Here is a very special icon of the Saint Catherine of Alexandria. I completed this work May 2011.
Back in January this year, I wrote about my return to writing* the icon of St Catherine of Alexandria. This was the 2nd icon of this saint that I have worked on.
See the previous posting for background information about the icon and who I think the persona of this non existent saint was based on: Hypatia of Alexandria. http://www.olgachristineinnerspace.com/?p=390
See another icon of Saint Catherine of Alexandria prepared by my hand on my icon website. http://olgachristine.com/icon_stcatherine.html
Friends have asked to see how icons are made. In response, it seemed a good idea to record the process of making icons. Here is my first attempt beginning with an icon that was already 70% complete when I started recording the process.
I began work on this icon sometime during 2007/2008. I always found it particularly difficult. It is a complex icon, much more so than I expected. But more important than complexity, I simply could not find the right space for the icon itself. Something of a space arrived when I found literature on Hypatia of Alexandria and then much later, after I saw the movie Agora, the space of the icon to work from became much clearer to me.
Then came a realization regarding the spaces of icons. From this and other icons I am working on right now, I have begun to understand, and maybe begun to see, that for a creative work to take on its own presence, there must be a seed. This makes perfect sense to me now. I see the seed in the esoteric sense, as the progeny of a greater archetype.
I watched the seed for this one land as I reworked some areas of the icon, especially the face. The presence become more apparent with each session of work until at one point I realized that this icon had her own presence. Not a reflection, not a connection to somewhere else, but the unique presence of this individual icon.
Returning to the process of this icon writing, I re-started by removing the work I had previously done on the face. It had not been good work and there was no sense of presence. Here she is without face and then followed by another view with the new color for the face. Maybe you will notice an absence of presence.
There was much reworking that went on with the gold paint, as well as the wheel, the books, and the robes. That work is not obvious from the photos here.
The next phase is the work on the face. I was very surprised to see that the face that landed here was not very different from the face that I had previously worked on and removed. However the technique for this work was much improved and a much more gentle face emerged, than before.
The next phase that can be seen is the crown and the hair. St Catherine of Alexandria icons are relatively unique for having gold through the hair and jeweled crown.
Also the double headed eagle of the Byzantine Empire, on her cloak, is relatively unique. The astrolabe indicates her work (or Hypatia’s) as a mathematician/astronomer. The books indicate her knowledge and work as a philosopher. The crucifix indicates her devotion to Christ. The palm held in her left hand indicates peace.
Here her crown is almost finished, waiting for pearls to be applied, in paint of course.
The Greek inscriptions are finished here. These tell us that she is St Catherine of Alexandria.
The halo is also finished. The halo and inscriptions are arguably among the most difficult parts of an icon to paint. They are painted directly onto gold leaf (guilding) and every waver shows.
Then comes the pearls. This was an intense phase that took a whole day. For me, it requires a level of care that can be very challenging but is a wonderful experience when complete.
I love each one of those pearls. Here they are most of them on the brocade for the robe. Pearls are also on the crown and around the collar.
At this point I thought I was done and worked the final retouches. For me, just about everything is reworked or retouched many times.
As I retouched the main robe, I discovered that the original color in my paint tray had changed which made a mess of the retouching. Not surprising that the paint aged over 4-5 years. Also this red, or perhaps any mix of red color, is difficult to apply. Red covers very poorly. The application needs to be as good as I can make it.
You can see here some splotches on the red. Every time I retouched it got worse. I left it for a week or wondering what next. I could not bear the idea of removing the red robe color, which by the way I had already removed once back in 2008. ‘Not again’ was all I could think of.
Eventually the remedy became obvious. It turned out that I could remix the color and paint over the whole lower robe, around the highlights. This type of correction is not always possible, but thankfully it worked.
In this final image below, the icon is ready for shellack, to be followed by varnish. You may notice that the first image of this icon (at the top of this post) has more intense colors than the one you see completed below. That is because the shellack and varnish had been applied to the image at the top of the post.
For reasons I do not understand, I find that the image here, without the shellack and varnish, takes me back to the spaces I felt in the writing of the icon and in that sense is different to the image of the finished icon at the top. This image below makes my heart sing - perhaps because it holds the journey of the making of the icon.
* the traditional description of the work involved in an icon is to write an icon, not paint an icon. From http://orthodoxwiki.org/Icon
The most literal translation of the Greek word εικονογραφία (eikonographia) is “image writing,” leading many English-speaking Orthodox Christians to insist that icons are not “painted” but rather “written.” From there, further explanations are given that icons are to be understood in a manner similar to Holy Scripture—that is, they are not simply artistic compositions but rather are witnesses to the truth the way Scripture is. Far from being imaginative creations of the iconographer, they are more like scribal copies of the Bible.
While the explanation of the purpose and nature of icons is certainly true and consistent with the Church’s Holy Tradition, there is a linguistic problem with the insistence on the word written rather than painted. In Greek, a painted portrait of anyone is also a γραφή (graphi), and the art of painting itself is called ζωγραφική (zographiki) while any drawing or painting can be referred to as ζωγραφιά (zographia). Ancient Greek literally uses the same root word to refer to the making of portraits and the making of icons, but distinguishes whether it is “painting from life” (ζωγραφιά) or “painting icons” (εικονογραφία). Thus, from a linguistic point of view, either all paintings—whether icons or simple portraits—are “written” or (more likely) “painted” is a perfectly usable English translation, simply making a distinction between the painting appropriate for icons and that appropriate for other kinds of painting, just as Greek does.