Hexaemeron, means the period of six days in which God created the world.
Icon workshops are usually five days long, painting 3 hours morning and afternoon.
Students are surprised thinking, “I’m too old to start; I wish I had begun earlier”, but time is irrelevant where God’s involved, it is not a about a perfect icon, it is about perfect prayer.
We pray in an effort to keep the mind still and focused while we see and listen.
There is no place to get to. Most students are frustrated at the beginning, and later sit back and say how pretty it is. I stand back often and smile, thinking Gods plan is to real them in slowly with beauty and hook them in the heart.
It’s their first icon and could be their last but one thing I am certain of, the experience is unforgettable.
I was given a large coffee table book on iconography eighteen years ago by my spiritual director Father Ray Ormond. He said he had no use for it and as an artist I might like the images. It was simply called ICONS.
Straight away I recognized the detailed backgrounds I had marveled at while sitting in the library at the Boston Museum School. I had never had given a thought to religious image or any artistic traditions found in the Orthodox Church.
Twenty five years had gone by and what unexpected bliss I found copying the first few with those crude acrylics. Later, that year, JJ a friend of mine gave me that first set of dry pigments for Christmas. He said, “Here, teach yourself egg tempera.” I laughed and said “you’re not serious, why egg tempera?” he said, “because it’s your turn.”
Many new iconographers ask where they can find the “canons” or rubrics of iconography.
There are some manuals of rules, church council teachings, books on pattern and techniques, but the best place is to copy an old icon. They teach you as you examine the image and copy it. Icons hold all kinds of mystic teaching in the paint, the brush strokes and the color. If you copy enough icons their shapes, forms, patterns, and harmonies all become important as you progress.
There are certain proportions and stylistic signatures the early iconographers all share within a variety of images. It is a handed down tradition where each hand offers a new expression about an old idea. Years of painting has taught and revealed nearly everything I feel certain about, it’s been a continual surprise how this happens.
There are fine traditional teachers to seek out and I would encourage all the students to do so. I am a rebel icon painter and un-orthodox but not without tremendous love of icons and respect for what they have taught me.
Think of God as unrealized potential
Iconography is bold and holds back nothing, the process opens and invites us to come and see.
See the God who lives in you as you paint and there you begin to see the God who lived in those early iconographers.
They gave us the signs and symbols for real presence; their images descend into our hearts and make us yearn for more contact with the divine.
The images endlessly remind and affirm who we are in God.
Icons connect us to a spiritual reality, one where there is room for everything and every expression, physical and spiritual all linked together in some repeating harmony. One icon after another reveals the same pattern, eventually even outside of painting you come to see God in everything around you. It is a language of image.
The curl in the ocean wave is eternity, a spiral form we find in our morning coffee when you pour in the milk. The straight brilliant white highlight in the garment is the bright afternoon sun as it makes an outline on a flower petal. small crescent of light in the eye is the same curve of light in your dogs, cats or husband’s eye as well as the moon above at night.
Every form and thought I have with an icon repeats in my everyday life like a symphony of Gods presents, ongoing and everywhere.
Iconography is a life style, you paint enough of them and you see the world as an icon and everyone in it. What we witness and see around us is being organized into order, much like in the first ground of the icon called chaos.
Old Icons are selfless gifts to the world.
I am delighted when I meet or see another iconographers whose work I admire and even more when a student’s work is conscious and surprising.
I have no authority to paint icons or to teach others to paint them; I have not been schooled by anyone or been given permission by the church.
I have stumbled and cringed at thoughts and images which spring from the brush. All the while I know I only want to love God and I find Him most through Icons. A student once asked me, “What is the most difficult part of painting an icon”; quickly I replied “forgiving myself.”
We cannot control the history or future of iconography. Generations of icongraphers and saints have supported the tradition with their anonymous inspirations.
Their work and image is a selfless gift to us. Their icons transcend the individual and are honored today along with our small offering of new icons.
I want to encourage the experience where the awe of icons is found in their integrity. Icons speak to us through the activity of painting and /or the completed painting.
There are many websites of teachers, classes, galleries and schools popping up around the world to expose more and more people to this fine and magnificent craft.
I want students to notice that learning to paint beautiful skillfully done icons is one thing but the message they allow us to experience is quite another. What took me twenty years to learn; I try and teach in a week.
I know well the fragility of our relationship with God, how it shifts and changes. I am always quite humbled thinking I have a responsibility to something bigger than myself – to God, the students and the expectations of other iconographers who offer the same opportunity for a deeper understanding of the divine.
I have to stop myself always from thinking one work could be perfect; rather It is enough to have been offer the opportunity to be awake!
Iconography is a tradition without a ceiling. Like all spiritual work, we are silly to imagine its depth can be realized in one lifetime. One workshop is not enough but like all things done in love, it is a beginning.