Wishing a peaceful and healing Christmas to you all.
Thanks for your company this year.
PS You can see the complete Nativity icon here.
Wishing a peaceful and healing Christmas to you all.
Thanks for your company this year.
PS You can see the complete Nativity icon here.
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.
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.
Thanks for reading,
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.
Thanks for reading!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
As the terre verte was too gritty to underpaint the small features on the faces, I used black and yellow to make green instead.
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.
I added several layers of malachite over the terre verte to give this rich green.
Wishing you all a blessed and happy Easter and as Mary Magdalene first said: ‘He is Risen!’
Thanks for reading
P.S. Prints and cards are now available of this icon from Smith York Printer
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Looking closely at the photo above, you can also see the horizontal marks made from clogged up sandpaper.
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
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=CiFkJrsDS1s Aidan Hart demonstrating halos
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mFG-XxPqiSI Aidan Hart demonstrates painting Mandilion hair
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.
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
PS…Some years later and I did revisit some of the finer details on Archangel Gabriel’s face – around the upper lip. I am now happy with this and it is listed here in my Etsy shop.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
As soon as the stain was reasonably well covered, I stopped and began to add the shadows in Avana Ochre.
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.
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!