Icon Diploma Student

Learning to see with the eye of the heart

Posts tagged ‘Icon Diploma Student’

All gone quiet

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

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

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

iconpainting of St Hilda of Whitby by Ronnie Cruwys

St Hilda of Whitby

Icon painting in egg tempera of St Francis of Assisi

St Francis of Assis

Thanks for reading!

Ronnie

 

 

 

Shell Gold Shine

agate burnisher on shell gold

Burnishing shell gold

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

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

1 edit blessed virgin mary

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

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

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

Virgin and Christ icons cruwys

My first two diploma icons – unfinished

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

scribing halo

Setting up to scribe the halo

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

liquid 24ct gold

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

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

Applying shell gold

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

The icon is now away being photographed.

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

Thanks for reading,

Ronnie

 

 

 

 

‘I Saw Him!’

mary Magdalene tells the disciples Christ has risen

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

Good morning and Happy Easter!

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

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

Icon board first stage of work for St Albans Psalter

Outline of figures added and oil gilding applied.

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

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

Ground terre verte azurite on icon board

Building up the layers of garment colours

7 a Magdalene and disciples st Albans

Gritty pigment

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

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

grinding up pigment from Tokyo PIGMENT

Kyojyo Gosu 6 Azurite from ‘Pigment’ in Tokyo

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

Underpainting faces

Underpainting faces using Maimeri yellow and a touch of ivory black

applying membrane to face painting

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

6 face highlights

Building up highlights on the faces and adding the hair

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

7 final faces

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

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

8 St ALbans Psalter Magdalene announces news

The almost finished article.

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

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

Thanks for reading

Ronnie

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

 

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.

Sanding for St Hilda of Whitby

Icon board

Highlight surface scratches on a gessoed icon board by rubbing in red ochre pigment

St Hilda of Whitby

St Hilda (c614-680) showing adjustments I need to make to head and shoulders

My homework for the next diploma session, is an icon of St Hilda, referring to an image painted by Aidan Hart. The icon can be seen further below and also on his website Aidan Hart Icons. During my childhood, Whitby was a favourite seaside destination from our home in York. The sight of the ruined abbey looming over the cliffs was a vivid landmark against what was often a cloudswept sky. This dramatic photograph courtesy of Mark Davis Photography shows how the abbey forms such a striking silhouette against the east coast sky.

Whitby abbey

Photo of Whitby Abbey by  Mark Davis Photography  http://www.mark-davis-photography.com/yorkshire/whitby-and-the-east-coast/

To think that St Hilda founded an an abbey and community in this wild landscape is remarkable and gives an insight into the strength of her character.

Icon by Aidan Hart of St Hilda of Whitby

St Hilda of Whitby by Aidan Hart

For this icon, I am using a flat plywood board.  I will oil gild the halo so the sanding only needs to be taken as far as 600 grit sandpaper. If you over-sand the gesso, the paint won’t stick.  I’m using an icon board which I gessoed last summer which I also sanded up to 120 grit paper. With hindsisght, I should have sanded it right up to 600 grit, as it is much easier to work outside in the warm than indoors in a UK January! Sanding gessoed boards is a dusty process so be prepared. Put a few sheets of newspaper over your worksurface and have your vacuum cleaner and a dust mask to hand. You will also need a medium sized dry paintbrush to brush the gesso dust out of the sandpaper, a cork sanding block and all the different grades of sandpaper to hand. Looking back on Dylan Hartley‘s notes which he gave us at our gessoing session last year (click here for a pdf copy SANDING ICON BOARDS by Dylan Hartley), Dylan reminds us that you should choose a place to sand where there is raking light ideally with one main light source. This helps to show up anomalies and scratches. The first sanding is done with 80 grit paper, then work up through 120, 180, 220, 320, 400 and 600 grades. It is important to use these in sequence and ensure that any grooves left by the gesso brushing are smoothed away.

Sandpaper

Splitting sandpaper sheets and filing them by grade

In the UK, sandpaper is sold in sheets about A4 size. I hadn’t realised until Aidan showed us, that if you fold and tear the paper in half lengthwise, then tear these strips into three, you can get six pieces ready to wrap around your block. Given that you go through sandpaper very quickly, it is worth spending time folding, tearing and filing the different sized papers into envelopes which does helps the flow of work.

brusgh off clogged sandpaper

Keep brushing off clogged sandpaper

It is really important to brush the sandpaper often – as soon as you have sanded the board a few times, lift the block and brush. You can also vacuum up the clogged paper to save dust clouds forming. The whole process is a bit of a faff as my glasses steam up when I wear a dust mask and they get covered with dust! Rubbing in a pinch of red ochre with cotton wool is a really effective way of seeing where the scratches are hiding. Even with good raking light, it is easy to miss a scratch until you start painting – and they are difficult to disguise later.

red ochre pigment on gesso

Identifying scratches in gesso by using red ochre pigment

Looking closely at the photo above, you can also see the horizontal marks made from clogged up sandpaper.

finished icon board

Icon board finished to 600 grit paper ready for painting and oil gilding

That’s the board now ready for me to trace on the drawing. More on that next time. Thanks for reading!   Ronnie

PS To see a demonstration by Dylan Hartley gessoing icon boards – there is a clip on You Tube here

An Archangel for Christmas

Archangel Gabriel on Watercolour Paper.

egg tempera painting

Archangel Gabriel on watercolour paper

Christmas greetings icon friends!

A few lines to say thank you for your companionship during my first year of icon painting. It has been lovely to have your quiet support and interest encouraging me to keep on posting and writing up notes etc!

There are a few more video clips of Aidan Hart’s in-class demonstrations over on You Tube and I have written up some supporting notes to go with them. These are not direct transcripts, simply notes to help as you try out the various stages of painting.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N3a6puiMDuQ Aidan Hart demonstrates underpainting for the Membrane Technique Click here for Notes

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XaSi-WVHGaY Aidan Hart demonstrates applying flesh membrane to icon bust Click here for Notes

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hr4R8BzMpPc Shadows and highlights on garments using membrane technique Click here for Notes

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CiFkJrsDS1s Aidan Hart demonstrating halos

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mFG-XxPqiSI Aidan Hart demonstrates painting Mandilion hair

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QbwE0QY1aOw Aidan Hart demonstrates painting garments Click here for Notes

I have enjoyed the monochrome icon studies on watercolour paper and thought I would have another go at the Archangel Gabriel based on the Annunciation of Ustyug. I stretched some Fabriano Artistico paper and painted using the membrane technique. The colours are much softer on paper – lines are not quite as crisp unless you go over them several times. However, it is a great way of practicing if you haven’t got a board prepared.

1 Angel gabriel study

Underpainting: the face is in Terre Verte and a touch of Yellow Ochre Maimeri, garments and wings in a mix of English red ochre, French ochre Sahara and Avana.

Yellow ochre Maimeri eith titanium white and red ochre light

Membrane applied to flesh parts.

Building up the hair and facial highlights.

4 Angel Gabriel study

Highlights added to wings and sleeves

Preparing to gild

Preparing to gild using Roberson’s gilders size – applied over the halo which has undercoat in red ochre.

Gilding the halo

Gilding the halo. Applying final facial highlights

9 Complete Angel Gabriel study

Finished angel with halo, staff and lettering.

It is a better attempt than my last one but there is a long way to go before I become fluent and produce anything nearly as elegant as the original. All the same, it comes with my very best wishes for a happy, peaceful and blessed Christmas wherever you are in the world. Thanks for reading.

Happy Christmas, Ronnie

Concealing a Blemish

Underpainting the icon of the Virgin

Building up the underpainting in terre verte and a dash of Maimeri yellow ochre

This post is going to consist mostly of photos to show how I dug a hole in the membrane making a terrible mess of our home project (mine is the Blessed Virgin) and then how I managed to repair the damage.

membrane layer number one

Adding the first membrane layer of maimeri yellow ochre and a tiny dash of titanium white.

Having stressed the phrase ‘do not fiddle’ in my last set of notes, I then went on to fiddle by trying to repair a hole and this is what happened:

stain damage

Stain appears on the cheek

A tiny bare patch had appeared on the upper cheek which I tried to mend very carefully by dropping some paint in from the tip of my brush. It made a big stain. If this happens to you – I suggest that you put the icon away for a day so the paint goes bone dry and you return to it refreshed.  I didn’t and ended up spreading the stain.

stain on icon face

Stain increases on the membrane and breaks through the underpainting

I tried to add more membranes but this seemed to increase the damage. At this point, I took a break. I decided to call it a day, wrap up and leave it overnight for the egg tempera paint to thoroughly dry out, in the hope that with fresh heart in the morning, I could somehow repair the damage.

Repeat the membrane process

Repeat the membrane process

Next day, the paint seemed to stay in place when I applied another membrane so I painted 4 or 5 more layers over the left hand side of the face from chin to brow and between nose and jaw, working with thin layers applied fairly quickly but allowing each layer to dry for at least 15 minutes. I was glad that I had painted quite a strong underpainting as I could still see the image clearly below.

add membranes to icon

Keep applying membranes, at least four or five layers, then begin to add Avana Ochre to the shadows

As soon as the stain was reasonably well covered, I stopped and began to add the shadows in Avana Ochre.

Avana

Add Avana to deepen shadows

8 Strengthen shadows

I then began to add the first of the face highlights, in Maimeri Yellow Ochre with a tiny dash of Titanium White. I haven’t finished yet, but at least the stain has been taken up in the fresh layers of paint. It was a useful lesson to me as I really thought I would have to remove the whole underpainting.

9 Begin to Add highlight layers

Developing the facial highlights

I’m uploading more videos to You Tube from the last class which should be ready in a few days but for now, thanks for reading!

Ronnie

Meet my mistakes!

Annunciation of Ustyug, Novgorod, 12th Century

Annunciation of Ustyug, Novgorod, 12th Century

Hello icon friends,

It is one thing hearing how to do something and another altogether applying it via the end of a brush or pencil. I set out to try another upper body monochrome of the Archangel Gabriel from the beautiful image of the Annunciation above and in the course of this I have befriended a whole group of mistakes – let me introduce a few!

I lightly sketched out the image ready to paint over but saw immediately that I had run into difficulties. First of all, I didn’t get the overall composition right.

Preliminary sketch of Gabriel

Preliminary sketch of Gabriel

I had set out the upper body study on A3 paper but in doing so found I had cut off the hand. This seemed to lose the whole point as the hands are so expressive of the whole message that the image contains. Looking at it now, for this exercise I should have zoomed in and concentrated on the face and upper arm, but I had started so I carried on.

Sketch comparisons

Sketch comparisons, finding the centret to identify where I am going adrift

Secondly, I couldn’t get the face, in particular the eyes, quite right.  I did a cross check between the original and my drawing by forming a simple square to enclose the head, then joined the diagonals to find the centre point of reference. I was pleased to see that the point landed in exactly the same spot on my drawing, but it showed immediately where the rest of the face had gone astray. The nose leant too far over and the eyebrows had fallen down.

Adjusting the features but there is still something not right

Adjusting the features but there is still something not right – the eye on the right and the tilt of the head?

After a few days away from this drawing, I still couldn’t quite see where they were going adrift so I traced over the original eyes to clarify their shape and laid them over my drawing.

Tracing the profile of the originals to identify where I am going wrong

Tracing the profile of the original eyes to identify where I am going wrong

One slight move of of one feature has repercussions elsewhere so the brows, nose, mouth, cheek profile all got adjusted and brought into alignment. I suppose that speaks on another level too, to always go back to the source to bring something of ourselves that is out of step back into alignment.

The eyes on the left after being adjusted.

The eyes on the left after being adjusted.

Sketch of Gabriel near completion

Sketch of Gabriel near completion

With all the rubbing out and rearranging I had made quite a mess of my paper. I thought hard about all that I had learnt and decided that I would take a bit of a leap and redo the whole image again but on larger paper. So, next time I will tell you about how I made a fresh crop of mistakes as I move onto A2 paper. Thanks for reading!

A Stormy Start

Tomorrow, on the feast of St Jude and St Simon, twelve students will gather to begin our three year icon diploma course, run by Aidan Hart in the Trinity Centre at Moele Brace, Shrewsbury. We will be learning about the traditions of icon paintings, the theology, the methods and materials before painting our own icons which will go on display at the PSTA in Autumn 2016.  

Some of the students are travelling quite a distance – from Germany, Dublin and another from Brighton. This is such a privilege to be part of this group and so I would like to share some of my experience through this blog. 

It looks like we will have a choppy start as there is an amber alert for a fierce storm on its way from the Atlantic, nick-named St Jude. I wish my fellow students all a safe journey and look forward to meeting them and trust that the patron saint of lost causes will guide us through the days ahead.