Saint Lazarus Zographos (the painter) believed that we do not live for the here and now, we live for the future. We are not content with what is, but struggle to achieve what should be and what will be. As pilgrims on this earth we look to the future. The earth is not heaven, it is the path to heaven.
This is painted in egg tempera on watercolour paper. I have based it, on another of Aidan Hart's icons of early British saints. He has done a series of similar ones to this, but I don't know if this is his own prototype or if he drew inspiration from another source. Regardless, I love his work and very often look to his corpus first when considering how to approach a subject.
This is in my icon corner at home and I noticed this morning that his right eyelid, the left as you look at it, is drooping slightly. I'll have to modify it.
This is one of the drawbacks of painting for you own prayer, you can be distracted by your own errors! Here is Aidan's:
My book, co-authored with Leila Lawler, is now out and can be ordered from the publisher Sophia Institute Press. It is called The Little Oratory - A Beginner's Guide to Praying in the Home. The claim in the title about the impact it will have, incidentally, is not my own but is taken from a review by Scott Hahn, which I give in full below (although I do hope his assessment is correct!) It is a practical program in mystagogy - the teaching of the mysteries of the Faith - that promotes a cultural renewal through a liturgical piety in the family and parish. It explains how to build a prayer corner - a 'little oratory' - as the centre of family prayer and has eight color detachable icons in standard sizes for framing, to get you started. The paintings you see in this article are from the book.
It addresses the crisis of fatherhood by explaining crucial role of fathers in family prayer. By encouraging fathers (as well as mothers!) to be an example in prayer it will help to encourage vocations for it will teach boys that prayer and worship are masculine activities as well as feminine.
As such it is a family centered, practical manual for the New Evangelisation that could be promoted by parishes or cultural centres. It explains how family prayer can be the basis for building up communities beyond the family in parishes, for example, and even the workplace.
Here is what Scott Hahn wrote about it:
'This is one of the most beautiful books I've ever seen. How I wish I'd had it when I first became a Catholic, not just for myself, as a husband and father, but for my family, too. It's a commonplace of Christian tradition to call the home a sanctuary or "domestic church," but before a home can be a church, it must become an oratory -- a place of prayer. The authors of this book know that there are many obstacles, and they show us how to overcome them. This book is inspiring yet practical, realistic yet revolutionary. If one book has the potential to transform the Catholic family (and society), this is it.'
It adapts for the family the traditional spirituality of artists that forms the person in humility so that they are open to inspiration and it engenders creativity. In addition it describes the practical aspects of an education in beauty based upon the traditional education of artists and how this can be applied at any level. It could be introduced, for example, into homeschooling groups, at a college level (I have been doing this in my Way of Beauty class) or even the basis of an MFA. The Sophia Institute Press site here  includes downloadable high resolution prints of the icons in the book and numerous line drawings for coloring and for copying to help teach children how to draw (scroll down to the bottom of the page and you'll find the link). This really is useful at all levels - I teach adults in my classes using these same images.
In addition it explains: • Why the Liturgy of the Hours is important and how it can make your family holy • How to sing your prayers even if you think you're tone deaf or timid • How to pray the Rosary with children—and keep the rowdiest of them calm and reverent • The active role children can play in the prayer life of the family and how to raise the cultural sensibilities of your children so they are more sensitive to divine beauty. • What to do when only one parent takes the spiritual life seriously • How to overcome the feeling that you’re too busy to pray • Practical ways to extend the liturgical life into your workplace
It has been well received so far and is endorsed also, by figures such as Joseph Pearce, Christopher West and Tom Howard. It is with the words of well-known Catholic writer Tom Howard that I finish: 'It is difficult indeed to refrain from superlatives when speaking of this book. It's all here. One would like to shout from the housetops, "Drop everything and start using this!" Here we find virtually all that could possibly be wanted for true Catholic household prayer. The liturgy, the Church year, the Hours, music, chant, icons, the Rosary, lots of "how to" helps, even tips on Catholic household décor. And the great thing is that it is all presented in clear, strong, sane, modest, unembellished prose. The helpful commentaries turn out to be luminous meditations actually. The book is a rare treasure.'
Buy the Little Oratory - A Beginner's Guide to Prayer in the Home from the Sophia Institute Press site, here.
There have been a number of articles published recently, following a show in Moscow, of carved icons of a Russian couple Rashid and Inessa Azbuhanov (their website is here and h/t Deacon Paul Iacono of the Fra Angelico Institute for bring these to my attention). These are exquisite works and are of interest to me particularly because I have to admit I have never seen anything quite like them. I am told that they are re-establishing the tradition of carved icons. These portray form through a combination of color and relief and in this sense are a halfway house between pure relief carving, which uses shadow to describe form; and the painted icon that we are used to. This presentation of course would be easily used for Western styles and I can see it very quickly adapted gothic style imagery and for the Western variants of the iconographic tradition, such as the Celtic. I would love to see some Catholic artists somewhere taking up the idea. This does raise the question in my mind (playing devils advocate here, as to why they bother? Is there any need for such a medium? I don't think that we should do something just for the sake of being different; but on the other hand should there be a compelling reason for in order to justify it? Isn't this just gilding the lily, so to speak? I think that the answer is that provided the image is beautiful and works within the limits that define the tradition, then the greater the variety the better. Each tradition must contain within it the principles that allow the creation of new works, even new variants on the style, so that artists speak afresh to each new generation. Any tradition that relies only on reworking or reproduction of the past will dies. It seems to me that it would be like asking why, given the idea that we have trees in the natural world, did God create so many varieties? For me, it is the fact that so many varieties, beyond counting, can exist and participate in unique ways the same order that makes all things beautiful and direct us to the Creator. If this is so, then it does mean that we should be open to new materials and media as much as a variety of traditional ones, so that would include, for example artificial pigments as much as natural ones (other things being equal). This latter point, incidentally, is not a new one in his book on architecture from the 1st century AD the Roman architect Vitruvius has a section devoted to a comparison of the relative merits of natural and artificial pigments! So here are some images: St Michael the Archangel, Kazan Mother of God, St John the Forerunner (the Baptist).
Icon. Kazan Mother of God
Icon. John the Baptist
The Techniques of Icon and Wall Painting by Aidan Hart. This is the best art instruction book I know of. In my opinion it should be read and absorbed by all artists regardless of the medium and the tradition they are working in. It is available in the US from Holy Trinity Bookstore, and in the UK from publisher Gracewing's website, here. It has 480 pages, 450 illustrations and 130 drawings. It comes in hardback and costs 40GBP or $70. Aidan Hart does a wonderful job in explaining the methods of the media that he works in: egg tempera, fresco, secco and gilding, with great thoroughness and right through to varnishing and even photographic artwork for publicity shots. As an experienced practitioner and teacher he anticipates the difficulties and questions of the students at every turn. At every stage links what is done to the underlying principles of the tradition, and this opens the door to so much more.
First, once the parameters that define the tradition are well understood, it gives the student the flexibility to start creating original work without straying beyond its bounds. Hart takes us step by step through that process.
Second, for those working in other traditions it gives a deep understanding as to how form (ie style), choice of medium, compositional design, even the framing is affected by the invisible truths that the artist is seeking to communicate. The way I paint man is determined by anthropology – my understanding of what a man is. The reason that we can distinguish between different traditions, for example the gothic and the iconographic, is that each is seeking to emphasize different aspects of the anthropology. Understanding how the iconographic tradition is governed by these considerations will help artists in other traditions, for example the baroque, to see how the theology governs the form of their chosen tradition as well.
The first two considerations are what transforms an artistic style from pastiche into living tradition, that is capable of developing and responding to its time, without compromising its core principles.
Third, he gives a simple and easily understandable explanation of the different variations within the iconographic traditions, and unusually, includes the Western variants such as Celtic, Carolingian, Ottonian and Romanesque icons and explains just why they are iconographic.
Aside from this even much of what he is teaching at a technical level is of use to all painters: especially colour theory, harmonization of design, and the different attributes of using line and tone to articulate form. Although vital, drawing skill is not enough. Hart has as well a wonderful sense of composition and colour harmony and this book gives us great insights into how he does it. He shows us that as well as experience and good judgment, there are many guiding principles that the artist can make use of. For example, as well becoming lighter and darker, colours actually change in light in shade – a green might become bluer in shadow, rather than simply dark green. Aidan explains sytematically, colour by colour, how to adjust for light and dark so as to keep a coherent, unified image. In my opinion it is worth buying the book for his personal insights in this area alone.
Aidan Hart is Orthodox, but he does not snipe at the Western Church (as sometimes happens with other Orthodox writers) and so Catholics can read and enjoy it without worry. That said there is one small note of caution: in accordance with St John of Damascus, he describes the icon as being ‘grace bearing’. Catholics should be aware that their own tradition can describe it slightly differently. In accordance with the 9th century Eastern Father St Theodore the Studite, it tends see the action of the icon as one that is analogous to a sacramental, ie, that seeing it makes us more susceptible to the action of grace, but it is not in itself a channel of grace. I discuss this more deeply in a previous article, here.
This book is recommended as reading for anyone interested in sacred art and will, I believe do much in the future to aid the development of sacred art in the Church. Well done Aidan Hart.
It is with much excitement that I await the arrival of a new book on the theology, history and painting techniques of icon painting. I have just heard that this has now been published by Gracewing in the UK and he told me that as yet there is no US distributor. If anybody knows how I can get hold of a copy, let me know! You can see details on his website here.
As a faithful Orthodox Christian, Aidan has the prejudices against other, Catholic, artistic liturgical traditions and culture that one would expect. As with any book by Orthodox, Catholics should be ready for this, but in my experience, there is little that we should be worrying about in such a discussion of the iconographic tradition, and much to learn. Certainly I am going to find out how to get hold of a copy and will report as soon as do so.
Below you have some very rough step by step paintings of the membrane technique, in which there is an underpainting in monochrome and then transparent washes are applied over it - left to right, starting top left.