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!


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.


Rescuing the sailors- St Nicholas in a religious folk art painting

When Saint Nicholas assumes command, sailors have no longer fear. This boat is named Captain Nicholas: Kapetan Nikolas- in Greek. He is the Captain of this one, he prays to calm the tempest and to return sailors safely home.

St Nicholas folk art painting- Egg tempera on canvas

In Greece all ships carry the icon of “”Aghios Nikolaos” where a candle is lit before him, and prayers are been made for safe passage. When in danger, captain and sailors pray and make a solemn promise, a “tama” to bring to his church “when saved”

Agios Nicholaos saving the sailors

It is a silver or a golden ship that is to be hanged it to his icon. You can see the icons of St Nicholas in Churches in the Greek isles filled with ships such as these!

Saint George and the Hero’s journey in the land of Cappadocia

I always liked this theme, with St George drawn in this vivid red, other- worldly background. It coincides better with this story coming from another time. I used this portable wooden triptych as the stage where the curtain opens and the story almost as a romantic tale unfolds.

Triptych icon of Saint George han painted with egg tempera in a vivid red background

Saint George is slaying the dragon and saving the princess.- One of the many stories concerning the life of the Saint, maybe the most known on the West with origins that can be traced back to the romantic ages with knights and princesses.

And maybe older than that. Roots that are found, in the holy land of Cappadocia in Asia Minor, where the Saint has lived. A land of myths and legends, still echoing the stories of of byzantine saints and ancient Heroes.

St George on his white horse, with his golden halo surrounding his young face slaying the dragon with the help of God.

Cappadocia, filled with symbols and archetypical images to be found deep into the collective subconscious, where stories about the “Hero” and the “Hero’s” journey still flourish and continue to move us.

In a black background- Holy Mother; Annunciation in purple and black

There is this feeling, you enter a in a church, (maybe in the countryside somewhere  in a small village) and the evening mass has started.-A traditional mass where there are no lights, only the small flames of the candles,

So among the fumes of the incense, the little bells, and the chants, images of Saints (written in dark backgrounds) are emerging from the walls lighted up by their halos, leaning towards you. And then Her figure in the front- She is always there, Open to you, ever forgiving, radiant with love. The Mother.

Holy Mother in black background
Virgin Mary in Annunciation -Size 5.5″ x 7″ (14cm x 18 cm)

“..Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word..” KJV, Lk 1:38. Says the icon; It is the Virgin Mary in  a part of a larger synthesis depicting her Annunciation.

Eka interpreted this theme, painting Mother Mary, Panagia (Pan-Aghia – All Holy- the word for Her in Greek) using more dark colors, trying to catch the sentiment I just tried to describe….

Sorrow when painting- a custom order to deal with sorrow

Custom order and challenge are somehow synonymous, but somehow dealing with the extremeness of sorrow that the theme of Lamentation of Christ presents as a painting- is somehow more than challenging.

I was initially handed with a picture, looking like a photo and was asked to paint the person portrayed there, as the Christ, after descending from the cross.
It was almost impossible for me to picture a person dead, alone by itself in a picture, as a corpse in a cold- cold morgue. It made me feel a sence of disrespect for the person portrayed. It somehow seemed as blasphymous, for I intended to portray the Son of man

Then all issues of position, surroundings, colours, symboslism emerged- What would be the size, who would be with him, expressions, reactions, symbolism.

Again a piece of driftwood came to the rescue that could host- two faces. Then the image of lamentation was revealed in the wooden surface. Lamentation is actually the greek Epitaph. A procession of the orthodox church in Good Friday, that brings the sorrow the passions of Christ to its ultimate point. To its climax.

Christ could never be represented as a disrespected corpse. Only as peson much loved -as he did with us all – by his mother. In this icon Virgin Mary embodies all mothers losing their offsprings, all people left behind, all women, even nature. All the sorrow in the world.

And that what is making Lamentation, or Pieta as it is widely known,  the most powerfull form of all the representations of Christ from the Descent from the cross – to the Entombement.
And so hard to paint.
And so liberating.