Sunday, January 17, 2010

Beginnings of an Icon, Part 2

In the last post I talked about the important process of preparing the board. The next step is developing the image. The novice iconographer will almost always use traditional icons for the pattern, carefully resizing it to fit the board, then drawing it on tracing paper so that it can be transferred to the gessoed surface.
Next, we use a bole made of powdered red clay mixed with fish glue to paint the edges of the icon and the areas where gold will be laid down. The bole under the gold has to be absolutely smooth, sanded carefully when it's dried, or the gold will show up the little pits and bumps. I ran into a woman who used to do gilding for a framer - she said she loved this work. I'm always a little nervous when I do it - it's so easy to botch it up. When you're ready to apply the gold leaf, you breathe deeply and then exhale over the bole so that it takes up a little of the moisture. Then you carefully lay down the gold. When I hear someone doing this, it reminds me that they are introducing spirit into the icon.

Once the gold is on, we may need to fix some of the lines that have gotten sanded away, and then mix paints to go over the outlines, using pigments that will blend with the later colors to be laid down. This becomes the skeleton of the painting. For people like me who are not great at technical detail, it is a real discipline to make sure that this step is given adequate attention. Taking shortcuts in these early stages will make it hard to get the beautiful effects you are working toward as you go through the layering of pigments.

I think part of what I love about iconography is the involvement of so many senses: the woody smell of a fresh board. the pungent smell of the bole, the pudding feel of gesso, the satin texture after it's dried and sanded, the sounds of sanding and deep inbreaths, and always the gorgeous images and colors.

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