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Thursday, July 1, 2010

Many hands....make good souls...and Icons!

I remember one day early on in my icon workshop that I was rehearsing the speech I would give in order to explain the absolute failure to produce an icon myself. "It was more about the experience....I just didn't have the natural ability...It was extremely hard and intricate work....It takes years to be able to produce anything of substance...."  And all these things are true, but what I hadn't counted on was the power of so many hands to help along the way.   The purpose of iconography is to create windows into heaven through which one can deepen their prayer life it is not to be the greatest artist or to selfishly guard one's skill.  In fact the greatest icons are never signed, they are less about the artist and more about what they reflect. 
Now here's the beautiful thing, each day, each new step in the development of our icons began with a lecture and demonstration on how to move forward.  Colors, strokes of the brush, techniques and tricks of the trade were all shown.  Standing around watching an expert you felt empowered, confident and able!   Then you went back to your table (at least for me) and felt alone, unsure and unable.   It could have been disastrous.  I was told that there were some workshops where folks would break down and cry and need to be taken back to their rooms.  My strategy was to go out to the kitchen and get some coffee...kind of hide away for awhile!  But then one of our mentors would come by and either lean over next to you or sit down beside you.  They would ask what you are thinking and then they would take their skilled hands and begin the strokes slowly and methodically so that you might understand. It would usually end with a "there this is what you most do."  And that's all you needed to restore you confidence and hope...someone to sit next to you, even if just for a moment.

Occasionally one of us would have trouble on a particular part--making a round eye, using the painters compass for making the halo, mixing the right color of paint to match the paint already applied.  It was then that one instructor particularly would honestly say...."would you like me to help, it is my gift to you."  What was amazing was that some of the most accomplished iconographers in my group would naturally say: "Yes, of course."  And a moment later the eye was fixed or the color was perfect.   There was a sense that each and every icon was the result of community.

So what...this is a wonderful metaphor for how we should be doing church!  We come together on Sundays or for Bible Study etc... and we feel empowered, confident and able and then we get out into the world and it's easy to feel alone and unsure.   We need more than Sunday morning...we need Christian community that can sit with us at the tables of our lives and give us hope, direction and restore our confidence.  We also need to be able to accept the gifts that we can give each other.  To know our own limitation and to gladly allow others to walk beside us and allow their hands access to those things which seem overwhelming.   It is not a sign of weakness, but the blessing of community.

I learned a lot about icons at this workshop, a lot about Orthodoxy, but I think the real gift was the experience of honest to goodness community. how did it turn out?  The top picture is the chaos of my table with my icon about half done.  The picture here at the bottom of John the Baptist..that's the finished product.  (I've got to oil it in two weeks to harden the paint and bring out some of the colors...but that's it!)  Be kind!!!  


  1. I think your icon is amazing!! I just love it!
    I find that when creating...the process is a journey which is just as important as the creation itself. I totally agree that being in a Christian community is important for support and hope.

  2. Thanks Marlene for the post. Sometimes I tend to think of art and the creative process as simply being the work of the individual...a me thing. I loved the fact that Christian community can be a part of that as well.