2 Surprises (at least) in Every Icon

I am working on the underpainting of the icon of St. Anthony–I call it the ugly stage. I await the surprises . . . more to follow . . .


Every icon provides me with 2 moments of surprised delight, on top of the steady sense of peace and comfort that comes through the combination of work and prayer.

The initial stages of painting involve putting a fairly dark, dull undercoat down on the board.  For the face and hands, this is often a greenish brown color.  It is called sankir.  This layer provides the shadows and dark areas.  The icon is built up from dark to light.  No shadows are added later.  When it is time to begin the modeling and highlighting of the face, layers of yellow ochre paint are layed down for the features and lit areas, one after the other .  Each layer is transparent and thin.  Each seems to be absorbed into the undercoat, sinking invisibly into the dark paint.  It is a act of faith at this point, to work blindly, trusting that the thin layers are building up on each other, one…

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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.
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3 Responses to 2 Surprises (at least) in Every Icon

  1. In a way, creating an icon is sort of a parallel to our Christian journey. God created us with an idea and a word; our humble humanity and all its temptations and crassness is sort of that “ugly stage,” you talk about. With time we gain layers of understanding and repentance; like layers of paint refining us until we reach that stage of completion. Ready to join our Father. In the same way your icons lead us to that place beyond the ugly. No wonder painting gives you that sense of peace!

    • reinkat says:

      Thank you for your lovely reflection. I liked it very much. I think this is a great analogy, and it fits with the idea that each of us is God’s icon. The Russian Orthodox in some areas have a custom of having in their home not only at least one icon, often draped with a cloth along the top, a framed mirror hanging nearby, also draped with a cloth, so that each person passing by will be reminded that they are the icon (image) of God. I think it is a beautiful tradition.

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