Saturday, June 29, 2013

Of Icons, Babies and Road Trips

Some married girls work on home improvement projects when they have free time in the summer.

Others take a family vacation to Disney World, or take a cruise or stuff the family into a car for a road trip.

Some vegetate on a couch or bravely try to entertain their all - too - often bored children while counting down to the beginning of the next school year.

I, on the other hand, take a traditional icon painting class in Seattle at a prestigious art academy after MUCH research to hunt down a decent intensive art course. The training is done under a traveling icon painting master using natural earth pigments suspended in egg tempera with a challenging side of 24 karat gold leafing. The techniques we learn during this date back to the Byzantine era and the most famous icons painted derive from the Greek Orthodox and Russian Orthodox Church.

While I do this for 6 glorious days, The Husband rides solo on one of his beloved vintage Harleys through Colorado, New Mexico and a little bit of Utah.

Why the crazy trips solo you ask? 

Well, because we are treating this as our LAST summer of child -free freedom. 

We are hoping to become pregnant with our own kiddo this year (hopefully soon) and begin our own little branch of the family tree. 

Time to finally "grow up" for the 2 of us you could say. :) Prior to this week we did actually travel together on a huge trip to South Dakota to enjoy the Black Hills while I painted at a watercolor workshop and he fished and rode his bike. Then we headed to the other side of the state for his family reunion taking in even more of the beauty of the Black Hills and The Badlands along the way.

It is a strange but joyous feeling when one not only feels they have met the right person to marry and then does marry but even more strange and more joyous to know you both know you are ready to start a family with that person. Scary too yes, but a good feeling.....hence one last "hoo-rah" this summer.

On to the icon for a bit:

This is the traditional method icon I finished June 29th. This photo was taken at 10 a.m. when I was 22 hours into the layering on the icon on Thursday, June 27th, the 4th day of the workshop. I did this first training in icon painting under Irene Perez - Omer. She trained under an icon master from Russia over the course of 7 years. The ironic thing is that I came all the way to Seattle to train with her and she just announced she has 4 other workshops newly scheduled in Texas within the next 6 months! 2 in Houston at the Episcopal Cathedral downtown, 1 in San Antonio and 1 in Austin. I am TOTALLY doing this again with her and luckily it will be a different icon we will be working on.

One thing to know about traditional icon painting is that you do not rush. It is not only an art form but it is also meditative and are not trying to just copy something or take sort cuts. This is BY FAR THE MOST challenging art form I have done ever because of the egg tempera. You have to grind the pigments into a fine powder (taking extreme caution because many of them are highly toxic) or and pre - ground powders to the egg yolk and dry white wine solution. Some egg tempera paints go on smoothly but only in thin layers, some smooth in heavy puddles and many can not be touched for at least 20 minutes while a thin layer is applied or it will lift off the surface and any layers below. Quite aggravating. All other kinds of paint along with pencil and colored pencil are easy to me. This is challenging which is EXACTLY what I wanted and needed. 
Here is my completed one in the photo below:

9''x11'' birch panel wrapped in linen and layered with 12 coats of sanded, hand made gesso (animal hide glue, marble dust and chalk). Painted with multiple "floats" of egg tempera and earth pigments along with detailed layers of earth pigmented egg tempera, bole red clay and 24 kt. gold leaf. Roughly 47 hours of work time in the finished icon.
We put in between 45 to 50 hours (depends on the student) of work for our icons to be successful by the end of class June 29th.

A few other tidbits:

The gold you see in the halos was done by me the 2nd day of the workshop and took between 2 to 2 and a half hours. You have to lean over the icon and have your lips half and inch to the surface you need to warm with your breath. You exhale warm air over it and hold the paper with the gold leaf on it in one hand and a piece of tissue paper in the other (the tissue paper acts like a fence and directs the warm breath over the desired spot of clay ). Once you think it has reached the right warmth and humidity you press the gold leaf on with its' paper and rub with the tissue paper. Then you use a special brush to remove excess flakes.

In icon painting the gold leaf is preferably 23 or 24 kt. gold (this is 24) and applied using only the human breath (you are breathing "life" into the icon) directly over the "bole" which is the red clay we painted onto the board ahead of time (the bole is ground by us and then animal hide glue, water and honey are mixed into it in order to paint with it). 

What I was contemplating while working:

1.) Children. Hoping to have them and raise them well.
Really well.  
Even if you aren't religious, I think that if you are working for hours on an image of Mary and the infant Jesus in such a tender moment, you can't help but think about all of that love :)

2.) Being grateful in the fact that The Husband has said time and time again that he doesn't care if we make all our own children, have one or two and adopt one or adopt all of them, he'd love them the same and can't wait to be a parent with me.
3.)How much my life and The Husbands' life has changed this past year.....for the better :)
4.) How the icon forced you to focus, work on a goal, overcome your anxieties (a.e. "I'm going to look like I don't know how to paint or draw if I screw this icon up", etc.) and, well, pray a little more.
5.) Other personal goals :)

That's just the tip of the iceberg. This was seriously one of the BEST things I have done in my life so far. I know some look at it as a painting and a lot of people don't really understand its' meaning or even think it is attractive, but we live in a world where everything is on demand and we don't know what patience is anymore. If we don't see results right away we throw in the towel and look for something better or easier or more attractive.

Many things help me refocus in life: 
encouragement from my family (especially my sister who is extremely goal driven), my husband and other friends. It was, however,  great to find such a unique and, well, beautiful way to focus and plan on the year ahead. 

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing Leslie! Just reading about this painting, I was holding my breath! I am so very excited for your new endeavors just thinking of what a wonderful mother and father you and Al will make. I don't read anything anymore but I do love your blog and you!