie

St David the Dendrite (part 3 of 3)

Here’s the icon of St David taking shape. It is painted on a long thin board, 25mm birch ply. This post is mostly photos but always happy to hear from you if you have any questions.

icon painting studio

St David the Dendrite (tree dweller) of Thessaloniki

St David the dendrite of thessaloniki icon

Lines transcribed in red ochre on to gessoed board (photo enhanced for clarity)

The masking tape is to protect the gesso from the compass point.

terre verte pigment on icon

First washes of terre verte over background

adding a wash of lapis lazuli over the terre verte

Adding a wash of lapis lazuli over the terre verte

green background on icon of st david

Finishing background so I can add outline to halo

underpainting the face

underpainting the face

jaipur paint brush in use

David and Crystal visited India and brought me back a brush from Jaipur

completed icon (in part) of St David with his open hand feeding a robin

completed icon (in part) of St David with his open hand feeding a robin

7 membrane over face

Membrane applied in thin layers to face using yellow maimeri and a dash of english red ochre light.

Thanks for reading!

Ronnie

Living up a Tree (St David pt 2 of 3)

study on watercolour paper of st david of thessaloniki

St David offering food to a bird

Before I began to paint an icon of St David the Dendrite, I sat down to draw him. There are many lovely icons of St David, but there is one fresco in particular which really appealed to me.  The saint is depicted as an elongated figure with a toe-length beard wearing a light ochre garment set against a green background, amidst a leafy almond tree.

I haven’t been able to find the name of the iconographer to acknowledge him or her and would love to hear from you if you recognise the original fresco image.

pencil sketch of st David

Pencil sketch of Saint David up a tree with print of fresco image alongside

I used this fresco image as a reference to make my own drawing sketched on watercolour paper. Adding colour was the best way of seeing how it would look on the long thin icon board which I had already gessoed using a thick 25mm birch ply.

pencil sketch of st David

Pencil drawing of St David the Dendrite

I referred to my library of icon images to find male saints which helped me to construct the face.

 

English ochre and black - colour palette

Colour palette – English ochre and black

Here’s the overall study with some more icons of this tree dweller.

st david of thessaloniki icon

Drawing and study on watercolour paper together with reference images

This icon study is now available to buy in my Etsy shop here. I will sign off with an image of my finished study in black and white.

drawing st David
Drawing of St David of Thessaloniki

Last part of this article will be about the finished icon…to be continued soon.

Thanks for reading,

Ronnie

 

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