The practice and dedication involved in painting faces in iconography is multi-leveled. You will be overwhelmed by how much there is to learn, and how many perfect images there are to copy. Greece, Russia,Turkey, Macedonia, Bulgaria or Romania provide plenty of styles to choose from. As you experiment, you face the challenge of mastering the lettering, gold leaf or color choices for garments.
One thing you cannot avoid is painting faces in iconography
The face is the focal point of the icon. Here all your techniques and skill come into play. The face transmits the message and draws in the viewer. What I would like to emphasize is the beauty that comes from the smallest amount of paint and beautiful layers of transparent pigment applied when painting faces in iconography.
The example above is an excellent illustration of the face which, on the left appears to be devoid of life and detail. However, it only lacks a slight amount of finishing. One thin ocher yellow veil and then fine delicate lines for the ear, eye, nose and mouth. A bit of lip color and finally the white stroke in the eye. The difference is dramatic. In the beginning layers of your icon continuing all the way through highlights and veils, you will move
around abundant amounts of paint.
In contrast, at the end of your icon the amount of paint, and the length of a brushstroke is minimal. If you think of the iconography process as a prayer, a little quality and pure intention goes a long way.
Painting the Eye
The faces in iconography are a challenge, the eye is accented with the smallest amount of paint. When applied well it is dramatic. In its abstract form, the eye gives off a sense of our being seen by the icon. Theologically, this is crucial to the spiritual journey. Christians believe we are seen by a source greater than ourselves and as a painter of iconography we try to transmit that effect through our work. There is no better way to grasp that understanding than to collect ancient images to work from.
The samples below are line drawings for you to copy or invent your own. Use either a pencil line drawing or painted strokes in an effort to study the detail. Notice the pupil sits connected from the eyelid and it is round. The iris which surrounds the pupil is oval. Together they hang like a berry from the eyelid. The two lines that make up the form of the eye do not close on either side. The space where the two lines do not touch is and opening and said to allow the spirit to flow in and out.
Sparks of God give life when painting faces in iconography.
The sparks of light that emit from the eye are not easy to apply! You will try and try and eventually the application will become intuitive. The tiny light strokes in white are thought of as sparks of God, they give life to your flesh tones and accent the energy around the eye, nose, mouth, chin, ear, brow,
and voice box in the neck. They mark the five senses; sight, hearing, speech, smell, and touch. That interior epiphany will arise from practice, patience and prayer.
After finally finishing the beautiful layers of soft tones and color try not to impulsively slam down some ugly brushstrokes in the wrong place. Experiment with those powerful little lights till you understand light and its meaningful importance. For me it was like hitting a tennis ball perfectly; when you do it once, you will KNOW it. The stroke feels correct, primitive almost, exhilarating and then for a time we all sadly
return to the ugly brushstrokes in the wrong place. Be forgiving of your practice. The good news is, NOW you KNOW the difference.