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 is a lot of setting up, an introduction, coffee, drawing, lunch, more drawing, more coffee and then more drawing! It is impossible to understate the importance of having a good quality drawing before beginning to paint, particularly for those just starting their journey in iconography.

The second day onwards, the different stages of a technique popularised by Archimandrite Zenon and known as “the membrane technique” where layers of colour are applied over a monochrome underpainting are taught gradually and with each student being given time between stages to have their individual work assessed and supported. 

On Wednesday I took a short break (a morning off!) and drove through the magical misty valleys between Church Stretton and Much Wenlock to visit Dylan Hartley, master cabinet maker and icon board maestro. His neat and busy workshop can produce a large variety of items, including some incredible oak kiots for the Russian Cathedral in London. I wish I had time to visit the nearby Tile Museum and rest of Ironbridge, which is not only beautiful but the cradle of the industrial revolution. To be honest, I need to add an extra week onto my Shropshire trips so that I can enjoy the local area. 

I am always amazed at the diversity of students who form these groups and this time was no exception – I think there were at least three Anglican vicars or clergy and a teacher from Chicago, a medical administrator from Abu Dabi via Nova Scotia, someone who teaches the Catechism of the Good Shepherd (a Montessori based way of communicating the faith to young children), all amazing and unique, producing their own unique icons.. I like to think of us as a bucket of pebbles from the beach, jostling and smoothing and shining as the life giving water allows our hidden colours to glow a little, away from the daily routines and with focus only on one purpose.

I do not want to give the impression that all is peace and joy: no, I’m afraid that rather than retreating we are advancing into the front line. We are face to face with our temptations, our satisfactions, our desire to be ‘good painters’, our own unique challenges – perhaps we’ve never used tempera or pigment? the board is a new type of support? the ‘rules’ seem baffling or confusing… And yet out of this crucible of effort, each person comes out the other side with a real sense of achievement – perhaps a thirst for more – and an almost completed icon.

Announcement: Workshop 2017

I am delighted to announce that I am teaching the May workshop at Walcot in 2017. Suitable for beginners, the five day course will follow an established routine and teach the membrane method, although the proplasmos technique will be demonstrated and the two can be combined in one icon. Please see the Workshops page for more details and contact me – places are going fast!