When I completed this icon back in 2018, I was unaware of the names of the angels standing behind the three most prominent archangels. However, when looking up old notes and running a few google searches, I’ve since discovered that similar icon examples show that the figures standing directly behind are as follows: to the left are Jegudiel and Selaphiel and on the right hand side, Uriel and Barachiel.
To follow on from the last blog post, I’d like to look at the stages of painting the angel faces. There’s a lot of them! The prototype that I’m referring to is a 19th century Russian icon The faces are captivating.
When painting a new icon, I start by making my own drawing to work from.
The underpainting stage looks quite rough and clunky but it helps to get strong definition at this stage.
It’s somewhere at the stage when the first few layers of highlights go on that you think the face is nothing as you had intended!
These are small faces to paint so every brush move counts. Taking a black and white photo and printing it out at a larger size helps as then I take a pencil/crayon and work over it by referring back to my drawing and observing where I need to make changes.
This icon is now spoken for and soon will be making its way to a loving home.
Just a reminder that I’m holding a ten year anniversary sale on all my remaining icons listed here. As soon as someone makes an enquiry, I place it on hold and remove it from the list. I’m happy to give people time to consider.
As always, thanks for reading and happy icon painting.
With the swirling clouds in place, I moved on to the central part of the icon of the Council of Archangel Michael and the red winged Cherub below. I’m going to zoom close up on what is quite a small face – about 2cm diameter.
For clarity, I’ve mentioned previously that on historic examples of this icon, there has been some fluidity in the colours, positions and naming of cherub(im)/seraphim/standing angels. If you google ‘The Synaxis of Archangel Michael‘ you will see some of these but for now, I’ll refer to the multi-winged angel here as Cherub.
Each phase of icon painting is a fresh start. I find it helpful to start with something simple and here I picked up by underpainting the hair of the standing angels in English Red Ochre pigment. I also used it for the Cherub’s hair even though this figure will be mostly painted in Vermilion.
I painted the wings in thin layers of Vermilion and Italian Gold ochre. This reflects the sphere of red-gold surrounding the Christ child. There are many yellow ochres – any of the brighter ones will work.
The clump of masking tape left sitting in the blank face is now going to be useful – for a reminder I wrote about this here. The layers of tape protect the gesso from the compass tip puncturing it and the tiny centre point is still there to locate the compass again. For the line around the gold halo, I mixed Titanium White egg tempera to a consistency of single cream – it’s worth testing the paint flow before you start.
When the paint on the upper wings has fully dried out – at least overnight, set up a compass with a dip nip. Scribing lines around halos takes practice – do a few trial runs before you go for it! If the paint hasn’t fully dried, the white line will spread or bleed. If this happens, just remove the paint with a brush and do something else and revisit it a good bit later!
When the line is in place, you can remove the masking tape and go back to the drawing and transcribe the face ready for the underpainting.
Here’s my drawing of the Cherub.
Working with English Red Light pigment I under-painted the Cherub’s face. I’ve learnt over the years that although egg tempera dries fast, it isn’t that stable to work over for at least for 24 hours. It’s all too easy to apply a membrane/glaze over a finely painted face but then if I apply a little bit too much brushwork, the under-layer can move!
It helps to paint several other things at the same time – in this instance I had plenty of other angel faces to underpaint.
The rest of the faces are under-painted in a mix of Yellow Maimeri and a tiny dot of Ivory Black to make a soft green.
Here’s a little bit of work-in-progress with the rest of the icon.
I’ve used English red deep for the darkest parts of underpainting the Cherub’s face and hair. Every now and again, apply a thin glaze of clear egg mix.
Build up a strong face with deep shadows and bright light areas – then you are ready to apply the membrane layers.
I used Italian yellow gold pigment in several thin glazes over both the face and hair.
Gradually add thin layers of highlights in white to the brow, eyelids, cheekbones, nose tips, lower lip and neck.
Finally, there are the highlights to the wings, the sides of the eyes, headband and a little light gold to highlight the curls.
I hope this has been a help or given you a nudge to pick up your brush.
The Icon of the Council of Archangel Michael – Part 3
Where was I? Oh yes, sometime ago (maybe 2018?) I began to share my work-in-progress photos of this large icon of the Council of Archangel Michael here on my blog. I’m sure you’ve forgotten all about it like I did but now that I’ve mentioned it, you’d like to see what happened next!
Here’s a reminder of where I left off:
After I had drawn the figures in place and applied the gilding, I wanted to work from out to in, by painting the lower clouds and outer ring of Seraphim. It helps me to break things down into manageable parts and start with the easy things. This way I feel I’m making progress.
Before I start work on bare gesso, I apply a coat of egg tempera glaze: a watered down layer of egg tempera mix. This helps seal the porous surface of the gesso ready to receive the paint. Let this glaze dry out.
Mixing Azurite for the cloud base, I painted the circular forms, gradually darkening the outer edges by applying several layers of azurite.
It always looks really messy at this stage – the chaotic stage – but the variety of tones and marks will come into their own as the work progresses.
Look for the spaces between the cloud formations and deepen these by building up the layers of azurite. The underpainted spiral lines will be guides for the white highlights at the next step.
Strating from the central eye of the clouds, work outwards with ‘eyebrows’ of thin layers of Titanium White. Whilst the paint is still wet, use another fine brush to draw out a fine glaze of white from the eyebrows.
One of the benefits of working on a large icon like this is that whilst you are waiting for things to dry in one place, you can start work in the next area – such as here where I’ve laid down some glazes of yellow and red ochres on the wings of the Cherubim. At least, I think it is the Cherubim here – a singular image given with a plural name on the original icon.
I find it a bit confusing how this icon (seen here) has been shown in many different iterations – the Seraphim and Cherubim have been shown in interchangeable positions and colours along with a variety of positions for the standing archangels. Either way, I chose this icon because I loved the strength of the overall composition, the beautiful loving faces and their expressions, the colour, balance and harmony.
Although egg tempera dries quickly, it’s very easy to disturb the layer you’ve just laid down unless you leave it to really dry well. There’s no harm if you can only work on small areas at a time and you have to pick up the brush months later.
Here’s a look at the finished cloud layer along with a look at the completed Cherubim.
My next post will look at the stages for painting this Cherubim and it won’t be such a long wait as I have things in mind for February 2023. Watch this space!
In the meantime, my next post will take you through the steps of painting this Cherubim which would make a wonderful stand alone icon in its own right.
Today, 4th October is the Feast of St Francis. I’d like to share some of my work from my student days on Aidan Hart’s diploma course when we were encouraged to paint monochrome studies on watercolour paper. I found these studies a little less intimidating as they were ‘only on paper’ rather than the gessoed boards which we had all spent several days preparing.
I knew I was going to paint an icon of St Francis on a gessoed board so wanted to prepare a study on paper first.
However, instead of painting a monochrome, I decided to see how painting an egg tempera icon on paper would turn out. The drawing above is taken from one of Aidan Hart’s icons of St Francis. This is the traced outline over the pencil sketch which I made from his prototype which you can see here.
I can’t find any record photos of the underpainting on paper but it would have been with thin layers of Terre Verte pigment and a few washes of the Yellow Ochre Maimeri mixed with a tiny dash of English Red Ochre, applied in thin washes.
The process on paper is the same as on a gessoed board – I followed exactly the same steps.
Returning to the icon on paper, you can see both the underpainting of face and garments have had ‘membranes’ of colour and I’ve begun to add some facial shading and highlights.
I like faces to have soft highlights – I have often added the brightest areas only to wash them back with French Ochre Havanna so they blend in. There is a lot of flexibility in egg tempera – it is surprising how thin washes of one pigment over another can help things sit better together.
Finally we arrive at the lettering and gilding the halo.
Working on paper, I applied a dilute coat of upva glue (flexible when dry) over the surface to be gilded – this acts as a seal over the paper. About 20-30 minutes later I applied a second less dilute coat and as soon as it was just about dry I applied 23.5 carat transfer gold leaf.
I referred back to the drawing for the centre point of the halo, placed a strip of cardboard over the face for protection from the compass point, held it all very steady and drew a circle around the halo. I pencilled out the lettering and then traced and painted them on.
Finally, the work was framed and included in the final student exhibition at the PSTA in Shoreditch. It is now available to purchase from my Etsy shop here.
It’s almost the end of the day here but just in time to wish you peace and blessings on the feast of this gentle yet powerful saint.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Building up the layers of garment colours
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.
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.
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.
First wash the chrysocolla to remove debris, then let it dry out.
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.
Add water by the spoon to the pigment. Use a plastic palette knife to scoope the mix back to the middle.
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.
Softer earth 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.
Variety of greens all from separating and levigating the ground pigment.