1. Rhonda Dodson

    Stunning icon & insightful article!

    1. Fr. Silouan

      Thanks Rhonda! Glad you found it insightful.

  2. I have really enjoyed seeing your icons here and it’s so nice to hear more details about your process. Thank you! I have a few questions. From the description of your drawing process it wasn’t clear to me if you had a predetermined scale for your board. It appears to be 2:3. Did this come before or after the drawing? Also, did you build this board? Many American iconographers use plywood (or even particle board!) because joined solid wood boards are costly and not easy to make yourself. When I was in Russia I got the sense that plywood was rarely used, if at all. Also, I haven’t heard of using waterproof India ink to paint the first lines on. Why do you prefer this to painting the lines with a dark color? Finally, was the learning curve for using gum Arabic for gold assist very steep? My iconography partner tried it but I don’t think she liked it very much. I have been using aquasize and pressing on gold leaf. I find that I get mixed results and am interested in other techniques. Thanks again, Father!

  3. Fr. Silouan Justiniano

    Hello Amy,

    Although I wanted the drawing to be large I did not know initially the specific measurements to aim towards. So I just put up the largest sheet of paper I had on the wall and began. As I worked it became more clear and extra sheets were added to increase the proportions. Hence the scale was found gradually, throughout the process, as the drawing called for it. Once I got to the scale that ‘felt’ right I stuck with it, arranging the compositional elements based on its restrictions. So, rather than beginning with restriction, I arrive at the restriction of the rectangular format. Nevertheless, however we get there, the format, the borders, are always to be taken serious as crucial determinants of composition.

    I don’t go through the trouble of making my own boards. Once the cartoon is done I take the measurements and order the custom size gessoed board from a craftsman that specializes in making icon boards. I get linden or poplar with oak braces across the back.

    I use ink since it’s the most practical for my purposes right now. There’s no need to temper a pigment. I just jump into the process by diluting the ink with water to get the shades that I need. This enables you to get very subtle shades and transitions. Using a tempered pigment would not allow for the same kind of subtlety subtlety, plus it would introduce other factors to the equation (texture and color complexities) that I don’t want to add to the batch. It’s just simpler with ink. But, I have considered it, and will definitely explore the use of a dark color for underdrawing in the future.

    The gold paint made from gum arabic is just a kind of watercolor and is best made at home. In art stores they sell it as “shell gold” in little ceramic tablets, but it tends to be a bit glittery in consistency, so I don’t find it useful to my purposes. Its simple to make. The key is to follow the instructions carefully, make sure the gum arabic has a thick honey consistency, and take the effort to grind the 10 sheets of loose gold leaf very thoroughly. Here is a link with the instructions: https://www.naturalpigments.com/art-supply-education/technique-shell-gold-painting/

    Instead of aqua size I recommend you use Mixton – 3 hours gold size. It’s a Lefranc & Bourgeois product. You can use mineral spirits to thin out the size, in order to get finer lines, but not too much as to make it runny. Sprinkle talcum powder (Johnson&Johnson baby talcum) on the surface before applying the gold size. This prevents gold from adhering to surrounding oily painted areas.

    I hope this clarifies things a bit and helps.

    Fr. Silouan

  4. Thank, Fr. Silouan, for taking my suggestion to heart and divulging your technique! I must say, your approach is satisfying to me in its unexpected simplicity. As someone who is far more comfortable with drawing than with painting, and who rarely attempts anything more than watercolor, your conception of a painting as essentially a colored ink-drawing is most appealing.

    Each one of your icons is an astonishing masterpiece, Fr. Silouan, but this one surely outshines the rest. It is undoubtedly the finest lion I have ever seen in all of art, and that is saying a lot. Ruskin would not have thought it possible. If only their were a critic like him alive today, who could give this icon worthy praise.

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