I think there is a difference between how to become a successful iconographer known in the church and a technician for reproducing sacred icon images in egg tempera. On the one hand we work within a tradition and on the other, the earth pigments used in egg tempera teach the painter about timelessness and spiritual presence. The medium and process of painting in stone reminds me I am created by God, I am from the Earth. In other words, skilled iconographers who immerse themselves in the discipline are allowed the freedom to respond to spiritual insights received in prayer, even if these insights are not included in the pre-set canon of images.
Icons of Jesus The man who walked among us didn’t spend a lot of time defining who he was. He said: “I and my father are one”. That’s it, follow me and know I am with you and in you”. That is, Christ expressed the Word of the Father made flesh in Him through His image, even in the face of criticism and censure. A successful Iconographer who attempts to create sacred art is empowered to believe that their spiritual insights have been illuminated by the Spirit, sent to express the Word of the Creator. I find it really difficult to define who I am and what I do. It is more than painting and honestly, not quite divinely inspired.
What is the glue that holds the practice together?
The practice and discipline will drive the soul to study other ancient iconographers’ work, character, and spiritual insights. The years I have spent dedicated to iconography has made me curious to go deeper in understanding what and why I am painting. There are those of us who cherish the tight formatted structure … those who adopt the structure, and still others who abandon it. Then there’s everybody in-between. To be successful at anything, all responses to the tradition are valid: one’s personal tendencies merely reflect one’s identity as an artist, a woman, and a Christian. Time will dictate who is a successful iconographer.
From her Book Meditation and Iconography page 34.
Pay attention to the three P’s; Patience, Practice, and Prayer. Every brush stroke is a prayer and intention with purpose. So; look for a quality of line,” not too long or too short, not too wide or narrow, be sure to be intentional but without force, lots of strokes but not too many, keep them close but leave space between them. Keep the image balanced, spiritually but not too spiritual, understand without trying to understand, remain clear without rigid expectations of yourself, and on and on. IE. There are no exact formulas for living, only indicators, and suggestions for what works, and then it changes.
I am a successful iconographer because I see.
The natural world is made up of patterns and symbols, that repeat. The same is true of icon painting. When I look at the plaits in your hair, I see the same style of lines formed by ocean waves that recede leaving patterns in sand or trails left by goats on a mountain hillside. Similarly, when I look at puddles as they dry, or cracked earth in the desert I see how these patterns are repeated in the natural pigments used in painting icons. Many artists derive their ideas from beauty in the natural order. Icons inspire the mind by translating what we see as spirit reflected in our physical phenomenon. Even if you do not appreciate religious imagery, you cannot deny the fascinating quality of the pigments and their majestic existence. ( Book In Light of Women ix).
Ultimately, the Successful Iconographer discovers the world were we live “isn’t home”
All of creation was “called into being … breathed into being … an invisible thought in the mind of God that became being”. Seeing themselves in this way allows the artist to approach the icon as an image that is “prayed into being”. They do not “sit down and say, ‘I am going to make an image”. The icon image is “brought in through mind, heart, desire, and/or intention. This process happens outside of time and space.
The successful iconographer expresses the mystery of how your intention and your mind manifest in reality. When I no longer have an attitude or agenda for my icon and I become empty, then God will flow through me, through my hands, and onto the board. I think sacred art is unique in that its primary intention is to paint the unseen or at least point to it. The experience of icon writing is a dance between spirit and flesh, we witness its creation. But, having this, one final caveat, I love the idea, but I know I won’t achieve its totality … maybe I will one day before I die. It is my aspiration to the divine “gnosis” through this prayer form. And, I have created some pretty nice icons. You are most welcome to visit my studio in San Miguel Allende, Mexico.
Patterns and Symbols are the Visual languages of the Successful Iconographer