Monday, November 17, 2014

1037 - Nativity V

I think I'm almost finished with the faces for my Nativity icon.  Time go get into the monkey-work of laying flat colours for the rocks and the border.

This past week, I've fielded a number of questions about iconography:

  • The process of painting an icon is called "Writing"
  • Icons are written on hardwood boards.  In this case, canvas is glued onto the board and covered with gesso, which is a white, sticky primer that dries hard.  The gesso goes on thick and then gets sanded down to the point where it becomes smooth and featureless as glass.
  • I use acrylic paint, although icons can be painted in oil or more properly with a water-soluble pigment known as egg tempera.
  • The flat colours are laid down in a series of passes of thin paint.  For instance, the dark background is ten coats of paint, the blue is maybe five, the orange is maybe a dozen.
  • I use five or six basic pigments.  I mix compound colours by alternating layers of the basic colours.  For example, Mary's cloak is a deep red covered with a coat of blue covered again by the red covered again by the blue, and so on.  The faces work the same way.  The gradients are the result of many layers of paint of different colours.  
  • A glaze is a thin wash of paint, normally yellow ochre.  Glazing will cause the colours beneath to blend.
  • The gold areas (which don't show up well on my scanner) are 10-carat gold leaf glued and sealed to the board.
  • My icons are small, roughly 8 x 10 inches.  Some icons are larger than life.
  • After the writing is complete, the board is sealed.  An icon that is kept reasonably well should last at least a hundred years without wear, and possibly a thousand or more.  It's a hand-made time machine directly from the first millennium all the way to the third or even fourth!