This morning an extremely varied group of students, from SPS to GeoSciences, came together to take part in the icon painting workshop run by Theodora Hawksley in the School of Divinity. Theo started our morning with an introduction to icon painting. She had prepared portions of pigments with exciting names like ‘burnt umber’ as well as boards, originally planks of wood with twelve coats of gessum, a mixture of rabbit skin glue and whiting powder, sanded down until the surface was smooth enough to work on.
We chose an image, traced it into our boards and began the first of many thin layers of paint, staying true to traditional icon painting methods and combining egg mixture, water and small amounts of bright pigments to create our colours.
Several hours later, we realized that time had flown by while we were absorbed in the exciting process of egg tempura painting. Theo was extremely attentive throughout the workshop, answering questions and giving advice on mixing pigments and painting technique. We were unsurprised to hear that many icon painters take a very long time to craft their image and often build in elements of meditation or prayer.
With the layers building up, we were welcome to return the next day to complete our masterpieces, but I decided to go ahead with the final step of filling in my icon’s halo.
The workshop unsurprisingly did not stretch to gold leaf, despite Theo’s generosity with the pigments, but we were happy to see that we could apply powdered bronze over paint, a technique which resulted in an excitingly shiny gold effect. I left at the end of a very enjoyable day holding a credible icon of the Virgin Mary, despite having little experience even with normal painting!