Encounters with God

I first met Sue Valentine during an extraordinary Icon workshop I taught in March, 2020, at Mt. Calvary Monastery in Santa Barbara California. It was extraordinary for several reasons- first, we all were just beginning to understand that Covid was seriously dangerous, but our worlds hadn’t changed yet to quarantine measures. Extraordinary too, because sadly, Mt. Calvary monastery is now closed forever. And then there were the students- such an interesting and dedicated group, of which Sue was one. Recently I have seen how profoundly moving her icons are and they are developing in such a wonderful way that I invited her to share about her experiences with Icon writing and here is her article:

The Suffering Servant

While new to iconography, I have appreciated from the very first icon I wrote just one year ago how God is using icons to speak to me.

I have been considering God’s call to be a servant, and learned I both significantly misunderstood how highly the Lord thinks of His servants, and also how profoundly they suffer.  These days I ponder these things as I paint.

I find I am becoming used to the conventions in icons:  a blue outer robe representing Christ’s divinity and a red inner robe representing Christ’s humanity.  Then the Lord pointed out there is no blue robe in this icon, because as Philippians 2:5-8 tells us, Jesus voluntarily removed His blue robe when He came to earth to become one of us, to serve us, to suffer for us, and to save us.  Then, in Matthew 27:28, after Jesus was arrested and convicted, the soldiers stripped Him of His humanity, removing His red robe, and mocked Him, pretending to worship Him as a king, all the while spitting on Him and beating Him.

Jesus’ servant life and suffering stripped Him of both robes.

With the icon now complete, as I gaze on it, I’m feeling the robe I have painted on Jesus is somewhat jarring.  I’ve introduced alizarin crimson, a new color for me.  I can’t even remember why I chose that color.  Only later do I realize that when the soldiers stripped Jesus of His red robe, they put on Him a scarlet robe which is what I have painted.  This icon is the picture of Jesus, not robed in humanity, but covered with the soldier’s scorn for His kingship as they dressed Him in a scarlet robe.  With that realization, I see more fully what He suffered and the servant life I am invited into.

Jesus is no longer robed in scarlet, in red or even in blue, all of which I can attempt to paint as I am learning this new way to pray.  What I cannot capture or even attempt is what I know is true of Jesus now and read in scripture:  Jesus is finally robed not in finite colors, but in the splendor and majesty He deserves. 

John the Theologian

This is John the Theologian.  John is my favorite gospel, and this is the icon of the gospel writer John who had incredible revelations of the Lord later in life, and he wrote them down. 

He has an ink well at the ready, and an angel whispering inspiration in his ear.

The verse written in the book is John 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”

I have been wrestling with the Lord about how to live out my calling as a teacher.  The Lord has told me until those opportunities open up, I should write.  But writing seems less appealing to me.

So when asking the Lord, “Why this icon of John?”, He reminded me that this type of painting is called icon writing.  If this is the kind of writing the Lord wants me to do, then I’m very interested.  

The Lamentation

This is my first larger icon, 16 x 20”.  I chose it because my daughter was struggling severely, and I felt I needed to sit with many faces of grief, from the demonstrative Mary Magdalene with her arms raised to the strangely peaceful woman in green, as they mourned over the body of Jesus and as I mourned.

Just the process of painting a larger icon forced me to sit with those feelings of grief longer.  

The Disorientation

This is another 16×20” icon, and a sequel to “The Lamentation.”  Jesus is now risen from the dead, leaving only His graveclothes behind, so I am surprised this icon is never called “The Resurrection.”  Of the many renderings of this icon, I chose this one because Jesus was still visibly present, even though only one of the women noticed He was there.  Their focus was on the grave clothes, and so, largely, was mine.  I was feeling a kind of desolation, but at least Jesus was with me.

I found this icon very difficult to do and the larger format made that more plain to me.  There were long periods when I could not work on it at all.  I didn’t even know what I was feeling, and I sought the Lord for insight.  Finally, the Lord gave me a word for it: disorientation, which is how I titled this icon.  That word helped me unpack what I was feeling.  Things were moving very quickly in my life, I was under intense stress, deeply sad, and in shock.  I was just hoping that as I painted, the Lord would keep speaking.

The turning point in completing this icon came when the Lord told me that the graveclothes were my false self.  Like Jesus, I needed resurrection.  I needed to arise from those graveclothes and leave them behind.

As soon as He spoke that to me, the work accelerated and was completed quickly and set in motion the courage to make other changes in my life as I embraced what gave me life.

Sue Valentine is from Chicago.  She has a B.A. in Behavioral Science and an M.B.A. from the University of Chicago, has a certification in Spiritual Direction from North Park Theological Seminary, and is a licensed minister in the Vineyard Church.  She is a worship leader, teacher, contemplative, practicing spiritual director and aspiring iconographer.

That’s all for this month. If you have a suggestion for an article or wish to submit one, please contact me for submission requirements- we are always looking for articles that promote the joy of icon writing!

Blessings,

Christine Hales

www.newchristianicons.com

Icon Books

The following article was submitted by educator and iconographer, Jeannie Furlong. Thank you Jeannie, I’m sure these book reviews will be very helpful, and help to spread the joy of icon writing around the world!

Crucifixion Icon.Christine Hales
Crucifixion Icon.Christine Hales

Icon Books, from Jeannie Furlong:

My interest in Icons seems to have been with me for as long as I can remember. It was their stillness and austere beauty that caught my eye, initially! My artist background couldn’t keep me from analyzing what I was seeing.  Each new Icon fed my embers of interest and before long a small fire had ignited. I needed to know more! 

 I purchased my first Icon reproduction, Holy Trinity by St. Andrei Rublev. I then found two intriguing books, Icons andSpiritual Geometry, to read. I also purchased a set of egg tempera pigments to use in the future. Gradually, I realized I was being guided into a steady path centered on learning about and creating icons.  

Next, what I really needed was a teacher with the patience of Job.  Where? in the midst of a raging Covid pandemic would I find one?  Many, many prayers (plus Google) brought me the answer, when a ‘search’ popped up Christine Hales Iconographer! And, she was offering a Virtual Icon class.  My learning curve has been straight up; an amazing beginning, and I have learned an unbelievable amount about Icons under her instruction. Now, I am pleased to accept her invitation to share with you a few of the books I found useful on my journey, especially if you are a neophyte, like myself! 

            I’ve listed sources alphabetically by author. Each has unique information!  Enjoy!

Praying with Icons by Jim Forest. Orbis Books, 1997. (Available from Amazon.com on Kindle). The author begins with retelling a personal journey early on with Icons. The interesting aspect, surprisingly enough, is that he is NOT an Iconographer, but his story is very ‘hands-on’ sharing his experiences with Icons.  In addition to Icon information and interviews, the author delves into Learning to Pray.  He surprises the reader in his section on prayers, with his inclusion of two specific prayers for the Iconographer which are The Rules for the Icon Painter and An Iconographer’s Prayer.

Eyes of Fire How Icons Saved My Life by Christine Hales. Christine Hales 2018. (Available from Amazon.com) The author uses a conversational voice taking the reader on a journey beginning with life discoveries that ‘saved her life’ and continues to chat along the way discussing the values found in many periods of art. Throughout the pages are beautiful color illustrations that spur the reader on. Building this background of information she creates a deeper understanding of Icons that as an art form wields spirituality by virtue of  being an art form. Christine’s book is “about” writing Icons explaining foundational processes used for creating icons. It confirms that Icons are a window the artist speaks through, “With this method of art practice, the next step is to combine that with prayer, and in doing so, the Holy Spirit will lift up the space between hand, brush and board, and the reflection of Grace will manifest in your Icon, to be read by any receptive heart.” 

Drawing Closer to CHRIST A Self-Guided Icon Retreat by Joseph Malham. Ave Maria Press. 2017. (Available from Amazon.com). The author takes the reader on a very defined study of Icons that includes study and painting. A self-directed “guide into the act of iconography, which is an act of prayer. It has been divided into seven chapters, which not only measure the days it will take to create your icon but also an approximation of the days in which God created everything from nothing.” The study and painting focus on the Icon Pantocrator.  These seven chapters use a biblical passage to introduce the Day with the authors’ comments, proceeds to Theological Reflections and continues with Painting the Icon.  In the Guidelines, the author encourages the participant, “Remember this is a retreat and not a work project with a deadline. Your seven-day retreat will be a fluid motion of prayer centered on the rhythm you set.”

       Sacred Doorways A Beginner’s Guide To Icons by Linette Martin. Paraclete Press, 2002. (Available from Thriftbooks.com).  As mentioned in the Preface by Dr Nicholas Gendle, Editor, this book is practical and by no means technical but purposely authored to appeal to the beginner seeking information about Icons.  It is written in a very ‘conversational’ voice that carries the reader smoothly from chapter to chapter while delivering a great amount of information carefully crafted without overwhelming the reader.  This wealth of information does whet the readers’ appetite to want more information. It could certainly fit the bill as a resource for a study group seeking to know about Icons or an individual preparing to take an Icon class.  Chapter 8, God, Angels and Peopleextends a sense of familiarity about a few icons and terminology used in Christian settings sometimes ‘taken for granted’.  This chapter expands the meaning of familiar terminology and explains how it relates within the church.

Icon Painting Technique: A Meditative Guide to Egg Tempera Painting by Mary Jane Miller. Mary Jane Miller, 2013. (Available from Amazon.com-Kindle) The author prepares the reader in the Introduction: “The book is about the subtle relationship between the icon painting and how it reflects and enriches ones spiritual life”.

Silence, plays a major role in the process of creating an icon as an “extraordinary kind of prayer” from beginning to end. “Icons are not portraits; they are a windows on a world that call us to be still, to look and reflect, to be at peace with ourselves, and to rest in a place of thankfulness with God.” The author substitutes the terminology of ‘painting’ for ‘writing’ in her discussion and explains why in the History Chapter.  In the Chapter Technique & Materials, she author provides an extensive discussion about her special philosophy while painting with egg tempera. She also provides various ratios she uses in her painting. Painting the Icon is broken into 12 Steps. Each simplifies the painting of each icon to enhance listening to God. 

Techniques of Traditional Icon Painting by Giles Weissman, Search Press, 2012. (Available on Amazon.com). A very sturdy paperback that focuses in great detail on the “processes” of writing Icons. It also contains beautiful full color illustrations including a ‘bird’s eye glimpse’ of the detailing for a reference for painting. Chapter 5 – Byzantine Drawing points out “the elements of the composition are positioned for balanced and harmony”.  The author continues using detailed step by step information clarified by the narrative while beautiful pictures identify what your work will look like at each phase. Chapter 8 – Inscriptions explains the importance of an inscription, how to paint it, and includes many inscriptions with an interpretation and origin for them.

Article contributed by Jeannie Furlong:

Jeannie Furlong, Ed.D. Episcopalian, Wife, Mother, Grandmother of 11, Texan, Business Owner, Former Educator, Professor and future Iconographer! Conversation welcomed at jeanniejeanniejeannie@yahoo.com

Useful Links For Iconographers:

Greek Iconographer, Antonis with instruction on the Cretan style of iconography. It is a simple study which can help with dry brush technique: 

This is an article by Koo Schadler on the dry brush technique.

Online Icon Painting Classes with Christine Hales

That’s all for this month!

God Bless,

Christine Simoneau Hales

www.newchristianicons.com

Icon Materials

“He who works with his hands is a laborer,

He who works with his hands and head is a craftsman.

He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.”

Saint Francis of Assisi
St. Francis
St. Francis Icon Hales

One of the beautiful things about writing icons is the re-introduction of ancient materials and methods. If a modern painter makes a painting of religious imagery without observing the ancient materials and principles of iconography, the effect just isn’t the same.

I realize that many of the readers of this blog are international as well as American, so this month’s news is about materials and where to get them. There are two books that I find extremely helpful that I would like to recommend.

Living Craft

The first is, Living Craft, A Painter’s Process, by Tad Spurgeon. This book contains “creative methods and materials based on older practice, featuring solvent – free techniques. There are also several highly informative chapters on the grammar of color and ninety unique formulas for oils, mediums, grounds, and paint.”

Many materials and processes are explained in detail in this book. For example, there are pages describing the how and why of using cloth to cover the wood surface before gesso application. In this book there are several formulas for glue size, gesso, egg emulsion and varnishes. Even though this is not strictly an icon book, the methods and materials within are of great value to iconographers as well as painters.

Since the philosophy behind this book values the traditional materials and processes of classical painting, there are many sections that go more deeply into materials than most icon books.

“When a painting is constructed with harmonious proportions- a process with both inner and outer dimensions- the result has both beauty and strength. Proportional harmony is involved in three major areas: the color, the composition, and the materials themselves.” And another quote that I find valuable in teaching color theory for iconographers is:

Living Craft, Tad Spurgeon

“Painting light convincingly is not enhanced by color variety, nor by color identity, but by the accuracy and harmony of color relationship within the value structure. These must be finely tuned to feel natural and are far easier to access with fewer colors and mixing based on value and temperature – the logic flight- than with more colors and mixing based on guess work.”

Living Craft, Tad Spurgeon

This is not so much a textbook as a record of one painter’s process of experimentation and research into classical and pre classical materials.

The other book I highly recommend is Formulas For Painters by Robert Massey. (Available on Thriftbooks.com)

Formulas For Painters

This is a book that is easy to see and read and contains two hundred simple formulas for making paints, glazes, mediums, varnishes, grounds, fixatives, sizes and adhesives for tempera, gouache, pastel, encaustic, fresco and other painting techniques.

Here is a quote from the author’s introduction:”Since the Middle Ages- indeed as early as the thirteenth century when Theophilus, the monk of Paderborn, wrote his work, On Divers Arts, – artists and craftsmen have cooked, blended, borrowed, and stolen an amazing variety of recipes and formulas, always striving to concoct a better paint or a quicker drying varnish tonsure the permanence of their art works.”

There are recipes for hide glue solutions, synthetic resin emulsion, egg and water solution, gelatine, and casein sizes to be used in the preparation of gesso. The varnishes section is particularly helpful for iconographers, with many alternatives to the traditional olifa of linseed oil.

I hope that these books prove helpful to iconographers searching to find the methods and materials that work best in their studio, climate, and circumstances.

American association of Iconographers, Romanesque Style
Romanesque Style, circa 1145AD

Additional Notes:

A couple of additional points to share: Betsy Peter, an iconographer from California has been hosting an informal discussion, on Zoom, with and for iconographers each Sunday afternoon. Different topics are introduced each week and it is an open forum for sharing links and information. For an email invitation contact me below.

Also, my next online Icon painting class will be on April 13-16th, a morning session and an afternoon session, each of the four days. The focus will be on color and the Icon and we will be painting Saint George and the Dragon in egg tempera. There is a lot of advanced information regarding color theory for the experienced iconographers as well as step by step demonstrations for complete beginners.

I hope this blog is helpful, and provides not only community but valuable resources for al iconographers. Until next month, may God continue to bless the work of your hands and keep you safe and well.

Christine Simoneau Hales

New Christian Icons

Contemplation and Icons

Hello Fellow Iconographers:

This month the topic of our newsletter is contemplation and Icons.  As I continue teaching Icon writing (painting), now online due to the pandemic, it seems important to post about the importance of linking prayer to the process of painting Icons.  In order for the Icon to reflect God’s Presence, it’s very important for the iconographer to be in a state of grace and prayer while working.

Icon Class at Holy Cross
Icon Class at Holy Cross

Reflection on the saints being being painted and continuous prayer help to insure that the icon is an authentic expression of who the saint is when transfigured by God’s grace.  This is the true likeness of the saint- his transfigured person through the light of God’s action upon him/her in their lives.

In The Eastern theological tradition, man is seen to be on a mystical journey that leads to “Theosis” or deification. Icons represent this union between God and man. The Icon is a manifestation of the presence of God. It draws and brings us into this Presence so that we can experience God in our soul. In this way we become a living icon of God.

Contemplation and Icons

Face of Christ Icon written by C.Hales
Face of Christ Icon written by C.Hales

In Byzantine religious culture,  the purpose of meditation, prayer and contemplation  was always to lead to enlightenment, that is, prayerful immersion in the rays of Divine energy as evidenced in the icon of the Transfiguration.

In Vita Consecrata we read this from Pope John Paul II,  :
We must confess that we all have need of this silence, filled with the presence of him who is adored : in theology, so as to exploit fully its own sapiential and spiritual soul; in prayer, so that we may never forget that seeing God means coming down the mountain with a face so radiant that we are obliged to cover it with a veil (Ex 34.33); in commitment, so that we will refuse to be locked in a struggle without love and forgiveness. All, believers and non-believers alike, need to learn a silence that allows the other to speak when and how he wishes, and allows us to understand his words”

St Benedict Icon by Christine Hales
St Benedict Icon by Christine Hales

Whereas St. Benedict, who has set the tone for the spirituality of the West, calls us, first of all, to listen, the Byzantine Fathers focus on gazing. This is especially evident in the liturgical life of the Eastern Church as the 2nd Ecumenical council in 787 makes clear, when it says :
“What is communicated through the Word is revealed silently through the Image.” In Byzantine Liturgy therefore, Word and Icon complement each other.

Each of us is an Icon of God, and through prayer and contemplation, we are able to see our brothers and sisters as God sees them, and then bring this deep sense of God’s view to the process of painting Icons.

Hesychasm is a mystical form of prayer practiced by Byzantine Monks and iconographers of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Jesus‘s teaching in the Gospel of Matthew tells us that “whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you”. Hesychasm in tradition has been the process of retiring inward  in order to achieve an experiential knowledge of God. The Jesus prayer, prayer of the breath, was commonly the prayer used when painting icons in this tradition.

Transfiguration Icon
Transfiguration Icon

The Jesus prayer is this, or a variation of it: “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.”

And to finish, here is a quote from “The Message”, a treatise from fifteenth century St. Joseph of Volokolamsk:

“Wherever you may be, O Beloved, on sea or on land, at home, walking, sitting, or lying down- ceaselessly pray with a clear conscience, saying, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me,” and God will hear you.”

Equipped with prayer and contemplation, the iconographer is able to paint with God’s direction and all will be well!

Saint Marina Icon
Paleologic Icon of Saint Marina

Contact Us:

Each month, we choose a topic relevant to the education of contemporary iconographers, and I invite you to make suggestions, submit possible topics, or write a guest post. Contact me!

ONLINE ICON PAINTING ClASSES

I have two on line Icon painting classes coming up in September and November, you are welcome to join us!

Blessings and prayers until next month,

Christine Hales

www.newchristianicons.com