Byzantine art and expressionism

The art of the byzantine icons’ painting , an art form that  was expressionism centuries (maybe a millennium) before expressionism /symbolism or surrealism ever even existed. Some of the characteristic elements of this painting “genre” that point towards this direction are:

-The main figure/ feature Enlightened being -The saint, the Saviour or the Holy Mother) is bigger that anything else in the icon
You can see saints in the background that are bigger than the ones in foreground- You can see Saints on horses that are equal in size with the animal. Proportions in general are based on priority that is a sort of unrealism: But then again, we we seek meaning

-The background too- it may be buildings (which are always distorted or proportionally wrong, rendered with  reverse or inverse perspective ) it may have rough mountains – but the main mentallity is that the background shows a distortion a lack of space or time. That is also why gold is used symbolizing enlightement, eternity, something infinite and eternal.

We speak by symbols. As we alter proportions in space we also alter facial features or body proportions in order to highlight a spiritual quality.
So that is why the ears are longer lips are thin, eyes are big, noses are way to long
and that is also why bodies are “bodiless” – There is no muscular tone, and certainly no curves 🙂
The body is just like a cloth of convenience that would soon be thrown away.
 Finally in byzantine painting we are speaking of , we are narrating (the first word in Greek for painting icons is historein which means sayng the history of) the story of another reality, one that is more real than this one we are living in.


Byzantine icon making- The Icon panel

There are many recipes and various materials to prepare icon panels for byzantine icon making. This recipe is for  plywood panel in whatever size you wish to be covered that is covered with the white gesso paste and sanded in order to have its smooth, white surface ready for the egg tempera colors that are used in byzantine iconography.
Various sizes of prepared icon panels
What you need:
Rabbit skin glue (in flakes or in granules)
Zinc oxide
Stucco (not the acrylic the classic staff  that is also used in walls)
Both powders are cheap and we buy them in stores that sell paints and building materials.
Quantities used
1 spoonful- Rabbits-skin-glue for
1 cup of zinc oxide
1 cup of stucco

Preparation of gesso
We add the rabbit skin’s glue in lukewarm water and mix it (try to dissolve it completely)
and then we leave it overnight
Next day we put in a baigne-marie make it warm, and then we dissolve it again 
We always keep a part of this glue 

 In this mixture we add the cups with the powders and we also pass the mixture  it through a stiring tool (a plastic mesh like for tea) in order to dissolve any knots
We keep it in the refrigerator

For every application of the mixture we first put it in the baigne-marie so it becomes liquid

Making the panel
You take a plywood of the size you wish (sandpaper the edges a bit) and you add with a flat brush the melted Rabbits-skin-glue
Right afterwards, you add a piece of cotton cloth (a bit larger that the panel)
Leave it to dry for a day

Next day you apply the gesso mixture, You leave every layer to dry a day and keep the mixture refrigirated
In the second layer of gesso, you cut the cotton right on the edge of the panel with a scissor

After the fourth layer you will need to starighten the surface with a spatula. Usually 4-7 layers of gesso are added

Finally you have sandpapering (I really dislike this step)  with various types of papers (from a rough to very thin). In the end  the surface should look and feel totally flat.

It seems a bit complicated but all it needs is just patience . Best of luck with it!


Mikael Sjælevejeren- or a Danish Soul "weigher"

Archangel Michael holding a scale, taken by the most beautiful Danish fresco painting of “Mikael Sjælevejeren” found in Højby Kirke in Denmark. A combination of Northern european, medieval painting with a modern eye.

St Michael religious icon mixed technique on wood

After 3-4 weeks of wondering how am I going to paint temptation in St Michael’s kalkmaleri- yesterday I decided to skip the question all-together and just focus on what I know how to paint.

And then the rest was pretty easy cause I ve painted a miniature (less risk) – and then to compete with the very impressive feathers of the original I decided to use gold, then the highlights were certainly golden, and the colours were already found (from your welcoming committee) etc, etc

The icon has the proportions to be fitted in a 8×10 icon favor (as you can see in the final pic)


Sts Martha and mary; Theory and practice needed to tame the Dragon

A custom order that turned out as an ideal metaphor, combining two concepts that have long occupied theologists and philosophers on the Christian world Vitta attiva and Vita contemplativa, theory and practice – Sts Martha and Mary and the legend of their life in  France (you may read a previous post related to this Saints Mary and Martha in the Legends of Provence)

Saints Martha and Mary taming the mighty dragon of Tarascon

First my background, I almost used perspective in the sky and the mountains behind, there are some lines that indicate movement in the clouds- the same was my choice for the river ( I never knew about river Rhone, lucky choice) I played with the notion of something ominous in the background (like Leonardo Da Vinci 🙂 I know…I am becoming delusional right now) , something unsettling, and contrast with the sisters that have postures that are tall but relaxed. They are tender in their movements and totally serene.

The background has also something “vague” – There is no real detail in it, there is nothing solid- The detail is focused in the sisters- the background is like a mirage (my version of maya) – the sisters are the only thing that is true (with the white “light” line around them that I so much like in frescoes)

In icons, usually the Saints are looking at the viewer but not always…. I played with the ideal of combining theory with practice -so Martha and Maria are looking at each other discreetly- They are connected with each other even from a distance and that is the ideal for theory and practice.

Byzantine icon with the sisters of Lazarus- Egg tempera on wood


Christian symbols – Painting the parable of the lost sheep

I was always interested in the symbolism of the first Christians – that is why I always wanted to paint the figure of the Good Shepherd, but not as the usual imaging of our Lord, as we do in byzantine iconography today, but as a young men as it was in the paintings in catacombs.

The Good Shepherd painted in a slice of an olive wood branch

A slice cut from an old olive branch that was left to to dry for a couple of years so to reveal a part of the Parable of the Lost Sheep: “…Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost./ Συγχάρητέ μοι ὅτι εὗρον τὸ πρόβατόν μου τὸ ἀπολωλός…” [Luke 15:6 KJV]

First drawing on olive wood covered with gesso

The painting was created with egg tempera. On top of the colors shellac (goma- laca) and a final layer of “keronefto” a mixture of wax and turpentine was used to permanently seal the colors.

As tradition demands a full “sensory” experience while participating in the worship -“Keronefto” is meant to invoke the sense of smell apart from the other more obvious senses of sight and touch- and open the way to the awakening of the heart- but that is what I think painting is all about…

A view fro m the top parable of the Lost Sheep


How to and Weddings – We call it simply boubouniera

It is tulle and cellophane and the little sweet treat of sugared almonds in. We call it boubouniera (bombonniere) and it is a happy, traditional treat for very happy moments like a wedding or a baptism.

 The sugared almonds/Jordan almonds/koufeta/confetti  have a symbolical meaning demonstrating the balance between life’s bitterness and hardship (almond) and its beauty and sweetness (sugar coat).

Wedding Bomboniere with satin bags and tulle inside

Koufeta are given to each guest in indivisible odd numbers (3,5,7). The more common are 3 (the Holy Triad) and 5.
So how can we make our own tulle and koufeta pouch?

 We may use:
1. A self-sealing cellophane bag for the little sugared almonds (I like them sealed and safe from germs 🙂
  1. 2 One layer of celophane cut in a square
3 3 layers of sow white hard tulle, cut square again
4 The ribbon of your choice
5 An exrra bag maybe of satin, burlap, lace or whatever material you choose 🙂
We put the three  layers of tulle and the cellophane one on top of the other, but in a way as if we wanted to create a “star” (a square, then a rhombus then a square..) cause you need the “edges” to come out when this is closed.
Tips: Additionally we want the tulle to be hard, from the ones that “stand”, the “hard” quality-  and the cellophane also to be the same, 
Always to order snow white tulle- Ecru or ivory tulle might look nice on desktop but, not that good in reality.
I usually order pre- cut Greek tulle. If you don’t find it in your location,- Α roll of hard tulle  can be easily and perfectly cut by two people  with a little attention and a professional dressmaking scissor.
You can see more ideas and options on my page :

Tulle and lace for a baptism


Happy Creations and best wishes!

A note for the icon of Christ in the Underworld- Anastasis

The icon of Resurrection or Anastasis

The representation of Christ in the Underworld, or a version of the “Harrowing of Hell” as it is usually named in western Christianity. A very powerful image that shows the  Lord, in his Glory, standing over the abyss of the underworld, pulling Adam and Eve (the mankind) out, saving them from death

In this post- I ‘d like to share the commentary of a customer about this theme. In this icon…:

 “…Christ appears to greet, welcome, reclaim, restore, renew, transport, and enliven the whole human family, one by one. With what gentleness and openheartedness he stands there — the bridge that spans the gaps.”

It brings in mind… “… An excerpt of an ancient homily, found in the Office of Readings for Holy Saturday:

The “Harrowing of Hell” reproduction on canvas

I am your God, who for your sake have become your son.

Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise.
I order you, O sleeper to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead.
Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you. Together we form only one person and we cannot be separated.

… Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven… the kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.”

Touch me Not, an approach of Mi mou aptou or Noli me Tangere icon

Noli me tangere icon – 13×18 cm egg tempera on wood
Jesus said unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.”(John 20:17)
The “Cretan” version of the “Mi mou aptou”, or Noli me tangere icon- The influence of this school (the Cretan School of iconography that flourished in my home town, Iraklion from 1400-1600) is evident in the bright colors chosen for the image and the long flowing hair of St Mary MagdaleneFor me it was a challenge to paint such a small version of the icon, to show all these mixed feelings in a beautiful woman with uncovered head – Plus my interpretation of the icon is that her head was uncovered as a sign of her grief and mourning.
The text written in Greek is “Mi mou aptou- (Touch me Not) ICXC and St Mary Magdalene and one more word: Rabboni, the single word that is uttered By St Mary, the moment she recognizes her Teacher.
Another version of Touch me Not orthodox icon

Finally, if you want to learn more about this unique orthodox icon you surely have to read a great article on its history and origins:

Sweet is black, sweet is white but sweeter the grey- Another pebble Mama in B&W

A grey beach pebble, and again the shape of a Mother with a Child- a theme that gives me immense pleasure painting, represented here in simple colors black, white and tones of grey.

Pebble Mama painting

The beach rock was found in one  of the shores of my island Greece, sketced with a simple pencil and then hand- painted with mineral powders and the type of glue that we use for fresco paiting creating a very shiny and durable medium.
Mother and Child art

If you wan to see more of my Mama’s or my attempts in beach and recycled wood you may visit:
B&W beach rock


Protecting the world over the clouds- Skepe or Panaghia Nefeli

A custom order for a Nefeli a very pretty Greek name, denoting cloud or better cloud formation.  was one of the Hymns for the Virgin Mary that caught my attention- It somehow translates like: (Rejoice Oh) Cloud most bright that overshadows (shelters) all faithful, and it is only one of the occasions where the Holy mother is called “Nefeli”.


Theotokos in the clouds, Aghia Skepi first drawing
Folk like icon of the Virgin Mary

The Aghia Skepe, is equally important to Russians and other eastern orthodox people celebrated in the feast of Pokrov  and I imagined a russian “Matryoska”-like Virgin Mary, in bright colors, that shelters and embraces all faithful.

Feast of the Protection of Theotokos- Aghia Skepe or Pokrova icon

 I did the painting in a thin panel, using acrylics for the cloud background and egg tempera for the figure of the Holy Mother. Finally the colors were covered with shellac and sealed with resin varnish.