Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Making egg tempera

When I first became interested in learning to paint with egg tempera I was a bit intimidated by the actual process of making the paint. Here is a simple way to make the tempera that is mixed with powder pigments to make paint:

Mix two parts dry white wine (less sugar) with one part egg yolk. That's it!

This mixture will last several days, keeping in the fridge when not in use. Egg yolk should be pierced with a knife and drained from the yolk sac; don't just mix the whole yolk into the mixture. Optionally run the finished mixture through a strainer to get out any stray yolk sac bits that will result in clumps in your paint.

Here's a simple visual:

There are other recipes for making tempera, but this is what I learned from the Prosopon school of Iconography. Other examples of recipes are just to use egg and water, egg and water with clove oil, or egg and water and vinegar. You decide.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Continuing the Icon: 2nd highlights

Now the second highlights are painted on Mary's robes using hematite, carmine and lead white. Jesus's robes will be highlighted with shell gold so they will not have any other highlights:

Faces are floated with a translucent gold ochre, carmine and Venetian red mixture, Mary's robes are floated with carmine red and indanthrone blue(a nice Bing cherry color) which really toned down the second highlights. Second highlights were repeated with a lilac color made from carmine, indanthrone blue and lead white. Flesh highlights were supposed to be lead tin yellow but I didn't have this so I used Naples yellow light mixed with lead white:

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A brief word about toxic colors

Some of the colors I use in my painting are very bad for you. Lead white, Naples yellow, lead tin yellow, and minium are all made from lead. Chromium green oxide is toxic, as is the copper carbonate in azurite, and there are many other examples. Further, all dry pigments can basically be a lung irritant if inhaled. If you are going to use dry pigments, especially the more toxic/poisonous ones, follow some basic precautions:

1) Prepare paints in a breeze-free area. The last thing you want is a gust of wind swirling up and dispersing your lead white just when you have the jar open.

2) Wash hands after painting, and change clothes or wear a smock.

3) No food, drink, or putting anything in your mouth while working.

4) Clean up work area when finished.

5) Store pigments carefully, out of reach of children, pets, and the curiously unwary (these can be adults).

There are lots of web resources for information about working with hazardous materials, as well as additional safety gear such as appropriate masks, etc.

There are also work arounds that may may not not yield as beautiful or traditionally authentic results but are safer. One example is to mix Titanium white and Zinc white in place of lead white. Titanium white by itself is a too opaque and zinc white too transparent, but mixing them is a nice compromise.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Next step in the icon - highlighting with dark color

Here are flesh areas only with first highlight color (indigo):

Here is first highlight painted on Mary's robes (Venetian red) as well as second highlight started on the flesh areas (Venetian red, carmine, lead white):

The workshop I attended focused on development of more advanced painting techniques and varies from what is taught to beginners. Beginners are taught a specific, easy to follow order of painting: roshkrish, 1st highlights, 1st float, 2nd highlights, 2nd float, 3rd highlights, etc. This week we learned to mix up the order a bit. First and second highlights were painted and then floated, then second and third highlights painted followed by another float. The order was determined by the needs of the painting, using a more intuitive approach rather than a rigid formula. This was both challenging and frustrating because I was so looking forward to the first float (because it mellows out the harsh colors of roshkrish and first highlight) but I had to wait!

Another difference in the more advanced technique was the use of dark colors for the first highlights (more like "darklights", I think). This method seperates dark areas from light and builds volume. I used Venetian red for Mary's robe and indigo blue for the flesh.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Continuing the Icon: Roshkrish (base color)

In icon painting, paint is laid down from dark to light, from coarse grain to fine. Here is the base color, roshkrish, over the entire icon. The flesh is painted with a mixture called sankir which is a greenish brown. Mary's garments are robes in vermillion and carmine and sleeve/head covering in indigo and indian yellow, and Jesus's robes are minium.

The lines of the drawing were painted with black before the colors were painted and you can see that they still show through. This layer, like pretty much every layer of paint in this technique, is painted transparently. In fact, my colors are almost too opaque. Better to paint too transparently and have to repeat the layer than to paint a single thick layer. In the end this will result in colors that are deeper and more nuanced than solid layers of color.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Icon Step 1a - Incising the lines

Next, the lines of the drawing are incised into the gesso. This will provide a guide for general shapes and details. The incised lines will still be visible after the base color is painted, while the colored lines will not. This photo shows the icon board in a raking light so it is possible to see where the lines are incised. Use the smaller side of double-sided stylus or something similarly small, round and metal. Gesso is hard, it takes significant pressure to make the lines. The lines should be pressed into the gesso, not cutting through it (that's why you shouldn't use a sharp blade instead of a stylus).

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Gilding after beginner's luck; saved by vodka

The first time I gilded on clay bole it turned out absolutely fantastic, unfortunately this gave me a false sense of ability. Now I am learning the hard way what can go wrong with gilding. What should have taken me about 6 - 8 hours ended up taking twenty and it isn't as pretty as I hoped it would be but it is done.

The first time I gilded an icon with clay bole I used bole my instructor made herself. I tried to use her recipe to make my own bole but it turned out horribly every time and I'm still not sure what I did wrong.

To prepare my icon I decided to take no chances and use professionally prepared bole instead of my own concoction. With the prepared bole you have to add a bit of honey so the gold will stick. I added too much honey and ended up with a gooey mess that wouldn't dry. I ended up having to scrape it off with a razor blade, making my gesso surface uneven. Then I was so traumatized that I did the bole for the background with no honey added. It dried like it was supposed to, and the gold seemed to go on, but the slightest touch would rub the gold away. Yikes!

Then I seemed to get the proportion about right and laid the bole for the halos but kept accidentally getting a finger or arm stuck in it. Also I accidentally dropped a loose gold leaf on it before it was dry - what a mess. After hours of sanding and angry thoughts too incoherent to form swear words I finally ended up with halos that would accept gold and a background that would not. What to do?

To solve the problem of the background I turned to water gilding, a technique I learned years ago but hadn't practiced since. Instead of laying down the leaf on the bole with just the moisture of a breath to make it stick, with water gilding you moisten the surface to be gilded with a solution of alcohol and water. The website I was referencing recommended using water with alcohol added, but I remembered what I learned from Russian icon painters and used what they do: cheap vodka. Vodka already has water and alcohol mixed together, and it worked perfectly. My background area is supposed to be matte so I did not have to worry about not being able to burnish the area. The only difficulty with water gilding is that the gold will stick to everything, unlike regular bole gilding where the gold only sticks to the clay.

In this photo you can see where I just started water gilding. The solid gold areas were laid down with vodka, the patchy areas were where the gold rubbed off because it wouldn't stick to the clay by itself.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Starting a new icon, Step 1

I will be spending all of next week at an icon workshop, painting a Prosopon style icon. For those who have been reading my blog for a while you may remember the icon of St. John the Forerunner I painted at the workshop last year. That was my second icon, but the first in the Prosopon style; it was a beginner level composition. This year's subject is an intermediate level composition with lots of gold (you'll see!). With such a large area of gold it will be EXTREMELY important how well I lay down the bole. I am a little nervous about that. All the gold is supposed to be finished by the time I get to the workshop on Sunday so I'll post pictures up to that point. I won't have internet access during the workshop (and I don't really want it - it will be nice to get away) but I will take lots of pictures and post a step-by-step photo essay when I return.

The 13 by 17 inch icon board is purchased; I just didn't have time to teach myself to make a solid wood board with braces before the class. Eventually I plan to do that; I've only made it as far as cutting wood so far.

The drawing was made by the instructor, Dmitri Andrejev, following rules of composition about which I am largely ignorant. I wouldn't want to try drawing my own composition - if I were trying to authentically follow the style - without greater knowledge. There are specific ways hands, faces, etc are drawn that have specific meaning.

The drawing is then transferred to the board. First, draw a center line down the middle of the board, just like in the drawing. This will ensure the drawing is not transferred out of alignment. I used transfer paper and a ball point pen to transfer the drawing. Note that there is a little "x" on the face of each figure. This is to mark where to place the compass that is used for drawing the halo.