Vicky, the Icon Painter
Besides my main profession as a tour guide and planner, I am a religious icon painter, mainly in the winter months when tourism is not so demanding. I have exhibited and lectured about the symbolism of icons and painting techniques in Greece and abroad for many years.
After completing my High School, I attended the National University of Athens, studying History and Archaeology, specializing in Byzantine Art to the level of a Master’s degree. My formal education also includes a license to be a lecturer guide from the State School of Guides, a diploma in Italian Culture and Religious Art of the Renaissance from the University of Florence, Italy, as well as a Bachelor’s degree in Academic Theology from the National University of Athens.
After completing private studies on Iconography (icon painting), I began my career as an artist, continuing to this very day. I paint in the old, traditional egg-tempera technique of Byzantium, in which a paint-mixture of natural earth powder colours is added to egg yolk and wine vinegar and painted on a wooden panel prepared with a gold leaf ground over a gesso base. Some of my icons have decorative hand-carved borders or frames that are unique, each carved from one solid piece of wood surrounding the icon.
Icons are very much a part of everyday life in Greece. You see them not only in churches, but also hung on the walls in homes by either religious people or just by lovers of this unique spiritual art.
Your icon artist and tour guide,
What is an Icon?
Icon is a Greek word meaning an image. They are most commonly paintings of the invisible, a likeness or a portrait of holy figures, “the bible in pictures”. Used in the Eastern Orthodox Church, Oriental Orthodoxy, and certain Eastern Catholic churches, icons are usually displayed in churches, in homes or in private collections throughout the world, the most common subjects being Jesus Christ, his Mother Mary, saints and angels.
An icon painter must have a colour and graphic sensitivity, an inner vision and an understanding so as to give spirituality to these creations. The colours of an icon also mean different qualities: white is light, purity, wisdom and beauty; red is victory, divine glory and sacrifice; blue means sadness; purple is royalty; and gold shows glory, dignity, warmth and Paradise.
An icon demands a serious study and an understanding of its symbols and the specific iconographic laws. The viewer of an icon is never an outsider but always a participant, one spiritual unit with the icon.
How to Create a Traditional Icon – It’s not Easy!
We use kiln dry wooden panels, the wood to be either oak, linden, walnut or any other hardwood. On the surface a canvas is stretched and glued and then we plaster it by mixing gypsum or precipitated chalk for foundation, with a rabbit skin glue hot solution. Four to seven coats of the above mixture is applied on the icon surface with a brush.
Then we smooth the surface with fine sandpaper. After the outlines of the icon subject are done, we cover the surface with a 22 or 24K gold leaf because a gold glowing icon symbolizes the Divine Light of Heaven.
Then it is time to continue painting using the old egg-tempera technique. The egg emulsion medium for the pigments is made from one egg yolk and wine vinegar. Pigments should be all natural (never using acrylics) and ground very fine. We use squirrel brushes and when the painting is completed, with a pointed tool, we scratch the top colours in order to create linear ornaments on the icon painting, folds of drapery on the cloths etc., so that the gold glows as it shows through.
To enjoy a richly-illustrated article about Vicky as a guide and icon artist currently in the Travel with a Challenge web magazine collection, click here.
Click on the thumbnail images below to view larger versions of a selection of Vicky’s icon paintings.
When Vicky did an icon show in Pennsylvania, put on by another person who had taken one of Vicky’s tours, members of our group and I went to the show. I purchased another larger icon of the resurrection of Jesus from Vicky. I gave a talk on that icon at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio. My friend purchased two icons of St. Stephen and St. Timothy that Vicky had done.
Kathryn Brown, Ohio, Archaeology Teacher
To learn more about Vicky’s icons or to book a lecture engagement, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.