I have spent the last week starting to work on my first icon. For some time I have been considering the project, and at first was going to take the image “Virgin of the Sign” which will be well known to many as the icon found in the apse of many Byzantine Orthodox churches. However, I have been following now for about two years the work of the PROSOPON school of iconology, and helpfully about twelve months ago they produced an instructional DVD and the icon used is that of Christ Emmanuel, the Logos. In light of that, I have decided to abandon my ideas about the Virgin of the Sign and to work instead on something for which I have a step by step guide I can overview as often as is necessary. Although it is not anything like going on an iconographers’ retreat or school, the DVD is very useful especially if, like me, you have some artistic training but not in the techniques particular to traditional iconography. From the instructional DVD it would be possible, following the twenty two steps, to go from a bare piece of wood to fully completed icon.
I’m afraid that I don’t have the confidence yet to start from scratch, so I have bypassed the initial stages such as making kovcheg (‘ark’), the sizing (with rabbit-skin glue), and application of the linen and the gesso, by purchasing a ready prepared (in the traditional way) board.
That leaves me at the fourth step, called in Russian znamenie which translates as ‘sign’. This stage is linked to the will, human and divine, it marks out the direction which God intends for our life. The “sign” we should follow to come to full communion with God.
The sketch I am working from is based on the line-drawing of the Prosopon school, with some small changes of my own. As you can see the image is still a little too small for the board, and will need slight enlargement before I begin to transfer. This is done using tracing-down paper (like carbon paper, but not at all waxy) and a hard pencil. The lines are then corrected before moving on to the next stage. I will post some photographs of the completed znamenie next week.