Hawaiian Paint

Acrylic paints offer their own challenges.  I decided to use them for my Guardian Angel icon, thinking they would be faster and easier.  No olifa: thus, no terror.  Wrong.  They do dry faster, and don’t lift off, and that part does make them easier.  Getting the right consistency, mixing the proper colors (they dry darker than they look when wet)–all of these had a steep learning curve.  Iconography is so very humbling in so very many ways. 

I noticed that the colors had a vaguely cloudy look to them, a bit filmy and unclear, especially when the unfinished icon was next to an egg tempera icon with its luminous hues.  Many of the tubes of acrylic paint which I have are synthetic colors, and the tiny particles that make up a synthetic pigment  are very uniform and even.  Each particle reflects light in exactly the same way, allowing for reliable and bright color–and a sense of plastic insincerity.  Natural pigments, on the other hand,  have varying particle sizes, and even small impurities, which allow great transparency and subtle variation in light reflection, leading to richer and more interesting hues. 

Hoping to combat boring swaths of monotonous plastic color, I decided to mix my own acrylic paints as I continued to work, using dry powdered pigments with the acrylic medium.  It’s a bit time-consuming, but quite rewarding to do so.

I couldn’t quite mix the perfect color for the angel’s gown, though, until I stumbled upon an old babyfood jar containing some clay I had dug out of an exposed cliff in Molokai, Hawaii.  Red dirt.  Beautiful.  I ground it up, then soaked it in water.  Bits of organic matter floated to the top.  I strained it several times through a piece of old pantyhose. The clay particles settled on the bottom as a fine sediment.  I drained off the water, dried out the clay, did some more grinding and ended up with a fairly pure red ochre pigment with strong orange tones.  Mixed with some buff-colored pigments, it makes a lovely coral color, and is working well for the garment color.  An added benefit is the personal connection.  I gathered it from the ground myself, with prayer, knowing I would use it for icons.  It was taken from a place filled with fond memories of the plumeria-scented air, the warm soft sea, the gentle lapping waves, the steady rays of the sun. 

 I made the clay into paint with my own hands, and am using it now to glorify God through this icon.  One day I intend to use this and all of my Hawaiian clay pigments to paint an icon of Father Damien of Molokai, who lived and worked with lepers in the area where I gathered the pigments.  But first, for this angel, guarding a small soul with loving tenderness and care.


About reinkat

I am an iconographer, and have been studying Russian/Greek icons since 1995. I'm married with 3 children. I love hiking, camping, animals, my family and church--and icons.
This entry was posted in Catholic icons, Christian Prayer, Icon, Iconography, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Hawaiian Paint

  1. Second-in-command says:

    Let me know when you want to go. I am willing to make the sacrifice to ensure you have enough organic paint for the Father Damien Icon.

  2. A fine post.
    I agree with what you said about the acrylics as a family of paint – they can be sullen, yet, not all acrylics are the same. I have had good luck with the acrylics my first teacher of iconography, the Rev. Peter Pearson, used in his workshop. They are called “Jo Sonja” and are produced by the Chroma Corporation. They are an all purpose paint, and easy on the pocketbook, too. You can buy them online from Dick Blick.com.
    I learned from a Jerry Yarnell tape that if you mix a little bit of white to each of your acrylic colors and satin medium mixture, they will then be more vibrant when dry. I also use a gray paper palette, that comes in throwaway sheets, so you can see proper values etc.
    Interestingly, the Greek iconographers from the past liked bright vibrant colors, and the Russian iconographers were a little more subdued in the vast majority of their icons. Today, I think everybody enjoys vibrancy – and the colors are available to all regardless of geography and economic conditions (which was the problem in the past).

    • reinkat says:

      Thank you once more for your help. I am using Golden Acrylics, which were recommended to me, along with Jo Sonja (which are also nontoxic as an additional feature). I am reading the book by Peter Pearson, A Brush With God, which I find absolutely wonderful for the commentary and information on icons in general and how to pray with them, as well as the technical hints and instructions. In putting this acrylic icon side-by-side with a finished egg tempera icon, I can see a qualitative difference in the brightness and “feel” of the two paints. I prefer the egg by far, but acrylics do have their advantages. I know that old icons were very bright. Once the darkened varnishes and oils were removed from old masterworks, it was amazing how differently they looked. Novgorod and Pskov icons used positively glowing reds, in particular. I guess that is true of Western artists as well–look at the difference in the Sistine Chapel once Michelangelo’s work was cleaned relatively recently!

  3. SR says:

    Talent, Talent, Talent all over and in you!!! I do not know how you put all of this together, but I am so glad you do. God Bless, SR

  4. I, too, am an iconographer, and I find Jo Sonja acrylics excellent to work with. When they were gauche, they had a better, constant cover, but they are still great. One of my students is heading to Hawaii. I assume you are there and camps give me some addresses of iconographers and people who prepare boards? That would be good thing for me to give her before she leaves. Thank you.

    • reinkat says:

      I like Sonja acrylics, too, when I use acrylics, but prefer egg tempera overall. In answer to your questions, sorry, but I have no idea where to find iconographers or boards there. I visited Hawaii a couple of times in the past decades on vacation. I make my own boards, using recipes that I have learned in workshops, for true gesso and tempera. Most recipes are available online, and I suspect your student will find the computer a great resource in finding local supplies and connections.

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