Icons as Symbols

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 Folding Pet Stroller, Pet Travel Stroller Cat Dog Carriage Joggi upon the use of symbols for communication and created for the purpose of ZJQRSFB Darts Soft darts 3pcs 18g Professional Safe Dart Soft Ny 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

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

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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.

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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!

Julian Of Norwich

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During the pandemic, being isolated and shut in for months, I began to realize what the life of an anchoress must have been like! By focusing on my prayer life and the practice of icon writing, I have been able to draw near to God more frequently and with greater concentration experience the silence of my heart than would otherwise have been possible. For that reason, I have begun writing an icon of Julian of Norwich with great joy and received many discoveries in the process. I share with you here some of what I have learned about her.

My Julian of Norwich Icon- work in progress!

Born in 1343, Julian lived in the wake of the black plague and lived as well, through the peasant’s rebellion of 1381, and the persecution of the Lollards. May 8 is the Day Dame Julian is remembered in the Church of England, the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church. She lived a life of seclusion as an anchoress at the Church of St. Julian in Norwich, England for most of her adult life. Through a window to the outside world in her cell, Julian was expected to be available to provide prayer and counsel to those living in the city of Norwich. Julian sought holiness of life and communion with God in order to be able to intercede more effectively for others. Aelred, the author of the Ancrene Riwle, a tract written in 1200 to guide anchorites and spiritual recluses, summarized the ideal anchoress’s prayer:

Embrace the whole world with the arms of your love and in that act at once consider and congratulate the good, contemplate and mourn over the wicked. In that act look upon the afflicted and the oppressed and feel compassion for them…In that act, call to mind the wretchedness of the poor , the groan of the orphans, the abandonment of widows, the gloom of the sorrowful, the needs of travelers, the prayers of virgins, the perils of those at sea, the temptation of monks, the responsibilities of prelates, the labors of those waging war. In your love take them all to your heart, weep over them, offer your prayers for them.”

Icon by Juliet Venter

After a serious illness, which she prayed to receive, Julian began seeing visions of God. These visions became the source of many “showings” that is, revelations given by God to Julian. The following are some excerpts from these visions. As Julian gazed on the Crucifix, during what she thought was the end of her life, Julian received the first of her visions on the Trinity:

in the same revelation, suddenly the Trinity filled my heart full of the greatest joy, and I understood that it will be so in heaven without end to all who will come here. For the Trinity is God, God is the Trinity. The Trinity is our maker, the Trinity is our protector, the Trinity is our everlasting lover, the Trinity is our endless joy and our bliss, by our Lord Jesus Christ and inner Lord Jesus Christ.”

And I leave you with her most famous quote: “Jesus answered with these words, saying: ‘All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.’ … This was said so tenderly, without blame of any kind toward me or anybody else”.

Excerpts from Grace Jantzen’s “Julian of Norwich” are quoted above.

Blessings,

Christine Simoneau Hales

New Christian Icons

Saint George

The Popularity of Saint George

What is it that makes one saint more popular that others? Why do so many of the icons we paint tend to be of the same saints? Certainly there are many answers to those questions, but also, there are some saints who exist powerfully in the imagination of many people and thus are frequently used to focus prayers and our understanding of God’s power . Saint George is one of those, and since we recently painted his icon in the recent color theory and icons class I taught on line, I share with you some of the important aspects of Saint George that we discovered.

Saint George was one of the saints most highly regarded in ancient Russia. He was venerated not only as a warrior but also as a protector of agriculture. His feast day is April 23, which coincides with the beginning of the agricultural season. The icon we painted is Saint George and the Dragon. This one shows Saint George with his spear ready to pierce the dragon, who symbolizes evil. The hand of God in the upper corner completes the meaning that man, with God’s help, conquers evil in the world.

Both Catholics and Protestants maintained fidelity to St. George through the Reformation and its aftermath.  During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, England’s Catholics observed his feast each year as a holy day of obligation. 
In Henry V, Shakespeare has the title character invoke St. George at Harfleur before the battle of Agincourt:  “Follow your spirit, and upon this charge cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!'” And of course, Saint George is the patron saint of England.

In French, the word “cheval” means horse, and so it happens, as Chesterton once observed, that in the concept of chivalry, the very name of the horse has been given to the highest mood and moment of man.  The combination of man and horse, he continues, evokes feelings of so high an order that earlier ages happily portrayed in their art Christian heroes on winged stallions.  The most famous of these images was that of St. George, the mounted knight, defender of the good, piercing with his lance the dragon, that representation of evil rampant in the world. Some of this material is excerpted from ( Fr. James’ Newsletter, April 21, 2021, St. Procopious Abbey).


George’s real importance in the lives of Slavic peasants was as the mythical hero “Yegoriy the Brave,” the militant protector of cattle from wolves and bears, associated not only with the well being of horses but also with the greening of the grass after winter and the pasturing of the cattle. St. George became a kind of nature god, like the Prophet Elijah, whose chariot rolling across the heavens made the thunder. George was, in Russian peasant lore, the one who brought the spring. (Icons and their Interpretation)

The Significance of Saint George Today

Yet another reason for Saint George’s popularity with people today is that he symbolizes a spiritual truth which places the power of God firmly on the throne. It is only with God’s help that victory is achieved. Just as David, in 2 Samuel 5:6-6:23, asked God before he went into battle if he should go forth or not, giving God’s will preference over his own, here Saint George’s message is similar. He doesn’t trust in his own strength, but in God’s Strength. And this message is in contradiction to the message of humanism that our culture has inherited from the cultural developments after the Renaissance. Before the 1300’s, the world was defined with a theistic world view. As part of that world view, every creature as well as heaven had a clearly defined place in the hierarchy established by the laws of God. The good of all required devotion, community and cooperation with one’s neighbor. Humanism cultivated the reliance of man upon his own strength and abilities for answers and salvation from life’s problems. So, Saint George is a visual reminder to us to always seek our help for above, from God himself, and then our victory is assured.

May God bless the work of your hands and protect you from all that is not of Him,

Christine Hales

EXTRA LINKS FOR ICONOGRAPHERS

PRE-RECORDED ONLINE ICON PAINTING CLASSES

NEXT LIVE ON ZOOM ICON WRITING CLASS “SACRED GEOMETRY IN ICONS”

ARTICLE ON HOW TO GESSO ICON BOARDS WITH VIDEO LINK

Encounters with God

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

The Suffering Servant

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

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

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

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

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

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

John the Theologian

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

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

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

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

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

The Lamentation

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

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

The Disorientation

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings,

Christine Hales

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Icon Books

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

Crucifixion Icon.Christine Hales

Icon Books, from Jeannie Furlong:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Article contributed by Jeannie Furlong:

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

Useful Links For Iconographers:

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

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

Online Icon Painting Classes with Christine Hales

That’s all for this month!

God Bless,

Christine Simoneau Hales

www.newchristianicons.com

Icon Materials

“He who works with his hands is a laborer,

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

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

Saint Francis of Assisi
St. Francis Icon Hales

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

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

Living Craft

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

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

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

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

Living Craft, Tad Spurgeon

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

Living Craft, Tad Spurgeon

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

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

Formulas For Painters

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

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

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

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

Romanesque Style, circa 1145AD

Additional Notes:

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

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

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

Christine Simoneau Hales

New Christian Icons

Covid Thoughts

It has been almost a year now, that we, collectively, have been experiencing quarantine for protection from Covid-19. While this his undoubtedly changing and shaping not only the world we live in, but our approach to it as well.

Although it has been isolating, for iconographers the silver lining is that more and more online iconographical resources are available. And, of course, we have a lot more time to research, pray and paint icons! In this context, I thought I would share some thoughts on icons from one of my favorite writers in the hope of adding fresh inspiration and hope to our palettes and our spirits.

From Irina Yazykova in her brilliant book, ” Hidden and Triumphant”, published by Paraclete Press:

Andrei Rublev

“… the Russian monk, Andrei Rublev faces the world with hope and light, counting on God’s mercy while striving to reveal to others that beauty which will save the world…” “Andrei Rublev. (pg. 34)

“Saint Gregory of Palamas had taught that light is an uncreated divine energy. The Greeks felt that this energy was like a scorching fire entering into the soul of the person of faith and consuming sinfulness. In contrast, the Russian Hesychasts understood this light to be a form of grace- a quiet light from within the soul that imparts love for all living things. Saint Sergius of Radoneh …taught his disciples to love every living thing and to see in all the grace and glory of God.

Andrei Rublev, as a student of Saint Sergius, used his icons and his paints to embody this love for God and the world.” (pg. 35)

“For in Him we live and move and have our being…For we, too, are His offspring.” Acts 17:28

The Artist’s Role

“Throughout the ages it is art that has served as a mirror reflecting the spiritual condition of humankind and the world in which we live. The artist, perhaps without being aware of it, witnesses to the time in which he or she lives, adjusting like a fine instrument to the movements taking place in the deepest reaches of the human heart.”

Moving to the end of the book, in Appendix B, “Beauty Saving the World, The Icon Outside of Russia”, we will conclude this essay with two more quotes:

Postrevolution Russian Emigration

“In the 1920’s and 1930’s, centers of Orthodox culture appeared in the West- centers that helped preserve Russia’s literary, scientific, and philosophical heritage at the same time that they gave rise to a new school of Iconography- the Paris School. This contact of Russian culture with the west went way beyond mere esthetic delight in the exotic. The icon was becoming an authentic presence in Western culture, initially, to be sure, in the form of an Orthodox subculture, but later becoming apart of everyday European – and, after the war , American-life.”

4 T

“And after the war, the Orthodox Christian community became more cognizant of the need for unity in the search for foundations of the faith that could be held in common by all Christians. The search was joined by the World Council of Churches, theological commissions, and international conferences on interdenominational dialogue. Activities such as these helped stem;ate Western receptivity to the traditions and cultures of their Eastern brothers and sisters.”

Quoting this book as extensively as I have, these points bring us to an awareness of how important the Russian influence has been on contemporary principles and philosophy of iconography today. I hope many of you will be inspired and possibly contribute similar articles that illuminate the path of iconographers today.

In addition to the book mentioned above, another good source for understanding Russian Icons can be found in this link.

You can also visit one of my favorite museums- the Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton, Massachusetts.

May you all be blessed with an ever increasing awareness of God’s mercy and grace,

Christine Simoneau Hales

Online Icon Painting Classes for 2021

The Renaissance and Icons

I recently gave a talk at the Church of the Redeemer in Sarasota Florida on the Renaissance and Icons for an Advent series on church art. The following are excerpts from that talk:

Trinity by Massaccio

The Reniassance was making its appearance in art as early as the 14th century in Italy with the art of Massaccio and Giotto.    The art of the fourteenth century was a balance of medieval art and the new developments in art that included three point perspective.  

The contemporary of Donatello, Masaccio, was the painterly descendant of Giotto and began the Early Renaissance in Italian painting in 1425, furthering the trend towards solidity of form and naturalism of face and gesture that Giotto had begun a century earlier.  From 1425–1428, Masaccio completed several panel paintings but is best known for the fresco cycle that he began in the Brancacci Chapel with the older artist Masolino and which had profound influence on later painters, including Michelangelo. 

The Shift from A Theistic Worldview to Humanism

Often the term Renaissance  is used to describe an attitude toward life which valued Earth more than heaven, the immortality of fame rather than the immortality of the soul, self cultivation more than self effacement, the delights of the flesh more than asceticism, the striving for success more than justice, individual and intellectual freedom rather than authority, and Classical humanism more than Christianity.

The Renaissance ushered in, along with more naturalistic art forms, a humanist view of the world.  It was a new dawning where man considered himself master of the world.  This is a secular worldview in which God is marginalized.

Until the Renaissance, beauty and holiness were inextricably connected in art for worship, evoking the presence of God.  After the rise of realism, artistic virtuosity and competitive patronage began to be the engine that drove the production of art. The previous theistic worldview of the medieval and dark ages was shattered by the desire for carnal gratification and political power especially in Rome.

Ghirlandaio, Adoration

Ghirlandaio was part of the so-called “third generation” of the Florentine Renaissance, along with Verrocchio, and Sandro Botticelli.

This new attitude of realism and illusionistic perspective is clearly reflected in the art of the period.  

But the Renaissance is a study in contrasts  because it is also true that the genius of that age has rarely been equaled and never surpassed.

Later, all of Europe, from Spain to Poland wanted to emulate the Italian example of Renaissance painting.

Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Raphael

Leonardo DaVinci The Virgin, Christ Child and Saint Ann

Leonardo da Vinci  was a painter, mathematician,, engineer and inventor.  Michelangelo a sculptor, painter, architect and poet. Both were passionate about learning how to represent the natural world and this included dissecting cadavers in order to accurately depict human musculature.

Michelangelo- Sistine Chapel

Standing alongside Leonardo and Michelangelo as the third great painter of the High Renaissance was the younger Raphael, His death in 1520 at age 37 is considered by many art historians to be the end of the High Renaissance period, although some individual artists continued working in the High Renaissance style for many years thereafter.

Raphael’s Madonna and Child

The Eastern Branch of the Church inRussia

Madonna of the Passion Icon

Russian Piety differed from the west and even from other Orthodox churches.    In Russia, religion stressed piety and self sacrifice. Such meekness was characteristic of the Russian ideal which encouraged the surrender of self in favor of a larger good, the family or the nation.

Andrei Rublev’s Madonna and Child Icon

Salvation meant not only the attainment of individual perfection, but also the transformation of society and of all mankind into nobler and holier forms.  For it was believed that the entire nation was holy and that each facet of daily life could be sanctified.  Meek behavior and proper manners were a religious as well as a social \ obligation. For the Russians, Christianity reinforced and broadened the ancient Russian Traditions that had considered each individual to be profoundly responsible for the well being of his neighbors and of all humanity. The art form for churches in Russia during the Renaissance period was Icons. They avoided naturalistic and illusionistic rendering and space in their work in order to keep the focus on God’s world.

The early Church Fathers of the Ninth Century wisely decided that the iconic tradition as a visual witness to faith appeals more to the heart than the intellect.  It is said that a painting offers us a window onto the world.  An icon does the same, except that it offers us a window into the invisible world of God- they make manifest to us the Kingdom of heaven. They portray to us not what we encounter in everyday life, but instead they picture a transfigured world, a world that is seen by the soul and not the eyes.

Rublev’s Christ Icon

In the icon we witness a world that is whole, an image of eternity.  The icon has come to be regarded not only as a work of art, but also  as a witness to the Christian faith in the incarnation of God. And that is why, as Iconographers, we only use models for our Icons from before the Renaissance period, ignorer to avoid the shift from a theistic world view to a humanist one.

Crucifixion Icon, C. Hales

 Father God, we ask that every time humanity loses its way, you will lift us up and set us out again on the right path, your path.  Beauty will save the world!

May the God of hope fill us with all joy and peace in believing through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

Blessings for a Safe and Healthy New Year!

Christine Simoneau Hales

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