The icon of St. Kateri Tekakwitha has been completed and is almost ready for its second coat of varnish later this evening.
Once I have a chance to catch my breath, and getting two totem paintings completed in time for submission on Sept. 10th, I'll put together a commentary to post on the website.
I have one more full day tomorrow and the St. Kateri icon will be completed. I'll take some photographs of the icon before I varnish the image (minimizing the glare as much as possible).
The gold-leafing is done and the sealer on the gold is dry. The inscription and halo are under the sealer so that they are sealed onto the gold.
I'll let the icon sit overnight before continuing with the painting. At this stage, I add paper along the bottom of the image to prevent any paint from falling on the gold.
Much work still to do but the pivotal gold leafing step is done.
It was time to begin the gold leafing process. To protect the image that is in progress, I needed to cover it with paper and taping along the edges. The tape is just inside of the edges of the images to allow me to work the gold size without touching the tape. That began late last week, with sanding and adding the a coat of Gold Size. Then the waiting began. It was taking longer to set and dry, and it just can't be rushed. It finally was dry enough yesterday (Monday).
The AC and all fans had to be kept off to avoid disturbing dust and lint in the air. It made for sauna conditions, but it is part of the gilding process. Sanding with 320 grit was done and dust etc. was carefully wiped of with a tack cloth. After that, I use the palm of my hand to wipe the surface, feeling any grit, wiping the palm off on a cloth and continuing until all surfaces are perfectly smooth to the touch.
It was then time to add the second coat of Gold Size, careful to minimize brush strokes and catching any bits of grit or lint. If the look of the size is acceptable, then the timer is set for 3.5 hours. That is how long it takes for the size to reach the right tack to apply the leaf. Sometimes the drying time can take longer; heat and humidity being factors.
I recall the Deesis Mural in Descent of the Holy Spirit Church in Lloydminster Alberta. I had scheduled to do the gold background in the evening. It was a cooler day and as it was approaching midnight without reaching the tack phase, I had to decide whether to call it a day and start over the next day, or just wait it out. It was 3AM by the time it came to gold leaf a 10 ft x 10 ft mural.
When it came to the 3.5 hours, I found that the tack was just right, so I was committed. 23K Italian patent gold, scarp scissors, and a sable brush, and we're off. The leaf has to be completed before the gold size fully dries.
After letting it set overnight, I gave it its first burnish. But before I can do the halo and inscription, it is best to leave it set for another day, to assure that the gold size is fully dry underneath.
There is still much to do, but I've reached the point where I need to do the gold leafing. That needs to be done prior to continuing with the detail work, and completing the face, the cross, etc..
Factoring drying times, it will take me approx. 4 days. Once the gold leaf is in place, I then need to add the halo and inscription prior to sealing the gold. The reason being that any paint which is going directly onto the gold, has to done before sealing as the paint will not adhere to the sealer. This of course adds a very cautious time of adding these while protecting the leaf which will scratch easily or show finger prints or palm prints from the oils off the skin.
After the coat of sealer is done, the icon will need another 1 day (or 2 depending on drying time) before I can continue writing the icon.
Unfortunately, I am unable to attend the 350th Anniversary celebrations in Vancouver this Friday (Aug. 11th). The Sisters Of The Child Jesus had invited me to be part of the festivities back in May when the new icon of Anne-Marie Martel was unveiled at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in North Vancouver. I wasn't able to attend at that time either, the realities of an artist living hand to mouth.
I had hoped that finances would make it possible a few months later, but no.
I've extended my apologies to the Sisters, along with my congratulations on this momentous occasion. I will always cherish the great blessing of writing the new icon of Anne-Marie Martel, Founder of the Order.
It's been a time of a few backward steps with the icon, following a message received, advising that braids not be used, as they were/are not typical for Mohawk and Iroquois. Seeing that my base coated image on the icon board had braids...
Seeing that the majority of images viewed in my research had braids, even though I had my doubts, I went with the majority. The recommendation against the braids said that artists in general have defaulted the stereotyping of braids. It answered the doubt I was sensing.
So after more sanding down of the areas on the icon which needed changing (my thumbs always dread all the sanding), I loosened the hair and added the shawl on the crown of her head. After putting the base colours again, the image did not sit well with me. The icon now looked like any conventional Byzantine icons, and St. Kateri had lost a lot of her Mohawk-ness, as more of her regalia was concealed etc.
So out came the sandpaper once again, having to undo the changes that I had done. Once that was done, tracing paper was placed on the icon so that I could begin trying options.
In the first option, I removed the shawl from the crown of her head and set her loose hair down her back. The image was nice enough but it struck me as too young looking and too romantic. St. Kateris wasn't a young lass but a young woman.
All the while, I left the icon in St. Kateri's hands, trusting that she will guide.
It came to me that the shawl did need to be on her head and not just on her shoulders. There were a few reasons for that. St. Kateri was known to cover her head to conceal her facial scars from the Small Pox that had decimated many of her family and her people. My first design had left her head uncovered seeing that I was depicting her without the scarring; a miracle that had occurred moments after her death. But I had forgotten the other reason for covering her head, her eyes. They had been seriously damaged from the small pox and the sunlight was really hard on them. She needed to shade them from the glare of the sun. And so, covering her head would have been an automatic daily response.
And also supporting the decision to replace the shawl on her head, was how her family always insisted that she get married (for which she ran away to avoid), and how she wanted to begin a religious order for herself and a few other Aboriginal women. Being bare headed would not have been considered as modest, or typical of someone in avoidance.
So the new design is completed and the base colours have been restored. Having taken the few backwards steps, I am now able to move forward. The school much appreciates the thought, research and prayer that goes into my icons, as does Sister Mitchell for the same. And more deeply, I always thrust that the prototype, St. Kateri Tekakwitha in this case, will guide my hands in writing the icon that is wanted.
I'll post a picture once I get a bit further in the development of the icon.
So much has taken place over the short while. With it all being intertwined, I thought it best to combine the updates for both the icons and totems as they are part of the same picture. Only time will tell whether it is a sign of the journey that is ahead.
As soon as I had completed and delivered the Ste. Anne icon on July 17th, I needed to push ahead and get the design going for the St. Kateri icon for St. Thomas Aquinas High School. The research was a bit tedious as the statues and images of St. Kateri are all over the place. None struck me as authentic, other then the small original painting of her which gives precious little information, typical of most paintings of that era. I also researched Mohawk images given that her father was from the Mohawk Nation. I also sent a few emails to the shrine and conference center in the United States (both with Mohican contacts) to double check my info and whether I was on the right path.
From all that, I prepared the design and constructed the board. I had just inked in the design onto the board when I saw a Facebook posting about Carey Newman refurbishing his 2008 totem. I inquired as to where the totem was. When he said Duncan, I volunteered my help if he needed. So I happily went in to Duncan on Wednesday last week to help for the day, with no idea what to expect. I was just ready to help in whatever way that was needed. I was just thrilled that I had followed my instincts, in that this was an opportunity to connect with a totem in its refurbishing, (after my journey with totems within my painting series).
I had no expectations in particular for the day, other then just doing what was needed. I started by doing some sanding, and after a short while, I was asked if i could start painting. That was great. I was part of that first coat of colours after the Spirit Pole had been sanded. I may not be an expert on all forms used by each nation, but I was familiar with what I was seeing, and recognizing where the edges were (or should be if sanded out). There was one small form that I had to double check on. After the first day, I offered to return on Thursday, so long as I was more of a help then a hindrance. After a good long day of painting on Thursday, I returned Friday to help with the oiling of the totem. I didn't have a lot to do on Friday, so it gave me quality time to study the totem and the carved movement within.
The totem experience was memorable.
There was a one very special moment on the first day, when a blind Elder came to visit with the totem. It was one of those rare and important moments where you become fully aware and just know that you need to absorb it all. I was there to experience it. To best capture the experience, I’ve just copy/pasted what I had put together on my Facebook page that same evening (July 26th):
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It was a great day on many levels today. The opportunity of helping Carey Newman in a small way, an artist that I greatly admire, as he refurbishes one of his totems in Duncan, raised in 2008. The day started with some sanding. I would have been content with that. Then came the joyous task of painting. All a blessing. It was especially dear to me as it was a visceral connection to the totem. The final blessing which I will have etched in my memory always, was witnessing the joy and animation of an Elder that arrived to visit with the totem. The moment became sacred for me (hard to know how else to describe it). In an instant, when Carey and his assistant Tegas cleared the space for the Elder to approach, the interaction that followed was like having a veil removed from my eyes, and seeing the truth of the totem and Culture, through new eyes. I've always had a deep love and respect of the totems, and the wonder and majesty that they are, but here, this was different. I hope that I am not sharing something that I shouldn't. The Elder was blind. Once helped to the totem, the sight of the Elder was brilliant, as he felt the forms of the Frog and the rest of the totem which he could reach at ground level. Carey described the totem which was out of reach. The interaction was so natural and superseded everything else that was going on around us. All the while, through the Elder's wonderment and words, I for the first time, felt a glimpse of what he was seeing. This wasn't just a solid carved form but a swirl of life and interaction. And the joy of finding cracks within which gifts of tobacco etc. could be placed. I've always loved the aging of wood but cracks will never just be cracks anymore. I feel as I had been given a great gift today.
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On the weekend following, I began mixing colours and trying base colours for the Kateri icon.
Father Laboucane called yesterday (July 31), saying how much people liked the Siksika Sacred Heart icon and the Ste. Anne icon during the Lac Ste. Anne Pilgrimage in Alberta, the annual pilgrimage attended by many First Nations. He said that I may have opened a whole other niche in my iconography. The possibility is interesting but also a bit daunting. But so long as I can eventually find my way with each, with the support of First Nations collaborators...
I then received an email from Sister Kateri Mitchell in the United States, in reply to my inquiry for the Kateri icon. She herself is Mohican. I was pleased to read that she was happy with the research I had done, and the direction in which I was going with the design. This icon, like my others, will be distinct, and will reconnect somewhat to the original portrait. It reminds me of the process with the Anne-Marie Martel icon where the original (and only authentic image) also needed much research.
The one recommendation from Sister Kateri, which was an “Oh” moment, was that braids not be used. My design on the icon board had braids… She said that all artists resort to the stereotype of braids, but they were not typical with Mohawk or Iroquois. I replied in thanks for her guidance and for the timeliness given that I was just starting painting the icon board. I could still sand down what I needed to in order to rework the image.
I am pleased with the growing First Nations collaborators within my work, especially within the my new direction of First Nation icons. I am hoping to also gradually make inroads within totem painting series, as more and more see the series for what they are. But it isn't surprising to me that both these interests combine as easily as they do. They after all, are all part of me, all part of the same. Both forms are iconographic. Both are based on the life of wood, both are in water based colour, both comprise of spiritual language, symbolism, and stories, and both are finished with coats of oil; the variation being that I use a non-yellowing sealer for my acrylic icons which are used indoors).
So as I said earlier, the past few days have been full. The key in the next few weeks or months, will be to keep eyes wide open to decipher other opportunities as they present themselves.
But in the short term, the immediate challenge will be the record breaking temperatures we are experiencing in British Columbia (as so many other areas). Even with the 2 portable AC units, it gets hot in here. We are headed into the high 30s before humidex.