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.