Saturday of Souls, Pentecost and more

It's hard to believe I returned from Shropshire and teaching a beautiful group of people almost three weeks ago. Let's say that life is hectic and hurried - I am studying psychology and a full-time parent/homemaker as well as a full-time iconographer so fitting three vocations into one life is rather pressing. I promise that this week I have two icons to complete and once they are done, I will write about the course: teaching is -another- vocation, I fear.  Today I attended our local Church for Saturday of Souls, when we commemorate the departed both by name and those of all generations … [Read more...]

Hands to work, hearts to God

The above is a phrase popular with the American religious group called "Shakers". For a while their furniture and very simple aesthetic became fashionable in the 1990s and while visiting St Vladimir's in New York, I drove up to the Shaker museums to visit Hancock Shaker Village. There is no doubt that it was a beautiful way of life: everything simple, carefully made, an elegance of form and function allowing the gifts of God in creation to be used in a dignified and calm way for work. It was also a communal and fair way of life - at least in its aims, if not final results. "The Shakers based … [Read more...]

“Where do I begin?”

After announcing the workshops this year, I've had several emails from people who want to come along but don't know where to begin. Looking at finished, gilded icons is a daunting prospect, no matter your artistic background but particularly if you are a beginner with little experience in art of any kind. Let me start by reassuring you that iconography is easily understood, at least in it's practical steps. There are several high quality videos available which show you how the layers of paint are built up and indeed, on the courses the focus is usually on mixing, handling and layering the egg … [Read more...]

On our spiritual fathers and mothers

One thing that often sounds 'different' to Christians from some other traditions is the Orthodox practice of having a 'spiritual father' or indeed mother. This is a long-standing small-t tradition in Orthodoxy and part of it stems from our close connection to the monastic life. I found out very quickly that it was common for laity to visit monasteries (we use the same word for both male and female religious houses) regularly, particularly during or soon after Lent. This is tricky for those of us in Britain at the moment - not forever, I hope - as the main monastery is the Monastery of St John … [Read more...]

Look, look, look! Draw, draw,  draw!

A frequent frustration with those beginning iconography is that their icons do not look 'right' - this is often because they have begun the painting stage too soon or the icon they are looking at is not itself 'right'. It is impossible to stress too much the need for a solid, comprehensible drawing under all the fine brush strokes, washes etc.  Here is a recent preliminary sketch for an icon of the Archangel Gabriel: you can see it is not quite finished, that I have decided to move the figure slightly to the left of the board and there has been a deal of re-working. I wanted to have a … [Read more...]

Shropshire and exciting news

I recently returned from my second trip this year to see Aidan Hart at Walcot Hall in Shropshire. I think it is fair to say that I am in love with that part of the world and Walcot, with its dreamy arboretum, unusual accommodation and friendly staff in particular. The five day workshop is a joy - not just in the creation of new icons but in the forming of friendships, the softening of our hearts and the joy of escape (there is very limited internet access and often no phone signal!). How rare in these days to have true rural bliss! Shropshire has this in abundance. On the first day, there … [Read more...]

Thoughts on the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Tomorrow is the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (old calendar) or, to give it the full title: The Feast of the Universal Exaltation of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross. The tradition states that the Emperor Constantine sent his mother, Saint Helena, to find relics of Christ in Jerusalem on pilgrimage. While there, she discovered the three crosses (of Christ and the two thieves), establishing which was the Cross of Our Lord when a dying woman touched it and was healed. The Patriarch (Macarius) of Jerusalem carried the cross into the ambo, where many venerated it. It is one of the … [Read more...]

Ancient techniques, modern technology

One of the contrasts I enjoy most in current iconography is how, in this ancient church with such a strong sense of Tradition (and tradition) modern technology is connecting people. This allows the sharing of information and techniques and bringing us together as individuals. All of this is possible now, in a way we could never have even imagined twenty or thirty years ago. I now have friends now all over Europe, America, Russia and even New Zealand and Australia - and we can chat whenever we want! At the same time, I have maintained my use of ancient techniques in iconography, especially the … [Read more...]

The Sunday of the Samaritan Woman

I don't normally do this but I was so struck by the richness of today's Gospel reading - "a Gospel within the Gospel", I wanted to share it and a few things which came to me during the reading of it in Liturgy and on the train, as I travelled to Dunblane this morning. First, the reading (a substantial one, detailing the longest recorded conversation between Christ and another person in the New Testament - clearly he spoke at length with many people but this is the one best recorded). John 4:5-42At that time, Jesus came to a city of Samaria, called Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his … [Read more...]

St John of Damascus: an icon & iconographer in progress.

One of the questions I've been asked in the last couple of weeks is: "wait, you're going on a course/retreat? aren't you able to, you know, just paint an icon already?"There are two answers and the short one is "Yes I am and yes I can" but that wouldn't really explain what I'm doing or be worth sharing with you.The second answer is Yes: My journey and ongoing growth as an iconographer means that I will never stop learning, changing, developing, praying for the life that means the icons are not simply copies or reproductions of images. Yes: I can paint icons already! No matter what saint a … [Read more...]

St John of Damascus: On Holy Images 5

As the last post sharing the words written by St John almost 1300 years ago, I make no apology for this being a LONG ONE! It is clear and understandable if we go slowly and carefully, and explains why icons are so powerful. I am incredibly glad that their place in our spiritual lives is being recognised and accepted outside the Orthodox Church and I have worked closely with other denominations on icons for use in worship and in private prayer before. I hope this will continue! Those who sign up for the newsletter will be able to see the icon before it is listed for sale in the online shop this … [Read more...]

St John of Damascus: on Holy Icons 4

Saint John repeatedly asks us to think carefully about the difference between worship of God and the honour we pass to the icons bearing His image or those of His saints. Just as we might feel warmth or love looking at a garment - a scarf perhaps - of our loved one, we do not in any way love that actual garment but that it represents to us. EVERY one must recognise that a man who attempts to dishonour an image which has been set up for the glory and remembrance of Christ, of His holy Mother, or one of his saints, is an enemy of Christ, of His holy Mother, and the saints. It is also set up to … [Read more...]

St John of Damascus: on Holy Images 3

Why should we permit icons of the saints? One of the arguments is laid out for us to think about here: "We depict Christ as our King and Lord, and do not deprive Him of His army. The saints constitute the Lord's army. Let the earthly king dismiss his army before he gives up his King and Lord. Let him put off the purple before he takes honour away from his most valiant men who have conquered their passions. For if the saints are heirs of God, and co-heirs of Christ, (Rom. 8.17) they will be also partakers of the divine glory of sovereignty. If the friends of God have had a part in the … [Read more...]

St John of Damascus: on Holy Images 2

Further on in this first part of his text "On Holy Images", Saint John summarises the inherent goodness of matter.  Christianity has, in the past, tended towards a kind of dualism which can demote the physical and material to a 'lower' level; in fact, God's Creation is inherently capable of being "doxological, eucharistical' - capable of giving glory and thanks - to Him and we, as the priests of His Creation, are given gifts to use the Creation in a way to worship Him clearly.Of old, God the incorporeal and uncircumscribed was never depicted. Now, however, when God is seen clothed in flesh, … [Read more...]