This past weekend was an interesting journey. Leading up to this weekend, I was uneasy as I hadn't done a presentation in some time, and I was also unsure on how to best approach the Icon writing workshop. How do I teach a 6 hour class, based on my style.
The first event was the Icon presentation at St. James Anglican on Cordova Street in Vancouver. I had prepared a 3-part PowerPoint :
1) * Some background about the theology of icons
2) The stages and symbolism in writing an icon (based on my style, while still covering some differences between acrylic and egg tempura).
3) A presentation of some of my body of work in iconography.
It was good that the curate at St. James, Deacon Lucy Price, brought her laptop. I've rarely known PowerPoint presentations to go on without a glitch. And true to form, my laptop couldn't install the projector's software.
* Rather then making the PowerPoint slides too text heavy, I had asked Deacon Lucy to prepare a handout on the full text for the first section, which could be taken home. This allowed me to condense the slides to point form, allowing me to expand as I went along.
The presentation was very well attended. After the liturgy, I was able to chat with those attending during a lunch that was provided, and viewed some icons that were on display by some of the locals associated with the St. James community.
The last part of the event was having the group walk over to St. Paul's Catholic Church to view the new icon of St. Paul which had been recently installed. This is the icon based within the Coast Salish culture.
It was a very full day and I so appreciated the welcome and hospitality of Father Kevin Hunt who made the presentation possible, and Deacon Lucy Price who helped coordinate the event and troubleshoot the laptop and projector connection, and to everyone who put the lunch together.
No sooner had the presentation been successfully completed, the work began in preparation for the Icon Workshop on Monday. It was being held at the Saint Kateri Tekakwitha Centre, located at 887 Keefer Street. I had Saturday evening and Sunday to get everything organized. Father Garry Laboucane helped me with gathering the supplies. By Sunday, we already knew that the numbers attending had gone from 10 to 15. I was trying to be prepared for a few extras.
I wanted the class to be as much of a pleasant experience as possible for those attending, knowing that the range of experience would be from first-timers in painting in general, to some more experienced. I had to structure the class in such a way to allow each student to work at their own pace and skill. Yes, an icon will be daunting, and many would feel a bit overwhelmed when they saw the design, but I encouraged them to trust the process and just take each step in stride.
I had prepared step by step examples which I posted on the bulletin board in front of the class. These were crucial in supporting the students, and allowing me to freely work with each student in the room, at whatever stage each were at. I knew that the class time wouldn't allow developing shaping, highlighting and finishing details, so I also had a colour photocopy of the actual icon which they could take home.
As the class was due to begin, another 4 students arrived, so the original plan for the opening of the classes had to change in order to accommodate the extra students and setting up their work stations. I asked Father Laboucane to open with a prayer.
The first step was having them trace the design onto their panels (138+lb acrylic paper: I noted that icons are normally painted on a wood board). This was the most daunting step for them and this was where some were thinking that it would beyond what they could do. I know how a icon design, with all its lines and details, can be overwhelming. I helped them to set up the graphite paper and assured them along the way. For those having difficulty, one had arthritic fingers, I simplified the pattern for them, and helped along the way.
Why not just provide the students with panels with the pattern already done for them? It is an important step, in being part of that infusing the design, having missed all the prep stages of preparing a board etc.. Transferring the designs both gave them full ownership of their own on their finished work, and anchored them in a basic of the work in writing an icon.
Once they started painting in the base colours, the students began to settle in and feel more comfortable. As the main colours were added, what was initially a complex design of lines, all became clearer and less overwhelming. My step by step samples helped them to determine what they were seeing and what colours went where. These samples became integral which students could also pass around.
By early afternoon, it was great to see how all were progressing well. It was alright if they didn't get to developing their icons with additional shading and highlights, but so long as they were able to reach a place where it was basically complete. This was a 6-hour class after all. The understanding was that they could add their own ornamentation at home. When it came to the base skin tone, I had mixed a batch of a neutral colour. With the mix of students in the class, I knew how skin colour was a very personal choice, so I helped each of them to adjust their colour to one that they preferred.
So in the end, all were happy with the experience, and came out of the class with a wonderful sense of accomplishment. That was the goal after all.
Thank you Father Garry Laboucane for making this workshop possible, and for all your support.
I'm still in a holding pattern for the next three icon commissions, while the design dialog evolves and funding becomes available.
In the meantime, I compiled a video scrolling through a number of icons which are part of my body of work in Iconography. It isn't a complete presentation but does attest to the years of being blessed with commissions.
It was great to see Father Jim's posting with pictures of the Tabernacle project for the Ukrainian Catholic Parish of St. John the Baptist in Lamont, Alberta. He included before and after restoration pictures. I love how he has done the restoration, with the colours that he has chosen. I am very grateful for having been invited to be part of this project, in writing the icons. It was especially pleasing to be part of an Alberta project once again.
Pictures taken by Father Jim Nakonechny, Eclessia Design & Appraisals.