Mission Statement

This blog journals my quest of art, whether it is a piece of work that is inherent in nature or one created by artists known or unknown or that I created myself. During this search, I have come to appreciate the magnificence and generosity of God who in his infinite wisdom surrounded us with exquisiteness everyday...everywhere and inspired our human spirit to create beauty that feeds our bodies and souls. Come join me on my journey to find art through my travels and my own creative endeavors. Maraming salamat.

All rights to all posts and contents on this blog, including photos and artwork are reserved by jojo sabalvaro tan.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Icon Painting

Madonna and Child Icon
Watercolor, Acrylic, Gouache and Gold Leaf on watercolor canvas board
9" x 12"
by jojo sabalvaro tan 2013
From the collection of Atty. Danilo and Ambassador Lourdes Morales

On one of our recent trips to Florida, we visited the oldest city in the United States, St. Augustine,  which was established in 1565. As we walked on cobbled stone streets in the historic section of the city and visited the Cathedral and the stone fortress, Castillo San Marco, we came across the magnificent St. Photios Greek Orthodox Church.on St. George Street. The entry to the church is nondescript, just an opening with the American and Greek flag over it.  Curious, we entered the gate into a courtyard and visited the chapel which was filled with wonderful icons and frescoes of Jesus, Mary and saints executed in the traditional Byzantine manner replete with 22Karat gold leaf as accent.  As I entered the chapel,  I was transported to Greece. It was an unexpected pleasure to find such a place here. I was  utterly  inspired.to paint an icon, something I had wanted to do for years.

Frescoes and Icons at St. Photios Greek Orthodox Church
St. Augustine, Florida

Iconography has interested me for a long time since it relates so much to my favorite type of art - religious art. This art  form is found in monasteries and churches from very ancient times and is the oldest tradition of Eastern Christian and Catholic art.

Here are a few of the icons that I have collected over the years.
From Greece
Hand painted from Russia

From Russia (print)

Hand painted with embossed metal frame

According to Wikipedia, "In Eastern Orthodoxy and other icon-painting Christian traditions, the icon is generally a flat panel (generally of wood) painting depicting a holy being or object such as JesusMarysaintsangels, or the cross. Icons may also be cast in metal, carved in stone, embroidered on cloth, done in mosaic work, printed on paper or metal, etc." Icons are very symbolic and used for veneration.

In the Philippines,  the most popular icon is that of Our Mother of Perpetual Help where at the Baclaran Church devotees flock every Wednesday for the novena prayers. According to tradition,  this icon of the Virgin Mary is attributed to the first icon painter, St. Luke the Evangelist.
In the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help (above) Mary is shown wearing a blue robe, symbolizing heaven, over a red dress symbolizing her queenship and also penance. She holds Jesus, wearing a red robe, symbolizing his Passion, who clings to her as he looks over his shoulder at the Archangel Gabriel, who holds the Cross and nails. The Archangel Michael holds the lance, the spear and a jar of vinegar and gall. Abbreviations for "Mother of God," "Jesus," Archangel Michael" and "Archangel Gabriel" are seen around the figures

I did not know how to start painting an icon since I was intimidated and overwhelmed by all the information I saw online. I even checked into classes but unfortunately there are none in my immediate vicinity. For some reason, as I was waiting for the cardinals in the conclave to elect a new pope, I was inspired (could it be divine intervention, who knows?),  and embarked on my first icon painting project. Although I have painted many depictions of the Virgin Mary and the baby Jesus as well as other religious subject matters, I still found  the prospect daunting. There are a lot of traditions attached to making one and the steps are very rigid and involved, at least to me. The approach is a lot different too, a little more restrained and restricted as far as creativity and imagination. In my mind's eye, I see ancient Christians painting or writing (the more appropriate terminology for icon painting) icons in dim candlelight, buoyed by religious fervor. 

The first step I did was to study how other iconographic art have been traditionally depicted by researching other icons. It is actually acceptable to copy an icon that you like and incorporate the traditional elements in the icon in the execution of the painting. I went ahead and did my research on the Internet which had abundant information on and images of icons. There were many to choose from and I chose (no surprise here) an icon of the Virgin Mary and the baby Jesus. 

I knew that my icon won't be as traditional as I'd like it to be due to the limitations of materials available to me. Somehow, I am unable to adhere strictly to the "rules" of Eastern Christian iconography, but I knew one thing for sure - as a Catholic, I would be working on my icon within the context of our traditions and in a spiritual and meditative/prayerful manner. I made a preliminary sketch on tracing paper and transferred the sketch using water soluble transfer paper to a watercolor canvas board. Here I diverted from using the  traditional board laboriously prepared with several coats of smoothed-out gesso.

Since the canvas has texture, my finished painting won't have the smooth finish as traditional icons, I also used watercolor (for the face, hands and neck), acrylic (for the clothes), metallic gouache (for the borders) and gold leaf  (for the halo). This is again a departure from traditionally painting with egg tempera. After tracing the image to the board, I base coated the drawing of the icon, always a nervous first step, since to me it signals the direction of where the painting is going.

Icon painting is not meant to be a faithful reproduction of the subject matter. As a matter of fact, great effort is made to impart spirituality by making the important figure in the composition dominant. A distinguishing feature of icon paintings are that the eyes of the figures are quite large to emphasize the source of the light is not external but the inner light of the saint himself. The icon I wrote has brilliant vivid colors which I believe was how the ancient icons were also done. Today, we see them as dark images because of the oils that were added to add sheen to the painting originally.

I completed the painting, in record time (less than 24 hours), on the day Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina took the name Pope Francis as the 266th successor to St. Peter. Somehow, I felt that the writing of this icon has been made more spiritual with the election of the new pope.

My first icon writing project, although in many ways nontraditional, I hope that like traditional icons it serves to assist us in our prayers and meditation and bring us closer to God. 

Viva il Papa Francis. Let us join him in prayer.

We hasten to your patronage, O Virgin Mother of God.
Do not turn away from us in our necessities,
but, O pure and most blessed Lady
deliver us from every danger.
O Most glorious and Ever-Virgin Mary, Mother of Christ our God,
receive our prayers and carry them to your Son and our God,
that He, because of your intercession
may enlighten and save our souls.

For more information on Icons, please visit the following sites: http://myweb.rollins.edu/aboguslawski/Ruspaint/frame1.html

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