Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Opening an Icon

In the past couple of posts I've described a little of the board preparation and laying down the image for the icon - here I want to talk more about the actual painting.

The medium used to hold the pigment is egg yolk. Preparing this is quite simple - one of those things that sounds harder than it is. Carefully separate an egg, gently wash the yolk with water, then dry it by transferring it back and forth in your hands until you're able to grasp the sac between your finger tips. pierce it with a pin or knife point and collect the liquid yolk into a small bowl. Add about a tablespoon of water, a little white vinegar, and transfer to a bottle with an eye dropper top. This mixture will keep for a couple of weeks in the refrigerator.

An icon is developed through a series of highlights and floats using ground pigments, the egg mixture and additional water. Part of the learning process is discovering how the different pigments work. Some are much weaker than others; some are grainier and have to been ground finer with a mortar and pestle, some will be scrubbed even further when being mixed with the egg. Color mixing is fascinating - not only for the individual colors at any point, but anticipating how one color will look when it's got additonal highlights and floats over it.

The opening of the painting has a wonderful Russian word - Roshkrish, which means chaos. And when I look at what I've put down, I do wonder how it will all turn out - it is pretty messy looking and unattractive. The colors are typically dark and dense. I have to remind myself that this is the foundational painting - that these are the colors that will show in the deepest folds and recesses. Everything built up after that goes to light, except for a few details that will get darker paint.

In the pictures above, I've shown the opening of an icon I painted of the Virgin of Guadalupe, a fairly straightforward image. And I've shown a collection of things needed at this stage - the powdered pigments, the egg, the eye dropper bottle, some good brushes, and of course, the so important journal where I try to keep track of the outcomes of my experiements in color mixing. I also try to jot down any other little notes to remind myself - recipes for bole, gesso, egg yolk. Reminders - "Eyes are large, mouths are small, fingers are elongated" - all the myriad details. The symbolism of various colors and aspects. I think this is partly what hooked me. Remember when I foolishly said that I thought I'd take one session to learn the techniques and then move on? Hah!

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