Lectio Divina and Icons

This Monastic spiritual practice of prayer, Scriptural reading, and meditation, although usually undertaken with a Bible and a prayer journal, can also be used very effectively with Icons as well.  Sometimes this is called “Visio Divina”.  Because Icons are meant to be Holy Scripture in visual form, they add a level of understanding and identifying with the Scripture and are particularly helpful with visual people in meditation.

Many icons easily lend themselves to this practice of meditation, for example, many of the Festal Icons of the Orthodox Church: The Nativity of Christ, The Baptism of Jesus, the Annunciation, The Resurrection, Crucifixion, Lamentation, Pentecost, The Entry into Jerusalem, and several others beautifully illustrate Holy Scripture and provide meditation opportunities for the liturgical year.

Crucifixion Icon by Christine Hales

Crucifixion Icon written by Christine Hales

One of the main purposes of Lectio, or Visio, Divina is to promote a personal communion with God while also studying Scripture. It’s not primarily intended as a theological analysis of Biblical passages but rather as a means of personally entering into the scene or Biblical passage and asking God what He wants to teach or show you in this prayer and meditation.  It can be a very personal interpretation that sheds light on areas of our lives that need us to grow in our understanding of them.

Transfiguration Icon Written by Christine Hales

The roots of this kind of Scriptural meditation go back to Origen in the third century  who thought of Scripture as a Sacrament. The practice was handed down through many generations of Christian leaders, including St. Augustine of Hippo. Saint Benedict of Nursia  encouraged his monks  to practice Lectio Divina in the sixth century.  During the twelfth Century the practice of  Lectio Divina was simplified to include four main parts:

     First, The Reading of a Scriptural passage (or, choose an Icon AND a Scriptural Passage).

     Second, meditate on the passage and the icon.  I suggest that using journaling thoughts and prayers to be very helpful tools in this process.

     Third, pray, talk to Christ, ask questions, pour out your heart to Him, ask for His direction.

     Fourth, Contemplation and Meditation.  Spend time in silence with the Icon before you and allow the peace of the silence to be a space where you can just rest with God.  Again, after contemplation, journaling is very helpful.

Saint Benedict Icon Written by Christine Hales

Saint Benedict created a Rule for his monastics that included three main things:  Liturgical Prayer, manual labor, and Lectio Divina- the slow, careful reading of Scripture, meditating and pondering of the meaning.

In the twelfth Century, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux thought that Lectio Divina guided by the Holy Spirit the keys to nourishing Christian spirituality.

Russian Orthodox Icon of “Entry into Jerusalem”, fifteenth century

As time went on, many other monastic orders emphasized the importance of Lectio Divina to the spiritual life and this has continued with the second Vatican Council in 1965 and then again in 2005 with Pope Benedict and then Pope John Paul II, who used a questions and answer format: “One condition for Lectio Divina is that the mind and heart be illumined by the Holy Spirit, that is, by the same Spirit who inspired the Scriptures, and that they be approached with an attitude of ‘reverential hearing.”

     In our times, Lectio Divina has spread to lay people and has been widely adopted in the Anglican Tradition as well. 

The famous Henri Nouen was instrumental in bringing meditation with icons to the fore in Western Christianity, reminding us that for well over a thousand years Icons were the liturgical art of both the West and East, in the undivided  Church.  His book, “Behold the Beauty of the Lord” is a classic and details his deepening experience of living with four icons in particular.

Face of Christ Icon by Andre Rublev 15th century

“WhIle staying at L’Arches in France, someone had put a reproduction of Rublev’s icon of the Holy Trinity on the table of the room where Henri was staying. “After gazing for many weeks at the icon,” Henri wrote in Behold the Beauty of the Lord, “I felt a deep urge to write down what I had gradually learned to see.’”  Quote from an online article by Jim Forest, a good friend of Nouen’s.  

Icons played a major role in Nouen’s spiritual life and development, no doubt with the accompaniment of prayer and reading of Holy Scripture. There are many books on the subject, for example, “Lectio Divina-the Sacred Art-Transforming Words and Images Into Heart Centered Prayer” by Christine Valtners Paintner, PHD, “Meeting God in Scripture: A Hands on Guide to Lectio Divina”, by Jan Johnson, and many more.  Connecting this ancient practice to Icon writing and praying with icons is helpful in growing our connection with God through our work.

Blessings, until next month,

Christine Simoneau Hales 


Celtic Christianity and Icons

Book of Kills, Madonna and Child

Recently, while teaching an online Icon writing class, I shared some prayers and quotations I have long cherished from Esther De Waal’s excellent book, “Seeking God, The Way of Saint Benedict.”  Afterwards, I started reading again her book, “The Celtic Way of Prayer” which inspired me to compare and contemplate Byzantine culture and Icons with Celtic Spirituality and Celtic icons.

The Celtic Way of Prayer

She explains that the Celtic way of prayer is a way of praying that embraces all of ourselves, allowing us to pray not only with words, but with our hearts, feelings, and body.   A lot of Celtic prayer is poetry, reaching out to God using symbols and images, and imagination either verbally or mentally or physically in some other way.  Here, I was thinking of how we pray while writing icons, and how writing icons allows us to pray also with our whole selves.  In this sense, writing icons becomes a journey that we take with Christ, allowing Him to guide and show us our true selves in Him.

The Four Evangelists, Book of Kills

Praying/writing/painting icons involves our hands and our minds, and our very breath becomes a prayer as we work. Celtic Christianity originates from a time when the separation of the Eastern and Western churches had not yet been thought of.  Back in the ancient, early days of Christendom, the Book of Kells was a visual testimony to the Celtic Christian faith in rich symbols, colors, shapes and patterns in much the same way that icons were in the eastern countries.  These images touch a deep part of our being with their intricacies, woven imageries and words proclaiming the Gospel in all its mystery and beauty.

Book of Kells

Monasteries were home to both the Book of Kells and ancient Eastern icons, making clear to us that there need be no separation between praying, living and working. Writing icons is a process of uniting our thoughts, hands and breath in prayer and praise to God, allowing our worship of God to flow into the art work.  Clearly, the Book of Kells is just a different way of expressing visually the same process as icon writing.

Book of Kills

Continual prayer and work become our Opus Dei, and we are blessed to experience a monastic grace as we work on icons.  However, the Celtic way is to celebrate this rhythm of prayer and work in ordinary life, removing the dichotomy of holy vs secular life.  As the ancient Celts were largely outside the purview of the Roman Empire, they were free to develop a very strong connection with nature, sun, sky, water, land, fire as elemental forces in their Christian spirituality.  In part, due to this deep connection with nature, they early Celtic have a universal, primal tone in their prayers and worship.  The Celtic connection between God, man, nature, animals, birds, and other wild creatures allows for a holistic world view that permeates our senses in ways that are beyond our ability to rationally understand. 

In this way, the mystical communion of saints enter into our world, through our remembrance of them in song, prayer, and art, helping us to maintain our understanding of our place in time, and our significance in God’s eternal plan. We become aware that  everything we engage and encounter is relational, and we exist in the same relational way with God.

The Byzantine culture and worship is well known for its ability to involve us through all of our senses in the beautiful churches that have multitudes of icons, music, and incense.  Similarly Celtic spirituality uses our perception of nature to engage our senses as we worship.

“O Father! O Son! O Spirit Holy! Be the Triune with us day and night, On the machair plain or on the mountain ridge, Be the Triune with us and His arm around our head, Be the Triune with us and His arm around our head”. From “The Celtic Way of Prayer, Esther DeWaal.

As this is the American Association of Iconographers, and thus, a culture made up of a myriad of nationalities, it’s interesting to contemplate the Irish, or Celtic form of Icon writing as well as the more well known forms of Byzantine, Greek, etc.

Book of Kells

I hope this has been thought provoking and please do keep all iconographers lifted in prayer as we continue the important work of understanding and creating icons for our time.

Some Useful Links:

Betsy Porter hosts an online meeting for iconographers one Sunday afternoon a month, covering topics interesting and informative for iconographers: NEW ONLINE ZOOM CLASSES, Sunday October 17, November 14, and December 12, 2021, 2 to 3 PM Pacific time. We will look at each other’s work and discuss iconography. No charge, but donations to the church are always welcome. For a link, contact me at 510-517-5360 Betsy Porter, betsyhartporter@yahoo.com

Dorothy Alexander hosts an icon writing workshop in Santa Barbara, California. It’s a drop in workshop where you can bring your own icons to work on and enjoy fellowship, usually once a month. Email: dotalexander@westmont.edu

A lovely new book about Andrey Rublev, “Andrey Rublev, The Artist and His World”, by Robin Milner-Gulland not only gives a detailed picture of the world Rublev created in, but is also beautifully illustrated with color prints. The result is one of the most detailed and innovative books on the subject that I’ve seen. I highly recommend it to all interested in understanding more about Rublev and the importance of his work artistically and spiritually.

May God continue to bless the work of your hands,


Christine Hales

New Christian Icons

Icons and Community

“Between us there is but a narrow wall,

And by sheer chance; for it would take

Merely a call from your lips or from mine

To break it down, and that without a sound.

The wall is builded of your images.”

R.M. Rilke, the Book of Hours

Community can be difficult and takes time.  When I started this blog and the American Association of Iconographers back in 2014 I wasn’t sure what direction it would take.  I recognized a need for an American School of Iconographers- people who were learning from the Greek, Russian, Romanian and English iconographers who are actively teaching this ancient art world wide, but who would eventually, through much study, practice, and guidance, begin to evolve a style of icon writing that was uniquely their own.  

Last Supper Icon by Christine Hales

Last Supper Icon written by Christine Hales

It has to do with identity and all the things that influence the healthy growth of identity.  Our primary identity is in God, and we all have that in common.  But even a cursory study of the history of iconography shows that different styles have developed over many places and times.  And, theoretically, this growth needs to continue.

Creative community is vulnerable to many difficulties, but with God’s help, I believe we have begun to attract some highly creative, open minded iconographers who are willing to put aside individual differences in order to encourage and further this important opus dei in their fellows.

St. Benedict wrote his famous “Rule” in the sixth century to serve as a guide to forming and maintaining a community dedicated to glorifying God with their work, rest, and worship.  Saint Benedict’s model for the monastic life was the family with the abbot as father and all the monks as brothers.

Saint Benedict Icon written by Christine Hales, based on the fresco of Fra Angelico

Saint Benedict’s Rule organises the monastic day into regular periods of communal and private prayer, sleep, spiritual reading, and manual labour – ut in omnibus glorificetur Deus, “that in all [things] God may be glorified” (cf. Rule ch. 57.9).

Some adaptation of this rule might be beneficial to those of us seeking to form community as iconographers, albeit a global virtual community.  The FB group page (American Association of Iconographers) would be a good place to share ideas on this.

Early 19th Century Icon, Russian “Union of Love” (Sourced from Temple Gallery Catalogue Christmas 2004)

The FB group for the American Association of Iconographers is open to all who care to join with the spirit of unity, peace, and kindness.  It is intended to be a place where iconographers can share their experiences, ongoing projects, questions, or relevant links and articles that will serve to widen the education and perspective of iconographers today.  More recently, it seems, iconographers have wanted to use that platform for self promotion.

TO address this issue, I am offering to create a separate page for this website that will list members, show a photo, give their website, and a short description of their work. 

Membership in the AAI has always been and will remain without financial cost, but to join at the level of being represented worldwide on a separate page to other people interested in icons, there will be a fee of $35 to cover the costs of maintaining that page.

If you are interested in participating on this level, please email me at: chales@halesart.com to begin.  Meanwhile, keep taking the icon retreats, drawing classes, and religious studies, and reach out with emails and FB comments and be willing to share your gifts and to help others.

“Resurrection and Feasts” Russian, Late 17th Century, (Sourced from Temple Gallery Catalogue, Christmas, 2004)

May God continue to bless the work of your hands, and guide your thoughts, plans and actions to all that is pleasing to Him, Almighty God.

Christine Hales

newchristianicons.com online.iconwritingclasses.com Icon Prints

Holy Trinity Icon

Holy Trinity Icon
Holy Trinity Icon by andrei Rublev

Every icon has a theological background. Using images, forms and colors, the icon shows what Holy Scripture is teaching us by the Word.  The icon offers us truth as a vision, and thereby is a direct approach to our non-reasoning mind and heart, allowing us thereby to reach a deeper understanding of the Biblical message.  From the early development of icons to the present, the theological meaning of the icon is always connected to a concrete representation.

Considering the icon of the Holy Trinity painted by Russian iconographer Andrei Rublev in the fifteenth century, we have a very clear representation of the biblical passage Genesis 18:1-8.  The Trinity represents the three angels who visited Abraham at the Oak of Mamre.  Rublev’s intention for this icon was for it to embody spiritual unity, peace, harmony, mutual love and humility.

The composition of the icon uses sacred geometry to create a perfect circle that encloses the figures of the three angels. The left angel represents God the Father who is blessing the cup. The central angel represents Jesus Christ- his blue robe represents his divinity. He accepts the cup, bowing, and it is generally believed that this cup symbolizes the Eucharist and  the sacrifice of Jesus.

The oak of Mamre symbolizes not only the tree of life, but also the death of Jesus on the cross. The mountain is a symbol of spiritual ascent that man accomplishes with the help of the Holy Spirit. The inclination of the angels’ heads demonstrate submission to the Father on the left.

Typical of Rublev’s icons, the faces of the angels are shown illuminated by an inner light, and not as a reflection of an exterior light source.   His technique foregoes the white lines often used in painting faces in icons, using instead a method of paint application called “plav”.  This method crates a radiance and a glowing countenance that achieves nuances of form and expression which also suggest unity and harmony.

In the icon of the Trinity, Rublev preferred transparent colors in blue-green tones that he combined with the technique of scumbling to achieve a luminous presence that also speaks to the heavenly nature of the three angels.  The term “dymon pisano”, meaning transparent like a cloud”, is sometimes used to describe this technique.

Rublev’s icons appear to be more natural than those of the Palaeologue period. Their transparency reflects harmony of matter and mind.  The essential nature of the icon is that it is the expression of Christian revelation. For Rublev, the drawing-design dominated the process of icon writing.  His intention was to create harmony and unity through perfect contours and lines. 

In the Trinity icon, the drawing of the central angel’s garment is very geometric.  The angels on the sides, in contrast, are drawn with a gentle, calm movement. Similarly, the blue garment of the central angel is opaque and built up with layers, but the two side angels’ garments are transparent with touches of white.

In the Trinity icon, the complex theology of the Holy Trinity is represented by the  unity of the three angels.  The spiritual nature of God’s Divine Essence as the triune God is depicted as simply three angels. In this icon, we are invited not to look at three separate angels, but instead, to the Holy Trinity, the Triune God.

All-Holy Trinity, have mercy on us.
Lord, cleanse us from our sins.
Master, pardon our iniquities.
Holy God, visit and heal us
For Thy Name’s sake.

My next Zoom, online icon writing class will be April 18-21 and we will be painting the Holy Trinity Icon using egg tempera and gold leaf gilding. For more information click here.

May God continue to bless your interest in creating and praying with Holy Icons.

Kind regards,

Christine Hales


Sources for this article: Primarily excerpted from “The Icon, Image of the Invisible” by Egon Sendler

How To Gesso Icon Boards

Painting Icons using egg tempera paints requires that we use a solid, stable support that is also absorbent for the many layers we need to result in the jewel like appearance of icons.

Traditionally, poplar boards have been used that are coated in rabbit skin glue (as a sealer) and then between 8 – 14 layers of natural gesso, sanded in between layers.  The result should be a polished, smooth surface that is also highly absorbent.  Natural gesso is not the same as the acrylic gesso most people are familiar with.  Natural gesso is made using rabbit skin glue and chalk or marble dust.

Today there are many more modern materials that iconographers are experimenting with in part because the process of preparing an icon board is lengthy and requires a lot of physical effort and time.   Natural Pigments makes a product, “easy Gesso”, that seems much easier to use and works well, especially for beginning students.  https://www.naturalpigments.com/mediums-grounds/gesso-primers/gessoes/easy-gesso.html

Also, I tend to use Baltic Birch Wood panels because I feel they are less prone to warping than more traditional woods.

Below I will provide an explanation of how to prepare and gesso an icon board that I trust will be helpful.  If you should choose to experiment with other materials and find success, do write to me and I will add that to this list.

Icon Board Materials

Baltic birch panels of various sizes, a sauce pan and another container for mixing the gesso. I use recycled plastic or glass containers about the size of a large yogurt container. Distilled water, measuring spoons, measuring cup, wood spoon to stir, oxgall liquid, glycerin, marble dust or chalk, rabbit skin glue, 2″ bristle paint brush from the hardware store, 3 grades of sand paper- 300, 600, 1200 grit. Muslin or linen large enough to overlap the icon boards’ dimensions by 1 inch all around.

Set up your workspace with a long table covered with a painter’s drop cloth. I like to use one that I can dispose of when the whole process is finished because it will get quite messy.

Steps to Gesso Icon Boards

Linen drying on the boards, having been soaked in rabbit skin glue.

  1. Measure 2 Tablespoons of Rabbit Skin glue into 2 cups of distilled water, stir well. Let sit until glue is completely absorbed and expanded- 2-4 hours.
  2. Place glue mixture in a container that rests in a saucepan , double boiler is good), containing 3 inches of boiling water and let the glue melt. Be careful it doesn’t get too hot- do not boil the glue mixture! 135 degrees Farenheit is too hot!!
  3. Next, using the 2″ Bristle brush, coat both sides and edges of each board with the glue. Let each side dry about 2-4 hours. This will prevent the board from warping and will keep out atmospheric moisture in the future.
  4. When the boards have dried, the next day, you can mix up some more glue This you will use to, first, coat the dry icon boards with it. Second, dip the pre cut linen into this glue mixture and spread evenly on the board. Smooth out wrinkles- I use plastic gloves.
  5. Next day, use a mat knife to trim edges of over lapping linen.

Time to trim the edges of the linen- when they are completely dry.

Making the Gesso

  1. Now it’s time to make the gesso itself! Make the glue- 2Tbs rabbit skin glue added to 2 cups of water – as before. Let soak, then warm until completely dissolved, as above.
  2. When the glue is ready, using a sieve, gradually add approx 3 cups of whiting – chalk or marble dust. I also add 1 teaspoon of oxgall liquid and 1 tsp of glycerin. These are dispersion agents and they are optional. I use Kremer Chalk from Champagne K 58000, and/or marble dust K 58500. I often make a mixture of chalk and marble dust but you can use just the chalk as well.
  3. When this is ready, start putting layers of gesso on the boards, letting them dry in between layers. It doesn’t take too long for each layer to dry- in the summer it might take 1/2 hour.

Sanding the Boards

  1. After 3 or 4 layers, I usually give the boards a rough sand to take off any bumps or rough spots. This can be done with a wet sanding method described in the video below, or with regular sandpaper. The wet sand method is my choice, usually. Don’t forget to coat the edges of the board. After 6 layers I sand again. Then, a final sand after the last 2 layers. You can make anywhere from 4-8 layers. Use the finest sand paper for the final sand and you will get a beautiful smooth surface ready to paint on!

There are several videos on you tube showing different approaches to gessoing an icon board. You might want to watch this, or one like it, all the way through before starting. Icon boards video by Paul Stetsenko. Or, if this is too much bother, you can always order an icon board!! I have included some new sources on my website on the student resources page.

Happy Icon Painting!

May God bless you and guide you in all of your endeavors in this Holy ministry.

Christine Hales

Christinehales.com My Icon Print Website

Our Lady of Guadalupe

One of the most important icons of the western world is Our Lady of Guadalupe, sometimes called the Virgin of Guadalupe.

While the history of the apparition and subsequent miracles are fodder for speculation, there are certain facts that all agree on.

A series of five apparitions occurred in December of 1531 within the Basiclic of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City.  This basilica is the most visited Catholic shrine in the world, and the world’s third most visited sacred site.

According to legend, the Virgin Mary appeared four times to Juan Diego, an indigenous Mexican peasant, and once to his uncle, Juan Bernardino.  The first apparition occurred on the morning of Saturday, December 19, 1531.  Juan Diego experienced a vision of a young woman at a place called the Hill of Tepeyac.  The woman spoke to Juan in his native language, Nahuatl, and identified herself as the “Virgin Mary, mother of the very true deity”.  She asked for a church to be erected at that site in her honor.  Juan Diego then told the  Archbishop of Mexico City what had happened.  Unsurprisingly, Juan wasn’t believed.  Later that same day, Juan Diego saw the second apparition. The young woman asked him to continuing pressing the Archbishop for a church to be built.

Our Lady of Guadalupe Icon written by Christine Hales

The next day, a Sunday, when Juan Diego spoke to the Archbishop a second time, the Archbishop asked for a truly miraculous sign to prove her identity.  Later that day, the third apparition appeared when Juan Diego returned to Tepeyac Hill. He again encountered the same young woman and told her of the request for a miraculous sign. She agreed to provide this the next day.

By Monday, Juan Diego’s uncle, Juan Bernardino, became ill and Juan Diego had to care for him.    Unfortunately, the uncle’s condition worsened and In the very early hours of Tuesday, Juan travelled to find a Catholic priest to hear his uncle’s confession and minister to him on his deathbed.  On this journey, Juan Diego traveled around the place of is previous encounters with the young woman because he was ashamed by not meeting her as promised the previous day.  But still, the young woman found him and asked where he was going.  This was the fourth apparition.  When Juan Diego explained what had happened, she gently reminded him that he should have sought her assistance.  She asked “ No estoy yo aqui que soy tu madre?”  (AM I not here, I who am your mother?  She assured him that his uncle was now recovering and told him to gather flowers from the top of Tepeyac Hill.  This hill was normally barren in December.  Juan obeyed her instructions and found Castilian roses, not native to Mexico, blooming there. The Virgin arranged the flowers in Juan’s tilma (cloak), and when he opened his cloak later that day for the Archbishop, the flowers fell to the floor, revealing the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

The next day, Juan Diego found his uncle completely healthy, just as the Virgin had told Juan.  Juan Bernardino said that he had also seen her praying at her bedside and that she had instructed him to tell the Archbishop about his miraculous cure and that she had told him she wanted to be known as the Virgin of Guadalupe.

The Archbishop kept the mantle in the church where it attracted many visitors.  On December 26, 1531, a procession formed to transfer the miraculous image back to Tepeyac Hill where it was installed in a small chapel.  During this procession, the first miracle occurred when a young native who was accidently mortally wounded was completely healed when brought before the Virgin’s image with many prayers and supplications.

The Virgin of Guadalupe is known as the Queen of Mexico, the Paton saint of both North and South America, and titles given by Pope John Paul II, “Empress of Latin America and Protectress Of Unborn Children”.

It’s so interesting to hear the stories behind icons. Please contact me if you have other examples to share. (chales@halesart.com).


Greek Iconographer, George Kordis, gave this talk on “Tradition as Creativity” at Saint Vladimir’s Seminary in April 2022: . https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jg6ts-8Kiaw

This link is to a video by iconographer Antonis demonstrating two methods of blending while painting in egg tempera: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hnaImXOEvuI

This is a link to an EWTN tv show called Living Divine Mercy, it features an interview and video about my icons.

That’s all for this month. If you would like to take my online Icon writing class January 17-20, 2023, please click here for more information.

Blessings, Prayers, and Best Wishes for a God Filled New Year!

Christine Simoneau Hales


The Light of the Icon

In teaching icon writing, there are many subtle yet important concepts that are necessary to help students to fully understand what an Icon is and how to paint them.  I suspect that the revelation of iconic light is one that grows with experience both in painting icons and in our deepening spiritual development. But even for beginning iconographers, it is vital to understand that the light we portray in icons is not the light of common day, but rather the more subtle light of Christ’s resurrection.

Icon with the Forty Martyrs of Sebastia Late 13th Century

As we know, the light in which we read determines what we can see.  The meaning and understanding changes according to the light we shine upon it.  Like the existence of God, the meanings and symbolism of the icon are not immediately available, obvious, or revealed to the casual observer.  To really see icons, we require a shift in perspective to appreciate them fully. The light in the icon is an important function to aid this process of shifting our perspective from how we see in the natural world to how we see in the world of God’s Kingdom of grace.  In the words of Saint Paul: 

“Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, with integrity and godly sincerity. We have done so, relying not on worldly wisdom but on God’s grace.”  2 Corinthians 1:12

Icon with the Virgin Pelagonitissa Byzantine Early 15th Century

So, the light we depict in our icons needs to bring the viewer into this paradigm shift from the secular, natural world we live in, to the grace filled world of God’s reality. In the words of Saint John of Damascus:

 “Just as words speak to the ear, so the image speaks to the sight: it brings us understanding.”…”Since the creation of the world the invisible things of God are clearly seen by means of images. We see images in the creation which, although they are only dim lights, still remind us of God.”

Color in the classical world of the Greeks and Romans that pre-date icons, fulfilled societal or symbolic roles.  Earth palettes extended by bright colors made by grinding gemstones and distilled plant dyes were the norm for icons.  These stable colors of the ancient earth palette provided richness and beauty in their simplicity.  They also enabled a very subtle, inner light to be portrayed in icons.

Saint Anastasia the Healer Icon Byzantine Late 14th Century

In addition to the use of colors in creating an icon, a sense of interior lightness that conveys unity and harmony is achieved by limiting the amount of chiaroscuro modeling and where the composition is subordinated to the flat surface of the panel.  All this aids in conveying spiritual principles by emphasizing the abstraction of represented events and objects. In the simplicity and luminosity of the compositions of Gospel scenes and figures of saints there is nothing superfluous .

Icon of Saint George with Scenes of His Passion and Miracles Early 13th Century

Thus, the transcendent world of the icon appears to us through color and light.

“Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your son, Christ, our Lord; Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who with You and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God in glory everlasting. Amen.”

May God continue to bless your icon writing and give you joyous expectation this Advent of an even deeper awareness of His Presence.

Christine Hales

Christinehales.com My Icon Classes Online

All Saints Day

All Saints’ Day, also known as All Hallows’ Day, the Feast of All Saints, the Feast of All Hallows, the Solemnity of All Saints, and Hallowmas, is a Christian solemnity celebrated in honor of all the saints of the church, whether they are known or unknown, and is celebrated in the Western Church on November 1.

The Christian celebration of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day stems from a belief that there is a powerful spiritual bond between those in heaven (the “Church triumphant”), the living (the “Church militant”, and the “Church penitent” which includes the faithful departed. In Catholic theology, the day commemorates all those who have attained the beatific vision in Heaven. In Methodist theology, All Saints Day revolves around “giving God solemn thanks for the lives and deaths of his saints”, including those who are “famous or obscure”. As such, individuals throughout the Church Universal are honoured, such as Paul the Apostle, Augustine of Hippo and John Wesley, in addition to individuals who have personally led one to faith in Jesus, such as one’s grandmother or friend.

The Saints Inspire Us

“Paying homage to religious heroes and heroines is nothing new.  The veneration of and supplication to sacred ancestors exist in almost every culture, in every hemisphere.” Richard Vosko; Faith & Forum

According to the catechism of the Catholic Church “What is the Church if not the Communion of the Saints.”

Early Church Fathers

The Christian celebration of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day stems from a belief that there is a powerful spiritual bond between those in heaven (the “Church triumphant”), the living (the “Church militant”, and the “Church penitent” which includes the faithful departed. In Catholic theology, the day commemorates all those who have attained the beatific vision in Heaven. In Methodist theology, All Saints Day revolves around “giving God solemn thanks for the lives and deaths of his saints”, including those who are “famous or obscure”. As such, individuals throughout the Church Universal are honoured, such as Paul the Apostle, Augustine of Hippo and John Wesley, in addition to individuals who have personally led one to faith in Jesus, such as one’s grandmother or friend.

An early Serbian Christian saint, Saint Sava, is a good example of a humble yet powerful saint during his own lifetime as well as centuries after his death, who inspired and led many people to faith in God.

Saint Sava (1173-1236)

Well loved Serbian saint, dedicated his life to his people and his church, His life was shaped by prayer and concern for others, he modeled the characteristics of being meek yet strong, a man of great compassion and great leadership skills.  His importance extends far beyond his own lifetime, and  Christians and Muslims alike venerated him and attributed miraculous power to him. Through his efforts, they emerged as a spiritually unified entity.

Even though he lived in violent times, he refused to endorse the persecution of heretics and unbelievers. He powerfully influenced his church to use peaceful means against its opponents.

St Sava is known for deep meditation as well as action. His tomb in Milesevo became the source of grace, health, and consolation for all Serbian generations to come.

At the end of St. Sava’s life, disappointed with the struggle within the ruling body of the young Serbian Kingdom, Sava withdrew to his House of Silence in Studenica and offered a prayer to God, “ to let him die in a foreign country.” This was in protest against political disorder at home, his appeal to the conscience of his people, and his conviction that he would work for their salvation from outside.” 

“St Sava heard mysterious voices  commanding him to build something for his people that can serve as a harbor of salvation. And thus he started the renovation of Hilandar Monastery at Mt. Athos in Greece. A biography, “The Life of Saint Sava”, by Nicholai Velimirovich, is an excellent source of more history and stories of the miracles he performed and experienced.

Here is a quote from that book that aptly applies to our study of saints:

“Innumerable saints remain unknown to men and are known to God alone. Christ’s heavenly Kingdom would be pitifully small if it consisted only of those saints whose names are recorded in our calendar. God does not reveal to the world all the saints, and only a very few according to the religious need of a time or a nation. Through the miracles of those few revealed saints, God seeks to revive, strengthen or justify the faith of men of different countries or places.”

So let us, as we write the icons of Holy saints, remember to choose well the models and patterns that will help to heal and inspire the people of our time.

May God bless and inspire you as you paint His holy Icons.

Until next month,

Christine Simoneau Hales, Christinehales.com

Founder, American Association of Iconographers

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


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!


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,


ChristineHales.com Christine’s Icon Prints New Christian Icons

Christian History

Hello Fellow Iconographers:

Have you ever thought about what Christian History looks like in the visual image? I know that I tend to keep to a narrow view of the history of the development of icons and see the history of the Christian church in that perspective.  So, it was with great interest that I read this month’s Christian History Magazine which focuses on portraying Christian History in Images.

This month’s Christian History Magazine- fold out

While the magazine does include icons, it also includes sculptures, paintings, and photographs of manuscripts.  The issue will also use, for example, a twentieth century artwork to illustrate a saint or holy event that took place in the fourth century.  This I found confusing, at first.  On second consideration, however, I could understand that this viewpoint helped me to question and think about icons and their relationship to the development of Christian Art through the centuries.

Again, most of the images are not icons, but they do provide interesting examples of Christian history that could be translated into icons, thus providing a fresh source for possible new icons for iconographers today.  And illustrating the history of Christianity in icons is even more important today than it was centuries ago.  

10th century Ivory relief

Bill and Michelle Curtis reflect on the writings of the founder of the magazine, A. Kenneth Curtis by sharing that, “church history teaches us to expect God to work over centuries, rather than to think that we see God’s whole plan in an individual lifetime. He noted how church history confirms what Scripture makes clear: the last shall be first; God works through our weakness; and in the people and eras that seem vulnerable, humble, or weak, God is often at work in ways we don’t expect.”

Apostle Peter Investing Bishop Petros with Episcopal Authority, mid 11th century.

“An awareness of Christian history is one of the most neglected but necessary ingredients in the spiritual diet of Christians today…The Scriptures continually call us to remember God’s work in ages past and this must now include also include the working of our Lord through the centuries since the Scriptures were completed.” Ken Curtis

Beyond the portrayal of a holy individual, isn’t this the idea we seek to convey in iconography?  The working of God in the affairs of humankind?  Some of the older Russian icons do depict battle scenes with warriors carrying high an icon into battle, confident that God will bring the victory.   

St. Athanasius 16th century icon

This issue of Christian History is a visual tour through two millennia of church history.  Starting with the early church, the chapters include the early Middle Ages, the high and late Middle Ages, and the Reformation up until the present time.  There is also a beautiful color fold out of the Christian story through the ages.  

One final quote from Ken Curtis:  “ I believed then, and believe now, that it is difficult to get where Jesus wants us to go without knowing where he has already led us.” To purchase this magazine click here.

And modern icons can be an important source of reflection and understanding for all Christians in the centuries to come when we take the time to study the principles of iconography and apply them to appropriate subject matter for today’s Christians.

Christine Simoneau Hales, editor, founder, American Association of Iconographers


EARTH PIGMENTS  has a series of articles about egg tempera, mica powders, and more. Their pigments tend to be very affordable.

NATURAL PIGMENTS also has an extensive online library of articles on how to use materials and products related to egg tempera and more.  They tend to have everything iconographers need.  

ICON BOARDS BLATURI is an excellent source for gessoed icon boards- do leave plenty of time for delivery. They are reachable on Facebook.

That’s all for this month, enjoy the last of the summer, and may God bless the inspiration of your minds and the work of your hands,


Newchristianicons.com     My next online Icon class is October 25-28, 2022- open to all.

Christine Simoneau Hales