February 26, 2015, marked off yet another milestone on this incredible journey of being an iconographer: I finished the third “panel” of prophets for St. Herman of Alaska Orthodox Church. For some more experienced iconographers and muralists out there, you are probably thinking, “big deal”. Well, it IS a big deal! The biggest work I have ever done is nearing completion.
Since the last official posting in December, much has happened: a trip to and from Wales for a month to look after the mission parish–sometimes called a community, sometimes called a mission station, what ever terms you prefer in which ever region you are reading this, feel free to insert them–of St. Celer of Dyfed to serve Christmas, New Year’s, and Theophany, and then I returned home, and then had a student for 10 days, and then had another commission to prepare for a wedding. I am not springing back as quickly as I used to from my travels, unfortunately! But here we are, and the panel is finished.
To turn back time, I had to go to my cameras and the SD cards…
This first photo is a detail of the Prophet Elisha’s scroll. I wanted to give a detail of how I build up the paint on a scroll. I was taught that even if the colour is white, one must always put a base coat and build up white over top. Here is the base coat, the ubiquitous yellow ochre. Then, I put a wash of white over the whole. I then put another wash of white over the negative spaces of the scroll. One can also use a green earth base…it all depends on personal taste.
Building up the colours: whites, blues, reds, and ochres. Elijah’s mantle is the colour of the ground, trying to keep colour harmony, and its interior is painted with a gray base. Historically, gray was used under the more expensive blues, or, grays were used instead of blues: some of the most beautiful blues I have recently seen have simply been what we are told how we are to get gray, just mixing black and white together. The gray underpainting was called a reft; over top was then painted the more expensive blue, usually lapis lazuli.
The blue highlighting on Isaiah and Elisha; here I am trying to make the blues different, but the same as well. It is a necessary thing to make certain there is diversity in the figures, even if their colour attributes are the same. Otherwise, they all look like cookie cut outs.
Sankir on all the figures. It is strange how in the pot it looks so dark, but when it is on the figures, it looks so light. That will be corrected with the subsequent layers.
Emphasizing the folds on Isaiah.
The folds on the chiton of Elijah: I also did some work on Elijah’s hair, as I was needing to demonstrate to my student how to paint hair on her icon. What better way to explain than to show how the hair was painted.
Elisha and the folds. I realize the bodies are quite different: some have long bodies, some shorter, and that the figures look a little “dwarfish”. Yes, it is all true. But don’t we all have different body types? The main reason the figures look as they do, big heads, shorter bodies, is so that when they are viewed from below, they will stretch out and look in normal proportion. The technique is called foreshortening, and it has been used for centuries. Many iconographers today forget about this and so they may paint their figures in normal iconographic proportions, and then from the ground, the figures look extremely elongated with tiny little heads…it is an aesthetic choice, to be sure.
The prophet Micah. He is so different colour wise from the others, and I would even say more different than even Elijah, because of the colours of his robes. The wonderful green chimation and the red chiton is a challenge, as the green needs to be different enough from the green meadow in the background. After a lot of prayer, I decided to add another layer of the base chiton colour. I am trying to keep the colours fresh and lively: that is why it isn’t this solid wash colour like I did for the background. This also hearkens to the use of colour on some of the other icons in the church, so that there is at least something stylistic connecting them all. The third image is the model that I used at least for the coloration on Micah, from Novgorod in about the 16th Century. You will see in a later photo that the red is closer to the red in the model than in what the photo shows–a wash of cadmium light red will do that!
This is my student Nicole Sample…wearing one of my old, too small for me work cassocks, which comes to my knees. With a belt, it could be a lovely long evening gown for her! I taught her from January 18 to 28, 2015. I am hoping that we will work together again sometime, after the dome is finished. (February 28, 2015)