There’s not going to be many pictures from here on out, because I need to concentrate. So I probably won’t make another post until I do the finishing touches in a couple of days.
Anyways, the next step is layers of highlights and lowlights. This could be as few as two, or many, many more. So far, I’m thinking this is going to be a 3-highlight layer icon, but I could be surprised. Some areas, like the landscape, won’t need a ton of work, but the horse and skintone will take much more work. The detail lines are saved for the last day, along with the inscription and the outer border.
The trick with the egg tempera is to create different viscosities of the color to get the achieved effect. So you mix your color, then add water until you get what you need. This doesn’t always work smoothly and can take some time. Likewise, I had to go back and darken some of the more solid areas where the paint dried patchy. I lightened the background to create more contrast from the dark yellow ocher, and put back in the linework. Skin color takes on a chalky look, which is why the beggar looks a bit…weird, if not skeletal, this will soften up with the next layer.
This is when egg tempera gets fussy. While it dries fast, it takes overnight to cure. If you go back over a spot that’s wet, or didn’t cure, fresh paint can take it right up and leave you a hole straight to the gesso. You can see that on the horse’s haunch in the picture below. The best thing to do when this happens is LEAVE IT ALONE. Let it cure overnight, and then revisit it the next day. You really only get 2-4 hours to work on it anyway before this starts happening pretty much everywhere if you keep touching things, hence why the daily limit is so important. This is when patience is key, but it’s also a lot of fun as each day you get closer to a finished piece. I worked on the board for about 3 hours.
I’ll see everyone in a couple of days when I’m ready to finish it, and set up for the long cure before oiling.
Egg Tempera is a great medium, but it takes some getting used to. As far as iconography has gone, I have never used a ready-made paint. I have always used dry pigments mixed with egg binder, even in my not-so-great early pieces. I’ve since learned the quirks of it, but I still have a bit to go.
The binder is easy to make: egg yolk and white wine. The wine is optional, but it helps emulsify the egg a bit, as well as act as a preservative. Still, you only get a week, tops, with this stuff in the fridge after a day on your table.
My mixture this go around was 2 yolks and about “that much” of white wine. I’ve gotten to the point of knowing the color I want for the right mixture. You can separate the yolk from the white by transferring the goop back and forth between the broken eggshell halves. Then you pop the yolk with a folk, and let it slowly drain into the jar, catching the membrane in the process. If the membrane goes in, it’s not a huge deal, but you just need to make sure you don’t suck it up in the dropper later.
As you can see, it’s not a ton of liquid in a standard size mason jar, but a little goes a long way. You use drops, not tablespoons.
Once I get the magic liquid made, I go ahead and set up my table. I already had most of this out when the gilding started, but here you can see my collection of pigments, and that I taped wax paper down to protect my work surface. All of my pigments are from Earth Pigments or Natural Pigments, are are 100% natural earth or mineral colors. Mostly oxides, but also some crystals. The bagged jars are my quarantined toxic vermilion (mercury sulfide) and minium (red lead) pigments.
Egg tempera is backward from watercolor, you start dark and then add highlight layers. It seems weird, but it works. In iconography symbolism, you continue to “play God”, and build the paint up from the protoplasm, into a glowing, holy image.
Starting with the sankir, or base skin tone first. I mixed Antica Green Earth, and Roman Black. Think about the skin color of the Greeks and Middle Eastern people where this artform originated: olive based. Again, start dark, build up to light.
Egg tempera can be fickle depending on how fine some of the pigments are ground, the material they’re made from, and how much moisture they suck up. Antica green is fickle and kind of grainy, so I had to adjust as I went along with more pigment, egg, or water, depending on my needs.
I made a ton of sankir, so I painted all three icons with it. This isn’t always the best approach and it sort of busted my flow for the rest of the day, but they all have the same base mix, which is good. The rest of this icon-a-long will be for St. Martin.
I don’t have pictures of work on Martin, because, well, I was painting. It’s a time consuming process, and it takes hours. Total amount of work today alone was about 4 hours.
The perfect cloak red in icons comes from vermilion, real vermilion. I have a few different reds, but nothing paints like the real thing. So the real thing needs precautions. I keep it quarantined in its own baggy, with its own tools. Instead of using one of my palettes, or shells (I do have shells, the porcelain is just easier to clean) I use a plastic spoon that I can keep separate. While vermilion is considered inert once painted, the dry form is still toxic, it is still mercury, and needs to be controlled.
Of course, once I got started with it, a warm fuzzy thing decided to distract me.
I had to use a tiny bit of the minium as well. It’s one of my favorite colors. As shocking orange as you can get, and a fully period color.
After getting tired, taking a break halfway for dinner, and coming back to it, and still getting tired while finishing up the background, which is okay, because more coats will make it more opaque, but I’m bushed. I know it looks super weird, but over the next few days, the icon should “appear” as I add the highlights.
This post shows you the deepest darkest secret of iconography: the patterning process.
This is tongue in cheek for obvious reasons. Why?
No, really. While many iconographers draw their own images, the vast majority of them are made from patterns that have existed since the Middle Ages or Early-Modern period. You can go on Amazon right now and find dozens of books of icon patterns and line art for this purpose. Copying is period. In fact, I was able to see an actual medieval icon pattern in person, once. I was unable to take a picture, but it was made of animal skin, and had the image punched into it so the iconographer could transfer it over onto their panel with a stylus. How else do you think so many icons look identical, save details and color?
I’m too poor to afford skins I can dedicate to patterns, but I can use the modern method of carbon paper, which is how most schools today teach it. (I do believe carbon paper, or a form of it, is period, but let’s not grasp at straws for stunt documentation.)
So, the way to do this is fairly straight forward. I’m using an 11×14 panel for an 8×10 printout, so I need to measure that out to create my border. Then I play the corner matching game and tape the image with the carbon paper down to the panel with painters tape. After that, using a dull pencil or a ballpoint pen, I go ahead and trace over the lines I need to create the line art. No need to get too detailed, because I learned early on you do too much work on the pattern, and paint over and lose all those detail lines. That’s all work you do on top of the base layers.
After you get a successful trace, go back in with a graphite pencil and fix some details and missed lines.
After you have your line art, it’s time to prep for gilding.
Always get your gold down before painting. Gold will stick to all the things, so it’s important that you get it to stick to the only thing you want for the time being, and that’s a substance called bole.
I’ve mentioned this before in my previous icon posts, but bole is a mixture of red clay and hide glue. I’ve made it before, but I also like buying it ready made from Pandora because it make my house not smell gross and my stove and floors not get stained. Since I live in military housing, paying for others to do this for me is a great convenience.
I put two thick layers of bole down on the halo, and then a rough, thin layer on the edge of the board. This is highly symbolic in the icon process, but also important: the bole provides a cushion for the gold to have a design engraved into it if desired, and the layer on the edge helps protect the board while it’s being handled. In icon speak, it’s the base of earth from which God shone the divine light at creation (halo), and the edges are symbolic of the roughness and mortality of the artist. It’s kind of dark, and I love it. Because I paint these as an historical art in a secular manner, versus something that will be used for actual veneration, I don’t dwell too much on the sanctity of the process, but it makes a great mnemonic for the process, because the order of operations matters for a practical reason, as well as spiritual.
After the bole cures, I’ll use an agate burnisher to smooth it out, but that will have to wait until tomorrow morning. If all goes well, I’ll be able to get the gold leaf down, and the first layer of egg tempera on all three icons.
To put things in perspective before painting, here’s the three brushes I use most of the time.
We always see them: the funky printed cottons in the stores. Sometimes we can’t resist, and then we wonder why the heck we bought it in the first place. Clearly, you can’t make garb out of silly prints!
Or can you?
This summer, I had a weird awakening. It’s no secret to my readers and friends that I’ve pretty much busted my rump this last year on research in Byzantine dress. From investing the money in Sartor fabrics to finding some of the best linens and trims I could to make a splash dropping my 12th Century side-eye skills, and spending 4 months on a master’s thesis where I dug into an 11th century will, I sort of put on a display this year like some swaggering Byzantine peacock (Byzancock? Argh, no, bad term, there.) It worked, and I’m exhausted. Don’t get me wrong, there is still a lot of new exciting things out there waiting for me to sew, like my upcoming foray into Sassanian Persian for my husband and I, only because I hate money and I dropped it like it was on fire at Sartor while at Pennsic.
I am no longer in school, and working freelance back in the graphic novel industry, so yeah, I have the time to play with sewing again. Sassanian will be fun, it’s something I’ve wanted to examine for a while as a predecessor to my period’s Silk Road fashion. Plus, I think there are cool hats involved.
I digress, we came here to talk about fun garb, not Anna and Gieffrei’s soon-to-exist “you spent HOW MUCH on that silk?” Sassanian Persian with dorfy hats. Fun garb. How’s this?
Yes. I did.
Go ahead, clutch your pearls, get a shot of bourbon, whatever it takes. I made this garb. And I wore it too. At Pennsic for a party. Yep.
A lot of my friends think that I have this over-the-top obsession with flamingos. In fact, I really don’t. I just love tacky lawn flamingos. Now, Mistress Vibeke Steensdottir back in the East Kingdom? Now SHE’S the awesome flamingo maven, complete with flamingo wing heraldry. She was the first person I know to document flamingos in period, so really if anybody deserves the credit for flamingo adoration, it’s her, not me.
I own pink lawn flamingos because I bought them for holiday decorations. I got mad at my former apartment complex for having stingy rules about decor and “religious” exemptions, and went a little nuts. They also look hilarious in snowbanks.
But anyways, yes. The short story is that the flamingo fabric magically appeared in my shopping cart at Joann’s during a sale event on red tag materials and then it came home with me. My initial intent was not garb, even though I joked about it online. It was going to be curtains or a sundress, or something festive to add to my Flamingomas decor. I mean, it’s a printed cotton twill. It would make crappy garb, and probably get me some sneers if I did it anyway.
Fast forward, I graduate, I move across the country, I’m unpacking my fabric onto my shelves, and I see those flamingos staring right back up at me. And that’s when I remembered something.
Let’s take a closer look:
Two out of three women in this section are wearing gowns with some form of obvious waterfowl, probably geese or ducks, maybe even in a way for the artists to mock Theodora and her former profession, but it’s pretty clear. So yeah, waterfowl on Byzantine garb, check.
But seriously, flamingos?
Now, I’ve seen this thing in person at the Cloisters. Those birds are screaming pink. Yes, they have green ones facing them, but that pink is deliberate. Sure it says swans or herons, but you know, we all know. Who makes deliberate acid-pink birds on a chasuble and wants us to think “swan”? Okay, that’s a stretch. I know.
Want even more of a stretch? You’re probably wondering how I justified having a cotton tunic? A printed one at that. Well, recent research has let me to uncover a booming cotton industry in Anatolia, but also, that printed cotton fabrics were coming out of Persia during the Middle Ages. Like this example from the 11th Century.
So basically, what I just did was stunt document a 6th Century flamingo dalmatica by using objects from the 6th, 11th, and 15th Centuries from 3 different cultures. It’s not something that will pass an A&S competition, so please don’t try this and tell your judges I said it was okay, but it was a way for me to appease my accuracy-brain for the sake of fun. We do this for fun, and it’s still okay to have fun.
Now, don’t go making yourself a closet of these things and brag that my blog told you it was okay. Make one. Wear it to a party or to a silly garb event. See if you can document some shapes and techniques and turn it into a conversation piece, which is basically what I did with mine.
“Hey, did you know that printed cotton is period? This tunic is silly, but let me tell you about this fragment I found while doing research…” Seriously, it sparked some great interest in printed textiles, which is already a growing trend in the SCA. So, why not see what direction a goofy idea can take you for your next big project?
On another note.
Speaking of authenticity brain…
The funny thing is that why I was planning the Fowl Dalmatica (yes, that’s what I call it), a bunch of friends were checking out Duchess Aikaterine’s tutorial on Youtube on how to make a Roman stola out of a sari.
I’ve had this love/hate relationship with saris being used for Roman garb for the longest time. I love it because it looks amazing. It’s beautiful, it’s exotic, it looks decadent and exactly what a Roman woman would have loved. I hated them only because they weren’t period and refused to make one for myself. Which is kind of a stupid reason, considering I made Jeff and I’s Babylonian garb out of vintage saris, so I’m really a big fat hypocrite who got stuck in the authenticity brain pool, swimming in circles, versus letting myself have fun.
…So I did it. I regret nothing and I want to make more. Plus, her draping technique for the stola is way better than my pinched in neckline, and the front/back seams versus side seams may just make more sense.
I will say that it definitely doesn’t work as well with linen unless it’s a thin, hankie weight linen. I made one of a 5oz linen and it just didn’t…manifest at the shoulders like the cotton and the 3.5oz linen did. So keep that in mind should you try this pattern. I’m going to try again with that fine pink linen I just got in from Sartor (see above) since it’s rather sheer. It would make a lovely stola, and I do need to start dressing like I’m married more often.
The only real downside to wearing the thin sari cotton is that it’s clingy, so I’m not sure how well it would do as a chiton underneath. I picked up some more vintage saris from eBay to try, as well as a couple of real silk ones at Pennsic (by the way, if you bought the 4 for $100 silk sari deal at Pennsic, better burn test a swatch, I got 2 real silk ones, a totally poly one, which I knew and bought really only for craft purposes, and a nice art silk one that melted to the plate when I burned it, so yeah. Check your purchases.) DO NOT MAKE THIS OUT OF ART SILK. Art silk is not “real” silk, it’s short for artificial silk, and is usually a poly rayon blend. You will boil alive. Granted, in real silk you’ll boil too, so, pick your poison. I’m not sure if the Romans had access to cotton, even though it was being cultivated in Egypt and Persia pretty early, but it’s a far better option than dead dinosaur.
I’m going to be making some more lightweight Roman and Byzantine (which I’m calling the Byzanlite) for regular wear here in Caid. My garb arsenal was just not originally designed for events at 110F, but hey, for when we get a cold front in February, I guess I’m set.
So, the moral of this story is don’t be afraid to shake off the stuffiness once in a while, and remember we do this for fun.
…Not that I don’t think hours on International Medieval Bibliography and making interlibrary loan requests isn’t still fun, mind you.