Stages of a "Hodigitria" icon

+JMJ+ Dear fellow artists and friends, I recently finished an icon of the Theotokos, an icon which is called "Hodigitria" or "Our Lady of the Way." Here is a series of photographs I took throughout the process of my icon. I apologize for the poor lighting of some of my photos. I have not yet oiled the icon; once I do, the colors in the icon will appear more deep.
In the above picture, I'm sanding the red clay bolle to remove air bubbles and rough spots... theologically, this step reminds us that we are created from the dust of the earth...
In the above picture, I'm burnishing the red clay bolle to prepare a smooth surface for the gold leaf. Gold leaf is extremely thin, and will form itself around whatever texture it adheres to, thus the red clay bolle must be meticulously polished until it is as smooth and reflective as a mirror. I activate the stickiness of the bolle by leaning over and breathing on it, with my mouth just centimeters above the bolle; once the bolle becomes sticky, I lay the gold leaf over it, and it sticks. This process serves to remind us of our Lord breathing life into Adam, and that God is the source of all life.
This is called the "Alpha Line," applied using a compass to achieve a perfect circle. The form of a circle is perfect, having no beginning or end, which symbolizes the perfection of contemplative prayer in heaven, which we thirst for and strive for here on earth.
The painting of lines create the fundamental framework of the icon, and remind us of the guides we have in our life of faith, such as the Creed, and teachings of the magisterium, and everything else that keeps us on the straight path.
This first layer of color is called "Roskrysh," which means "opening" of color. For me, it is usually the most humiliating stage of the icon process, because I am asked to apply the paint without allowing my brush to touch the surface of the icon board. The idea is that the Holy Spirit settles the pigments where he wills, and the iconographer accepts to lay the control he wishes to have at the feet of Christ. The chaos that results, these rather unattractive blobs of color, symbolizes the chaos which existed before creation. Later, the textures of the Roskrysh will be harmonized with glazes of color, and will appear more like windswept textures. The gesso visible beneath this texture acts as a backlight and seems to "breathe"; a feature which is lacking in works whose paint has been applied opaquely.
These two pictures above show the alternating process of adding highlights and glazes (or "floats"). The iconographer does not "add" shadows to his icon, because an icon is supposed to depict a saint glowing with the divine light of God. Thus, instead of adding shadows, the iconographer is continually adding light. These highlights are angular and pointed, symbolizing the Word of God as a double-edged sword. Master-iconographer Vladislav Andrejev tells his students that the highlights must take on the features of the facets of a diamond. The diamond absorbs the light and creates a beautiful display of pointed lights. The diamond symbolizes the soul in the state of grace absorbing the light of Christ; this state of holiness creates a beautiful countenance which attracts others to God.
In the above picture I'm adding details; throughout the process I've been painting with egg yolk mixed with Chardonnay and pigments from Kremer Pigments and Natural Pigments.
And here is the completed icon of the Theotokos, "Hodigitria," yet to be oiled, perhaps this afternoon.
Thanks for reading, and God bless, Elizabeth Lemme


Gwyneth said...

So lovely! I recommended you to a priest I know as a gold leaf authority. I'm looking forward to seeing more of your wonderful work.

elizabeth said...

Thank you Gwyneth! They say it takes 10 years to master the art of gilding, so I have a ways to go yet. :o) I can't wait to see some of your work!

Monica @ Equipping Catholic Families said...

this is so beautiful...and wonderful to see the stages!

Anthony VanArsdale said...

Beautiful! And as Monica said, it's wonderful to see the process. The icon is like a prayer.

elizabeth said...

Thank you Monica, and Anthony. God bless you in your work!

George Tautkus said...

Good Job. I love the symbolism in the process. Yeah, as I recall, making icons is supposed to be a form of prayer.

Anonymous said...

Nonsense about taking ten years to master gold leaf! Watch someone do it, have someone watch YOU apply it, and you will do just fine. People are scared to do it, don't let it get the better of, you can do a beautiful job! And it won't take ten years!

ce/the olde crow said...

God's Blessings to all who read this. I'm almost 2 years late in replying to a misconception re what I had shared w/Ms. Elizabeth eons ago.
In re to the statement to master gold leaf 10 years, I had share that info from the perspective of a Professional GUILDER who reaches Journeyman status in 10 years., NOT an iconographer. Mastering gold leaf as a professional guilder is not the same as getting gold on halos and backgrounds.
Becoming a Master Guilder includes self proficiency re different substrates & knowing the prep for each. Knowing which bole to use and what colour of gold to use for the finish desired, as well as the karat. Being able to prep the item depending on if it is marble, granite, painted wood, whatever; being able to working inside or outside and in various weather conditions, burnishing or buffing, or decorating the bole or the gold after it is applied and what finish to use to protect it in the environment it will be. Which tools are best for various jobs, etc, etc.
IMO The wee bits of gilding we do on our icons, no matter the size, is gilding, for sure, but, it in no way compares to how a professional Journeyman Gilder comes at this art-form and all its techniques. When I instruct gilding, I make sure to inform students of the basics we do and educate them in the difference between Iconographers & Gilders, and there is quite a difference. I used to be a member of the guilders society, and learned MUCH from the great information those artists were willing to share w/me, & I willingly pass on info I've learned to others. Apologies for any misunderstandings. imaflibbertygibb@msn.com Ora pro me.

Anonymous said...

Nice work. Just a comment. I don't know if it's a Catholic thing, but you will never see Our Lady with her right hand with this gesture in a traditional icon.