Creating an Icon

This Christ Child is a detail taken from a larger madonna and child Icon. I don't have the details to hand so I can't tell you exactly which one. The base is a layer of oak solid board, just a little smaller than A4, sanded, primed and with a layer of finely woven cotton fabric covered with gesso laid very carefully to get a really smooth bubble free surface . Because Icons are a strictly disciplined way of presenting a religious image, I'm told it's perfectly acceptable to trace a chosen image direct and use that. It is NOT required to make an 'artistic' interpretation apparently!

Once the image has been traced you paint bole (a type of thin clay) onto the sides, border and anywhere that you plan to gild. Bole has a significance quite apart from its purpose to give a perfect surface for the gilding* I'm told by my tutor. Wherever it is allowed to show (i.e. along the edges of the board) it represents among other things earth, and the Old Testement.

It's possible to gild either before you paint, or afterward. Mine was gilded beforehand - that at least allowed me to make good any small problems without causing damage to anything important. Water gilding was deemed to ambitious by my tutor, so we settled for oil gilding instead

The paint used is Tempera. An egg and pigment mixture not difficult to make, as long as you know how to successfully separate an egg yolk and remove its membrane. The pigments though, can be highly toxic and require careful handling..... esp. if in powder form. No licking the brush or getting this stuff onto your skin!

Now comes the real weird stuff. Icons are worked back to front. That is, you work from dark to light (yes, this is yet another coded message within an Icon. It represents the emergance from darkness into the light of enlightenment I am told). So the skin tones start off almost black and you work through layers of highlights and float layers to the final surface. Even the amount of times you layer a tempera wash can be significant. Three times will equal a code for the Trinity. The same process is applied to the clothing.

It's slow, painstaking work, but very satisfying and it certainly teaches the meaning of patience. I've been working on this one for over a year and I still have a way to go yet..... When it's finally complete I'll get Corinne to post a picture of it by Caz