Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Getting Each Step Right

Top Left: Archangel Gabriel (Annunciation); Bottom Left:St.Jean d'Arc; Center: Elousa Mother of God; Top Right: Mary, Mother of God; Bottom Left: St. Mary of Egypt

I've begun work on a tryptich which will eventually end up in the prayer corner of my studio. I did the cartoon back in October 2016, then put it aside as my Dad went into his final illness.  Almost a year later, I'm ready to begin the next stage of the work.  So this past weekend I cut the panels for the center and the wings.  And although the panels are cut, I'm a long way from being ready to begin painting.

Which is alright.

One of the life lessons I've learned from icon painting is the importance of every step of the process.  Historically and to the present day, icons are painted either as wall murals in buon fresco, secco (egg tempera on plaster) or mosaic or as portable panels in egg tempera, acrylic, encaustic, mosaic, cast metal or carved in wood or ivory in bas relief.  In every case, regardless of media, a lot of preparation and preliminary work is required just to get to the start line.

I've learned the hard way, that any rush to get to the "good parts" (the aspect of the work that is gratifyingly self-expressive) in icon painting is a mistake.  Although I try to work efficiently , there are no shortcuts.  Even those stages of the work that are tedious or boring (which I am tempted at times to regard as taking up time that could be given over to more creative activity) , are not a diversion but essential.

Essential not only in a practical, material sense -- a smooth polished gessoed surface on a panel is essential for gilding and painting -- but essential in a spiritual sense as well.  If. as has been my experience, every icon is a prayer made visible, every stage of the work is an offering of one's self and one's work to God.  The loving attention to detail, concentration and hard work to get each aspect of the work as close to perfect as one can manage, if done with the right intention, gives glory to God.

Which true, not only in the studio, but in the mundane but essential tasks of marriage, parenthood, work and prayer.    


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