1. Jaime Gutiérrez Victory

    Most rewarding visit to the Orthodox Arts Journal. And reading a bit of Matushka Ann Margitich’s experience and seeing her icons. I am an Architectural Historian at the University of Costa Rica’s Architecture School, yes, in Central America, in Costa Rica. As an Orthodox Christian, I teach openly and am free to explore Orthodox theology when it comes to the Eastern Roman Empire. To try and make them understand the historical evolution that has changed belief and to dwell, as deeply as I can, in understanding why. Also most rewarding. Thank-you for the article and other reading material. Bonne continuation dans le Seigneur! (in French as I did my graduate studies in Paris, at the Louvre and the Université de Paris, but with the Carolingians, who did not like my exploration). All my best. Iakovos of Costa Rica.

  2. lucy nair

    Thank you for interviewing Matushka & making her work that is inspired & inspiring known .

  3. Concetta Grener

    What a joy and a blessing to see Matushka Ann’s iconography. Such beautiful work! Thank you for sharing this!

  4. Veronika

    Thank you for the interview with Matushka Ann. So inspiring to see her work! I am a not-too-young artist from Vancouver, Canada. I am hoping to get training in Iconography. What would Matushka Ann say about the age of someone who wishes to study iconography? Is there a limit when it is too late to start?

    1. Ann Margitich

      Hi Veronika,
      I suppose that age is not really what is important here. In my experience, the learning process was long (I should say is, as I am still continuing to learn) and required lots of time and momentum. In my case, being young made that possible. It all depends on the person and their situation. I hope that all goes well with your studies.

  5. Michael Lucas

    The figures and faces are indeed gentle and very spiritual too. For me, that spirituality is enhanced by the transparencies of the layers, providing a dematerializing effect. Light shows though from the gessoed ground. That light compliments the flashes of surface light- which is so beautifully applied in calligraphic strokes. The whole effect is one of a vision- which gels- then momentarily rearranges itself into beautiful surface marks and strokes- then gels once more. These icons are not heavy, nor do they appear labored. With all their thought and effort, they remain fresh. Personally, I see these icons in the tradition of Theophanes the Greek ( see his Transfiguration , c. 1408) This is great work and a very insightful interview. Thank you both.

  6. Nathan Hicks

    These icons are lovely! I have question about the choice of when to highlight: in certain cases your work seems to layer up highlights with grays (making it appear to be a gray blue), but in some cases you don’t highlight at all. It works quite wonderfully, and I keep trying to discern how you figure it out. How do you discern where to highlight?

    1. Ann Margitich

      Hi Nathan,
      That is a very good question. If you study well painted icons you will find that there is often a contrast between different color areas in the way that they are handled. Some areas are light and transparent, some are more opaque. Sometimes there is no highlighting, and sometimes there is a complex build up of highlights. Consider that if all the areas of the icon were highly developed the result would be very distracting.

      Discerning where to highlight is not easy. I often do studies of icons that have good highlighting in them. A good way to study highlighting is to draw on toned paper using a pencil or charcoal for the lines and white charcoal or conte pencil for the highlights. Andrew included a few of these drawings from my flickr site, there are more on the site. I also study by doing practice panels. For clothing, the basic idea is that the folds and the highlights work together to show the form underneath.

      Also, the color of the highlights should work with the color underneath. Sometimes it is a matter of adding white to the color or highlighting with white and overlaying a glaze of color. Sometimes I add a little black before highlighting to create a grey, especially for grey hair.

      I hope that this information is helpful.

      1. It does! It encourages me to go with my gut, something I’m always afraid to do. I’m still working on building up the confidence to just do what works, if that makes any sense.

  7. Fr. Silouan Justiniano

    Wonderful work Matushka Ann!
    You’re a painter’s painter.
    Thank you very much for your insightful comments.
    May I ask about your varnishing process?
    What do you recommend as the best final varnish and how do you go about it?
    Is sun-thickened Linseed oil (olifa) worth the trouble, given that it darkens?
    We often forget that the darkening of Olifa actually contributed to the general ignorance about the brilliance of colors in medieval icons. In fact, one of the factors in the revival of icons in the 20th cent. was the removal by restorers of the blackened olifa. So this leads me to be a bit hesitant about using the “traditional” varnishing method. What do you suggest?

  8. Ann Margitich

    Hello Fr. Silouan,
    The varnish that I am using, which is the traditional olifa method, uses refined linseed oil to which cobalt drier has been added. The recipe is 1 quart refined linseed oil to 8 ml liquid cobalt drier. Kremer offers an already prepared linseed oil varnish. It used to be made with cobalt drier but is now made with manganese drier. It seems to work the same. By the way, cobalt is poisonous. I will offer you a quick run through of the process, but if you want more details, you can refer to an article written by Fr. Patrick (then Fr. Simon) that is in the Iconofile Journal, issue 2 2003.

    The icon, which has dried for a few weeks, is placed in the sun, and the linseed oil with drier is poured on top, enough to cover the icon, to the point where it is about to go over the edge. The oil is moved around every 15 minutes or so for 2 hours. At that point I remove a certain amount of the oil which has thickened. (I add this back to my olifa bottle) The remaining oil is moved around until it starts to thicken enough to make tracks, usually 1 to 1 1/2 hours. I then bring the icon inside and remove the excess oil with a type of squeegee, leaving a film of oil over the surface. This film is smoothed out with the fingers and heel of the hand. For the next 2 to 3 hours I return to the icon and “brush” the icon with my hand until it starts to leave a mat surface. This description is very imprecise, mostly because it changes with different circumstances. It helps to have someone show you; and I can tell you from experience that it is very easy for things to go wrong.

    Your comment about the darkening of olifa is very accurate. I took some time to reread the chapter on varnishes in Aidan Hart’s book Techniques of Icon and Wall Painting. It seems that he has done a great deal of research. He offers other options of varnish which I think are worth looking into. He also points out that icon painters in Russia still use the traditional olifa. It is the one aspect of using egg tempera that I am not completely satisfied with, especially as I see the icons in our church have darkened a bit already; but I must say that an icon with fresh olifa is wonderful.

    You can contact me by email if you want to talk more about varnish. I would be interested to know what your experience with varnish has been. I am not sure if the Iconofile issue that I mentioned is still available.

    1. I can certainly concur that the surface of Mat. Ann’s icons is incredibly beautiful. I haven’t seen any other modern icons whose varnish is so lovely. But indeed, olifa is a fragile surface. It needs to be rigorously protected from lipstick/balm, which will instantly bind to the surface. (I have a theory that the cobalt in the olifa actually catalizes the lipstick, solidifying it). And the darkening is certainly a real concern. The modern varnishes described in Aidan’s book are more stable, and, when applied very thin, can approach the appearance of real olifa.

  9. Dear Mat. Ann,
    thank you very much for sharing your icons with us. Andrew asked you a bit about the faces, and I want to know if you can share anything more with us? As the title of this article identifies, the gentleness of expression is so characteristic of your work, and I believe you must feel it as a necessity as you develop each face you work on. These faces do not come about by hard work alone, but I suppose rather there must be an inner requirement on your part to see the face come through to the point where it begins to give life back to you. I personally think that a gentle expression is one of the most critical requirements of the contemporary icon as it ministers to our generation, in that we are an insecure people, myself included. The people you are painting for in large part do not have a firm faith that they are beloved children of the Most High, but the icon is available here to provide an unconditional positive affirmation of their presence. The face must be comely and sober, full of hopeful anticipation, but compassionate for whatever hell the viewer may be experiencing. If you can give any advice to students of iconography, how may this sensitivity be sough out? Prayer and humility, with studious work under the guidance of a good teacher? Or is it a matter of a broken and contrite heart arrived at through bearing one’s appointed cross in this life? Or is it a gift from the Lord that not every painter can hope to work towards?
    with your prayers,

  10. Ann Margitich

    Hello Baker,
    Thank you for your comments. There is a lot to respond to. I will start with the questions that you ask at the end. It would be very intimidating to a student of icon painting to think that they had to have a special inward sensitivity in order to paint icons. I do think that a student should have some (or a great deal of) artistic talent as well as a love of beauty that is specific to iconography. Of course, they should be an active member of the Church, which means going to confession, communion, saying daily prayers, etc. And finally, they should study and know what an icon is, how it relates to the Liturgy of the Church, the theology of the Church, as well as the specific artistic language that the icon uses.

    The aspects of faces that you are referring to in your comment, they are part of this language that the Church has developed in Her art. The icon painter simply humbles himself to the Tradition of the Church. This is part of what I referred to as letting the icons teach you. Yes, it does help to have a good teacher guiding you. I find that when I am guiding students, I am encouraging them to find good icons to use as models or to study from. Guiding students to find good icons can be difficult. We often encourage students to use icons from before the 16th century. I have a good set of icon books which I refer to all the time. Putting together a library takes some time. The internet has some good sources but they have to be navigated.

    To be more specific to your comment, the faces that I paint are a result of studying other icons. I think that we would all agree that the faces painted by St Andrew Rublev have a certain gentle quality to them. If I find an icon that has a face that I am attracted to, I study it. As I mentioned in the article it is not only the lines of the features, but how they work with the whole composition of the face and then how the face and head work with the whole composition of the icon. You will find that if you push a line of a feature a certain way, even just a small amount it can change the expression, so we spend a lot of time pushing lines around and finding the proper proportions. This is often, at least for me, a struggle.

    Finally, I would like to add one more thing. In my studies of icons I have found that I am often attracted to icons from earlier periods; they are sometimes more archaic, usually very simple and have an expressive quality to them. This gives them a strength.

    I probably didn’t answer your questions very well, but I hope that this has been helpful.


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