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!


Shedding "light" on St Barbara – and another Iconography "How to"

The final steps on a byzantine icon – adding the lighter colors in the flesh”, “underlining” the facial features, adding even more light in the form of  pure white lines  marks the moment” when a portraits starts to become a saint, the highlight of the whole process.
Following the process in this  picture collage of St Barbara on the broken paddle – we follow the path to the light-  the essence in byzantine iconography,
Picture collage with the three final stages
In the first part of the pic the “second light” (the lighter flesh) is applied, near the eyes and nose- as well the blond highlights on the hair
In the second part – pure black in a very thin form , underlines the contour of the face, the pupils of the eye, eyelids and eyebrows, the nostrils and the corner of the lips- the expression.
Finally we have Psimythia- The pure white lines that are added on the forehead, over the eyebrows and under the eye on the nose and the tip  of the nose, the chin- the radiating pure light of a Saint-
Hope I ve “shed” some light on the process !
Danish St Barbara on the broken paddle

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!

Fearless- St Marina humbling evil

It is a rare event to see such fierce female Saint in icons- St Marina is at times (after a very popular legend) depicted with a hammer fearless and serene beating evil to the ground, humiliating him.

St Marina with the hammer beating the devil

A very popular Saint where in my region (in the Monastery in the village of Vonni, in Crete a great panygyri (religious feast)  is held for three days (15, 16 and 17 July in her day) and people from all over Crete are reaching there in a pilgrimage by foot. You may learn more about the monastery and the pilgrimage in :

St Margaret of Antioch


Land of Holy- St John’s rock

A piece of rock, from my island Crete- a land of Saints and hermits- This rock  with the reddish color of soil was hiding the face of a Saint- St John the Forerunner with his characteristic messy hair and beard.

St John the Baptist

I love my land- A land of living history, where you can still find Holy men, hidden in its very rocks.

I added egg white on top to fix the red color of the soil. It was the same soil that made the base for “flesh” of the Baptist. Afterwards I ve   used variations of brown egg tempera to create the shadows on the face- ochre cinnabar and white, even plain white, for the highlights.

I finally added acrylics for the gold and a generous double layer of shellac to perfectly seal the colors.

Giving a vintage look to an icon – St Alexios the man of God

Saint Alexios the Man of God
Vintage style icon of Saint Alexis the man of God

I always vintage Russian icons and I particularly loved one of the “popular” themes of Russian iconography and religious storytelling – The life and imaging of Alexis the Man of God.The  Saint’s story, a story of humility and anonymity is very moving let me quote here:

 “… The rare title, “Man of God,” was bestowed on St. Alexios for the manner in which he gave himself over to Jesus Christ…. He kept his true identity a secret for an entire lifetime rather than run the risk of betraying the Master through his own emotions and there is no telling how much mental anguish he suffered in silence for the sake of his commitment….”  (

I tried to represent Him using a special technique to make the icon look old- The icon was hand painted, with several layers of egg tempera, on a special gessoed canvas that was wrinkled after painting, and then covered on edges with a special plant dye that gives the icon an antique patina. 

The wrinkled canvas with the painting of St Alexios on the wooden panel

The same dye was used to paint the wood that the canvas was attached on. Finally the icon was sealed with traditional wax varnish (or keronefto in Greek )made with turpentine and wax to add the  a scent – “the scent of sanctity” as it is traditionally done in byzantine icons.

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.


Coincidence and custom ordering

A custom order for two byzantine icons of Saints Euphrosyne of Alexandria and St Theodora, the Holy Empress

The Byzantine icons of Sts Theodora and Euphrosene

There is also a connection between them that I considered  a nice coincidence and  a good “omen” for this commission: the Holy Empress when retired chose the monastic life for the 8 final years of her life, in the Monastery of St Eufrosyni in Constantinople.

“Athivolo” Drawing

Sometimes icons seem to “choose” one another!


Talking with brushes

It was an olive tree branch in our field, Dimitris asked if I could paint on it. It was treated with gesso and then and the shape of this woman, emerged

Fleeing mama. in olive wood

A mama holding her Child in her back, running away fleeing from war. I hope my work has more to say than I do, in words. To say how I feel, about this mama and all mothers and all people that abandon their homes for safety, for freedom, for peace…

A painting with egg tempera on gesso

The painting was executed with tempera. shellac and finally resin varnish was added- You can see its size in relation with my (small) hands

You can see more in:

Preparing for the photoshoot