Is it really possible for a beginner to paint an icon, good enough to display, in just a week? We were not sure, until we went on the icon course taught by Peter Murphy in Canterbury, this April.
Our task was to paint a Byzantine style icon of St Peter. Looking at the icon we were going to copy, we felt slightly daunted (to say the least) wondering where on earth we’d begin. But from the outset, this complex picture was broken down into simple steps, with plenty of time, guidance and explanation given throughout. We were always reassured that if something went wrong, it could be fixed (which proved to be true!).
At every stage of development our icons looked different yet beautiful, and though we were copying the same picture it was fascinating to see how each person’s icon had its own character. The process allowed us to try a whole range of interesting techniques and materials, including gesso, gilding with 24 carat gold leaf, and using paint made from natural pigments and egg yolk. It was encouraging how in a group of mixed ability, age, and experience, we all looked at our work at the end of each day with a sense of happy achievement.
Each evening we felt a little tired because of the concentration required, but it had also been very relaxing to do a different kind of work, and to become so absorbed in the world of what we were doing. The work environment was peaceful, and the week began with Communion which set a spiritual tone. Peter, our teacher, read us excerpts from medieval artists and spoke about the theology behind the materials we were using, as well as sharing stories from his travels which have informed his own understanding of iconography. We were truly enriched on a number of levels. And of course, it was lovely to do this in the location of Canterbury, which we made the most of during our lunch breaks.
Revs. Alice & James Pettit