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.

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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?

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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