Gold Leaf Gilding

Icon in progress with Kolner Method

Greetings Friends and Fellow Iconographers:

I’ve been studying and painting Icons for almost thirty years! Since I first began, the field of iconography has changed so much! There are so many more books on the subject, both “how to”, books about the history of icons, and how to pray with them. This is great news for all of us, I’m sure.

New Gilding Materials

At the same time, many, many, new products used for icon writing have come on the market. I invite any of my readers who has experience with these new products to please write about it so it can be shared and published here. Only in this way of sharing our experience can we hope to add the best quality to our icons and I know that we all want to bless the Lord with our most excellent work.

With this in mind, I’m currently preparing to teach an online icon writing class that, in addition to teaching how to paint an icon using egg tempera, will focus on how to gild using the Kolner Instacoll Gilding System. Many iconographers love this method because of its relative ease in application but particularly for its very shiny surface when it’s finished. I have experimented extensively with it and am happy to share some of the technical information I have observed.

Different Methods of Application

Shellac

First, applying one or two coats of shellac to the area to be gilded is most beneficial. The natural gesso is a porous surface, and even for other gilding methods, it is suggested to coat the surface with shellac thinned with denatured alcohol. I used a mixture that is 1 part blonde shellac flakes to 4 parts denatured alcohol. (This mixture can be stored in a cool dry place for several weeks only, so only mix the amount you think you will need.) You will find technical articles about this on the web- here is one.

Kölner Instacoll System

Next, I applied the Kolner Instacoll System BASE in two thinned layers. I thinned it a little with a drop or two of distilled water. This needs to dry completely- 1-3 hours between coats. It’s really important to avoid making brushstrokes if you want a very smooth gold surface. (You can clean your brushes with soap and water). The first coat must be completely dry before applying the second coat.

Next, I applied the Kolner Instacoll System ACTIVATOR. You can use a brush or a soft cloth to apply this to the base when it’s dry. You want a thin, even film over the base and it needs to dry before applying the gold leaf.

You can use either patent gold or loose gold with this system. I used patent gold leaf and a cotton ball to firmly push the gold leaf onto the surface. This takes some practice. Overlapping the gold leaf when applying it helps to give a smooth seamless look to the finished gold. After the whole surface to be gilded is covered, press down firmly again all the gold, using cotton balls- never touching the surface with your fingers.

Icon in Progress with Burnished Kolner Gold Application

Now for some gratification! When it’s all applied and pushed firmly into the surface, take a cotton ball or soft cloth and burnish gently to remove all the loose gold bits. As you do so, the most beautiful gold leaf shine appears !

As a note, I also experimented with the Kolner KGGG System FOND and Colnasize, but I prefer the above method as it is slightly easier and doesn’t require sanding.

Of course there are many other methods of gilding for icons- the oil method with different application and drying times, the water gilding method and The Dux water based size method. With experience, each of us arrives at our preferred method of gold leaf application. I hope this article has been helpful. Feel free to register for my online class in October to see this demonstrated!

INTERESTING LINKS:

This is a very good and short (7 1/2 minutes) talk on “Why Icons Look The Way They Do” by Archimandrite Maximos Constas, interviewed by Fr. Josiah Trenham.

THAT’S ALL FOR THIS MONTH. Be blessed and bless others,

Christine

ChristineHales.com Christine’s Icon Prints New Christian Icons

Icons by Father Sophrony

Recently I have been reading a book by Sister Gabriela about Father Sophrony that includes many of his drawings and icons. I’m inspired by his approach and work and want to share that with you here.

While attending art school in Russia in the 1920’s, one of his teachers was Vassily Kandinsky. Soon after, Sophrony moved to Paris where he exhibited his paintings and was not interested in pursuing a Christian life. This changed drastically and in 1926 he entered the Monastery of Panteleimon on Mt Athos where he remained until finally settling in Essex, UK at the Monastery of Saint John the Baptist.

Father Sophrony Drawing

To learn more about Father Sophrony, please read Sister Gabriela’s excellent books: “Being, The Art and Life of Father Sophrony”, or “Seeking Perfection in the World of Art”, or “Painting As Prayer: The Art of A. Sophrony Sakharov.”

I include here several quotes from the “Painting as Prayer” book that I know will be inspiring to all of you as well:

“An artist is a person who believes with deep conviction in the rightness of what he creates; who devotes his entire life to art for mankind. Only in such people does the Divine spark burn, brightly an unquenchably. And this is what’s most important in art.”

Drawing by Father Sophrony

Kandinsky

This is a quote in the book attributed to Kandinsky: ” the artist must not consider himself master of the situation, but the servant of nobler aims- a servant whose obligations are majestic, distinctive, and sacred. He must nurture himself and plumb the depths of his inner life, he must conserve his inner life and develop it lest his outer talent becomes empty, like a lost glove, the empty and vain likeness of a hand.”

Painting as Prayer, Book by Sister Gabriela

“The Icon is an art which expresses the spiritual world in form and color. It is made with a stylistic language of its own which introduces the person looking at it into another sphere of being, another world of perception. Intentionally it follows a different logic of perspective and reality, placing emphasis on the inner life because its main purpose is either to depict the face of God or convey the soul of the saint or the essence of the scene being depicted. Deliberately this makes it somewhat abstract. The artist seeks divine inspiration for their work and in order to receive this, rather than some other influence, he needs a humble and prayerful attitude, recognizing that he is not master of the situation.

Inspiration from on high depends to a considerable extent on us- whether we open our heart so that the Lord- The Holy Spirit Who ‘stands at the door and knocks’ does not have to enter forcibly.

The iconographer will try to free himself from all that hinders or is contrary to the action of Divine Inspiration. This requires both humility and asceticism, but as ascetic feats may lead to pride, and thus deter grace, it is humility that is the essential part. This keeps him both open to others and their suggestions and open to grace. It preserves a rigorous questioning and checking in prayer with his conscience and with the ideal which is the humble example of Christ.”

Orthodox Journal Article

I first learned about Father Sophrony’s work from an excellent article on the Orthodox Journal. Here is the link .

“For me, the most fascinating part of the study was the subject of Father Sophrony as an iconographer.  His approach to iconographic practice is described and this section is rich in quotations and comments of great interest.  Sister Gabriela writes that by having “absorbed the iconographic tradition through observation and living with it, while leading a strict ascetical life…one’s understanding goes deeper, beyond the external aesthetic aspect.”  “…he understood iconography in its essential form, as an inspiration for prayer, and a “springboard”, as he called it himself, to eternity.  In this sense he was free from any attachment to any specific school or iconographic movement.  His sole interest was to render the icon as authentically as possible.”  As a result of this it is apparent that “One cannot classify his icons into any particular style or school.  He took what he found best from each.  His only concern was the icon itself, how best to express the given situation.”

 In summation Sister Gabriela writes of Father Sophrony’s life that “This is the search for Christ, the yearning for close contact with Him and, within this, striving to portray His face in a correct and worthy manner, both in the inner life and in iconographic panting.”

Additional Link to Icon Gallery in Slovakia

I have recently seen a lovely online exhibition of Eastern European Icons at The Gallery of Icons. Here is the link.

That’s all for this month. Please email me with suggestions for future articles on understanding and appreciating icons.

Blessings and prayers,

Christine Hales

newchristianicons.com

onlineiconwritingclasses.com

Novgorod Icons

Novgorod Icons

What is so special about Novgorod Icons?  In addition to being known for their beautiful colors and lively compositions, Novgorod Icons offer a rich history and background to the study of icon writing.

Novgorod is one of the oldest cities in Russia, dating from about  859 AD.  The period from the 12th to the 17th centuries was especially bountiful in producing many beautiful icons. This period of time is sometimes referred to as “the Proto- Renaissance” because it still embraced the union of religious and aesthetic ideas.

Saints John Climacus, George, and Blaise, 13th Century

The Effects of the Western Renaissance on Icon Writing

The Proto- Renaissance that was operational in Russia was able to encompass all the cultural phenomena of its time within the context of religion and produce icons of spiritual depth without being overly influenced by Humanism.

In the West from the 14th to 16th centuries, the Renaissance moved art, even religious art, more toward man’s interests and became more human, less religious.  Even Christianity in the West at this time became more rational and scholastic and emphasized the emotional experiences of the subject.

In the practice of writing icons, we tend to strongly favor copying icons from before the Renaissance for this very reason.   Iconographers agree that imagery from before the Renaissance is preferred because we want our icons to reflect a culture that placed God as the center of the universe, not human reason.

Nativity of the Virgin, 14th Century

Fourteenth Century Russian Culture

Russian culture of the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries developed strong ties with Byzantium, particularly in Novgorod and Pskov.  The great iconographer, Andrei Rublev was part of this cultural and spiritual movement. The famous Byzantine master Theophanes the Greek worked in Novgorod in 1378.  His magnificent frescoes in the Church of Our Savior in Ilyina Street formed a bridge between the art of Novgorod and Byzantium.

The Transfiguration by Theophanes

The Artistic Language of the Novgorodian icon is simple, laconic and precise; the composition is based on large contrasting shapes.  The rhythm and coloring are tense and mobile, the drawing energetic.  Colors are especially important and tend to be simple and bright.  Faces, while classical. Tend to have large, expressive eyes.  They are painted in a gentle manner with subtle gradations of value.  The linear design of the hair, lips, nose and eyes is in contrast to the subtle tonal gradations.  In the earlier icons, the minimal color scheme of olive and yellow prevails. 

Saint Nicholas Icon

In the thirteenth century icon of Saint Nicholas from the Novgorodian monastery of the Holy Spirit, we see clearly the simplicity of composition, the harsh linear forms, and sparse contrasting colors that complement the restraint of the image. This icon, as well as the  is very characteristic of Novgorodian twelfth and thirteenth century painting.

Saint Nicholas

Presentation of the Virgin Icon and Boris and Gleb Icon

In these icons of the late thirteenth, early fourteenth centuries we see the qualities of simplicity of composition combined with monumental, flat graphic qualities balanced by relative depth of form.  The colors show an abundance of cinnabar, white, ochre, brown and green.

Presentation of the Virgin

At this time, Novgorodian painting came closer to Byzantine icons of the Palaeologus period.   Icons became monumental and soon were given to freer and more complex compositions.  Here we find images with inner tension, power and a classical simplicity.  We also see the beginnings of interest in man and his feelings and this affects both color and composition.

Boris and Gleb Icon

I need to end this here, but will pick it up again in a subsequent blog in order to continue the historical development of icons in this most important period of icon history.  For further reading I suggest the book:  Novgorod Icons, 12-17th Century by Aurora Art Publishers, Leningrad.

Some of the best characteristics of Novgorodian icons are their rational yet popular imagery, economy of means, and a brilliant use of color.  Definitely a period of icon writing worth exploring for every aspiring iconographer!

To see more of my icons visit: New Christian Icons

To see my available online icon writing classes visit: online.iconwritingclasses.com

May God bless you and your icon writing, until next month,

Christine Simoneau Hales

Preparing For Easter

Pascha!!

“Come then, let us run with him as he presses on to his passion. Let us imitate those who have gone out to meet him, not scattering olive branches or palms in his path, but spreading ourselves before him as best we can, with humility of soul and upright purpose. So may we welcome the Word as he comes, so may God who cannot be contained within any bounds, be contained within us...

Today let us too give voice with the children to that sacred chant, as we wave the spiritual branches of our soul: ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel. “ Saint Andrew of Crete

This month, as we all observe Lent in our prayer lives and churches, I have gathered a collection of Icons related to this season that encompasses the mystery and Passion of our Lord. If any of you readers have written icons on this theme, please send them in and I will post them on the FB page for the American Association of Iconographers.

Entry Into Jerusalem

Entry Into Jerusalem Icon by Christine Hales

“Seated in heaven upon Thy throne and on earth upon a foal, O Christ our God, Thou hast accepted the praise of the angels and the songs of the children who cried out to Thee: Blessed art thou that comest to call back Adam”. From the Kontakion for the Feast

The Holy Washing of the Feet, Icon

Romanian Icon 19th Century

Peter, the Apostle is seated on a bench, on the floor is a basin with water, Jesus has his mantle pulled up to keep it dry, Jesus is wiping the with a towel Peter’s right foot.

The other disciples are grouped on the right and left sides, some are loosening their sandals, Christ is the only figure shown with a halo.  Only two are shown without a beard, because of their youth.

This was a lesson in humility.  Christ says that he gave them an example to be imitated by them.

The Mystical Supper

“As a mystical event, the “Supper takes place at every Divine Liturgy or Eucharistic Feast.  “ Of Thy Mystical Supper, O Son Of God, receive me today as a communicant, for I will not speak of the mystery to thine enemies.”

A long table inside a house, usually Christ is seen in the center, his head inclines slightly to the right and with his right hand he blesses.  Peter is seated on the right side and John on His left side- Jesus rests his hand on John’s shoulder.  This is depicted in John’s Gospel, 13:23-24. Judas is stretching out his hand in order to dip his bread in  the dish.  Matthew 26:23

All the disciples are shown without halos.  Halos are not proper before Pentecost.  The disciples should not have their backs to the viewer.

The D shaped table  was first seen in the 6th century Ravenna mosaics.  Psychological perspective calls for Christ to be at the center of the table. ” ( Guide to Byzantine Iconography, Constantine Cavarnos)

The Crucifixion Icon

Crucifixion Icon by Christine Hales

The Bridegroom of the Church is transfixed with nails. The Son of the Virgin is pierced with a spear. We venerate Thy Passion, O Christ. Show us also Thy Gkorious Resurrection.

“The traditional Crucifixion icon is a hand-painted icon with the scene of Jesus Christ’s Crucifixion in the center of the composition. Christ is usually surrounded by the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene, St. John the Apostle, Longinus the Centurion, and several other onlookers. All the figures depicted in the Crucifixion icon show emotions associated with grief, but nothing suggests sound. Their mouths are not open, and the icon holds silence. Christ Himself is depicted with His eyes closed and His head bowed as if showing His last minutes of life on earth.

The composition of the Crucifixion icon also often includes an open cave with the skull and bones of Adam right at the bottom of the Cross. According to the legend, Adam’s bones, which had been buried under Golgotha by the descendants of Noah, appeared on the surface at the moment of Christ’s death due to a great earthquake that split apart the rocks. Christ’s blood flowed down from the Cross and on to Adam’s bones, bringing the redemption to the First Man and the whole human race.” to read more follow this link for The Russian Icon Blog.

Descent From the Cross Icon

Descent From the Cross Icon c. 1350

The Descent from the Cross Icon, sometimes called “The Deposition”, shows Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus taking Christ down from the cross after his crucifixion. The Gospel mentions women attending, probably Mary Magdalene, Mary, the Mother of Christ and Mary Salome alongside St.John.

The Lamentation

Lamentation Icon by Christine Hales

The aim of this icon is to impart the mystical, spiritual truth of the lamentation. The colors, the composition, and even the lines of the figures all lead the viewer upward, they raise our thoughts beyond the crucifixion to the upward movement of Christ himself and the Ascension. It’s a sacred and divinely inspired icon, full of truth and transcendence of emotions to the spiritual realm of faith and hope.

The Resurrection Icon

Resurrection Icon

The Icon of the Resurrection evokes the fragrance of immortality and the fulfillment of the reclamation of Adam and all who have come after. The simple truths are depicted without theatricality.

“Though Thou didst descend into the grave, O Immortal One, yet didst Thou destroy the power of hades, and didst arise as victor, O Christ God, calling to the Myrrh bearing women, Rejoice, and giving peace unto Thine apostles, O Thou who does grant resurrection to the fallen. ” Kontakion for Easter

The Resurrection brings light and joy to all creation. May Pascha, Easter, and Lent be Holy and blessed times for you all and bring joy to your hearts.

Until next month,

Christine Simoneau Hales

New Christian Icons Icon Prints Online Icon Writing Classes

Link to Register for Dr. George Kordis Lecture on Creativity in Iconography. You must register first, and the Lecture is scheduled for April 7, 2022, 7:30-8:30PM.

Andrei Rublev

Born in the 1360’s in Moscow , Andrei Rublev is widely considered the one of the greatest painters of Russian Orthodox Icons.  For a large part of his life he lived in the Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra near Moscow and his spiritual teacher was St. Sergius of Radonezh. He was able to express the spiritual ideals of his time and integrate the tenets of Byzantine Iconography into his icons in a way no one has been able to do before or since.

Andrei Rublev , along with the icon painter Theophanes, painted the icons for the Cathedral of the Annunciation in Moscow.  Theophanes is generally considered to have been Rublev’s teacher in icon painting and one can certainly see the similarities in their work.

The Moscow Icon painters of the early 15th century transformed the rather heavy Byzantine style of the iconostasis and Rublev was among those, along with Theophanes, who created the Russian style of the  Iconostasis.  This fully developed representation of the Festal Scenes along with the central figures of Saints John, Mary, and the Archangels Michael and Gabriel is often found arranged in tiers  at the high altar of Orthodox churches.  Many of these also include a tier of prophets as well.

Iconostasis of the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in the Trinity Monastery of St. Sergius

Rublev and Theophanes introduced full figure saints into the Iconostasis as opposed to the Byzantine style of using half figures.  This brought a much greater sense of presence to the icons, allowing the viewer to feel present with the saints as they worshipped.

The Assumption Cathedral in Vladimir was painted by both Rublev and Daniel Chorny in about 1408.  They worked together also to paint the  Trinity Cathedral at the Trinity Lavra  between 1425-1427.

Rublev’s most famous Icon, the Trinity, now hangs at the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, where it continues to stun viewers both by its great size as well as the artistic levels of excellence he was able to achieve in this work.  St. Sergius of Radonezh consecrated his Monastery Cathedral to the Holy Trinity, “So that the sight of the Holy Trinity would serve to vanquish fear of the hateful strife within this world”.

 Rublev’s work carries with it a luminosity and elegance of expression in the figures depicted. The harmony Rublev achieved through the use of sacred geometry in the compositions also evoked a sense of clarity and purity. 

One of the key characteristics of Rublev’s works is spiritual harmony, the blending of both inner and outer beauty in the saints he depicts.  This is an aspect of the Byzantine spiritual system- the harmony between beauty of body and beauty of spirit. “When the human being is wholly dissolved in Divine love, then outwardly he reflects the glow of his inner spirit.”   St. John Climacus

Understanding as we do, the importance of keeping our gaze on things above, one can see that the ideals manifested so exquisitely in Rublev’s work would be good ones to bring forward to our world of today.

May God continue to bless the work of your hands, and may He guide our thoughts and actions that we could do all that is honorable and pleasing to the One we serve, Jesus Christ.

Blessings,

Christine Hales, Iconographer

Newchristianicons.com

Icon Prints

Icons For Our Time


The Secret Supper (or The Last Supper) Todor Mitrovic (b. 1972)
Serbia, 2006
Egg tempera on wood panel

As I view FB posts and blogs about contemporary Icons there is a lot of talk about what is a “real” icon. There are as many different viewpoints as there are people! I think we all agree that icons cannot be relevant to only one denomination of Christianity . Nor can they stay stagnant in the past if icons are to be authentic to our time.

A current exhibition at the Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton, Massachusetts, is a wonderful collection of contemporary Orthodox iconographers from around the world that addresses some of these issues. Within this collection there is wonderful diversity and creativity. It shows that even within the Orthodox community of iconographers, some icons are more painterly and less formalistic than others.

For those who are not able to go in person to the exhibition, I include here some images and text from the exhibition materials. This is an important exhibition that can also be viewed online virtually on the website: Museumofrussianicons.org


Flight into Egypt
Stéphane René (b. 1954) Egypt, 2021
Egg tempera on wood

Icons For Our Time

 Icons for Our Time: Orthodox Art from Around the World, is an exhibition of 15 icons by some of the most important contemporary icon painters today.  New works by artists from Armenia, Belarus, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Egypt, Georgia, Greece, Japan, Montenegro, Russia, Serbia, the UK and the US have been specially commissioned for this anniversary exhibition. 

“There will be pieces by artists from all over the world – some are from Orthodox countries like Greece and Bulgaria, but there will also be works from Britain and Japan. Some of the artists identify as religious believers (Eastern Orthodox or other), some do not. Few of the icons strictly follow the traditional canon. As a curator, working with some of the big names in contemporary icon painting, I wanted to leave as much freedom as possible to each artist – so long as their work could be described, experienced, and felt as an icon.” Dr. Clemena Antonova, curator.


Cosmic Christ/Suffering Logos (Second Version)
Ouresis Todorovich (b. 1977) Greece, 2021
Mixed media on wood

Icons of Our Times will examine the spread of Orthodox Christian art through the medium of icons and explore three paradoxes: the icon as a living tradition, the icon as a signature feature of Orthodox Christianity, and the concept and relevance of the contemporary icon in modern culture.   

“These three paradoxes pose some immediate questions and problems for contemporary icon-painters, viewers of religious images, as well as to museums that exhibit religious art. Is the icon mainly a medieval art form, which we view inspired by our interest in history, in the same way that we experience an ancient Greek temple? Or is it a living, constantly evolving artistic tradition, which has the capacity to respond to the concerns and needs of our times? Is the icon inextricably tied to Eastern Orthodox Christianity? Can one create or experience an icon without any knowledge of Orthodox culture and theology? Does the icon make sense in a context stripped of religious meaning?”  


Holy Sophia
Vladislav Andrejev (b. 1938) United States, 2021
Egg tempera on wood

“These are not easy questions and very likely neither a conference nor the present exhibition will offer straight-forward answers,” continues Antonova. “What we aim to do with this exhibition is to create a space which provokes us to reflect on the meaning and function of icons for our times.”

On the Museum’s website are links to talks given by Dr. Antonova and also the link to the virtual exhibition. I’m so grateful for the Museum’s dedication to providing a forum for the appreciation of ancient icons as well as for the development of contemporary ones.


St. Tekle Haymanot
Christopher Gosey (b. 1962) United States, 2021
Acrylic and natural clay pigments on wood

As we enter this New Year, let us pray for each other, for God’s grace and Holy Spirit to enable us to do His work with great love, humility and brotherly love.

Christine Simoneau Hales

newchristianicons.com online.iconwritingclasses.com

  

Saint John

Saint John the Evangelist Drawing by Christine Hales

“O dear Disciple, you reclined on the breast of Christ at the supper of the Lord and drew ineffable mysteries from it which you were allowed to reveal. Your heavenly voice thundered out to all, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” He is Christ our God, the Saviour of our souls and the true Light who enlightens everyone who comes into the world.”

Last month I was blessed to teach an online Icon writing class painting Saint John the Theologian. We had some wonderful prayer time as we painted and learned more about this saintly man who was so beloved of Jesus. In this blog I want to share with you some of what we learned and prayed about. The following is excepted from an article on “Orthodox Christianity Then and Now”.

The Life of Saint John the Evangelist

The Holy Apostle and Evangelist John the theologian was the son of Zebedee and Salome, the daughter of Joseph. He was called away from his fisherman’s nets to preach the gospel when our Lord Jesus Christ, walking along the sea of Galilee, chose his apostles from amongst the fisherman. Jesus had already summoned two brothers, Peter and Andrew, when he caught sight of two other brothers, James and John, sons of Zebedee. They were mending their nets in a boat with their father when he called them. Immediately abandoning their boat and their father, they followed after Jesus Christ.

Saint John the Evangelist Icon in progress by Christine Hales

At the time of his calling, John was called son of Thunder by the Lord, for his theology would be heard like Thunder throughout the world. John followed Jesus, learning the wisdom that preceded from his lips. John was well loved by his Lord Jesus. The Lord honored him as the fairest of the 12 apostles, and he was one of three of Christ’s closest closest disciples. When Jesus went to raise up the daughter of Jairus, only John, Peter and James were allowed to accompany him. Also when Jesus prayed in the garden, he took Peter, James and John to pray with him. Also on Mt. Tabor, the scene of the Transfiguration it was James, John and Peter who accompanied Jesus. We also know from the Icons of the Crucifixion and the Lamentation, that John never left Jesus’ side. From the Cross, Jesus instructed John to take his mother, Mary into his home and care for her and regard her as his own mother.

Patmos Today

Saint John on Patmos

Saint John and his scribe, Saint Prochorus, were ready to leave the isle of Patmos when there were almost none on the island of Patmos that he had not converted to Christ. The Christians learning of his intention, asked him not to leave them forever. However, the apostle did not wish to remain with them but desired to return to Ephesus. Seeing the Saint was intent on leaving, they asked him to leave behind a memorial with them – the Gospel which he had written there. For one, day having commanded all to fast, he had taken his disciple Prochorus outside the city and together the ascended a high mountain. Here they spent three days in prayer. After the third day a great clap of Thunder sounded, lightning flashed, and the mountain shook. Prochorus fell to the ground with fear. Turning to him, John raised him up and said to him , “Write what you hear from my lips”.

John Writes the Gospel

Lifting up his eyes to heaven, John began to pray again. When he had finished, he began to speak; “In the beginning was the Word…” and the Gospel of Saint John was committed to paper. Saint John agreed to leave a copy in Patmos for the Christians in accordance with their request, but the original copy he kept with himself.

On the same island, Saint John wrote also the Apocalypse, or Book of Revelation. Tradition relates that one day John and his disciple Prochorus departed from the city to a cave in the wilderness where he spent 10 days with Prochorus and another 10 days alone. These latter 10 days he ate nothing but only prayed to God, entreating him to reveal what he should do. A voice came to John from on high saying John, John! John answered “What doest Thou command, Lord? The Voice from on high said “Wait 10 days and thou shall receive a revelation of much that is great.” John remained there 10 more days without food, then something marvelous occurred. The angels of God came down to him and proclaimed much that was ineffable. When Prochorus returned, John sent him back for ink and paper, and for two days thereafter John spoke to Prechorus of the revelations he had received. John’s disciple wrote them down.

John’s Death

At the end of John’s life, when he was becoming very weak, he reduced his teaching to the unceasing repetition of “Little children love one another”. One day when his disciples asked him why he repeated this to them incessantly, John replied with the following words; “This is the Lord’s commandment and if you keep it, it is enough.”

When the Apostle was more than 100 years old, he left the house of Dominus with his family of disciples and after reaching a certain place, John commanded them to sit down. It was then morning and he went a stone’s throw away from them and began to pray. Afterwards his disciples dug him a cross shaped grave in accordance with his will. He ordered Prochorus to go to Jerusalem and remain there until the end of his life. John preached yet one more time to his disciples, and kissing them farewell, the apostle said; “Take the earth, my mother, and covered me with it.” He kissed his disciples and they covered him to the knees. When he had kissed them again, they covered him to his neck leaving his face uncovered. Once again they kissed him, and with great weeping, covered him entirely. Hearing of this, the bretheren came from the city and dug up the grave. But they found nothing there! They all wept greatly, then praying they returned to the city. Each year on the 8th of May a fragrant myrrh comes from the grave, and at the prayers of the holy Apostle the sick are healed thereby, to the honor of God, who is glorified in the Trinity unto the ages of ages Amen.

Patmos

The small island of Patmos, part of the Dodecanese complex in the central Aegean, is known, above all, as the location where John the Apostle received his visions and recorded them in the Book of Revelation, the final book of the New Testament. An impressive monastic complex, dedicated to him, was founded there in the early 11th century.

Interior of the Monastery of Saint John the Theologian (by Thanasis Christodoulou via Wikimedia Commons)

The monastery stands on the site where Saint John is believed to have written his Gospel, including the Book of Revelation (also known as the Apocalypse); it is also located near the grotto where the apostle is said to have received his Revelation, hence called the Cave of the Apocalypse. Both the Monastery and the Cave, along with the rest of the historic centre of the island’s Chora (main town) have been declared a joint World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1999 as an “exceptional example of a traditional Greek Orthodox pilgrimage centre of outstanding architectural interest”.

The site of the revelatory visions, known as the Cave of the Apocalypse, is situated halfway along the road linking the port with the Chora (main town), which sits on top of the island’s mountain. The Holy Cave of the Apocalypse has been transformed into a place of worship, where visitors can see the dent on the wall of the cave, where the Evangelist was said to lay his head; according to tradition, the Voice of God could be heard coming from a cleft of the rock, which is also still visible today. The southern part of the cave has been turned into a church dedicated to Saint John the Theologian, while later a Chapel of Saint Anne (mother of Mary) was added, incorporating the cave, which is now entered through the chapel.

In 1091, Christodoulos began the construction of the monastery of Saint John the Theologian, over the ruins of a fourth-century basilica also dedicated to Saint John.

APOLYPTIKA

“O beloved apostle of Christ our God, come quickly to rescue your helpless people. The one on whose breast you leant will accept you as intercessor. O Theologian, implore Him to disperse the clouds of darkness and grant us peace and great mercy.”

May God continue to bless you with His peace and love,

Christine Simoneau Hales

New Christian Icons

Exhibition Open Calls For Religious Art

ECVA has an open call for art relating to the Epiphany. Here is a link to more information.

CIVA also has an open call for religious art. Deadline is November 7, 2021 Here is a link to more information

Link to Online Classes with Christine Hales

Icons as Symbols

Madonna and Child Icon
Madonna and Child by Christine Hales

In thinking about the differences between religious art and icons- the subject of one of iconographer Betsy Porter’s online discussions, I came up with the following ideas that I hope will be helpful to iconographers and artists alike.

One of the key differences between religious art and icons is the very nature of the  symbolic language of icons.  In icons there is no attempt to portray “reality of the natural world.   Rather, the icon is all about being a sign and a symbol which points to the reality of God’s presence. 

The study of semiotics can be helpful in thinking about this topic. Semiotics is a specialized language dependent upon the use of symbols for communication and created for the purpose of achieving greater exactitude. 

Semiotics is often used in reference to the symbolic language of computer programming, but it applies equally here as a way of formulating thought that describes the process of how human beings reach understanding through the use of abstract symbols.

Semiotics is a key tool to ensure that intended meanings (of for instance a piece of communication or a new product) are unambiguously understood by the person on the receiving end.

Semiotics, put simply, is the study of how an idea or object communicates meaning — and what meaning it communicates.

A sign is any motion, gesture, image, sound, pattern, or event that conveys meaning. The general science of signs is called semiotics. The instinctive capacity of living organisms to produce and understand signs is known as semiosis. And, of course, this very issue is at the heart of the difference between religious art and religious icons.

Acts 2:22 – “Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know”.

Rublev’s Doubting Thomas Icon

Miracle Working Icons

Theologically, all icons are considered to be sacred, and are miraculous by their very nature because they are a symbol of the incarnation. They are a means of spiritual communion between the heavenly and earthly realms. However, it is not uncommon for specific icons to be characterised as “miracle-working”.  God has chosen to glorify these icons by working miracles through them. Such icons are often given particular names (especially those of the Virgin Mary), and even taken from city to city where believers gather to venerate them and pray before them. 

Icons represent  concrete events of sacred history and indicate the inner meanings visually. Icons are meant to be a transfigured art form,  not  reflecting the problems of life but answering them

Sts. Boris and Gleb, late 14th Century, Novgorod
Sts. Boris and Gleb, late 14th Century, Novgorod

The flat space in the icons remove the illusion of three dimensional space and a depiction of the natural world that our eyes see.  The connection between figures and objects becomes conventionally symbolical the image is reduced to a minimum of detail at a maximum of expressiveness.

The Icon is essentially inseparable from church art because the spiritual reality it represents cannot be transmitted otherwise than through symbols.In the icon of the Trinity that was painted by Andrei rublev in the 1400s the image represents the three men in white who are shown as angels in the icon who came to Abraham and Sarah to tell them that they would have a child despite their age, and to whom the couple showed hospitality under the tree of Mamre. This is the story from Genesis Chapter 18.

Holy Trinity Icon, detail by Christine Hales, a copy of the Andre Ruvlev Icon of the Trinity

This icon came to be used as the key image of the Trinity in the Orthodox tradition partly because it was believed to be the first visible revelation of divinity to man but also because it provided an image through which to represent the godhead without representing God the father. The angels were not at this stage associated with specific persons of the Trinity. This imprecision is what enabled the image to remain mystically unknowable. Rublev passes over the inessential details of the subject reducing the image to its contemplative essence- the unity and Trinity of the godhead. This icon is imbued with the contemplative spirit of Hesychasm.  This icon epitomizes Russian icon painting at its most pure and intense, silently revealing the triune God to the inner eye or heart of the faithful. The theologian philosopher Pavel Florensky said of this icon that it is in itself proof of the existence of God.

I hope this article is helpful food for thought, as we move forward to creating new icons for the twenty-first century. I think many discussions on the subject would be very helpful!

Some Resources used in this article: “The Meaning of Icons” by L. Ouspensky and “The Avant Garde Icon” by Andre Spira.

Please visit my website to learn about my icons and icon writing classes!

http://online.iconwritingclasses.com

May God bless the work of your hands,

Christine Simoneau Hales

Icons as Service

St. John The Evangelist

Although our inspiration for painting icons comes from early Christian icons, many iconographers today realize that in order for our icons to have a connection to our modern world, we need to understand that icon painting is still a living and developing art form.

If we widen our perspective to look at Christian art as well as icons, questions develop as to what the differences are between the two. While the subject matter might be the same, the function and purpose, as well as the form of an icon, is distinctly different from those of religious art.

The needs of our contemporary churches and worshippers need to be paramount in our thoughts as we contemplate subject matter and formalistic approaches to writing icons today. Whom is this icon for, whom will it serve?

“Contemplating a piece of work, we do better to think Whom is this work for? Whom will it serve? rather than How will it serve me? Once we find a path for our work to be of service . . . then our work goes smoothly forward. It is not about “us” anymore…Whenever we take art back to the realm of the sacred, whenever we make it an act of service in any form . . . we again experience the ease of creative flow and the lessening of our creative doubts. When we ask to “listen,” we create works worthy of being heard and we ourselves hear the heartbeat of our common humanity, which is grounded in divinity.” Quote from a Richard Rohr blog post where he quotes author Julia Cameron.

As we struggle to understand and make use of the vast canons and traditions of the church as well as those of iconography we can hope to transform our understanding and hope to transform the traditions through the filter of our contemporary church. From my studies over twenty years, I have developed an deep appreciation for Byzantine art and icons. In his book, Byzantine Sacred Art, Constantine Cavarnos states:

“Byzantine art has a religious function. It seeks to express spiritual things in order thereby to help man penetrate the mysteries of the Christian religion; it seeks to help man rise to a higher level of being, to lift his soul to the blessedness of God.”

Last Judgement Icon

Another quote from the same book describes the thoughts of Photius Kontoglou, an influential Greek iconographer of the twentieth century:

“Secular art is concerned with external beauty, whereas spiritual art is concerned with inner beauty. Kontoglou emphatically places inner, spiritual beauty above external beauty, and spiritual art above secular art. External, physical beauty, he remarks, is shallow and perishable, while spiritual beauty is deep and imperishable. Physical beauty arouses the outer senses; spiritual beauty the inner senses- it makes us feel reverence,, humility, contrition, the “gladdening sorrow” of which John Climacos speaks.”

There are so many facets of Byzantine spirituality that are evidenced in the iconography and traditions that are incredibly important and valuable to bring forward into our contemporary icons. This would be a service to our culture in many ways. This would make an appropriate topic for many future blog posts and I welcome articles that contribute to this work of discovery and reverence for the iconographic traditions.

It is part of the creative process to be able to remain creative as an iconographer while still upholding the canons and traditions. Evelyn Underhill, in her book “The Spiritual Life” describes another condition of creativity;

“Creativity is the activity of an artist possessed by the vision of perfection; who by means of the raw material with which he works, tries to give more and more perfect expression to his idea, his inspiration or his love.”

In referring to the modern iconographers’ training that impresses the importance of copying from the established Orthodox icons of the past Irinia Yazykova states:

“Many iconographers working today allow themselves to be imprisoned by tradition. Instead of approaching tradition creatively so as to develop it, they too often more or less blindly copy tradition instead. And yet, an image that is not a product of the artist’s own inward spiritual experience cannot be received as a revelation by the viewer.” Irinia Yazykova, Hidden and Triumphant.

As such, it is a balancing act between giving form to the aesthetic tradition as well as the theological meaning of the icon. The service an authentic icon can render to one’s church and community is to express meaningful content in a form that conveys both beauty and prayer.

Today the majority of iconographers are women who have achieved professional success and have moved beyond copying of prototypes into development of new icons of their own.

If this subject is of interest to you, Iconographer Betsy Porter will be hosting an informal online discussion with other interested iconographers on the subject of “Icons and Religious Art- What’s the Difference?” Participants will share images and thoughts on Sunday, September 19, 2021, 5PM EST through Zoom. This is a group that she has been hosting through St. Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Fransisco for over a year. Here is a link for that meeting.

Here is a link to an article I wrote on “How to Gesso Icon Boards”– it is a description and also contains a link to an excellent video by Paul Stetsenko that demonstrates the whole process.

Also, here are links to the online icon writing classes I am teaching: Pre-recorded classes: online.iconwritingclasses.com , and Live on Zoom : October 19-23, 2021

Until next month, may God bless the inspiration of your hearts and the work of your hands,

Christine

My Website

Gilding

Greetings:

This month we have an article contributed By Olga Iaroslavtseva on a form of gilding that she recommends. There are many ways to gild our icons and it’s helpful to be aware of each one until an iconographer finds the way that works best for them. Thank you so much for contributing your time and experience, Olga!

Gilding Method with Water-based Glue

Gilding Is Important In Iconography

Gold in the icon is a symbol of Divine Light, Truth and Glory. Since ancient times, Byzantine iconographers have used gilding. With its help, they were able to simultaneously convey both eternity – the absence of time and space, and the holiness of the depicted. Such depth can only be conveyed with gold, colors are powerless in this. The gold background looks like the icon has no bottom. Gilding in icons is found already in the IX-XI centuries. This technique came to Rus in the 13th century. Iconographers often gave icons to professional gilders for gilding. Presently, many people can master this skill by themselves.

In my practice, I use only real gold leaf. I don’t use imitation in principle. Holiness, greatness, heavenly world – this is what the gold on the icons symbolizes. All this is absolute truth. Therefore, we should use genuine gold. This is my creed.

Various gilding techniques are known, both simple and more complex. Here, I share the simple technique, suitable for beginning iconographers as practitioners. This is gilding on water-based glue.

Preparation, Shellac and polishing

After the drawing is made on the gesso, the areas for gilding should be covered with shellac. Use a wide, flat synthetic brush for that. Apply several coats of shellac with an interval of 15-20 minutes between them. Each coat should dry before applying the next one. I make shellac myself. For this, I dissolve 5 ounces of shellac flakes in 500ml ethanol – 95%. If you use shellac from a store, I think you may need more layers. Usually, it is a less concentrated shellac than self-made. After all layers have been applied, dry the surface thoroughly. This usually takes one to three days, depending on climate. Dried shellac hardens and is easy to polish.

For polishing shellac, use sandpaper with a grain size of 800 to 2000. When polishing, please be careful not to expose the gesso. Otherwise, the applied glue will absorb during gilding and the gold will not adhere. Also, you can use wet sandpaper. Just drip some water when polishing. This will speed up the process. Eventually, the polished surface should be smooth – without scratches, because  all of that will be visible after gilding. Perfectly prepared surface – perfect result of gilding. After polishing, the icon must be completely cleaned of dust. Also, clean the room from dust before gilding.

Gilding

Now come for the gilding icon. For this I use a cotton pad. I usually mix 1:3 glue with water. I take 1 portion of water to 3 portions of glue. The middle icon consumes a teaspoon of the glue mix. Then I fold the cotton pad in half, dip it in the glue mix and wring it out. With quick, neat, even movements I wipe the areas for gilding. Be careful, please do not leave dry areas. I wouldn’t recommend wiping the same place several times. After the first coat, wait 20 minutes to dry out, then apply a second coat. Wait 20 minutes again and start gluing the gold leaves. You can take your time, the surface remains sticky for a long time.

For gilding, I prefer to use loose gold leaf books, but transfer leaf books can also be used. I cut the gold with a Snap-Off Blade of a common knife. To avoid damaging the gold leaf, I put it between two sheets of paper like a sandwich. Usually, I use one sheet of paper from a leaf book. I cut it to size, then gently slide one piece of paper to the right to reveal the edge of the gold leaf on the left. I apply the open edge of the leaf to the sticky area of the icon, loosen my hand and slowly continue to move my hand with the pieces of paper from left to right. Since the edge of the leaf has already caught on to the glue, the gold leaf neatly lays down in the right place. Paper helps keep the gold leaf from crumpling. Finally, I lightly clap the leaf with a squirrel brush imperfectly, because the final pressing will be after gilding of all areas.

After finishing the gilding, you should carefully examine the surface. If there are holes or cracks, you need to patch them up with small pieces of gold leafs. They usually stick well in these areas. Next, take a new cotton pad and smooth the gilded surface with high quality. Do this with gentle pressure to smooth out wrinkles. Again carefully examine the surface. If the holes remain and they no longer stick, take a toothpick and wrap some cotton wool around the tip. The tip should be like the tip of a pencil. Dip it in the glue mix and squeeze it a little on clean paper so that there is not too much glue. Apply glue with the tip of a toothpick to the holes like a restorer. Try not to go out to the gilding area.  Glue pieces of gold to these places and wait 10 minutes. After, smooth these places with a new cotton pad. This is very delicate work.

Remove excess glue and gold residues from areas under painted. For that, use an ear stick and white spirits. Be careful not to damage the gilded area.

Next day, apply shellac in one or two layers with a soft synthetic brush to protect the gilding.

The advantages of this technique of gilding are

– simple application of glue;

– the ability to glue gold leaf after 20 minutes after application;

– easy to patch holes.

The disadvantage of this technique is streaks remain when applied with a cotton pad. They are visible after gilding, though this may not be noticeable to the non-expert. Looked closely, you will notice the vibration of gloss and dullness.

In summary, the gluing technique with water-based glue is fast, simple and gives a good quality gilding. I use Italian water-based glue Ferrario La Doratura Missione ad Acqua.

Olga Iarolslavtseva and a finished icon

About me

Iconography has been my professional occupation for 18 years. During this time, I have painted hundreds of icons in different styles and techniques. In 2017-2019, I lived in the United States with my husband, a priest in the Orthodox Christian mission. In 2019, there was an exhibition of my paintings and icons in St. Louis, Missouri. Presently, I live in Lipetsk, Russia. I am happy to share my method of gilding with the American Association of Iconographers. Hope, this will help the development of the iconographic arts in North America.

For more information about my experience in iconography, please visit my social media: @facebook.com/OlYAgallery; @instagram.com/olya_gallery. There I share my art, exhibitions and progress.

Blessing and help from God to the American Association of Iconographers and all iconographers.

Artist-iconographer

Olga Iaroslavtseva

May you all be blessed and safe until out next newsletter at the end of August!

Love and prayers,

Christine Simoneau Hales

American Association of Iconographers New Christian Icons Icon Classes

If you have an article you would like to submit that would help other iconographers, please contact me below. Also, if you have any thoughts or comments for Olga, please contact me and I will pass them on to her!