My second and third Guardian Angel icons

In many traditions, iconographers start their training by writing angel icons, they then 'progress' to the saints, the Mother of God and finally to images of Jesus Christ.  Complex images involving multiple figures and a lot of embellishments and details are attempted after many years of apprenticeship.

I decided to focus on angels for a start, partly because the angel icons which I have seen are incredibly beautiful, their style and content resonate with me and I enjoy painting them. I focused on Guardian Angels and deviated in some respects from the traditional way of painting these icons - ie I changed the colour scheme and background.

My first Guardian Angel image
(Step-by-step details in a separate post)


My second Guardian Angel image





My third Guardian angel image









The method I used to paint them is as follows:
1. Cover a wooden panel with muslin and fix the muslin to the panel with rabbit-skin glue (which stinks)
2. Coat the panel - main and underside with a gesso solution made of rabbit-skin glue, water and gilder's whiting. At least 8 coats are necessary - I often do more. Each coat needs to be dry before the next one is applied
3. When completely dry, sand the boards one final time.
4. Trace the icon selected onto a tracing paper
5. Coat the underside of the tracing paper with conte crayon, fix the paper to the board and transfer the image by tracing it onto the board with a pen.
6. Outline the image with black tempera paint. Tempera is made of egg yolk, water and white vinegar (to prevent spoilage). It can be stored for upto two weeks in the fridge. The paint is made by mixing a small measure of the relevant pigment with an equal measure of tempera and adding vodka to the mixture to help dissolve the pigment. Proportions used vary according to the type of pigment and can be learnt only through experience.
8. Once the paint is dry, block in the darkest layers of paint first, as icons are painted using the 'darks' first and working up towards the 'lights'
9. Apply additional layers of the colour blocks if appropriate. Also apply the gold leaf if used. Use a base coat, an activator and then apply the gold leaf. The final step is to burnish the gold leaf. Next time I will try embossing the gold leaf with patterns.
10. Next apply the first set of highlights - these are usually large-ish areas in white or lighter coloured pigment.
11. When dry apply the first 'float' or glaze, using the petit lac method which means drop a blob of diluted paint onto the area to be painted and then spread it gently using the brush tip, ensuring that it does not get muddied by the pigment layers below.
12. Next apply the next set of highlights - these are more focussed areas of white or light-coloured pigment.
13. Apply the next float
14. Apply the final set of highlights - these are fine white lines which add a 'sparkle'
15. Allow the icon to 'cure' for at least a couple of weeks, ideally upto six months, before applying the 'varnish' or olifa
Generally icons are not signed, but I incorporated the signature which I normally use for my artwork into the design - in gold paint. I generally sign as "jee cee" which are my initials (in Devnagiri script).


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