The making of an Icon


I have always wanted to try my hand at recreating an icon in encaustic. Using the medium icons were originally created in gave me greater insight and understanding of iconography and an appreciation of the meaning and symbolism of religious imagery. Having said that, I realize that there are specific documented ways to create iconography that I know nothing of, so I apologize in advance to those whose knowledge exceeds mine. Part of the challenge that I enjoy in creative endeavors, is finding my own way through the maze. If this leads to a dead end, then I have learned a valuable lesson, if I manage to muddle my way through, I become a better artist.

My functional work space…messy and comfy.

The icon that I chose to work with is “The Ethiopian Madonna and Child” brought to the west by Constantine in 1046. According to church tradition, she was painted by the Evangelist Luke. My first step was to apply general color on a 8by10 clay board using an encaustic iron and a selection of waxes.

Once the wax is cooled, I use a sharp metal rod to draw an outline of the icon into the wax. This can be one of the most difficult step for mistakes are hard to undo.

Now that I have the figures in place I go back with the iron and redo the background and any additional areas that do not match up with the drawing.

Once this step is completed and I am happy with the result, I heat up the encaustic stylus and start creating a general color outline.

As the icon starts taking form I add and remove layers of wax to create color, form and texture. If I get stuck I usually take a break for several hours or work on something else to give myself a fresh perspective. Sometimes, asking my 8 and 5 year old boys what they think, can be productive and at times humorous! Over the course of several days the icon takes shape.

Once the icon representation is what I have envisioned,  I add the highlights and shadows. The last step it to take a soft cloth and polish the wax into a shine.

This icon was followed by several others. There is something beautiful and serene about recreating icons. These images were a bridge for the common man to experience the divine. I feel connected to the images and hope that I in some way can bring across just a glimpse of the original intent.