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The sacred icon is not a simple image or portrait, anecdotal representation or painting. We could said that it is visible theology. Is and means -in the oriental spiritually- a presence of the sacred. Is the image of the invisible. Its function is to make present the eschatological reality, everything that is prototype of the saving reality. And further is the real participation with the sacred; the union between human and divine.
Through a image that man elaborates (the artist, the iconographer) the over natural and invisible reality becomes visible, present and operant, the strength or spiritual energy of the icon.
The Icon Technics
Oldest known icons are the "sinaytics" from the pre-iconoclast epoch (VI - VIII centuries) and are painted at the "encaustic", mixing color with melted wax. But from the X century the favorite technique was the temple or "egg's temper", which is a mix of yolk, water and natural pigments of different colors. This technique has remains the same since then for all the last centuries.
Support is always a table, board or panel ("doska" in Russian). In murals it is a stucco of very good quality. The election of the wood is important being favorites non-resinous and well dry woods so they do not deform after the painting is applied. Upon this can be placed a fabric or cloth "palovaka" or can be paint just over after covering it with one or more layers of plaster (gesso) or Crete (chalk) mixed with glue. Once it is dry it must be polished to get a plain and perfectly smooth surface with an appropriate absorption of the painting. Over this the paint and the gold that gives the spiritual luminosity so characteristic of icons.
Golden background gives to the image of the icon a halo of light that is not natural, but spiritual; background that if seems to be motionless, gives to the image a mysterious motion, because the luminous accents are continuously moving according who looks on.
In brief, the light is the subject of the icon. Because the icon sing to the glory. And the attribute of the glory is the light. Most of the subjects that the iconographer treats concern to his protagonists (Christ, the Virgin, the Saints, Angels, evangelic scenes and from the old Testament) with this golden background, symbol of holiness. To the iconographer it is a reflection, blaze, luminosity of the true that he wants to express. For this light shine in the icon, it has to shine before in the mind and the heart of the iconographer.
The VII Ecumenical Council, second celebrated in Nicaea says, "The art of iconography has not been invented by the artists, but it is an institution of the Universal Church. To artist just belong the artistic side of the work, but his institution belongs and depends of the holy fathers". "The icon is for us the occasion of a personal meeting with the grace of the Holy Spirit, with That which is represented. The more accurately the icon is looked recalls of That whom is represented and an effort is made to resemble him." When looking at an icon or mural well painted it gives us delight, peace in the spirit and joy in the heart.
Paintings are made on wall prepared with roman stucco, using different mineral and vegetable pigments agglutinated with linseed oil and diluted with turpentine. Pigments penetrate the stucco making one body with it. As the limestone and marble receives the color and it penetrate in the stucco, the mural painting adopts a matte and velvety texture of high duration and chromatic effect. Icon is a sacred image that is called to last in time. First a pencil design is made and later it is transferred to the wall by charcoal. The painting begins, harmonizing different colors and finally faces are painted trying that every one of them has a unique and true expression. It is important that every character would be represented as a living thing full of the Holy Spirit and the strength of God. The background is made with gold leaf, symbolizing the light of God which is outside of time and space. It witness us that scenes go beyond immediacy of the historical fact to transmit event of divine transcendence.
In icons is used the inverted perspective, placing the vanish point not in the interior of the painting, as in the Renaissance, but outside of it, in the beholder which, as is proper of the oriental iconography, make these images a kerygmatic announcement, a good news that is updated when is contemplated, in the same way as the sacraments acts, making present the saving act of Christ proposing it as salvation in the now and today. New static modernity and tradition and unsentimental representation, but theological, of our faith.
The color of paintings does not obey to the conventional symbols. Pure and bright colors add to the wall a great expressive strength. Talking about the colors in icons is necessary to do it about the light, because in them the light do not come from a specific place, as in occidental paints but the light is uncreated, comes from God; therefore the figures are embedded in the light.
Engraving is the result of a technique of printing consisting in the transfer of an image depicted with sharps, cutting instruments or by mean of chemical process in a rigid surface called "matrix" in order to accommodate ink in the incisions, that are later transferred by pressing to other surface as paper or fabric (cloth).
The matrix use to be of metal, generally plates of copper or aluminum, but also other materials are used as wood, stone or even acrylic plates, and the image is depicted in them by mean of the lines, usually excavates in the surface of the matrix or primary plate. There are several techniques to record de design.
Personally I like very much the black and white engraving. Normally I use several engravings techniques, sometimes mixed one each other like as Aqua Fortis, Aquatint, Dry point and in Chisel. I also use Vernis Mou (or Soft Varnish) and Mezzotint. The black and white balance attracts me with their infinites grays. The balance between lights and shadows which have a great strength and dramatic expressivity. I use to give the final lights of the engraving with an agate or scraping the plate with a knife or sharp metal. In some cases I use another copper plate to add one or two colors, always seeking for expression and sobriety. Composition and the initial draft is very important to me, to transform it later seeking major expressivity. In this art there are a lot of surprises in the final result which is pretty interesting to me.
Description of some of the techniques used by me:
Is the process whereby the matrix is totally protected with a varnish made of Judea bitumen and beeswax that may be applied in a liquid or solid state, and then allowed to dry. When it is dry, it is raised with an awl or other tool able to remove the varnish, following the design wanted, and leaving the surface of the plate at the air. Once the varnish has been raised with the desire shape, the metal plate is introduced into a solution of water and acid, that will act corroding the plate in those areas where the varnish has been removed making a hole in the surface of the plate, that will be deepest as longer the acid act, and the concentration of the solution.
It is the technique where the design is built digging lines over a metal matrix using just a "chisel" which is a tool with a handgrip with a long piece of metal with cutted cylindrical form with a sharp bevel. It looks like a plow. Who is recording use it in a very similar way doing drills on the plate, so as bigger the pressure deepest the drill, what will make more ink to be contained there. The engraving in chisel is the most difficult and artistic technique to translate a design, link or letter, is related to jewelry that is a great source for engravings, especially in gold and silver, which are softer materials. It may be also used in steel.
Is the process whereby the image is achieved on the matrix just with a fine and sharpened awl, used scratching the plate with more or less pressure depending the line wanted. This awl is named "Drypoint", and when is used to press the metal plate it respond separating itself and raising a millimeter flange in both sides of the incision, where the ink will be lodged, and which are called "burr". This burr make impossible to clean the plate later. As the ink remains in the plates, it leaves a veil very characteristic of this technique. The plates engraved with this technique must be carefully tinted and cleaned when the image is stamped, because the burr is very fragile. That is why is difficult to find long editions.
This technique is generally used with other techniques specially to obtain plain tones and textures. The process is similar to the one used in aquafortis. The plate is protected sprinkling on his surface a fine powder, of rosin resin. Then the plate is heated until the rosin powder crystallize and sticks on the surface of the matrix. This plate is then introduced into the acid solution which digs around the grains of the resin. As with the aquafortis bigger concentrations of acid and longer times of exposition means more tint lodged in the engraving.
The name comes from the Italian "Mezzo-tint", also known as "engraving at the black wood". Is to achieve a dark and uniform tone all over the plate, and then shaded to get white with a honing process on the surface. The plate is prepared using a tool named berceau (or chafer) and the white on the black are obtained using the "agate". Black can also obtained using repeatedly the aquatint on the plate until a deep black is acquire. This technique is usually called "Fake Black Wood". It does not mean fake because it disappear but because it has a dark plate tone.
Soft Varnish or Vernis Mou
This technique consist in the use of a varnish that when is dry keep a sticky texture which is covered with a fine paper, like those called "of silk", over which the drawing is made pressing with a graphite pencil. In this way the silk paper is particularly attached to the varnish in those zones where the pencil has drawn, so when the drawing is finished, the paper is removed and also the varnish glued to it, so the plate is unprotected in that zones. Then the plate is introduced in acid, obtaining the engraving on the surface of the plate. This technique is basically used to mimic the texture of the pencil.