When Is An Icon Not An Icon?

For sometime now I have had a wee hankering to try and do some iconography.  I hummed and hawed for ages until I finally decided, for a variety of reasons not to go down the traditional route but rather to do my take on icons.  So it began.

Over the course of about a month during late August and early September I would pop into the craft room and do another little bit of work on a small 2.5 x 3.5 inch canvas.  Yes canvas, you might have thought it would be wood, but one of the diversions I had decided to make was to make them clearly paintings in the style of icons.

I felt very much that it was important to pray beforehand and to retell myself the stories of the saint I was working on in my head, it became part of my Morning Prayer routine, although I didn’t manage to paint every day and some days it wasn’t in the morning.  At this point I should say that is another difference from a traditional icon, I had decided I would not be using the human form.

I have long been enthralled by glyphs, the small symbols artists use to let you know who the saint portrayed is, and I decided that my take on iconography would be using signs and symbols associated with the saint.  This has opened up a whole other idea which I shall get to in a moment.

I had decided, because I wished to do something that reminded me of St Andrew’s, Milngavie, that the first venture would be Saint Andrew.  After much doodling I finally came up with the design I wanted to use there would be but four colours, red, blue, white and gold.  And so we get to two more differences between my version and the traditional icon, I had decided to make the colour pallet limited – the red isn’t even paint but shot silk which will be the mount – and I was going to use gold paint rather than gold leaf, the gold leaf was put back in the drawer for another project which is bubbling away.  Maybe using material could be classed as another difference, although that might be a one off.

It took a lot longer than I had thought to create that first icon and in the process several times I thought wouldn’t do it that way again.  As I was thinking that at one point another idea formed and I filed away for later.  Later began a couple of weeks ago, a series of icons.

One of the things I had decided was that due to the multiple coats of paint that were needed I would paint the gold border and the background colour before beginning on the gyphs.  Seven coats later and with far more time taken than expected I have got this far with an idea for a series of four icons for the four Sundays of Advent.  This is the idea I alluded to earlier in this post, taking a theme as the subject for an icon.

The Beginnings

I intend to paint the detail in at least one, hopefully two, of them during my retreat week – that is if I get all the preparation finished.  These are A5 board canvas so the bigger area also has something to do with them taking longer than the first tiny canvas.  I want a real depth of colour and even the heavy body acrylics which I prefer don’t give me that without multiple coats, which I wasn’t expectting.  However, the repeated actions have given a certain rhythm to the process, like reciting psalms in company, to start there can be an element of self-consciousness but in time a joint unthinking rhythm like breathing is found.

These icons – I really need to think of another description for as the title of this post suggests I question whether they can really be called icons – will form the basis for a series of posts on the four Sundays in Advent, hopefully I will have them finished in time.  And, in case you are curious, the previously mentioned St Andrew’s icon will appear here on 30th November.


2 thoughts on “When Is An Icon Not An Icon?

  1. Pingback: Advent Sunday – Introducing the Patriarchs and Matriarchs « Still Striving For that Elusive Halo

  2. Pingback: St Andrew « Still Striving For that Elusive Halo

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