Icon Diploma Student

Learning to see with the eye of the heart

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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

 

St David the Dendrite (pt 1 of 3)

Mosaic of Christ in Majesty at Hosios David, Thessaloniki

Mosaic of Christ in Majesty at Hosios David, Thessaloniki

I’d like to dedicate the next few posts to my brother David, in Canada who will shortly be celebrating his 70th birthday. This will only be a matter of weeks after my nephew Joe marries Yasmin, so it’s a momentous time for the Canadian Sharps.

Reflecting on our icon diploma trip to Thessaloniki in 2015, one place remains firmly in my mind – Hosios David; Hosios/Osios is the title used for a monastic male saint in Greek. This was the first place we visited, climbing up the hill, looking out over the city and sea, then finding it was closed!

Janina, Keith and Susan climbing the streets aof Thessaloniki

Janina, Keith and Susan climbing the streets of Thessaloniki

The church is dedicated to St David, one of the patron saints of Thessaloniki, a 6th century Dendrite or ‘tree dweller’ and renowned ‘holy fool’.

Thessaloniki has a lot of happy memories for our family. We first heard about it when David drove his new Hillman overland from UK to Bahrain with Mum in 1975, forty years before our diploma trip. We lived in Bahrain for a few years and David taught at Gulf Technical College.

 

 

Entrance to the church of St David the Dendrite of Thessaloniki

Entrance to the church of St David the Dendrite of Thessaloniki

We went back to Hosios David later in the week and this time we went inside this late 5th century church which has a full mosaic of the vision of Ezekiel made in the late fifth/early sixth century.

St David the Dendrite came from Mesopotamia and became a monk at the Monastery of Saints Merkourios and Theodore outside Thessaloniki.

From Wikipedia he was: ‘Famed for his sound advice, he was hounded by crowds seeking words of wisdom and prayer. Wishing a quiet, contemplative life, David fled to the seclusion of an almond tree, where he lived for three years.  He left the tree to petition the Byzantine emperor Justinian the Great in Constantinople to send soldiers to defend Thessaloniki from attack. David died in 540 as his ship was en route to Macedonia.’

Hokku writes: ‘After that time, an angel appeared to him (David), saying that God had heard his prayers, but that it was time for David to climb down and live in a monastic cell like other monks.  Because of his eccentric asceticism, David gained a local reputation as a holy man and healer, and was visited by many people seeking his help.’

The church is full of wonderful mosaics and frescos. The lighting was low but here are a few photos.

first glimpse of the mosaic in the apse

First glimpse of the 5-6th C mosaic in the apse with an icon of St David the Dendrite at the right

Hosios David Thessaloniki sketch

Sketch of the mosaic of the ‘Beardless Christ’ in the apse of Hosios David

Detail of a fresco of the nativity

Detail of a fresco of the nativity

detail of mosaic

Glimpse of mosaic in the apse, St David’s church, Thessaloniki

thessaloniki cat

Thessaloniki cat

St David is commemorated on June 26 by the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church on July 17.

To be continued…

Thanks for reading

Ronnie

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

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

Herald of Spring

Greetings icon friends!

Warmest wishes for Candlemas on Thursday!  Here’s Archangel Gabriel, first icon of 2017.

icon by Cruwys

Archangel Gabriel

This post is short and sweet while I’m gathering my thoughts on varnishing icons…or rather questions. I’d love to hear of people’s preferences – there seem to be so many options yet each with drawbacks.

Bye for now

Ronnie

PS Prints and cards of this icon are now available from Smith York Printers.

Wetfold drapery Romanesque style

Monochrome study of St John The Evangelist

Monochrome study of St John the Evangelist, from the Lambeth Bible

At the start of our course, Aidan asked us to practice painting figures in monochrome. My first few studies were pretty awful but when I got accustomed to the egg tempera, I really enjoyed painting the lively fabric drapery known as the ‘wetfold’ style which was used in the manuscripts of the Romanesque period.

This is an unmistakable style; the garments articulate the figures in sweeping curves. The style is seen in several great manuscripts of the period including the Lambeth Bible.

Illuminated manuscript, English, c.1146. From the Lambeth Bible, Ms.3, fol.258 v. London, Lambeth Palace Library.

Illuminated manuscript, English, c.1146. From the Lambeth Bible, Ms.3, fol.258 v. London, Lambeth Palace Library.

The above illustration also gives us a glimpse of the interwoven lettering of the period.

The next stage of my study of lettering for icons comes from possibly the most beautiful manuscript of the Romanesque period, the great Bury Bible. It’s largely the work  of Master Hugo (c.1130-1160), the earliest professional artist documented in England. He was a multi-talented craftsman who produced various items for Bury: a great bell in the crossing tower, a set of decorated metal church doors, and a beautiful cross for the abbey choir. Master Hugo’s places of origin and training remain elusive but there is some speculation that he travelled within Byzantium given his dramatic style of work.

It’s a rich source of imagery for iconographers looking for inspiration from an historic western perspective.

Red ochre painting of Aaron on watercolour paper

Monochrome study in ‘English red ochre light‘ of Aaron from the Bury Bible

Further examples of the wetfold drapery technique can be found in other manuscripts of the period, the example below also shows interesting examples of buildings and trees.

I’ve been busy working on my final icon for the diploma course – a large festal icon of the Nativity. It seems a bit odd to write about this in the middle of Lent so I will write about it a bit later! In the meantime, I will sign off with a taster of my lettering from the Bury Bible below.

Thanks for reading,

Ronnie

PS if anyone has an Instagram account, I have been posting photos of my work in progress under the name of icondiplomastudent, you can see it here.

a

 ‘A’ based on lettering found in the  Bury Bible

 

 

 

Grinding pure blue pigment from Azurite

azurite pigment

Grinding Azurite

This time last year, I bought a small lump of azurite from the Lapidary shop in Burslem, Staffordshire. I made a start at grinding it up in a pestle and mortar but since I didn’t need it at the time, saved the last stage of fine grinding to a powder with a glass slab and muller till later – ie now.

I am working on a triptych (see previous post) where I would like the two standing angels to be painted in a heavenly sky blue so it’s been back to the grindstone to extract this gorgeous colour.

Azurite rock

Lump of pure Azurite, approx 2cm cube

Aidan Hart, demonstrated how to grind Azurite during class last year which I filmed. You can watch the process over here  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y-FHvAxwg9w.  It is an amatuer video so not very good quality, but it captures the process.

Breaking up azurite

First crunch of azurite

This was last years work, crunching up the rock with a small hammer. It’s surprisingly enjoyable as you see the blue emerge.

I bought a slab and muller from Patricia Lovett at her Gilding and Traditional Illumination Skills workshop some years ago. It really has come into its own now as I still have malachite, haematite and chrysocolla to grind up.

slab and muller with azurite

Use a glass slab and muller to grind up the pigment

I placed about a tablespoon of pre-ground up pigment on to the slab and added just enough water to make a paste then ground it up, clockwise and anti clockwise, scraping the pigment back into the middle until the paste glides smoothly under the muller.

Azurite paste and water

 Mixing with a little water makes the paste

Ray Kitten burmilla

Ray offering a helping paw

mopping up the azurite paste

Mopping up every last bit of paste with a palette knife and mop brush

blue azurite in the wash

A variety of blues emerging as you wash or levigate the pigment

particles in the bottom of the jug

Large particles give a deeper blue

pigment drying in the sun

Drying out the azurite pigment in the sun

pigment in dry form

Pigments at last! Samples show mine on the left and the darker pigment of a pre-bought pigment on the right.

This took the best part of a morning but I’ve made enough pigment to easily last me a year or longer. Next post will hopefully show some of this azurite in use on my triptych.

Thanks for reading,

Ronnie

Like Buses

icon membrane technique

Students concentrating on their work. L to R Lee, Joan, Ekatarina, Janina, Martin

Hello again!

Like buses, two posts come along in a row. Whilst Aidan Hart demonstrated the membrane technique for our Mandilions, I made a few video clips so that we can refer back to the method and help it sink in. These are all posted on You Tube in the same folder/channel as the Gilding demos.

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCuoKiOeoJ–X7JkVpvuCOqQ

Mandilion underpainting

First transfer the monochrome or drawing, then underpaint the mandilion in terre verte and yellow ochre. Protect the gilding before starting.

Modelling painted in terre verte and a touch of yellow ochre, with membrane layer washed over the face. Hair will be done with the proplasmos technique

Aidan’s demonstration icon,  with membrane layer washed over the face. Hair will be done with the proplasmos technique.

Fran and Lee in class

Fran and Lee in class with Susan’s Mandilion taking shape in the foreground.

Aidan applies first layer of highlights using yellow ochre light with a touch of white.

Aidan applies first layer of highlights using yellow ochre light with a touch of white.

Second leayer of highlights

Aidan’s Mandilion: Second layer of highlights

Highlights and hair

Aidan’s Mandilion: Highlights and hair

The method, demonstration and the rest of the stages are all on the You Tube clips. Hope this encourages you to pick up your brush again!

Thanks for reading.

Ronnie

Lofty Discoveries!

Hello Icon Friends,

I am making up for time lost last week when I was out tying ‘Missing’ posters to lamp posts and scouring the internet for our pet cat. Not the little fellow you might have seen eating up my egg mix in November, but our older cat Ollie. Two nights away is unheard of for this home-loving creature. A long story cut short, we now have new friends down the road and if you lose a pet, enlist St Francis and put up posters! Ollie had climbed into their loft space where they were building an extension and got stuck. I am overjoyed to have her home and very thankful to St Francis!

So, back to the paper trial. The Saunders paper is without a doubt a treat to work on but having tried the Fabriano Artistico, I have to say that I found blending the egg tempera just a little bit easier. The paper is almost luminous and seems to make St John more appear more present.

Monochrome study of St John the Evangelist

Monochrome study of St John the Evangelist

Looking back on my posts, I have spared you my earlier image of St John. This will never do! I should be showing you how my work is hopefully progressing.

Why is it we always see things (where we have gone wrong) more clearly when we take a step back?

Why is it we always see things (where we have gone wrong) more clearly when we take a step back?

Let’s see, St John above is my most recent work, on Fabriano Artistico paper.  St John below was painted on rough white water colour paper, about 2 months ago.

Blending the paint is clumsy and the overall appearance is hard. See my post 'Core, Clarity and Confidence'.

Blending the paint is clumsy and the overall appearance is hard. See my post ‘Core, Clarity and Confidence’.

It has taken a few attempts and I am still a long way off, but I think the blending above is getting a bit softer. That said, looking at the uppermost one as I write, his whole head shape is still too round, the shape of his face too wide and flat, the eyes looking too much to the left…oh…I am going to have to have another go!

Homework update from the icon course day five: Day 5 Notes Icon Screens Day 5 26th November 2013 Feet

Before I say cheerio, here are five more quotes from “the mustard seed garden Manual of Painting” to follow from the last blog post:

Originality should not disregard the ‘Li’ (the principle or essence) of things

Learn from the Masters but avoid their faults

Posess delicacy of skill with vigour of execution

The second fault is described as ‘carving’ (‘K’o) referring to the laboured movement of the brush caused by hesitation. Heart and hand are not in accord. In drawing, the brush is awkward.

He who is learning to paint must first learn to still his heart, thus to clarify his understanding and increase his wisdom.