Icon Diploma Student

Learning to see with the eye of the heart

Posts from the ‘Painting icons’ category

Cornelia and Hironmoy remembered

paionting of lord krishna on watercolour paper

Lord Krishna

My great aunt, Cornelia Maria Georgina Sharp, was born on 8th December 1891, the second child in a family of six. It was years later that we discovered a little more of this courageous woman’s life when Dad’s cousin researched into what had happened to his absent father.

I am touching on her story here as I was delighted to be commissioned to paint an icon of Lord Krishna, the god of compassion, tenderness and love in Hinduism and happy that we have a family connection to this rich faith.

lord krishna outline drawing

Transcribing the lines of outline drawing onto paper

In brief, Cornelia, a young English Catholic woman working in service, married a young Indian Hindu man named Hironmoy Roy-Chowdury in the Church of the Holy Rood, Watford. All the more extraordinary was that her new husband was the nephew of poet and winner of the Nobel Prize for literature  Rabindranath Tagore 

Hironmoy was a sculptor studying at the Royal College of Art. Their only child, Francis Roy Chowdury (Dad’s cousin), was born in October 1914 two months after the outbreak of the first world war. The marriage wasn’t to last long as Hironmoy went to France to volunteer in an abulance unit and then his family heard of the marriage and insisted he return to India.

2 line on paper

First lines on paper

Back to the icon of Lord Krishna where I’ve depicted him as a young man playing the flute, standing on a lotus flower. He is painted on 600gsm hot pressed paper mounted on a 25mm ply board rather than on gesso thereby avoiding the use of rabbit skin size.

gold leaf on lord krishna drawing

Applying 24 carat transfer gold leaf over acrylic size coloured with a little red ochre

lord krishna on heavenly gold background

Lord Krishna standing against the gold of heaven

5 underpainting

Underpainting the figure and garments

egg tempera

Applying the paint in thin layers

lapis lazuli

Flesh tones painted in Lapis Lazuli

The colours on images of Lord Krishna are vibrant but to avoid them clashing, I limited the palette to English red ochre, yellow ochre maimeri, lapis lazuli, black and white. The greens were mixed from malachite.

I chose to use Lapis Lazuli as its deep, celestial blue remains the symbol of royalty and honor, gods and power, spirit and vision, wisdom and truth. Its name comes from the Latin lapis, “stone,” and the Persian lazhuward, “blue.”

qualities of Lord krishna

Some of the many qualities with which Lord Krishna is associated

Lord Krishna painted using the icon method

Lord Krishna ready for his new home

There must be enough for a book on the subject of Cornelia and Hironmoy’s brief lives together and it is a treasure that we know of this through their son’s research.

I will close with a quote from ‘Fruit Gathering’ by Rabindranath Tagore;

        ‘Send me the love which is cool and pure like your rain that blesses the thirsty earth       and fills the homely earthen jars.

         Send me the love that would soak down into the centre of being, and from there would spread like the unseen sap through the branching tree of life, giving birth to fruits and flowers.’

Thanks for reading,

Ronnie

For the love of colour

So how did the work of twelve icon diploma graduates end up in the window of L. Cornelissen this month?

man looking in window of Cornelissens

Pausing to read about the icons on display (photo courtesy John Cruwys)

It’s hard to pinpoint where this great moment began but my long held love of calligraphy  and illuminated manuscripts led me to learn how to gild with Patricia Lovett. We’ve kept in touch over the past 12 years and through mutual friends on social media, I have also to come to know and admire the work of another artist and calligrapher Lin Kerr. Both Patricia and Lin are natural teachers, love colour and their enthusiasm for their art is infectious.

One of the common threads linking us has been Cornelissen’s, home to pigments, gold, gesso and some of the most obscure ingredients for icon painters and artists alike.

Lin had spotted one of my Instagram posts ‘Eccleshall Gold’ on vellum and tipped me off that Patricia was setting up an exhibition ‘Gold on Parchment‘ on behalf of the Heritage Crafts Association, for London Craft Week 2016 at Cornelissen’s. This was to promote work on vellum/parchment following the results of the campaign to keep the acts of parliament recorded on vellum.

Eccleshall High street on vellum unframed

Eccleshall Gold

Patricia kindly agreed to include both this and ‘Armenian Nativity‘, a piece that I was working on for the icon diploma.  The range of work on display demonstrated many of the gilders’ tools and pigments sold inside Cornelissen’s and naturally drew people into the shop. This little icon on vellum seemed to attract quite a bit of interest – possibly the vibrant contrast of the vermillion agains the deep blues? Who knows, but this was the link that led to the current window exhibition by The PSTA‘s icon diploma graduates, only a few months later.

 

illuminated manusript armenina nativity

st-albans-psalter1-cruwys

I couldn’t resist following on with two more icons based on an illuminated manuscript – this time the St Albans Psalter, both pigment rich examples.

icons-cornelissens2-cruwys

Passer-by stops for a photo (photo JLC)

mary-magdalene-announces-res-to-disciples-cruwys

Mary Magdalene announces the resurrection of Christ to the Disciples

three-maries-at-the-tomb-ronniecruwys

Three Maries at the empty tomb of Christ

So this is our last week on show in the heart of London as the display comes down on Friday. It has been an honour and such a blast – thanks from all of us icon graduates to Nicholas Walt and the staff at Cornelissens for our moment of glory in your window and not forgetting Patricia and Lin who were instrumental in making all this happen.

Thanks for reading,

Ronnie

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

Show Time!

fixing icons at exhibtion

Icon hanging begins – and no – I’ve not driven Iain to smoking – yet!

I’m still getting over this last week. It’s been intense; a wonderful and unforgettable week. Lots of planning, packing, dawn starts, long car trips, carting, hanging, dismantling and so on.  I’m a relative local living in Staffordshire so my friends travelling from Sweden, Germany and Dublin must be feeling exhausted.

I’m going to add a few practical tips for anyone who is planning an exhibition. Plan well ahead. Bring large and small spirit levels, electric drill with selection of screws, pencil, measuring tape, portable steps, blu tack, plenty of bubble wrap, sellotape, pritt stick, masking tape, the cling film roll tape that protect sides of pictures, plastic crates with lids, flask and snacks.

icons in back of car

Wrap up the icons well.

When the car load was dropped off outside the PSTA, in Shoreditch, the doors weren’t yet open. Although not raining, it was overcast and I was glad the icons were all in waterproof containers and well wrapped. Pre-book your car park in London – it’s much cheaper.

Ronnie And the mandilion

Placing the Mandilion

Invite family and friends to help. My husband helped me put all the icons up and our son arrived with his camera and took this shot and a few others. It was non-stop all day – you have to work at quite a pace to get finished before closing time.

icons by Ronnie Cruwys

Sun glancing in from the rooflights

Bring a tube of polyfiller and a scraper as there is the inevitable re-shuffle to get things right. Thanks to Romsay at the PSTA, for finding some white paint and a roller too!

Icons by Ronnie Cruwys

Most of my work up

Susan, a fellow student – or graduate (that sounds good!) kindly lent me this table as I wanted to share my Nativity workbook, lettering books and some of my course work folders. I will write a little more about the Nativity workbook on another post.

visitor to triptych

Triptych up and an early visitor arrives

While we were putting up our work in the main exhibition area, Aidan was busy placing more work out in the foyer.

Aidan putting icons up at PSTA Shoreditch

Aidan displaying students’ icons in the foyer

We left the PSTA late Saturday afternoon with Aidan kindly finishing up for us.  When I returned on Tuesday for the Preview, this was the glowing view from Charlotte Road. The evening went in a whirl – I wanted to speak to so many more visitors than I did – to thank you all so much for coming and for being part of this blessed and beautiful stage in our life as fledgling icon painters.

My thanks go to the PSTA for running this course but especially to Aidan Hart for his spiritual guidance, patience and his innate joy shared with us, his diploma students, throughout the last three years as he has taught us how to see with the eye of the heart.

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All quiet before the doors open for the Preview  

I hope to be able to share a link to photos of all our work once these have all been co-ordinated on a photo-sharing site, but the next post will be about our exhibition now up in Cornelissen’s…watch this space!

Thanks for reading,

Ronnie

8-sisters

My sister –  this one is Meggie!

 

 

 

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.

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

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