Friday, May 25, 2012

Next steps in painting the icon...

This is one of several posts on the process of painting an icon.
1 2 3
The icon looks very strange right now, since the technique practiced by iconographers begins with the darkest colors and proceeds to the lightest, symbolizing a movement from chaos to order, darkness to light. The process of painting an icon is a tiny replica of God's creation and salvation of our souls.

The strangest part is the green underlying the skin and hair of the figure. This first layer (called "sankir" in Russian) is browner or greener depending on the iconographer and the color tone of the holy figure painted, but it always contains some green. Green, the middle of the visible spectrum, reflects the balance which forms the foundation of a holy life. Interestingly, I am also learning this lesson from Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales. It is good to learn the lesson in two different ways: first, from St. Francis, using my intellect; then, from my guardian angel, using my body.
  1. Sankir: a greenish base coat to the face and arms. (1Q107A4, including this gem: "as local distances do not prevent one angel seeing another, so neither does it prevent an angel perceiving what is ordered to him on the part of another [i.e. a communication of thought]."
  2. Roshkrish: base coats. This figure is a guardian angel and holds a cross in his right hand and a sword in his left. (1Q107A5)
  3. Background in a light gold, symbolic of heaven. (1Q108A1)
Another fascinating element of painting an icon is the opportunity to look at my flaws. The time I spend painting becomes a small image of my spiritual life. For instance, I noticed that I began to paint very rapidly when I worried that the paints would dry out and I would waste some. I grew so focused on painting quickly and well that I lost a little peace and forgot to pray for a large segment of time! Reflecting on this, I realize I often prefer results to peace, especially if I am inexperienced with a situation, experienced something unexpected, or prepared poorly (as I am inexperienced with diluting paints, was suprised that the white acrylic surface didn't behave like paper, and started with too much paint). My icon may have been better if I had a few more smudges and a little more prayer!

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