An icon from start to finish.

This little icon has taken many months. Not because it takes many months but, for many reasons, I kept liking the stage we were at & leaving things be for a while. Having finally completed the enormous icon of the Transfiguration – more on that later! – I wanted to complete this so I have, as it were, a clean slate. This icon is based on the extremely old Theotokos of Philermos, but after a 16th century example. I saw it on the cover of a book by Egon Sendler and was transfixed. I have only experienced that feeling a few times and never before from a computer monitor rendering of an icon!

Purely for my own interest and to spend more time with the icon, I began a tiny copy. The board is only 15x10cm and should really have been only for testing paints, techniques etc. still, I found myself drawing and redrawing those direct, tender, unsentimental eyes and that delicate but resolute chin.

I wasn’t at all sure that my usual technique of painting a tonal drawing before adding translucent layers would work: after all, the upper layers of colour here are strong. Could it possibly work?

I added a few more washes of ‘membrane’ before beginning redefining her features.

But it was difficult to feel how well it would work with the strength of colours from the garments added.


And then LIFE happened. Christmas, New Year, January, illnesses etc. so the icon stayed at roughly this stage for a long long time.

Until I had an unusual email: did I have an icon of the Panagia ready for sale? A lady, thousands of miles away, was ill. Her daughter would love to give her an icon but obviously couldn’t wait.

I had to hesitate. Strictly speaking, this icon does not follow the rules: there is no halo, no room for a title, no figure of Christ, etc etc. and yet. Yet. I decided to restart the icon and pray about it.

By the end of the time I had to paint that first day, I knew it was the right thing, in this very unusual circumstance.

I grew more certain as each hour passed. I was able to pray for the lady and her family.

I lost track of time, lost the fact this had only ever been for practice, for my own education, to keep me company with those all-knowing eyes and sad but kind mouth.

In spite of the difficulties, the unusual nature of the request, I knew this was right.

And now I am ready – no, happy, joyful, honoured – to say goodbye and entrust this tiny offering, a thing of wood, plaster, glue, gold, earth, stones, jewels, transformed by Grace into this.