Egg Tempera – Byzantine Icons in 2 Minutes

A super speed jam packed presentation of Greek Byzantine Icons Paintings in 2 minutes.

Here’s a transcript for those who can’t keep up with the breakneck pace of spoken dialogue: Byzantine Icons in 2 Minutes – Byzantine Icons are sacred painting of saints of the Orthodox Faith characterized by vivid colors and often-gold colored backgrounds. Byzantine’ refers to the Byzantine Empire, for it was during its reign that icons became established. We will now examine the Icon creation process in 2 minutes starting…now.

Any type of wood like walnut, pine, or popular is selected and carved by hand. Glue is painted on to the wood while 100% cotton fabric is pressed on to the wood carefully removing all bubbles. The fabric assists in controlling the contraction and expansion of the wood. Glue is painted onto the canvas and after it dries excess fabric is cut away. Glue and Gesso are mixed and applied evenly on the wood often repeated as many as 10 to 12 layers until it becomes thick. Each layer is alternately applied vertically and horizontally. Then it is then sanded smooth.

The image is lightly drawn on the canvas with pencil. Lacquer is applied to the canvas where the gold leaf will be attached. Three of four layers are applied then sanded. Glue is applied and depending on the weather the artist may wait up to 12 hours for the glue to be properly tacky. Next, leaves of gold are painted on the canvas. The artists comb their hair and use static electricity to pull the gold leaf onto the brush. The leaf is applied and pressed to the canvas. A cotton ball is used to remove excess gold and burnish the leaf to a deep shine. Thicker gold leaf is hand stamped and used for design.

Eggs are opened and the yoke is separated from the egg whites and mixed with vinegar. The paints are colored dust minerals mixed with 50% color and 50% egg yoke and vinegar. Egg tempera is a painting process that uses egg yolk to bind pigment granules together. As the paint dries it cures and becomes hard. Once cured, it is very strong and retains its colors for centuries.

The cured egg tempera paint, when applied in many layers, is brittle and easily cracks requiring a strong, absorbent surface – traditionally wooden board covered with gesso or canvas. Egg tempera paint behaves similarly to watercolor creating opaque and transparent effects. The paint is capable of delicate details and elegant lines and dries quickly on canvas.

First, flat colors are applied. Then colors are painted from dark to light. The flesh areas begin with an olive green base coat. Then lighter colors are added. This way the underlying greenish tinge will create shadows and depth. A flesh coat is applied over the green base coat, following by increasingly lighter tints of the flesh color and then the darker outlines and details are executed. The subject’s clothing and other elements are also painted in a similar manner.

Artists use the poles to assist in stabilization and drawing straight lines.

Since the paints traditionally are translucent, light actually passes through the paint of the finished icon and then illuminates the colors of the paint by reflecting off the white background of the board.

Everything shown in an icon is symbolic. For example, the ears are large and the mouth is small signifying that the saint hears everything but only speaks words of holy wisdom.

Icons have a profound spiritual meaning. During prayer an icon acts a window into Heaven connecting with the saint on the painting. An icon painter, or iconographer, is a theologian as much as he is an artist. Often painting an icon is a lifestyle of prayer, meditation, and fasting.

Right on time and thanks for watching


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