Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Principals of Iconography

This is the name of a class that I am auditing at Luther Seminary in St. Paul. The class is a half-term course offered annually, and has met with much enthusiasm by those who have taken it in the past. The class instructor is Deb Korluka, a local iconographer and teacher.

My friend Dash took this course last year, when they wrote an icon of St. Nicholas. Her progress and reflections on the class are well-documented not only on her blog, but here. And Dash encouraged me to blog my own progress as well. I thought it was a great idea, and then realized that I hadn't brought a camera to the first class, which would have been helpful for this. So at least to begin with, I brought the icon and other materials home (there was homework anyway) and did my best to photograph the first couple of steps in less than ideal lighting conditions. These images are ultimately not as bright or clear as they could be, but if I remember to bring the camera next week, any images which follow should be better.

We are writing The Prodigal Son. Here's the prototype of the icon that the 6 of us in the class are writing.

After a verbal introduction to iconography in general and a brief introduction to each other, we began with a prayer...for which I was incredibly grateful.

The format of the class is sort of a learn-while-you-work thing. It's an interesting way to learn - the instructor gave us tasks, and then while we were doing the tasks, she lectured (though it was less like a lecture and more like a discussion) about the various important aspects of iconography - fasting, the importance of maintaining tradition, the significance of the colors used, and the deeper meaning and symbolism in each of the steps we are to undertake in writing this icon.

The first step was to trace on tracing film the image we were going to write. We were asked to trace the image just as it appeared, without enhancement of any sort, noting that to change or modify the iconography from what has been given to us is to alter the meaning of it and to distort the tradition. Tracing on such film was challenging for this southpaw, as I ended up a little smudgy from dragging my hand along the film as I traced (turns out that I'm the only lefty in the small class - and the only Orthodox Christian). Here's what my traced image of the original prototype looked like:

The next step after tracing the image was to transfer the traced image via carbon paper on to the white Gesso board. This re-tracing was not to be a detailed and exact tracing of all lines, but more of an outline of the image, including only some important inner lines, but not facial features or garment definitions, etc.

Once the image was on the board (if I'd had my camera, I'd have taken a photo of this - but alas...), we applied the base coats to the background, mixing the colors to attain hues for the sky and the ground behind the figures of father and son.

Each class period is about 3 hours long, and this is as far as we got in the first session. Our homework for this first week was to apply additional coats to the background until those sections are translucent, with no light from the board showing through. Also, we were to paint the trim around the outer edges, the sides, and the back of the icon - oh, yes, and do a bunch of reading. I brought my icon home last night after class to apply the additional coats to the background and to do the trim, sides, and back. At the end of the evening, when most of this part of my homework was complete, this is what my icon progress looked like:

I did a bit of this homework last evening, while the class was still fresh in my mind. One important thing I did come to understand a little is why such important work is often done by monks in a monestery.

Now on to the reading material for the week.


Mimi said...

Wow! You are off to a wonderful start!

Benjamin said...

That's wonderful, C. I had no idea you were into writing icons. God bless you in your work.

-C said...

Mimi -
Thanks - not sure how wonderful a start it is, but it is a start, and that's what's important, I think.

Ben -
Thanks for visiting. I'm not really into writing icons, but have always wanted to at least explore it. Phyl has inspired and encouraged me - and so when I learned of this class, I thought it was a great opportunity.

I have a feeling that I will learn as much about myself as I will about writing icons in this class.

Mimi and Ben - pray for me!

DebD said...

I took an Icon Writing Class by a local iconographer the summer before I became a Catechumen. Is this class also encouraging a prayer rule while you work on your icon?

-C said...

Encouraging spiritual disciplines while writing (including fasting and prayer), I'd say yes. Clearly defining a particular rule, I'd say no.

Part of the reason for this, I suspect, is because of the differences which exist between the Orthodox and Lutheran traditions. The Orthodox instructor is clearly on Lutheran turf, which complicates things just a bit.

Emily H. said...

Oh, I wish I could be in that class with you! Thanks for sharing a little bit of it with us.

What is the significance of the colors used in the icon that you're writing?

-C said...

Hi Emily -

The colors description that she gave us in the first class was a very general sort of description (red may be symbolic of love, passion, martyrdom and white may signify holiness, purity, and righteousness, brown signifies earthliness, etc.). I expect that as we add colors - particularly to the figures of father and son, that the reasons for the colors we are using will be explained to us as they relate to the meaning of this parable...the message or emphasis we are portraying.

I'll keep you posted.

DebD said...

Part of the reason for this, I suspect, is because of the differences which exist between the Orthodox and Lutheran traditions. The Orthodox instructor is clearly on Lutheran turf, which complicates things just a bit.

Ah, that makes sense.

I meant to tell you before, that your's is really taking shape iwth only one class and looking very good! Gives me a hankering to take another class. I look forward to watching your's take shape.