Icon Diploma Student

Learning to see with the eye of the heart

Posts tagged ‘icon painting’

Last few days of 50% off all icons

February is about to give way to March and I will be closing my private sale of 50% off all my icon stock at the end of this month. I’m delighted that quite a few of my icons have found homes but I still have plenty left to choose from.

Here are a few examples of what I still have available with some detailed photos below. The remaining available icons are all listed here.

Archangel Gabriel, egg tempera, gold leaf on watercolour paper, framed.
Detail of Archangel Gabriel icon painted in egg tempera and with gold leaf on watercolour paper
Icon of the Feast of the Annunciation
Detail of icon ‘Feast of Annunciation’ with Archangel Gabriel and the Blessed Virgin
Our Lady of Mount Carmel with Christ Child
Detail of the icon of Our Lady of Mount Carmel with Christ Child

Please dont hesitate to get in touch if you would like to see more photos or need further information.

Blessed Virgin and Mandilion icons, latter also known as ‘The Face Not Made with Hands’
Icons side by side in Diploma show exhibition

Thanks for reading 🙂

Ronnie

Names to Faces

Council of Archangel Michael

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.

Jegudiel (left) and Michael (right)
Jegudiel with darkened shadows under chin, sides of lips and along the hairline
Archangel Gabriel
Archangel Raphael
Several layers of the red and yellow ochre membrane applied
Membranes added to all the faces. The face underpaintings have almost disappeared!

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.

Finished face of Archangel Raphael
Finished faces of Archangel Gabriel to the front with Uriel and Barachiel behind
Archangel Michael to the front, Jegudiel and Selaphiel behind

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.

Ronnie 🙂

10 Years Painting Icons – 50% off!

Ten years is quite a milestone and it can’t go past without some celebration that you have been keeping me company for all or part of the way! Anyone following this blog will realise how long it takes to paint an icon and the full price doesn’t in any way reflect the time invested in these treasures. However, these days most of us have to watch our budget so, in order to open these up to finding new homes, I am halving the price of ALL the icons that I hold in stock. Price of postage will be added at cost.

I have chosen a few here to show you what’s available and the rest are all listed here.

The offer runs from 1-28th February 2023.

If you would like to enquire about an icon or purchase one, please email me at ronnie.cruwys@btinternet.com

Thanks for reading,

Ronnie

At the Heart – A Child

When painting a large icon, it helps to try and progress things evenly across the panel. I’d like to show you how I approached this in this post but also want to focus on the steps taken as I painted the Christ Child at the heart of this icon. I also have some exciting news… more about that at the end of this post.

An icon with so many figures and halos can be quite tricky to paint so it’s worth pausing to think about the sequence of work. Top of the list is to remove the protective pads as soon as I can; they can leave a sticky residue if left on too long.

Small pieces of card taped to the gesso as protection pads.

Before I scribe defining lines around the halos, a certain amount of painting needs to be done around them first. The halo lines are adjacent to the hair of neighbouring angels and central the blue ring also touches the halos of the Seraphim. These need to be painted and allowed time to thoroughly dry out. I’ve found that when scribing lines on paint that hasn’t dried or ‘tempered’ for a day or so tends to spread.

Small triangles of hair meet edges of halos – better painted before the halo lines are scribed

At the centre of this icon is the young Christ with one hand raised in blessing and the other holding a scroll. The young boy is wearing a rich vermillion cloak and sash, radiating a gold (yellow ochre maimeri) light contained in an outer circle of seraphim. I decided not to paint all the garments surrounding the ring as I thought I would be able to work fairly neatly up to these edges.

I referred back to my initial drawing to trace and transcribe the face.

I have learnt to be very careful with strong lines when underpainting a face – they can be hard to integrate later. Better to have just a few key lines in the right places as reference points to move from then shade in thin layers, building up depth gradually around the cheeks, below chin and brow, to the side of nose and under the hairline.

Below you can see I’m building up all the faces at the same time, gradually deeping the shading. I’ve used yellow ochre maimeri and a tiny dash of ivory black to give a greenish yellow underpainting. You can also use Terre Verte for underpainting faces but this pigment can be quite sticky for painting small fine facial details.

It’s worth going quite dark with the shading – it will all get held together by the membrane layers. Don’t forget to add a few glazes of your egg mix – diluted with a few drops of water and let it dry before you add the membrane. These are tiny details but they help bring it all together. The egg seals the gesso below to provide an even surface for the next layers.

I’ve used English Red Ochre light and Yello Maimeri for the membrane layers. Add just enough membranes to make out the features. At this stage I leave things for at least a week and work on other areas. This is only something I’ve learnt. The more this layer is left to temper, the easier it is for you to correct mistakes without making a hole back to the gesso. You can read about that one here!

Darkening shadows and defining the features with ochre avana.

Building up highlights with very thin layers of yellow maimeri mixed with titanium white.

All these stages are comprehensively covered in Aidan Hart’s book ‘Techniques of Icon and Wall Painting’

If at any time the highlights look too stark, add a few thin layers of French Ochre Havanna to even things out.

Finally, add whites of eyes, black pupils and eyelids, the lettering, ribbons, shell gold and fine jewel details on the garments.

Now for that exciting news… This year I’m celebrating ten years of icon painting and sharing my work here on this blog. As a big thank you for your company and comments over the years I am offering ALL my icons (including this one) in stock listed here at half price for the month of February. This offer will not be found on any social media page as it is excusive to all my readers, past icon buyers, friends and family. Postage will be added at cost and the icons will be sold on a first come first served basis – please get in touch if you would like one.

As always, thank you for reading and happy icon painting!

Ronnie 🙂

Cherubim: Golden Face Vermilion Wings

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.

Time to draw the white line around the halo

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.

Underpainting of the face in English Red Light ochre

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.

Add a few clear egg glazes to bind the underpainting.

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.

Next up will be the standing angel faces

Thank you for reading

Ronnie 🙂

Feet in the Clouds

The Icon of the Council of Archangel Michael – Part 3

Underpainting of the angel’s feet standing on swirls of clouds

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:

Outlines in place, gilding of halos complete and starting to lay down layers of background underpainting.

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.

Azurite is a beautiful semi-precious mineral – I mix small quantities at a time

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.

As always, thank you for reading,

Ronnie 🙂

Archangel Gabriel – held in a palm-sized icon

Archangel Gabriel, Icon size 14.5 x 11.5cm x 2.5 cm thick birch ply

Hand-sized icons are tactile and so beautiful. A few years ago, I had some thick birch ply cut into a selection of small sizes which I gessoed all at the same time. In many ways, they are just as much work as larger sized icons (and can be harder on your eyesight!) but they become such a relatable size.

Some photos below show a few steps of the process of painting a small icon – this one is of Archangel Gabriel. As we approach Christmas, I just wanted to close 2022 with a practical post, perhaps to inspire you for the New Year year ahead!

Below are a series of photos of the process of painting this hand-sized icon. Hope they help you in your own work!

Cut pieces of Birch Ply with scrim applied ready to gesso.
Boards have been gessoed and now held in a Black and Decker work mate ready for me to sand off the rough edges
Edges all sanded. I also give a light sand to the gesso to remove the rough surface ready for hand sanding.
Bole warming in a bain marie ready for gilding
First layer of gold leaf applied to halo – note the masking tape over a small piece of card to keep the centre point of halo. Also I have applied masking fluid to save scraping off the gold from the gesso.
Burnishing the halo after gilding
Painting the background and letting it harden/temper overnight before adding the white line of halo (otherwise the paint spreads)
Using the dip pen compass to apply the white halo line. Once in place, remove the masking tape/card from centre point.
Applying a few coats of dilute egg glaze to seal the gesso ready for painting.
I wrap the icon in tracing paper to protect it as I work
Underpainting the face using a mix of Yellow Maimeri and a little Ivory Black
Applying several thin layers of membrane in a mix of yellow ochre and a dash of red ochre glazes
Working into the darker areas of the face with Avana Ochre
Gradually add thin layers of face highlights in Yellow Maimeri and white – if it all gets too stark, add a wash of warm Italian gold
Studio audience!
The next part is to complete the garment, hair and wings and then to add the lettering. Then finish the sides, add hooks and cord.

The finished icon can be seen here whilst available.

Wishing you and your families/friends the peace, light and love of Christmas!

Thank you as always for reading

Ronnie 🙂

Archangel Gabriel – A Listening Ear

Every now and again, I’m asked how to get started icon painting. I always recommend painting monochromes on smooth (hot pressed) best quality watercolour paper. I recall the first time I saw some of these red ochre studies by Aidan Hart’s past students and I found them captivating. They were on the wall in a workshop given by Aidan Hart at Walcot Hall over 10 years ago.

Archangel Gabriel – large completed monochrome
Use a very thin light line of ‘English Red Light’ red ochre egg tempera with a sable brush to mark the outlines.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been having a bit of a sort out of my studio (and my overspill areas). Over the last few years I’ve gathered quite a gallery of work that’s lying unseen as I have no more wall space!

I made a decision to go through all my work and list it for sale in my Etsy shop as I can’t keep holding on to things – there’s no room to move! Also, letting go of things makes way for the new so let’s make a start with looking back over this large monochrome of Archangel Gabriel.

Gradually build up the shape of the face in very thin washes. I’ve been impatient with the dark hair lines

Before I go any further, I have already written about this monochrome here. It’s really interesting to reflect back on this post from 8 years ago as I’ve become a lot kinder to myself. I can see that things I once thought weren’t good enough actually were a great foundation – they just needed a bit more work and creativity. SO – if you are being hard on yourself – put your work away for a few years then revisit when you have had a few edges knocked off and away you go – again!

Building up the forms of the hair and face

The best way to start as always is with a drawing. Sometime this too can be daunting so be kind to yourself – this is a learning process. You can always make a tracing of the icon you want to paint by outlining the main forms to get familiar with the shapes, shadows, proportions and lines. You could also try laying a grid over the prototype, then draw into your own grid at a larger scale. This can help you can anchor the key features.

With this monochrome – I drew onto a large sheet of cartridge paper (inexpensive paper is fine for this stage), then traced over and rubbed red ochre pigment into the back of the tracing paper. It is them ready to transcribe on to the watercolour paper. You could use pencil but the graphite smudges and I wanted to keep the paper clean.

The paper has been stretched with a damp sponge and taped to a board.

I use Fabriano Artistico Hot pressed watercolour paper, 300gsm. You can use other brands, but the weight and the hot pressed finish are really well suited to monochromes. I stretched this one but I didn’t really need to. Even though the paper can buckle, it can also be flattened as I discovered later. There are plenty of You Tube videos to help you do this but in short: face the artwork down on a clean dry sheet of paper, place a spray dampened sheet of paper over the back, then place a pile of books on top and leave for a few days. This works a treat.

The face of Archangel Gabriel…but there’s something missing…

Once you have the red ochre line in place from the tracing – it’s best to fix it in place using a dilute mix of egg tempera in red ochre or whatever colour you are using – the red/gold/earth ochres all work well. I think the most valuable thing I’ve learnt from painting these is not to rush them – work in the finest layers you can and build up very gradually.

The almost finished Archangel – with a finely layered background of very thin washes of red ochre.

Looking back through my old notes from Aidan’s class, I wrote as follows:

Eyebrows: When painting the eyebrows, the top line is soft and the ends are also soft. Look at an eyebrow, the hair is densest lower down, then feathers upwards (not as I have done here!). When painting the brow, show the graduation of tone. Facial features grow out of the background. Find the high point of the eyebrow in relation to the rest of the curved brow. Pay attention to the descent of the brow.

Lips: Look at the lips in profile, the light falls and hits the lower lip, the upper lip is drawker and in shadow. The lower lip projects and the recess below the lip is alos in shade. Note the gap at the corner of the lips.

This monochrome of Archangel Gabriel has only had a few brief outings since my diploma. Once in a short lived exhibition at the Bar Convent in York and a couple of weeks on the walls of the Tolbooth, Lanark. Lockdowns – say no more!

Protect the icon with paper and start to map the outline of the head band

When I looked at this the other day I realised there was something missing…the hairband and ribbons! This is quite significant as Archangel Gabriel is the patron of communication and this goes two ways – listening and responding. The ribbons either side of the ears are symbolic of listening – important! I had based this icon on the prototype of the Ustyug Annunciation icon. This doesn’t show the ribbons but since I have learnt the symbolism of the ribbons – they are too significant to leave out – so on they go – very late but much needed additions.

Adding a film of titanium white to form the headband
Final headband and ear ribbons

Gold leaf is not the best surface to paint over but I laid a dilute layer of egg tempera mix first, let it dry and built up in layers. I used quite a lot of egg mixed with the white pigment and applied it thinly. It goes on with a lot of beading at first but as it dries, each layer helps the next.

Finished monochrome of Archangel Gabriel.

The finished size of the overall mounted work is 50 x 70cm and now listed in my Etsy shop. Postage and insurance have shot up, especially overseas. The weight, packaging and protecting the glass of a large frame really bumps up the price so I’ve taken this out of its frame and will post in its mount and backing ready for the new owner to frame.

As always, thanks for reading and for still being here on this meandering path with me 🙂

Ronnie

Advent Three: A Multitude of Angels

The orchard is cloaked in darkness as I write and there’s a mid-winter owl hooting outside our window. There’s something magical about this time of year. For many, this is the busiest, most hectic time of year so I only want to share a few photos of the stages of painting this cluster of angels on paper.

This was a study for the Nativity icon – working on thick 600gsm hot-pressed paper. It’s a luxurious surface to work on.

The following photos show some of the painting stages – colours include English Yellow Ochre and French Ochre Havana with the skies in Azurite.

The halos are gilded with two layers of dilute pva glue applied to the paper, with red ochre added to give some depth. The halos are then gilded using transfer gold applied whilst the pva is still a little tacky.

Faces are worked up in layers starting with underpaintings in Terre Verte and washes of Red Ochre and Yellow Maimeri. Shadows and highlights built up to model the faces.

Here’s the final study in the Nativity workbook; deep azurite skies with a thin wash of indigo to deepen. We’re still in difficult times with another new variant on the rise. If you’re still here then I’d like to thank you for being with me.

Here’s trusting that you and yours are lovingly upheld by a cluster of angels over the days and weeks of Christmas-tide ahead. Stay well!

Thanks for reading – Ronnie