A Community for Students of Iconography

Greetings Fellow Iconographers:

Last March, I was blessed to teach an Icon workshop at Mt. Calvary Monastery in Santa Barbara, California where I met many motivated and interesting iconographers.  One of these is Dorothy Alexander, an Iconographer in Santa Barbara who hosts a twice monthly Icon  painting group at her home.  The following is an article she has written about this group. An inspiring and  much needed  aspect of Iconography is community!

FROM DOROTHY ALEXANDER:

“Here in Santa Barbara, California, an ecumenical group of iconography students meet for Open Icon Sessions twice a month.  These sessions have been on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic and will be starting up again on June 6, 2020.

Why do we meet?

 We are admonished to encourage each other throughout the scriptures.  “Therefore encourage one another…”  I Thess. 4:18

“But encourage one another daily,…” Heb. 3:13

Last Supper, School of A. Rublev
Last Supper, School of A. Rublev

 We share a common bond of desiring to create icons to the glory of God, that others will be drawn closer to God through the icons, and, most importantly, to encourage each other as we work on the icon of Christ in each of us.

Some iconographers have spent years in apprenticeships, travelled to distant lands to learn in specialized schools, others are self-taught, and others have attended many weekly iconography courses.  There is not just one “right” way to come into iconography.  Just as in our individual journeys in faith, God leads and directs us as we need, not as our neighbor needs.

 As Matushka Ann Margitich has said when interviewed for the Orthodox Arts Journal (August, 2018; https://orthodoxartsjournal.org/surpassing-gentleness-interview-iconographer-ann-margitich/):

“A very good piece of advice that I received at Seminary when we were leaving was to never paint on my own.  Not only is it important to check in with other painters about theology and subject matter; we also learn so much from seeing our colleagues’ work in progress and discuss their use of materials and painting techniques…”

As the Finnish iconographer, Helena Nikkanen (a student of Ouspensky), painted and restored Coptic icons in Egypt (2016) it was a team effort.  She was Head Restorer for the Society for the Conservation of Ethiopian Cultural Heritage.

Their four-person team discussed a lot of icons, each with their own area of expertise. In the production of the icon project, the face of Christ was a nun of Hanuna’s paintings; Manali was responsible for small details such as Coptic texts.  Nikkanen made drawings of icons and nun Martha was responsible for priming the icons.

Archangel Gabriel Drawing, Christine Hales
Archangel Gabriel Drawing, Christine Hales

The St. Croix Catholic Iconographers Guild has worked on icons corporately the way Nikkanen suggests.  They have also worked on jointly painting iconography on the interior walls of a church on Standing Rock Indian Reservation in July of 2019. https://www.facebook.com/groups/iconography/

Three members of our Open Sessions are making diptych icons to give to our priests at St. Athanasius Antiochian Orthodox Church.  They can take these with them as they bring the Eucharist to parishioners.  This idea was given to us by people in the Iconography Ministry at St. Kateri (https://www.facebook.com/groups/766736060032157/).

These groups have been examples of how a guild or group of iconographers can serve others to the glory of God.  We are praying together, painting alongside each other, and someday we may paint an icon together to serve our community.  We exchange books/teachings, share our struggles, and lift each other up in prayer.

Blessing hand by Peter Murphy
Blessing hand by Peter Murphy

The Group Formation:

In 2009 I first met with a group of egg tempera artists in the home of Theresa Rohter.  Here is Theresa’s description of how that group came into being.

Adult Education in the 90’s had a watercolor class and the Instructor, Rose Margret Braiden, took some instruction on how to paint an icon and incorporated it with egg tempera. I happened to hear about the class and enrolled. I was the only one doing religious paintings, and only working with egg tempera while others were mixing water color with egg tempera. As I became better at egg tempera, an opportunity arrived in Santa Barbara; The Prosopon School gave a workshop at the Old Mission.

I took a few more workshops and as I developed skills in mixing pigments and working on icons, I invited a few people to my home that were interested in iconography.  The rest is history.

Over the years I have developed lasting relationships with people that I have much in common with:  faith and iconography.

After the tragic Thomas Fire and Montecito debris flow, Theresa was not able to host these sessions.  With the aid of family, friends, and the Montecito Bucket Brigade volunteers, the cases of pigments which Theresa lovingly prepared and maintained were found.  These are the pigments which we still use today.  Each person who uses them donates $10 per session to replenish the supply.

From the Group:

The best way to get a feel for what we do as a group is to hear from the group.  Several participants from the last six months were asked to contribute their thoughts on these three questions:

– How have these sessions aided your iconography journey?

– What do you value in our community?

– What is an unexpected benefit of painting/drawing icons together?

Here are their reflections.

__________

Veronica and her Icons
Veronica and her Icons

Veronica Kortz with her tryptic icon

These sessions have aided my iconography journey by getting feedback from more experienced iconographers, helpful hints of how to correct, improve, and enhance our icons.

I value our community friendship, the sharing of insights, ideas, and support.

An unexpected benefit of painting/drawing icons together is the bond of prayer and fellowship in our community.

__________

Nancy
Nancy from the Santa Barbara group

Nancy Kazanjian, our “Cover Girl” at an icon workshop

The Open Icon Sessions in Santa Barbara have enriched my life through Icon Writing.  The supportive educational and prayerful environment touches deeply while developing further skills and understanding of the processes, application, and tools.  The perimeters of our study are so broad and life enhancing that it is difficult to put into words.

Through our work we deepen friendships and respect towards one another.  I value the principles of Iconography, and the foundation of shared faith.  I treasure the time of reflective prayerful work.  I am sincerely grateful for the generosity and the opportunity to participate.

__________

Kristine and Good Shepherd Icon
Kristine and Good Shepherd Icon

Kristine Amerson with her Christ the Good Shepherd icon

Gathering together in Open Icon Sessions has blessed me in many unexpected ways.  I was drawn into the iconography world when a friend shared an icon she wrote at a retreat.  The icon spoke to me and although I did not have any formal background in art she encouraged me to prayerfully consider attending an icon workshop.

What I value most about our community is the diversity, unity, and companionship it offers.  All are welcome; we encourage each other and share deeply in one another’s spiritual journeys.

An unexpected benefit has been the depth of spiritual connection I have found on this sojourn.

__________

Sandra and her Icon
Sandra and her Icon

Sandra Talmadge with her Archangel Gabriel

The Santa Barbara Open Icon Sessions have been a life-line for me for many reasons. The sessions themselves are always done in a prayerful and respectful atmosphere. The clubhouse we meet in is spacious, comfortable, and accommodating, as well as having excellent kitchen facilities for our potluck lunches.

The more experienced offer input as far as each participant needs or wants. The schedule is completed far enough ahead of time to allow for planning. The email communications always include links for further education and interest.

Many masters cannot teach or organize; yet God has blessed us with an organized time of learning together in iconography.

What is more, all of this is done for the love of God. No one pays a fee unless pigments are needed. This has allowed me to continue my love of iconography, with excellent quality, even though I struggle with limited resources.

__________

Terry, Cristy and icons
Terry, Cristy and icons

Terry Kanowsky (Photo of Cristy Maltese and Terry, on the right, having presented icons they painted for the homebound ministry at their church.)

One of the aspects I find so rewarding about Iconography is the time I find for myself and my spiritual center.  These meetings enhance the sense of peace and accomplishment my Icon writing gives me.  From the comradeship we have on the car pool up to Santa Barbara through the fellowship I enjoy with all the other Icon writers at the meetings, it is truly a “soul day” for me!

I love how we all share our knowledge and in so many ways our love of God and the beauty we create through His hand.  In other art forms there is often a lot of ego involved in group get-togethers.  But I don’t see that at the Open Sessions.  Everyone is quick to help, encourage and share tools.  The experienced writers have patience with less skilled or less experienced writers too.

An unexpected benefit is all I learn at each session.  How to be prayerful, all aspects of the writing process….little hints, ideas and “best practices” are all things I take away from each meeting.

__________

Nataliya
Nataliya

Nataliya Tinyayeva at an Open Icon Session

In my opinion the iconography sessions are a beautiful part of my spiritual journey.
It is the way to deeper understanding of what an actual icon is, how it can reflect the author, the writer’s skills and the spiritual side of the author.

I personally was always thinking that the iconographer has to be perfect. I was thinking I don’t deserve to write an icon and I am still kind of thinking this way 🙂
However, I understand that there are so many ways to write the icons, we all are human and we aren’t perfect. We can’t produce the perfections, but He can. Of the majority of icons done by good masters only a few of them are done with God’s Spirit. Of course it would be the best to study Iconography at the Orthodox monastery and learn all aspects of Iconography from monks, learn different perspectives of Iconography, but today we live in such a relaxed, chaotic, and weak world that even a small particle of light can become the huge help for people to unite in God. For me, this small particle is these Iconography sessions. It is the additional opportunity to think about God and focus on the Jesus prayer.

There is a quiet environment with spiritual music. It is a good place to be in prayer and to meet other people who want to be united with God, who want to reflect the face of Jesus, Panagia, and Saints into the wood. It is the wonderful opportunity for us to exchange our experience, to get skills from more experienced Iconographers and of course it is the way to improve the skills; because, who knows…. maybe one day somebody will venerate our icon and pray to God. Such thoughts could not only be the motivation to get better at Iconography but also give some inspiration. That is why for me those sessions are very important; I receive support and the desire to continue this journey.  I wouldn’t have any confidence to continue Iconography without these sessions.

In a perfect world not only adults but also kids should learn Iconography as a natural way of living and growing. And wouldn’t it be wonderful if at least one child would continue the journey of writing icons and become a good master.

__________

Andrea
Andrea

Andrea Carr at an Open Icon Session

I can’t begin to express what a blessing it is and how fortunate we are to have these Open Icon Sessions. Our group, which ranges from beginners to advanced, is so supportive of one another.  We each have our own work space which is very ample, and I love it when one of the other Iconographers will quietly and prayerfully come up to my table to observe and then comment on my work.  Our group is so insightful and we have all learned from one another.  If I ever need help, there are many there for support and the suggestions are given with love and respect.

I have never returned home from one of these sessions without gaining invaluable instruction and I feel so much zeal and joy from our community.  If I ever forget any of my supplies at home, our group is so generous with lending a compass or ruler and if we need to buy pigments or supplies, they are there at a very reasonable cost.

An unexpected benefit from coming to these sessions is that we get to hear from the members the retreats and classes they have attended around the United States or even internationally.  I just dream when I hear these fascinating stories and we get to learn so much about icon history.  And I can’t fail to mention the pot luck dishes we bring to class for our lunch.    I have never eaten so well in my life and it is always gourmet and scrumptious.  I have met friends that I will have for my entire life and we always keep each other in our prayers.

__________

Martha, Tina Icon
Martha, Tina, Icon of Our Lady of Guadalupe

Martha Helkey is working on an Our Lady of Guadalupe icon like this one made by Tina DaRos.

I appreciate the time spent together with my fellow iconographers.  It is a prayerful time for me.

__________

Asia and Dorothy
Asia and Dorothy

Asia Ballew making a chalk drawing of St. Brigid, with Dorothy Alexander

It is amazing to connect with other American iconographers. It is wonderful to know that I don’t have to go to Greece or Russia to connect with other iconographers. Talented and gifted men and women are right here!

The Open Icon meetings are so uplifting, encouraging, and insightful. As one of the only young people in this group, I’m learning so much from the older, seasoned iconographers who have been passing on to me so much knowledge about this art.

__________

Dorothy Alexander
Dorothy Alexander

Dorothy Alexander with two of her icons

While it would be easy to stay in my little icon studio and paint on my own, I have grown in iconography through the assistance of others in this community.  The kindness, gentle corrections, and challenges have all improved my icons.

Nikita Andreyev, my first icon instructor, said painting an icon is 90% prayer and 10% brushwork.  This statement has stayed with me as a foundation in my journey of iconography.  For me this has been a spiritual journey and I am humbled when people are glad to receive icons which are never perfect, are definitely flawed, and truly made by human hands.  I continue to strive to improve and encourage others to do the same.  This community has been used by God to bless me

______________

Asia, Dorothy, Heather, Iona
Asia, Dorothy, Heather, Iona

Praying that the Holy Spirit will guide us, we meet that our “…hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgement of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ;…” (Colossians 2:2).

If you would like to be added to our email list please contact Dorothy at dotalexander@westmont.edu.

Thank you, Dorothy, for contributing this article and for organizing your group of Iconographers.  We welcome your ideas and feedback on future articles for the Association.

Blessings and prayers,

Christine Hales

Christine’s Icon website

Icons- A Symbolic Language

Hello Fellow Iconographers:

American Association of Iconographers, God the Divine Geometer
God the Divine Geometer, circa 1220 AD

Icons as Symbolic Language

Have you ever wondered about the symbolic nature of Icons?  It is the very source of their power as Holy images that convey the many faceted religion of Christianity.  One dictionary definition of “symbolic language” reads: ” a specialized language dependent on the use of symbols for communication and created for the purpose of achieving greater exactitude…”

Symbols allow us to bring our spiritual awareness out of the church and into our secular world.  Communion with God through the Icon is achieved through a symbolic language where gestures, clothing, and style of drawing are precise and fixed.  There are only a few gestures that Christ’s right hand will take, and the drawing of the faces and human form fall within a canon of proportion and scale that relates to the theme and subject matter.

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

C.S. Lewis, when asked to write another book for his adult audience replied that he now preferred to write in symbols and metaphors for a younger audience (The Chronicles of Narnia), in order to intrigue readers with Christianity unawares.  Similarly, Icons can bring the presence of God to people’s hearts whether or not they are Christians at all.

Icons are based on a Greek notion of proportion and symmetry applied to facial features and bodies.  Even color has great significance for understanding the mysteries of our faith. The light emanating from an Icon must be indicative of the uncreated light of God’s Presence and the divine light of grace. Through contemplation on these symbolic images, Icons, we can pray for the Holy Spirit to help us become more like Christ in our everyday lives.

American Association of Iconographers, St. Theodosia
St. Theodosia, 1225 AD

The very nature of Icon writing is that, following the principles of ancient art, we seek to make a sign which will convey religious meaning specific to the subject matter of that particular Icon.

Ancient Egyptian design is at the heart of the Icon.  You can see this in the Fayum portraits, and also in the flat linear depictions of people and religious symbols found in the pyramids. These influences combined with early Greek flexibility of line and brushstroke  form the basis of all early Iconographic composition.

Today, as we Iconographers research, ready, and study to be able to encompass the path to writing authentic Icons that speak to God’s people today, we must still look to the ancients in order to fully grasp the complexity of those seemingly simple designs and processes.

American Association of Iconographers, Duccio Icon
Duccio Icon

Below are some links to resources to inspire and resource your Icon writing in the new decade!  Wishing you all a blessed and joyous New Year!

Christine Hales

Icon Classes                       Icon Prints

Modern Russian Icon Website:  Book of Icon drawings for tracing.  This book also shows where the highlights will go.  Excellent for beginners.

Temple Gallery:  Several Beautiful Books with old Russian Icons – good source for creating Icons

Natural Pigments.com: A very good source for pigments and lots of other Iconographers supplies and materials.

Collecting Icons

Nativity of Jesus Icon from St. Paraskeva Church
Nativity of Jesus Icon from St. Paraskeva Church

Why Collect Icons?

Are you an Icon collector?  Collecting Icons is similar to collecting fine art in that the beauty is often times in the eye of the beholder.  Icons carry meaning in addition to the esthetics we expect from visual art. That meaning, or content, might relate on a very personal level to the viewer and thus have a high degree of value, regardless of the aesthetic qualities.  For example, an Icon of Saint Luke will resonate with artists, Iconographers, physicians, and bachelors because Saint Luke is their patron saint.  Icons have the ability to enhance our prayer life as we venerate the saints depicted.

St. Luke Icon by Christine Hales
St. Luke Icon by Christine Hales

 

Venerating Icons

molennaya

We use the word venerate to talk about our interactions with Icons.  To venerate means to cherish, honor, exalt, be in awe of, appreciate and reverence.  In old Russia, during times of religious persecution, people who could afford it would create a beautiful corner in their homes, or a small chapel.  This would hold the Icons that this family particularly revered and understood as important parts of their family prayer lives.

Icons can deepen our prayer life with specific, focused prayer.
Icons can deepen our prayer life with specific, focused prayer.

Icons can enhance our connection to the God we adore through specific, focused prayer.  Therefore, collecting Icons is a means of keeping our vision on God’s Kingdom in our homes, and sharing that with our families and friends.

Collecting Icons from Antiquity

Another aspect of collecting Icons is that of finding Icons from earlier centuries that have added value because of their age and provenance. One of the foremost Icon Galleries for ancient Icons is the Temple Gallery in London, UK.  It was founded in 1959 as a center for study, restoration and exhibition of ancient Icons and sacred art. With ancient Icons, their monetary value rises in accordance with their condition, provenance, size, and age.

Russian_nativity_icon

People often ask about the value about the icons they have discovered in their travels or have had handed down in their families.  TheMuseum of Russian Icons, in Clinton, Massachusetts, will do Icon evaluations on certain dates. They will also provide conservation and appraisal services upon request.  The museum has a beautiful permanent collection as well as changing exhibitions.

A Living Traditon

Nativity_Icon_Melissotopos_Olishta_19_Century
Nativity Icon Melissotopos Olishta 19 Century

Iconography is a living tradition, bringing the elements of the Christian faith to believers through the centuries.  Icons are often painted in the same way that they have been for hundreds of years.  And, as a living Tradition, Icons painted today are bringing along the traditions of the past and marrying them to contemporary faith and art practices.  Truly it is an exciting time to be collecting Icons!

May God bless your Icon creating and collecting especially this Advent Season!

Blessings and prayers,

Christine Hales

Icon Website     Icon Prints Website

 

 

 

Deadline: Fourth of July!!

Dear Fellow Iconofiles and Students:

One of the tasks of the spiritual in art is to prove again and again that vision is possible; that the world, thick and convincing, is neither the only world nor the highest, and that our ordinary awareness is neither the only awareness nor the highest of which we are capable.  Traditionally, this task falls under a stringent rule; the vision cannot be random and entirely subjective, but must be capable of touching a common chord in many men and women.”  Roger Lipsey, “An Art Of Our Own, The Spiritual in Twentieth Century Art”.

Transfiguration Icon by Christine Hales in Progress
Transfiguration Icon by Christine Hales in Progress

Three months ago I gave myself a challenge: to write down everything that I thought was important in art and in Iconography and then to create a book.  My Deadline was the Fourth of July and my target was 20,000 words.  Yesterday I made my goal, with time to spare!  Of course now the editing process begins, but I honestly know now that this path of spiritual discovery in art is as important as anything else I could imagine doing.  For it is a research into human inspiration, philosophy, dreams, religion, politics, and moral development through the ages as evidenced in art, specifically painting and Iconography.

Icons in the Twentieth Century5a6303a44b080af2951c29a0327f97dd

In 1904, a small portion of Andrey Rulev’s Holy Trinity Icon was cleaned of the dark soot that had been its covering for centuries.  This one act led eventually to a whole group of Icons in Russia being cleaned and “discovered”, and this, in turn, has largely contributed to the revival in Iconographic interest today. When the Trinity was cleaned and uncovered through restoration, crowds began making pilgrimages to see it.

In 1911, Henri Matisse visited Moscow and was incredulous at the power and beauty he experienced in seeing these Icons.  So much so, that his art was strongly influenced by them for the rest of his life. He declared that the Russian medieval masters had already found what he had been seeking painting!

Ezekiel Icon by Christine Hales in Icon Exhibition at Westminster Presbyterian Church 2017
Ezekiel Icon by Christine Hales in Icon Exhibition at Westminster Presbyterian Church 2017

My new book will be about Iconography and its effect on the development of the best in modern art.  Putting together the pieces of this puzzle has been illuminating.   Wassily Kandinsky, the foremost pioneer of modern art, was not only deeply affected by icons in their painterly language, but also in the clarity and truth of the spiritual reality they conveyed.

Researching writers like Pavel FLorensky, Leonid Ouspensky, Roger Lipsey, Irina Yazykova, as well as modern master artists, I found there is a central theme of authentic spiritual experience throughout. Creating a modern spiritual language requires not only experience as an artist, but a spiritual lifestyle and practice that involves personal growth in Christ.

Color Theory, Materials, and Manuals

Combining the Iconographic and spiritual research with the specifics of making great art was part of my goal for the book.  Icons combine two worlds- the spiritual and art.  Spiritual development is essential, but so is artistic development.  For this I will be including a Bibliography of artist resources and guides to egg tempera painting and old master methods and materials. Sharing all this exciting information that has taken me so long to find will, hopefully, make it easier for others who want to develop their craft and skill by classical painting information combined with the best in modern artists who pursued the spiritual path.

Henri Matisse
Henri Matisse

With God’s help, I expect the book to be ready to publish at the beginning of this fall, and will email the specifics.  My intention and hope is that this book will help many serious iconographers and artists who wish to push forward in this challenging task of creating spiritual art that draws people to God. It is the job of  making icons accessible to a world desperately in need of a change from materialism to God’s world of true spiritual life.  For this, we need to open our hearts and let God lead the art out of the churches and into places where the unchurched can experience it.  How? God only knows.  But the icons then will become seeds carrying the faith and hope of God to the poor, the marginalized, and also the wealthy and priveledged.  God will water the seeds and bring forth the harvest.

Sending prayers and blessings,

Christine Simoneau Hales

Icon Class Schedule for 2018          Icon Website             Fine Art Website        Ministry

 

Saint Patrick

St Patrick, kidnapped
St Patrick kidnapped into slavery

“He who forms the mountains, who creates the wind, and who reveals His thoughts to mankind, who turns dawn to darkness, and treads on the heights of the earth– the LORD God Almighty is His name.” –Amos 4:13

Saint Patrick of Ireland

Saint Patrick Icon

As a young boy, Patrick was kidnapped by brutal pirates and carried away to Ireland where he was sold as a slave.  For the next six years he was a shepherd in Northern Ireland.  This is where he learned to pray. “In a single day I would say as many as a hundred prayers, and at night only slightly fewer.” The Confession of St. Patrick.

“I arise today

in a mighty strength

calling upon the Trinity,

believing in the Three Persons

saying they are One

thanking my creator.”

In the experience of slavery and exile, the young boy  discovered God . In the midst of this terrible alienation brought on  by his exile from family and country, Patrick experienced a deep abiding connection that enabled him to feel strengthened by God.

St. Patrick baptizing the Irish
St. Patrick baptizing the Irish drawing by Christine Hales

He is a legend in Irish history and spirituality.  Patrick’s story of being kidnapped by Irish pirates eventually gave rise to a remarkable inner transformation that led him  eventually to return to Ireland, serving the Irish people by bringing God’s love to them.

Like St. Francis, Patrick chose a lifestyle of poverty, preferring to single-mindedly focus on the Divine connection within.  “For I know full well that poverty and adversity suit me better than riches and delights.”

Saint Patrick Icon

One often sees Icons of St. Patrick holding a shamrock, an illustration of how he used the humble clover leaf to illustrate the Trinity- three in one- to the largely pagan population Ireland.  Pre-Christian Ireland was where God sent Patrick.  His spiritual story is told in “The Confession of St. Patrick”, along with many Scriptural references that relate to his experiences.

Patrick was born in Britain about  385, and began his mission  in Ireland during the early 400’s.He became fluent in the Irish dialect during his period of slavery, and despite much hostility and danger, he was very effective in bringing the Gospel to Ireland.

Saint Patrick founded many churches and monasteries across Ireland.

Saint Patrick Icon
Saint Patrick Icon

Holy Bishop Patrick,

Faithful shepherd of Christ’s royal flock,

You filled Ireland with the radiance of the Gospel:

 The mighty strength of the Trinity!

Now that you stand before the Savior,

Pray that He may preserve us in faith and love!

Icon notes for March:

The American Association of Iconographers now has a Facebook Page which you are welcome to join.  The rules of the page are that postings may be submitted by any member and the content needs to be of interest and benefit to Iconographers.

Video of Iconographer George Kordis beginning a Christ Pantocrator dome:

Blessings and Prayers,

Christine Hales

New Christian Icons

Icon Painting Classes Schedule for 2018

 


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