About: I like to invent and modify things. When i was 13 i fixed my dad's old Lancia Fulvia motor. I builded my first mod PC in 1991 using a mobo builded in a VCR box. I am first using all my inventions. I love eve...

Hallo community,

...After of 2 years of authoring and collecting photos, my book is ready to publish. These days is in press.So I decided to make a tutorial to lead you to the Orthodox Iconography in English. This tutorial is a summary of the book.

What is Iconography meaning?....Iconography is painting religion paints. Like painted portraits, or scenes taken from the Bible, representing holy persons, martyrs, Jesus, his holy mother, holy spirit and several scenes and positions of the same persons...with different clothes or some times siting and other times acting. The Orthodox way of painting is crucial. Is the way that only in Orthodox dogma, they know how to process the materials (wood, canvas, pigments, brushes etc). Is a whole method faithfully followed by the centuries of first iconography (120 AD) from the monks. In west this method doesn't exist. They paint with oil colors and the total approach of the issue is different. So Orthodox way of Iconography is unique and you can meet it in Greece and Russia only. The most close to the original principles is this method followed by monks in Greece.

The materials are many and all lead us to communicate with the holy Spirit. Everything is in harmony and the holy Triad leads the hands to make an exceptional result of any representation. Of course the painter regardless if is monk or else, has to pray all the time and have on his mind only the words and acts of the specific person, the portrait is making that moment. In orthodox church we have little religion poems called “Hapolitikion” for any saint, martyr etc. Before we start this amazing in results and unique as method technique, we will try to gather the material. But first of all we shall say a pray, so to communicate with God.and lead us in peace to achieve our job.

Our Father who art in heaven,

hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come.

Thy will be done

on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread,

and forgive us our trespasses,

as we forgive those who trespass against us,

and lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil.


In the video is the Monastery of Saint George in Northern Peloponnese where I learned everything I know in Hagiography. I studied about 2,5 years.....in everyday classes. thanks to Abbott Gennadios.. You have to visit it at least once in your life.Is in mountains in 1500 m altitude and in front of it theres a beautiful artificial lake with a dam

Here I think there is a need for clarification. Here, we will not only present the technical use of egg painting. It is a complete presentation of a unique art called Hagiography. This art is not unrelated to Orthodox doctrine as it was developed and preserved by the monks of doctrine. It is therefore directly connected with the religion in which I believe. I am not trying to change or enlighten anyone. Religion is a personal experience for everyone, and all religions are respected. Of course anyone can take this technique to make a landscape or flowers. But here we are talking about the illustration of saints and persons in direct connection with the religion of Christianity. That's why I try to bring you almost all the knowledge of Hagiography from a simple wood to a full picture of a saint of our church. So whoever manages and uses this lesson solely for Hagiography, please respect the Orthodox doctrine.Only members of this doctrine (Greece-Russia) we follow this method.

Thank you.

Step 1: Gathering Materials

The materials of Hagiography or Iconography with egg tempera, are many. So an initial approach is to separate them in Start up materials and Advance.

1.BASIC -Start Up Materials

  1. Wood canvas from wood like pine, cedar, olive tree, Cherry tree, even a wood canvas made by pallet woods. No synthetic wood please!!!
  2. Canvas specific for egg tempera (thiner than oil painting canvas)
  3. thin gauze is shelled in m^2. Also can be found in pharmacy. If we use canvas we don't need this, because canvas already has it.
  4. Acrylic puty , stucco. White. Will be diluted with water. 1/1
  5. Color pigments. For egg tempera all colors are taken from nature!!!! Are expensive but the results are astonishing. For basic pack I suggest 10 pigments. Caput mortum,, which is the rotten red, black mat, green Terra, blue cobalt, dark red of brick, camel brown, vermilion red, imperial blue, white, and white of zinc, cadmium yellow.
  6. Bases. Are materials that help us to complete the image in quality.
  7. Easel. Any easel size will fit you but is better to buy a big one for at least A3 size canvas.
  8. Brushes. Are many brushes we use. For small icons we need small and thin brushes. Numbers 00,000,0 are necessary. Also get the numbers: 1,3,5,6, 9 all in tear drop shape. All made for natural hair (horse) Avoid synthetic brushes, they start to hang out and fills all the canvas with hairs. Good synthetic brushes are only of the firm Van Gogh specific those for water colors. Also try to get some other good quality brushes in different shape.... Accordion size 3,5 and straight brushes with white hair (cheap) in sizes 3, 5, 7, 12. Also 2 brushes straight for general purposes numbers 5, 8,10,12 but start by 5 first. These brushes are really cheap and easily can be found. We will use them to prepare the wood, to apply some preps etc. Please before use. They have glue so put them in water of about 45 C so glue is going out and before the first use please hammer the metallic hair holder good. You don't like to see loosen hair on your canvas.
  9. spatula. Buy a knife spatula at first size 3 and 5. and one wide open at size 5 details on images.
  10. Egg yolks and white apple vinegar. Dilute in 1:1. gently. Keep in fridge for 2 months only.
  11. Shellac resin in flakes. the yellow one. Dilute with any alcohol spirit 1:1 more thick give as protection on woods from worms while more thin give us beautiful results at the end of the Icon.more warm colors and lights.
  12. Some A4 pieces of rice paper to transfer images.
  13. some wood white glue
  14. some sand paper (800, 1000) for wood surfaces
  15. 3 HB pencils, an eraser, please not ink....ink will transfers to the main colors damaging the Icon.
  16. Scissors, gloves, dust wiper or better a very smooth wide brush.
  17. some pallets for mixing colors.

All these materials try to get them at once because you will need them....The cost is high but is a bell Art. Figure out about 120-150 euros/ US$ for all of them. You can save money from wood canvas by making on from palette woods. from Brushes buy at least numbers 000,00,0,2, 4, 6. Accordion 3, white hair wide numbers 3 and 5. Don't buy any spatula (are expensive) at start and use a butter knife. for gloves prefer smooth thin cotton gloves. Rubber gloves are not ideal. Collect some pieces of cotton cloths like T-shirts for general purpose of cleaning. Also some old pillow covers are ideal for caring your portable icons (A3 and less in sizes)

Step 2: Wood Treatment and Preparation of Icon Surface

.Wood collection and treatment

Any hard wood can make the job. We prefer pine, cedar, cherry of about at least 25mm width for better support. If pine wood then we need also back support for humidity protection. So at the back side we add an horizontal wood piece of the same length of the wood canvas and at least 25mm width. Also any plywood of about at least 10mm will do fine. Any wood we have we need to prepare it for the job we will need it. First of all if the wood is from left overs or find in outside we have to care it for fungus and bags. For this job we will use some ready chemicals but I prefer what nature provide us and is more close to the ancient byzantine method. If we find in the countryside where pine trees are in forest then is nice time to collect pine resin. Pine resin is a nature product for 1000 uses. So collect the superficial resin pieces and never wound the tree. In one hour of job we will collect from 10 trees at least 500 gr of pure resin without make any new wounds. This resin place it in a chopping machine and add some alcohol. After this procedure take the pieces with alcohol and let it in a jar for 2 days to complete dissolving. After 2 days take coffee filter or a gauze and filter the solution. Throw away the leftovers and the solution is pure. The fluid might be in viscosity like a syrup but less than honey. We apply this with a big straight brush (remember to heat up the brush in warm water for taking out the glue and hit the metal part that holds the hairs with a hammer). We need at least 4-5 layers of thick resin. Another way to gain resin is to buy shellac in flakes. Prefer the blond one which is similar to the resin I told you about.. Dissolve the flakes in alcohol by 1:3

Step 3: Wood Surface Preparation

Gauze and Stucco Layer

After the above treatment wood canvas is ready to prepare it for the next layer. This one is pretty complicated procedure. Has to do with making a layer combine gauze and acrylic stucco with wood glue.

The old times this procedure was really nasty. The reason was the kind of glue they use it. In monastery, monks are close to a big cauldron and they try to take out the glue from bunny skins. These procedure takes days and whole place has really nasty odors from skins. Then they take this glue and mixing with water and chalk they make a kind of putty. This putty is applied to gauze layers to make after weeks a smooth and glossy surface able to absorb egg tempera colors and give an exceptional result like silk.

In modern times, we are thanking industry . So all we need is acrylic putty white in color (the one that can be dissolved with water). Also we need the gauzes we take sterilized from any pharmacy. Of course in Greece and Russia, hobby stores they sell rolls of thin gauze in big dimensions (usually 20meters of 50cm width) and is really cheap. The whole preparation may holds for 3-5 days depending the weather. What we do to prepare the wood canvas is described well bellow.

First we apply stucco thick like syrup in at least 4 layers in wooden surface. Any layer is crossed to the other. After let it dry these layers without and sanding we take the sand papers. We start with number 800 to take out any thick anomalies. Then wipe out the dust. After this we apply the 1000 sandpaper to fine the surface. We test smoothness with our fingers. After this step we apply 2 cross layers of wood white glue. And we add a layer of gauze. We repeat this procedure for 4 gauze layers. (2cross layers of glue+1 gauze x4). We let dry any layer in nature light and never inside. Also avoid any heating device. This will make cracks of the layers and we don't want this to happen. After all these layer, take 800 sandpaper and with some drops of water start sanding. After this take 1000 for final results and always check with your fingers. So after this we have a wood surface, white and clear and pretty smooth. In Greece some hobby store providing already made wood canvas, but are expensive (for a4 size figure about at least 30 Euro). By making it from the scratch we save a lot of money because all these materials are really cheap.

Water base stucco-------1kg <2.00 euro

Gauze of about 5m x 0,50m < 10 euro

Wood glue 1kg----------2-3 euro.

And of course with the above list we fix many wooden canvas. (more than 15). So worth it to make it alone, than by a single piece.

You can buy gauze in Amazon

modern painters of Hagiography, use a single, double layer of gauze in cross pattern but the best and according the byzantine method is what I mentioned above. On this tutorial we follow the original method.

Step 4: Image Drawing

We can start Hagiography just by transferring an image but the unique and authentic way is to draw a portrait or a scene from bible by the scratch. If you have knowledge of portrait drawing, please skip this step.

The approach to start drawing a face is to learn the basic analogies of human body. In Hagiography we extend the hands and the faces to appear longer than in real life. The bad persons in the scene (like the guard who lanced Jesus in Cross) are drawing with less long head and more rounded. All the portraits they are inclined to the left side. This give to the person more purity and motion. So we talk about ¾ face. Full facing in direct is also used. Jesus in Pantokratoras image is in direct full face. Virgin Mary is always inclined to the left.

We start in blank paper. First we design with soft lines the assistant lines. These lines help us to stay in ratios. First we will learn ratios for direct face portrait. Look the first image for ratios. For inclined head we make elliptic assistant lines. If face is inclined to the left the ratios are. The left size is the half of the right size. These are the general ratios.

Please study farther for human body ratios and design. Also a good book about drawing portraits is need. Also we have to study how we draw hair, hands, motion, etc.I suggest this one in Amazon but you may find many in local stores.

Step 5: Image Transferring. the Authentic Way With "Athivolon".

Image transferring is a process where we copy an exact image from media to media, keeping ratios and resizing the dimensions depending the dimensions of the target media. There are many ways to transfer an image. The most common is by making a grid in our canvas and in source of image and try to draw the outlines keeping ratios. Other way is by using a transparent rice paper and draw the outlines of the source image. This is good for equal sizes of images. Other method uses also printers, press etc. In byzantine era the monks they developed a unique method of image transferring. They had to copy an image from a book. They take a rice paper, draw the grid, and then they draw the image to the rice paper. Then, they take this rice paper, and they start to make little holes with a pin, in outlines and basic lines. Then they put that rice paper to their canvas dimensions and start to drop, dry pigment of a specific dark red color, called caput mortum. So from the tiny halls color start dropping and so the lines are transferring. This specific method is called “Athivolon” and many of them are saves during the centuries in Monasteries. After a creating of Athivolon they keep it in library as reference in other paintings of the same subject.

In modern days to transfer a exact image of same dimensions in source and target is very easy. We make a copy of the original image (i.e. from a book) with a xerox machine, and then we take the same dark red color and we apply it at the back page of the xerox. So we make a carbon paper. Then we attach that in dimensions of our taget canvas. So we take a pencil and draw the outlines and basic lines. After use, we keep this carbon paper for another same job. Please do this job gloves. Dark red pigment is a color that stains and is indelible. Where it drops is remaining for years. Some of the color may can be clean it with alcohol or white spirit. In clothes doesn't leave even after 10 washes and stains and our rest of laundry. So always lay some newspapers under the canvas to protect the desk surface.We don't use commercial carbon papers because ink will be transferred to the painting and vinegar will spread it out in whole canvas and we have color-ink mixture.

After transferring is finish, keep the “athivolon” in nylon folder. Wipe out the area from pigment drops. Then we have to pass these outlines with fresh color. That job must be done immediately after the transferring. So we take some water and we mix the same pigment with some drops of water in our palette. Please use deep palette like these for keeping eggs in our fridge. For an image of one portrait and about A4 in dimensions we will need 2 teaspoons of dry pigment. With water drops will be enough for our image. Always after taking color, wipe in a napkin the brush. For brush we need at least 00 for outlines and the we pass again one more layer with 0. Always after separating yolk from white, take a needle and remove the thin membrane that keeps in shape the yolk. The mixture egg and water shall be kept in fridge only for few days. After finishing the outline drawing, the transfer is permanent, so we can stop now and start the painting any time we wish. I have transfers of about 4-5 years ago.

Step 6: Have Fun!!! Colors and More Colors

The Base

Its time to have fun. First of all we make the mixture egg yolk and vinegar. We separate egg yolk from the white and with a needle we remove gently the thin membrane that rounds the yolk. We drop the yolk to a jar or to bigger. Then we drop white apple vinegar to yolk in equal quantity. We mix very good. We add 2-3 drops of distilled water. If egg has strong odor add some extra drops of vinegar.We keep this mixture in a bottle with a nozzle so we can control the dropping. We can keep the mixture in fridge at least for 4 months.

The color palette.

We must have a minimum knowledge about colors. The colors are separating to Basic Color Team and the Supplementary Color team. The second team comes from mixing basic colors., Please read further for color mixing in the Internet. Our basic color palette is quite different. We have to gain at least 10 basic colors.Also the colors in egg tempera are separating in Natural Earths and Rare Earths. The first category is used as it is and they can be mixed together. The colors of the second team they can't be use alone. They have to be mixed with colors of the first team. The reason is why the second team colors is like very thin sand in texture. The basic start up colors are:

  1. Green of Earth (Tera Green)
  2. Imperial Blue (Royal Blue)
  3. Common Red
  4. White of Titanium
  5. Cadmium Yellow
  6. Vermilion Red
  7. Imperial Red
  8. Black (Matt black)
  9. Camel Brown (Ocher Brown)
  10. Caput Mort um (Dark rotten Red)
  11. Tin White. (is not used as color but as a smoother in layers because is transparent, and as repairing the errors in wooden surface. Also is used with stucco to the preparation of the wood canvas. Also is used as a glue to the gold layer. Also is used when we want to succeed the crack of the color surface to appear the icon more antique. So we apply zinc white layers as a finish. The regular titanium white is opaque and doesn't get yellow through the time.
  12. Burnt Sienna

Color Mixing

We use basic rules to mix colors to produce other colors. There are many sources in Internet and published books. We need a good knowledge of color mixing. Always we mix 2 colors with egg mixture as a medium. We need very small quantities of colors if we paint any image smaller than A3. Use a small spatula or a plastic spoon, or a Popsicle stick to add small quantities. At begin we will make mistakes in quantities but with experience growing we shall have better evaluation of quantities needed. Avoid to mix more than 3 colors at the same time. If we see that mixing is fail and is not what we expect, start all over again and don't try to recover the mistake. Never succeeds this and we spent a lot of color. Usually Iconography colors are coming in big sacks and the salesman puts them upon requested in small plastic jars of 100-150-200 gr. In these jars we keep colors for many many years. They are dry so they have long life in our selfs. On the contrary we can save a mixture in liquid just for a few days. So always prepare small quantities of colors with egg, just enough for that day you will use it and the next two days in maximum. Color mixing is a combination of art and science. Look the images that figures color mixing and try make your own.

Step 7: More Fun!!! Painting Time

Layers, give me layers!

As already mentioned in the introduction of this tutorial, egg tempera starts from darker colors and step by step, adding "light" we take the final result. So we need layers. The layers are.

1st Layer .The full coverage of all skin areas (face, hands, feet) with Burnt Sienna and just a little of Cadmium yellow. When we say "little" we mean quantity like the head of a match or less. This layer is appeared in the first image of an angel, and we cover everything except hair. Also we cover the clothes. We use a tear shape brush of number 5,6 depending the size of our canvas. Please notice that ALWAYS we brush in one ONLY direction. This layer is not so easy. We have to cover everything with the same color. That means we have to make a good quantity of the specific mixture. Also this layer is done at once. Never stop the job and say you will continue it later. You will never succeed the same opacity and ratio of your mixture. You can see the hue we want in first 3 images. If we don't have burnt Sienna we take Camel Brown with little of Red and Yellow (the last two in little quantities) After this layer all the others have to do with skin parts of our Icon. This layer is called "proplasmos of the Icon", meaning a prep layer of our image so to accept the layers that giving more light and depth in our images

Preparation Layers of Skin parts.

2nd Layer. is actually the 1st of the total 4 following layers. First is first. If we have in our image red hue colors on the clothes then we apply the red-prep. If we have blue then we apply the blue prep and so. Let say that we make the icon in our images above. So we need the red-prep. This is a mixture of rotten red with little of burnt Sienna. We apply the color, with a wide brush, and always in one direction. We apply a thin layer so the initial lines or outlines not be covered. If so we draw the lines with rotten red and little black. We apply this layer in everything has to be covered by color (clothes and skin).

3d Layer.We apply more thin color of our previous step and a layer above this with egg only. Now we have to choose which school we gonna follow to complete our image. Our Icon as figures above belongs to Cretan School. So the third layer is actually the 2nd and be applied only in skin surfaces. With some camel brown with burnt sienna we cover the faces and the hands /feet etc. This is a thick enough layer. Its applied by 2 layers and always brushed in one direction.

4th Layer. We apply this in two also layers. Is a mixture of Camel brown and earth green with little of cadmium yellow. This gives more light in skin surfaces. The incoming light is also an issue we have to discus about in Iconography. Only Jesus and his Mother can be painted by direct coming light. All other persons they have side light. Which direction is depending our demands. An other important detail is always we apply this layer and we allow a distance among them in skin surfaces. This distance has to do with our canvas dimensions. But if we paint in a A4 page dimension, we apply this 4th layer of about 7-10 mm of distance among the previous one.. Please advice the relative image to figure out exactly what I mean. If we paint a smaller canvas this distance gets smaller relatively.

5th Layer. Is actually the layer of incoming light, and the details of a person. Is the layer we give dimensions to our painting. So this mean we convert the image from a 2d to 3d giving depth details. We apply with White and little camel brown all the natural physics of the person. Also the details if is old or young. All depending from the person we have to paint its portrait. Finally we give volume by applying a "nude" layers only with egg and actually extinguishing the colors by mixing them. Is the most difficult layer and only a really good one artist can succeed it perfectly.

Step 8: Gold Foils and Golden Backgrounds

To apply golden leafs is a full technique. We apply gold before any color layers. We need some tools and materials

  • Golden leafs (they came in packs of 10,20,30 etc) and minimum dimension 10x10 cm
  • A special glue mixture called mixion. This is a white wood glue with zinc white and water all at 1:1:1
  • Agate tools...Maybe the most ever expensive tool in this Art after the gold. It gonna cost over 50 euros and if you buy the hole set it gonna cost at least 400 euros. But you don't need all set just buy the "flat hammer shape" one like the one in image.
  • Αaccordion shape brush a big number like 4-5-6
  • a sponge brush

We apply at the area the glue mixture. This glue has water as base. So wait some minutes to be ready. A trick is to pass your middle finger above the surface and if is crackling then is ready to apply gold. Take with an accordion brush the gold leaf without touching it with nude hands and apply it in prepared surface. Don't try to reattach or get it out. Apply it like it is. Then take a sponge brush and gently try to get out the bubbles. After applying all golden foils and removing bubbles leave it at least 1 hour to absorb it. After this time take a sponge or accordion brush to remove all excessive gold. We keep it for our next job. If we want a mirror effect get that agate tool and gently squeeze the gold surface. By hitting it get more glossy. If the gold foil is not successfully deployed because of glue errors (mostly) we leave it like it is and we add some pine resin to make old-aging effect. The pine resin will crack-elate the gold surface and we have a nice old-aging effect. If we have excessive gold in painting areas we remove that glossy of gold with rub garlic.

Another way more modern to apply gold in our images we can buy gold powder. This powder is really gold but more cheaper than the leafs. A bottle costs about 15-20 euros and is enough for many many uses. Its applied like a color with an accordion or tear brush of any size is convenient to you. The basic medium is not egg but a chemical product (coming from resin) called negative solution (negatif). if is hard to find because its expensive and rare to find (they use it the old photographers to deploy the photographs) you can use clear nail polish. So take a quantity of nail polish liquid and dilute in this the gold pigment. Then apply it where it gonna gold placed. Another similar to gold is the brass as old aging color.

Step 9: Make the Painted Icon Permanent in Time

After we have created our masterpiece there's need keeping that through the years. We have Icons since 900-1100 ΑD and are excellent the colors, even the surfaces (canvas). So to preserve our image we need several materials.

  1. Pine resin (in liquid form)
  2. Bee Wax (natural Wax)
  3. Shellac white (in flakes) diluted 1:3 with any alcohol
  4. Wide common brush
  5. a heating place
  6. a pair of casserole or any pot can be heated

Melt the Wax

Take two pots. Place in the first water and in the second the wax bar. Place the second inside at the first one. The French people called this heating method Bain Marie and is a common way to melt chocolate bars. Place on slow heat and shake until the wax bar melts at all. Take the wide brush and start to brush the icon canvas at both sides. Try to make a thin layer of wax. After this layer we can't do any corrections or repaint the icon so be sure what you are doing. After the wax layer gets dry we need another one layer for preservation of wooden canvas. Here we have to choose either the use of Shellac or Pine resin. Both are excellent preserving materials. The choose has to do more of the availability of our materials. I prefer pine resin. Its combines perfectly with natural wax and the icon has a nice fresh perfume. The other method is by using white shellac in flakes diluted with isopropyl alcohol or rubbing alcohol. With the wide brush we pass the canvas (both sides). Shellac is another form of resin but in now days they make it synthetic. After that finish the icon is ready to be stored and keep as family curio.

Step 10: Blessing the Icon (optional) and Epilogue

If you are like me orthodox before store the icon it has to be blessed in Church. The priest takes the Icon and place it for three days in altar and blessing it. After the 3 days the icon is ready and as we called has been read. This step is optional but many people ask it before buy or order an icon.

As epilogue I have to say that these are the steps of making egg tempera iconography. If followed as been discussed then the results may be grate. Hagiography is an expensive art. From brushes to colors and supplements are all expensive. Don't try to get all at once. The total cost of a lab can hold up to 500 euros. Buy the start up materials and when you will need something new buy it. Also an Icon can be very expensive so is a good source of money even from a hobby. An icon can be sell it minimum at 120 euros and maximum at 1500 euros depending the subject, the size and the colors. For example an Icon representing the last Supper in A3 size get sold at 1200 euros a month ago. So its good money and an excellent art and hobby. Please take money only from strangers. There is a tradition to gift an icon to our close friends



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    1 year ago

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