Sunday, 11 August 2013

Knowing Your Limitations

Early this year in a fit of insanity, (one of many), I agreed with Constantina our lovely (tame) iconographer at St. M's to do an intensive, five day course later in the year.

This last week was the week in question.

Today (11th) being the fourth anniversary of John's death I felt I wanted to be fully occupied with no time to think.   My wish was granted!

Starting at approximately 9.30 am and concluding at approximately 4.45 pm each day, the 'killer' course took over my life, well, a week of  it anyway.

For someone with no hand skills, little hand-eye co-ordination, ageing eyesight and no patience whatever, this was something of a challenge.

Those who know nothing about Iconography might be surprised to hear that this is a very exacting art form.
Combining a very very slow process of reproducing a traced image, layer by slow painful layer, then re-applying each individual detail only to once again cover it with an egg-tempera wash and starting again, seemingly from scratch, it is tiring in the extreme.

The materials used are all natural pigments, expensively ground from mineral deposits and can change the appearance of one's work in seconds if not applied with great care.

Sitting. cramped and bent over, feet in one position for hours at a time might sound easy, but at my age, and with all the usual age-related swollen feet, leg and aching back and neck problems that aged flesh is heir to lunch-time should have come as a welcome relief.

Our intrepid leader however, having first fed us right royally, had other ideas, and drove us out into the mid-day heat, leading us (Maria Von Trapp) style, on a longish safari of the surrounding area each day.

Needless to say, returning to try to paint tiny details with shaking hands and dazzled eyes only added to the (excrutiating) pleasure.

Starting and finishing with prayers each day I found myself able to (endure) enjoy the experience more easily than might have been supposed.

Each of us, and there were three (four on the last two days), had chosen a different subject to portray - I use this word deliberately, since one does not paint an Icon, but apparently 'writes' one., and the subject were enormously varied.

My choice was Joseph, husband of The Virgin Mary, deliberating on the news he had received.

The finished item is not greatly like the beautiful original, but is, I feel, my best effort to date.  Unfortunately I am even less skilled as a photographer than I am an artist so the picture does not do it justice.

A colleague, friend, and fellow (sufferer), sorry, student, took some very good pictures with her phone but I was not able to down-load them properly so will not include them here.

A good exercise in discipline, but not for the faint-hearted, I would not say for certain that I will never again attempt such a thing, but it seems unlikely.


  1. Ray we must pray for David Cloake

    I dont get much time at present to read blogs but saw this through our Parish Twitter account which I do for my church family. Love to you -will catch up in autumn . XXMargaret

  2. have picked up and read the reference you gave Margaret.
    Am praying for him and will do so daily.

  3. It sound a fascinating but painstakinh process.RX

  4. I am so glad you enjoyed it Ray. I have been slightly worried by your absence from the blogosphere. Now I know why I am very impressed with your powers of well as your ability to learn new skills!

  5. Not quite sure enjoyed is the right word Jean, but it was a valuable experience and I was reasonably pleased with the end result.
    I seem to have run out of material/energy/enthusiasm for blogging for a while, but I'm sure it will return in due course.

    1. By the way Jean, the inimitable Feedjit currently has your location as Northampton. What a very strange atlas it must have.

  6. Ray it is a law onto itself! I have been all over this country at various times according to Feedjit! The only county it doesnt have me in is Cornwall!

  7. Ray, this is fantastic! I love the facial expression and the fabric folds and the animal companions. What a great project.

  8. Thanks Penny. I chose it because of just these details, but found them much harder to portray than I expected.
    A project for a younger person I think, someone with endless patience (not me), keen eyesight (ditto), and a steady hand (likewise).
    The finished result is far from perfect, but the best I've achieved, so am reasonably happy with it.

  9. Fantastic, Ray! I think you've done wonderfully well, much better than i would have done. I'd love to do such a course, though i can't draw or paint for toffee.

  10. That is just the point Perpetua. I can do nothing creative with my hands so this is the perfect medium.
    All you need to do is to copy exactly using the teacher's formula.
    As someone wrote of the perfect Icon, "imitate, don't innovate".

    1. Ah, I see. In that case it would certainly be the thing for me too. Now to find an icon-writer in Mid-Wales.....

  11. Bound to be one in a cave half way up Snowdon.