Sorry about not posting this sooner, I needed a brain decompression period post-Pennsic.
I was honored to serve as a champion of the East Kingdom’s Arts and Sciences War Point team this summer, and decided that it was the perfect time to complete an icon of Michael the Archangel that I had planned on for some time. Since I’ve posted previously about my process, this is mostly just a picture (and video) dump.
The best part? This belongs to me. It’s not a gift or a scroll for somebody else, he gets to stay in my personal collection, and I’m happy about this. I’m also insanely happy with how it came out.
The original icon is dated to the 15th Century at the Church of Panagia Angeloktisti, Kition, Cyprus.
And here is my finished piece, on a 11×14″ poplar panel from Pandora Icon Supplies:
Slew of progress shots:
And a comparison between this one, and my first Michael icon from September 2013:
While working on this, I decided I was going to video myself, and then roll it into a timelapse, here is the result! Yeah, the musical choices aren’t really, uh, Byzantine, but some of them could work. Maybe. 😉
Achievement of Arms are a period way to show off one’s accomplishments in the SCA, as combined with one’s heraldic device. I had the great fortune to create a conjugal coat of arms for my Byzanbestie Anna and her husband Gieffrei, and ended up also blogging the process, too.
Let’s start off with the details and definition of what a heraldic achievement of arms actually is. An ‘achievement’ is a full formal display of a coat of arms. This form of display is normally used in very formal situations, and can be used for decorative elements, banners, and of course, on scrolls. An achievement is one’s heraldic device surrounded by all the extra elements accorded to an individual by their rank in the SCA according to their kingdom’s sumptuary laws. Most of the elements, however, are optional and do not have to be displayed. Further bits of interkingdom anthropology: Ansteorra registers…
I have a few commissions coming up, and I decided I wanted to blog(ish) the process rather than keep it under wraps, since they aren’t gifts. I had to decided if I was going to do it on Facebook between my personal account, or my SCA persona page (which I rarely post on), and decided that I should just put it here, so it’s more accessible for those that don’t spend their day on social media as much as I do. It will also help me be more accountable in making regular updates.
So, to begin, let’s talk about the actual surface on which to be painted.
Icon boards, in their most simplest, are layers of gesso (calcium carbonate and hide glue) on a sanded and prepped wooden surface. Well-made boards have a layer of linen glued to the surface of the board before application of the gesso. In early period, this was mostly basswood. In early-modern and modern icons, it’s typically poplar. Both woods are still available today, of course. Basswood is not that durable, it’s a soft wood used for wooden models. I do have a panel of it somewhere I plan to paint someday, but until then, I spend money and have other people do this for me.
I have made my own panels. They are not good, but I did it. Using pre-sanded and drilled birch panels from an art store, I had a heck of a time applying gesso and sanding. This is not the job for me. And that’s okay, because the creation of icon boards is an artform in its own right, and was probably done by a different person in period than the actual painter. The Norman has more experience with woodworking and patience than I do, so my own boards are on the horizon, just not imminently so.
I purchase my high-end boards commercially. And by “commercially”, I mean, from Pandora Icon Supplies, which is a subsidiary of the Prosopon School based here in the states. They are not “manufactured”, because, much like high end papers for the C&I community, it requires a level of craftsmanship, and the price reflects this, so I’d call them more of a purveyor of fine art supplies. I just recently made an order after scrimping and saving for 2 years just to buy new materials, but they’re worth every penny. Sometimes there’s a turnaround time, sometimes they ship right away. These are handcrafted, so you have to anticipate some leeway. Pandora offers a lower-cost alternative in the form of the birch gessoed panel, which is still professional grade, but does not have the same thickness or carved surface of the fine icon board. Their larger fine board will have the slats in the back to help control the inevitable warping over time. Smaller boards, like the one I have below, do not. I can’t currently justify the cost of a larger, high-end board until I use up my supply on hand. I already want to start hoarding these like fabric.
Basswood, poplar, and birch are all Old World AND New World woods. In Europe, “linden” is the name of basswood, and “aspen” is used for some poplar variants. Black poplar is probably the one that was used most for boards in period, and that also grows here in North America. The taxonomic differences are probably minimal, which means that if someone were to go to a hardwood supplier here in the states, they would get wood suitable for making panels, without having to spend an exorbitant amount of money importing something we don’t have.
My current collection. The top row I have 2 11″x14″ Pandora “BGP” (Birch Gessoed Panels), which is a more affordable way to invest in a well-made board without breaking the bank, next to my own smaller panel that is currently getting worked on with St. Nicholas. At the bottom, you have a larger 10×15″ BGP still wrapped in paper, and a fine, 8″x10″ poplar panel with a kovcheg (recess). The BGPs pictured here were $60 a piece, and the fine board was $80. My 8″x10″ panel was like $20 of supplies a lot of swearing.
My upcoming projects are a commission of St. Martin of Tours, and St. Michael the Archangel for myself, because I need to start keeping some art. St. Nicholas of Myra as the patron saint of sailors is for my husband.
Coming next: Patterning the icon, and preparing the surface for gilding.