If you are visiting the Pensacola, Florida area please stop by to see my work which is featured at the Blue Morning Gallery. Originals and prints of many of my pieces are available for viewing and purchase at the Gallery. Blue Morning Gallery is a local artist cooperative gallery and well worth a visit. Please visit the Blue Morning Gallery website for more information.
"Icon" comes from the Greek word for image. Over time, it has come to mean an image of someone or something that is admired or revered. That is why, today, we have sports "icons", rock star "icons" and, oddly, the little symbols on computers.
Icons are more than just art, beautiful as they may be. They are sacred images: sacred because they portray a holy person or a holy event. Topics for icons include Old and New Testament prophets, saints and martyrs and events in the life of Christ and other holy people.
The "graphy" part of the term "iconography" comes from a Greek word also, one that means both "write" and "paint." Iconographers usually say they are writing an icon, rather than painting one.
The wood the icon is painted on has a lengthy preparation time itself: cutting to size the cabinet-grade birch plywood which is then filled and sanded. After applying a coat of gesso (a kind of liquid plaster), a muslin cloth is applied and trimmed. This is followed by multiple coats of gesso with careful sanding between coats, until a wet sanding produces a finish as smooth as porcelain.
Unlike watercolors for instance, iconographers work from dark to light, adding more and more layers of highlights to create the modeling of the image. Like most contemporary iconographers, I use high-quality acrylic paints which, with their velvety texture, resemble the older egg tempera medium.
Real 24 karat gold leaf is used, and where appropriate I apply tooling in haloes and other parts of the icon. Finally, the finished piece is varnished.
Like most Iconographers, I begin writing my icons with the traditional "prayer before working on an icon" and keep in mind the "rules for iconographers", especially the last: not to forget the joy of spreading icons in the world. And the great joy of pursuing an ancient art through a modern medium.
One theory about how icons began is that they are descended from Egyptian tomb paintings. They have been an important part of the Christian religion since the days of the early church. Icons, in the form of wall paintings, are found in the catacombs.
The oldest icon in existence today is a wax encaustic icon of Christ Pantocrator (Ruler of All) in Saint Catherine's Monastery on Mount Sinai that dates back to the 6th century. Legend has it that the first iconographer was Saint Luke the Evangelist who created icons of the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child.
As Christianity spread across Europe and Asia Minor, so did icons which later were introduced into the New World by the missionaries. As icons became adopted in various parts of the world, they took on many of the characteristics of the art of the area.
For instance, icons of the Western Roman Catholic Church, heavily influenced by the Renaissance, are quite distinguishable from those of the Eastern Orthodox Church.
Icons can be wall paintings or frescoes, even mosaics but not statues, but paintings on wood panels are most common.
Why icons? Like stained glass windows, icons portray the Gospel in line and color - important for the largely illiterate congregations of early Christian churches. For this reason, they are often called "Windows to Heaven."
Praying with Icons by Jim Forest
Windows to Heaven: Introducing Icons to Protestants and Catholics by Elizabeth Zelensky and Lela Gilbert
Behold the Beauty of the Lord: Praying with Icons by Henri J.M. Nouwen
Ponder These Things: Praying with Icons of the Virgin by Rowan Williams
The Dwelling of the Light: Praying with Icons of Christ by Rowan Williams
Icons and Saints of the Eastern Orthodox Church by Alfred Tradigo, translated by Stephen Sartarelli
A History of Iconic Painting: Sources, Traditions, Present Day by various, translated by Kate Cook
The Meaning of Icons by Leonid Ouspensky and Vladimir Lossky
Holy Images * Holy Ground: Icons From Sinai edited by Robert S. Nelson and Kristen M. Collins
A Brush with God: An Icon Workbook by Peter Pearson
Another Brush with God: Further Conversations About Icons by Peter Pearson