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Icon in pencil

I’m pretty excited about taking that icon-painting workshop this summer. I’ve been looking at more icons in the last month or two than I’ve ever gazed upon in my whole life, marveling at how they can be so beautiful and so ugly at the same time. I’ve been doing a little reading, too. But not so much that I’ll go into the class thinking I Know A Lot of Stuff when I actually don’t.

I’ve also avoided trying to paint an icon before learning how. But I ran into this beauty the other day and had to study it in ways more up-close and personal than just peering at it on line.

Copying is much-disparaged. I’ve disparaged it myself. But it’s a good way to learn.

Icons are governed by a strict set of rules and techniques, so I’m not sure whether my freehand pencil copy above can even be termed an icon. But I did learn from it. A lot. I learned that, for all the deliberate distortions, a good iconographer understands facial structure, light, and shadow better than I do. I learned that icon eyes are right up my alley (except I kept wanting to put sparkle into them). I learned that even a really good iconographer can screw up in simple ways.

Anyhow, that lady above is a representation of Our Lady of Philermos (aka Filermo, Phileremos, Philereme, etc). The original icon is uuuuuuuuugly. I mean, so seriously ugly it has a lot in common with that infamous Spanish Jesus fresco oopsie that got such laughs (and such parodies) a few years ago.

Many others have done the Lady of Philermos more beautifully than its original (examples at the link in the above paragraph). But only the authentic Lady … miraculously stopped a war. Or a siege. Or something. And performed various and sundry other miracles I’d probably be skeptical about.

I believe the version I worked from is Russian. Not sure. Those Russians really know their icons. But this one has a wonderfully antique Greek charm to it, wherever it originated. Anyhow … the drawing was another learning experience, more successful than some have been.

And oh yeah — I STOPPED just when I began overworking it.


  1. Pat
    Pat April 25, 2017 4:58 am

    You nailed this one, Claire, I think you brought the other two efforts together nicely. It has an Egyptian aura about it.

    This is a softer, prettier “icon” than many I’ve seen. Maybe they’re not supposed to be soft and pretty, but I’m talking about the artwork itself, not the subject matter. Hope that doesn’t detract from your intent.

  2. Joel
    Joel April 25, 2017 2:32 pm

    I dunno…she doesn’t look nearly unhappy enough to be on an Orthodox icon.

    Never understood why saints in those Russian pictures have to look so miserable all the time.

  3. SKSK
    SKSK April 26, 2017 3:51 pm

    You have a capacity to inject PERSONALITY into your sketches! El Greco could do the same thing. Most icon images, while dramatic in presentation, look like they’ve just gotten back from the dentist…(no disrespect of said images intended, of course!)

  4. AG
    AG April 27, 2017 3:31 pm

    You could sell that one. Easy.

    I’m a bit curious as to how someone who is outside the general faith traditions would become so interested in our iconography, but stranger things have happened.

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