Sunday, November 9, 2008

When Your Kid Wants to Paint an Icon

What do you tell him?

I wasn't sure.

I'm in a sort of practice period iconographically-speaking. I'm between classes at the moment, wanting to paint, to improve technique and to - well - get better at it. And so I've been spending some time painting icons. YoungerSon, who has always been rather artistic, has lurked about alot while I'm painting, asking all sorts of questions. Some time ago, he asked if he could paint one, too. I initially hemmed and hawed a bit and tried to put him off, uncertain just how all that works for kids (I'm still trying to figure out how all that works for grownups!)

So, not getting a clear answer from me, he plowed ahead and began to search for a prototype (he'd already picked the saint he wanted to paint). So I figured it was time to either give him the go ahead or put the kibosh on it for the time being. I sent an email to my priest, and explained that YoungerSon has been nagging me to paint an icon, and I asked him if it was OK for me to share what I know and allow him a chance to try it here at home with me, until an appropriate class comes up for him.

My request was met with enthusiastic support from our priest, and so we jumped right in. He is learning much from this experience! (So am I!) I worried initially that he would become very frustrated very quickly and just bag it - but he seems to be more persistent in this endeavor than in his other artistic ventures (where when he doesn't like where a drawing is going he simply throws it away and starts over - or not). He is struggling a bit to get his hand and brush to duplicate what he sees in the prototype, but he's sticking with it.

When I initially contacted my priest for a go-ahead, he suggested that I also contact the iconographer who painted most of the iconography in our church, who is a friend of his and a friend of our parish, to see if he had any advice about how to approach iconography with an inquisitive 11-year old.

His response:
"Let him paint, paint, paint. This should be done with joy and enthusiasm. When questions come, answer honestly and clearly.
This advice goes for you and me too, and for all of us children dabbling out our attempts to paint the divine. If a spark is glowing in an 11 year old, don't hinder the Holy Spirit from blowing on it."

Wonderful advice for YoungerSon, and also for me.


Philippa said...

Amen! Let the boy go! Perhaps he'll have a monastic calling or be an iconographer!

Thanks be to God!

-C said...

I guess we never know what God has in mind for our children, but of our two sons, YoungerSon is our generally "less-interested-in-churchly-sorts-of-things" type.

So while I'm not betting that this one will have any sort of monastic leanings (his brother might be a different story), it sure can't hurt to encourage him in any interest he is showing.

DebD said...

I think it's wonderful he wants to do this and am glad you've received the advice you did. What a great gift.

Mimi said...

Amen indeed, and he's doing fantastic!

Monica said...

Wow - I love it. What great advice.

Becky said...

Wow! Your son is talented!

Thanks for visiting my blog. Please feel free to 'bop in' anytime.

Mrs. Inqvist said...

Good Job! Your whole family is so talented. Let the creativity flow with the Holy Spirit. God Bless! Kim

Matthew Garrett said...

I saw your blog linked on someone else's blog ( and was intrigued by the title of this post. When I was 14, I joked with my Dad (who had taught himself a little bit about icon painting) that he should teach me how to paint icons one day. He set me up with a summer job working for a professional iconographer, and I've now been painting icons for the last 17 years.

I was also pleasantly surprised by the photo of your son painting. The icon he chose to paint is one of my icons(well I can't take full credit, I had a prototype myself....)

You also mentioned Nick Papas, who is a member of my church, and a friend of mine. This Orthodox world seems to get smaller all the time.

As for advice, I would say encourage him as much as possible. I really believe that at that age, he probably has a few things working for him that might be missing in a lot of adults. At that age, kids are used to being graded, critiqued, and corrected. Part of being in school is getting told that what you thought you were doing right is wrong, and being shown what to change to make something correct. When I started out, my first icons were pretty bad, but I didn't really know that, and when someone would suggest how to make them better, I took it as an attempt to help me improve rather than as a challenge to my ego. Children also tend to have much more of an ability to focus on something that they really love because they are not responsible for every little detail of life that some of us adults are.

There have been times in my life where I was tempted to walk away from my spiritual life, and there have been periods of such spiritual dryness where I couldn't imagine ever regaining that fervor that I once had, but iconography has been what brought me back time and again. Your son may not be the real religious one in the family, but if he learns to love icons, he will grow to love God all the more, and be drawn to God through painting.

So encourage him to paint, give him constructive criticism if he needs it, talk to him about what it all means, and if he needs help with something that you don't feel you know enough about, try to find someone who does. My dad didn't even try to teach me, but sent me somewhere where he knew I would learn. But so much of what I did learn I learned through his encouragement, through his willingness to go out of his way to allow me to spend more time working in the studio, and by his sometimes very detailed lists of constructive criticism.

Anyway, this turned into a very lengthy comment, so I'll just wrap up by saying God bless you, and your son, and may God use this as a way to bring the both of you closer to Him.


Rosko said...

Very good work! The prototype is beautiful, and he looks to be doing a wonderful job.

-C said...

Thank you all for your words of encouragement - I will share them with our boy.

Matthew - Thanks to you especially for your wisdom. I saw your icon site several months ago and it was inspiring even to me! Such wonderful work.

YoungerSon has always been the toughest critic of my own work, since I painted by first icon (which he still holds is pretty insufficient - I might hold the same opinion, but it represents a beginning, so I keep it in our icon corner.)

The next time you see Nick at church, give him a big hug for me. The words of his message about this ring in my ears every time I sit down to work with our son.

God has blessed your parish richly!

s-p said...

I was an art major for a while several decades ago and haven't picked up a pen or pencil in ages. I wish I knew about iconography way back then and had something to "marry" my spiritual life and artistic life. Sound advice you got. Very cool.

-C said...

Steve -
I did a bit of painting in Junior high - junior high! - and dropped art altogether when I got to high school in favor of music.

I picked up a brush again only about a year ago, in order to begin to learn to paint's never too late, eh?