Monday, May 29, 2017

The process of creating an Icon of a modern saint

I was commisioned to do an icon of a recently canonized saint.

Saint José Luis Sánchez del Río was a Mexican Cristero killed by the government for refusing to renounce his faith; victim of political attempts to stamp out dissent & crush religious freedom. 

Lived March 28,1913 until February 10,1928
Declared a martyr on June 22, 2004 by Pope John Paul II
Beatified on November 20, 2005 by Pope Benedict XVI
Miracle attributed to him approved January 21, 2016 by Pope Francis
Proclaimed a saint on October 16, 2016
Icon painted and blessed May, 2017

I researched Jose Sanchez del Rio, and found a few old pictures and modern paintings. 
We prayerfully considered if details of the martyrdom should be included on the icon.

After compiling the data, I referred to Aidan Hart's book - Techniques of Icon and Wall Painting - for more suggestions on representing a new Western saint. I also looked at many icons of martyred saints to observe their hand positions or gestures. 

Bishops or martyred church leaders tended to give a blessing, 
but that did not seem appropriate for this young lad. 
Nor did the praying hands held low near his waist (as in this painting).

It seemed that grasping the cross with both hands, 
and holding a rosary looked natural and appropriate.

The person who commissioned the icon asked that I include 
his final comment to his mother, which in English means roughly, 
"we will not have an easier way to gain Heaven"
 [than this martyrdom]. 

I liked it better written on the bottom of the icon than on a sash, as shown in this painting.

Using Photoshop, I created various elements to be incorporated into the icon. 
If I was better at sketching,  I might have done this on paper.
Finally I did an outline on my icon board and so began the icon's production... 

Working from the sketch, I added color to get a better sense of the form of the saint.

I concluded that the dark red color on the borders could also be used for the saint's cross. 
We wanted the shirt to be white, but not pure white. We started with blue.

The Sankir (flesh) color was painted on hands and face. A nearly black color was used for his hair.

Pure black hair is common on boys and men I saw recently when traveling in Central Mexico. 
This 10-yr old boy is a neighbor of our friends in Cuernevaca.

Now the form of the shirt is being developed, and the beginning of color on the Sankir. 
We have narrowed his body and left arm from the original sketch.

I thought green would go nicely as the background, as he was a country / farm boy.

Here we are at the first stage of the face, where he appears a bit startled, and perhaps too old. 
I felt his hair was taking on an Afro look.

Here the basic shape is refined, the facial expression improved and we added a rosary. 
The text of his final words to his mother are sketched in on the bottom border. 
The hair has been completely reworked.

Here is a test of the icon with candle light on my display shelf. You can see we have increased the shirt's whiteness, and I have added the red background where gold leaf will indicate his halo. 
I have also begun another coat of gold paint on his words at the bottom.

In this picture the newly-applied gold leaf halo is apparent, 
along with a need for a painted border on the edges.
I roughly drew in his title using red pigment.

I have applied a gold pinstripe around the outer edge, a dark red pinstripe around the halo, and painted in the saint's name at the top of the green field. I added another string of beads and a portion of his thumb on the left hand, for a more realistic appearance. There were many other minor changes.

In context - it spends the evenings here.

Here is the final icon with two coats of varnish, ready to be taken to church for its blessing.

Father John blesses the icon for its work in strengthening the faith of those who will own it.

The icon has now been delivered to its new owner.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

The Process of creating an icon!

This blog illustrates the creation of an acrylic / gold icon
of St. Anna, the Prophetess (see Luke 2).

We begin with the prayerful selection of the concept,
and with discussions and readings about the saint.

This icon is intended for a woman named after St Anna, 
so we need a single-person composition, not the entire scene.
We looked at dozens of possible prototypes.

Here is the setup of the pallette, brushes, paints, carbon, icon board, etc.

First I created a model image of the icon using Photoshop to fit this 8 x 10" board.
Then I printed a black/white copy (shown above left).
From this I traced a rough outline of the saint, using carbon paper.

Using very thin colors, I sketched out the forms of the saint on the board.

Here the main block of color (green) painted on her robes.

Now the undergarment, collar and cuffs are painted.
It takes about 10 thin coats for each color.

Here the hands and face are painted using Sankir (green base for skin).
The scroll is painted an off-white color.

This is a screen capture of my Photoshop text overlaid on the icon, just to see if it will fit.
(yes, we noticed that Phrophetess is misspelled)

My icon-painting partner Kara did the folds and shapes of the robe.

I have now painted in the words on the scroll. More work is needed to improve it.

Now Kara's work on St Anna's face and hands is appearing.

After lots more painting, the face and hands look like this:

We continue to refine her look; particularly the eyes.
All the "joins" (where two or more colors come together) are trimmed with a thin dark line.

The red paint provides a base for the gold size (glue) and the 24-carat gold leaf.
The sizing is applied and allowed to dry for 2 hours.

Now I have applied the gold leaf to the background of the icon,
and rubbed it gently with a brush and cotton ball.

Here the first pinstriping and halo are completed,

and all the rough edges will be trimmed with a dark line.

There are two pinstripes and some more finishing work.
Anna now joins her fellow icons on my icon table.

I take the St. Anna icon to church for Saturday night vespers.
It spends the night on the altar and is blessed by the priest.

Here's St. Anna, with her new custodian!

Friday, November 6, 2015

Recycling Beeswax Candles, Part 4


My secret dipping sauce process involves a water heating device called Sansaire. It's a recirculating water heater made for sous-vide cooking. You can look it up if you're not familiar with the process.

The Sansaire heater provides a source of hot water that can melt beeswax and keep it at a precisely-controlled temperature for dipping. New ones cost about $200 but I didn't pay that much. I've had mine since the project was launched a couple of years ago on Kickstarter. Using it for the candles was completely unintentional - I peeked inside a cupboard looking for something else and Eureka!

Our candle-dipping kit involves a large plastic pickle bucket, a 5" x 12" glass flower vase, the Sansaire heater, and a few more items (the optional T-Rex sprayer is from Alton Brown). Fill the bucket with hot water and turn on the heater. Fill the vase with chunks of wax (and/or melt some wax on the stove in a pan and pour it slowly and carefully into the heated vase).

You will have to weight down your partially-filled vase unless it is glued to the bottom of the bucket, or you find some other way to offset its buoyancy. That's why I have a chunk of marble on top. Once it is full it's going to stay still.

My improve-the-process plan B involves a bucket lid, into which I will cut several openings that will hold down the vase, stabilize the Sansaire unit, allow me to dip, and keep the heat in.

Here you can see I have melted the wax. My water temp is set to 165-166° F to make up for losses into the room and through the bucket. Glass conducts heat adequately (only $6 at the florist's shop if when you break one).  I am dipping a long candle into the glass vase.

Dipping just one candle at a time is laborious, so I made a jig to hold 6 wicks at a time. That's all the candles I can fit into my 5" vase.

I have carefully placed my bucket in the sink so NO wax can go down the drain. That would be catastrophic for the pipes. It's safer to do this outside but it's my house, so I chose the sink.

In the following photo you can see small threaded nuts that I am using to weight down the wicks. Otherwise the wicks will bend or float.

After a few dips you can cut these nuts off, then peel off and reuse the wax. The wicks will stay straight on their own.

You will need another bucket to hold the wicks so they can dry. Here you can see the jig which I made from the center core of a spool of wire. See your local hardware store for a freebie if you don't have one laying around. The stick holds up the spool without touching the candles. Any touches mean flaws in the candle.

A third bucket is handy if you want some cool water to accelerate your dipping speed. Notice the bucket full of water is covering the drain. No wax in the pipes!

So the process is to dip the wick down, then up smoothly without pausing, then cool for a minute in the air (or in the water), then repeat. After 4-5 layers you need to give it a good rest, or put it in the water for a couple minutes. Wipe off any water bubbles and repeat until the candles are the proper diameter. 

 Cut off any lumps or drips at the bottom, trim the wick end, roll them to straighten, and leave to cool. 

Add more wax to the vase as its level drops, and repeat.

The end results are shown below. The lighter color candles at the top came from St. Tikhon's Monastery. I put them in for comparison. They are made of fresh beeswax straight from the hive, and cost me $11 per pound plus shipping.

The candles on the lower right are partially-burned devotional candles; they came from Russia and another church. The ones in the center are from the first batch of experimental candles we made. The ones on the left are big and ugly, but I consider them part of the learning process.

One good thing about this candle business - if you make a faulty product you can melt it down and make a better one!

Stay tuned for the next installment.