Sigh….One might think that after putting in hundreds of hours on a 16 by 24 icon board that, at last! one were finished, but alas, one would be wrong. I learned this the hard way this past week when I set to work to prepare my work to be shown after a glorious 2 and a half year stint doing nothing but painting (and board making! an iconographer’s work is never done…). Eight days later — I am still at it, but getting ready to round the bend, in more ways than one. I have 20 or so icons and am, at last, prepared to send them out into the world to do what they are intended to do, lead people to prayer. For the longest time, this was an idea I strongly resisted, going so far as to post exorbitantly high prices on them in the hopes that they would remain unsold and I could keep them forever. I finally made the realization all artists must, that in order to keep producing art they must be willing to sell art to sustain their habit. Iconography must be, without a doubt the most expensive two dimensional form of art to create if one uses the traditional mineral and organic natural pigments, not to mention 22-24kt gold for gilding of halos and backgrounds. Even before picking up a paintbrush, one has spent $100 or more for a board. So, sigh…here I am. I thought you might like to see what one needs to do to show a piece, and you’re thinking, “what in the world could there be? Sign it and you’re done.” But you’d be wrong. Stay tuned.
So today I finished, I think, a piece I have worked on since the end of April on a daily basis. Finished painting, I mean. Now I will show you what I need to do in order to make my icon ready to show. Lots of dings and slips happen over the course of 40 days, and here are a few of them:
Above in the first picture you can see the edge of the paint has been damaged. I had placed this 16 x 24 board upright to dry on the floor when the painted bottom edge has not yet cured. It needs to be sanded and refinished. The second photo shows paint that has bled under tape and smudged onto the background color. Here some careful sanding alone should so the trick. Sometimes the framing of the board itself needs repair in that it has a crack or that the there is a separation of the fabric from the board itself. This requires the more extensive repairs of using a syringe to insert glue to reattach the fabric, and plaster cement to cover the repair.
Next it’s on to the back for hanging hardware and attribution. Iconographers do not sign an icon. We believe that the work does not come from us, it comes through us from God. And so the recommended wording is “written by the hand of iconographer…”
I have created labels that allow me to insert the name of the icon as well as the month and year the icon was painted. Although the labels are adhesive, I also apply a layer of contact paper to protect the label and further secure it to the wood. I created a stamp from a block of wood and a pre-cut wooden cross purchased at Michael’s. This is stamped over the attribution label with permanent ink.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, hanging hardware is affixed to the back of the icon. Traditionally, icons were placed on shelves in eastern facing icon corners of homes. But today, some may wish to hang their icons. Because the icons are made of birch plywood, they are heavy, and so most require two pieces of hardware which suspend a wire that both supports the icon and allows it to be balanced on any wall. I am very proud to say I use recycled materials to create this hanging hardware — the tabs from soda cans!
As one can imagine, the most important part of attaching this hardware is carefully measuring so that both tabs are evenly attached and the wire is correctly taut to hang the board. The electric drill is a phenomenal help to me for putting the screws into the board so they are secure. Even the size of the screws is important; if they are too long for the depth of the board the board will crack, the head of the screw must be large to cover the opening in the tab. It is easier to drill in the screws if you first tap them in with a hammer to create a depression in which they sit when you begin to drill. Finally the back is finished! But just when I thought this piece was complete I saw that the faces could use one more wash of limonite…
Now, all I have to do is wait 6 months for the paint to cure so I can varnish the icon, and it will be ready at last for its new home. Kyrie eleison.