Guitar Lessons

DV016_Jpg_Large_519040_guitar_RFor a number of years, I have wanted to begin playing the guitar again. I last played when quite young – maybe middle school. I hiked down the block and sat in a man’s house for 30 minutes a week and, in the end, learned some basics and got pretty good with some classical and popular music. I guess life took over – sports, moving, work, and so forth. For a little guy, it seemed another thing that I had to do sometimes but, frankly, it was slightly pleasurable and I’ve never forgotten.

So anyway, a friend and I were recently talking and we both became motivated to take up guitars and, maybe, even begin some lessons. I’ve had my nice acoustic Yamaha guitar now for about a month. And I begin lessons next Mon at 12:30pm. I’m signed up for a thirty minute session every Mon for as long as I like. I’m actually looking forward to it though my fingers are hurting even now from plinking and bridging. Anyway, I’m set to go in and find out what comes back or if I need to start over. I think it will be enjoyable and fun.

It’s interesting. I was asked what form or type of music I would like to work on. I had to think about that for awhile. I said that I would like to get some basics down and feel comfortable around the guitar so I wasn’t in too much of a rush to find a form or type of music but that I think I would like to try working on the blues. The instructor smiled furtively and said, “We will get along just fine!”

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Icon Explanation

iconI want to say a few things about the iconography class I participated in last week. Some of you have asked a few questions so maybe some of what I write below will help out. I took some observational notes during the six days – Mon through Sat – and will share a few with you.

1. There were 12 of us in attendance including Fr. Igumen Mefodii, our teacher and master iconographer. Two of the students – including me – were male. Two of us – me and a lady sitting by me – were novices. The rest were intermediate or advanced students back for a second or third workshop. The session was hosted (as it has been in the past) by the St. Herman of Alaska Orthodox Church here in Stafford. (Traditional Orthodoxy is explained briefly here.) A session is already scheduled for next year on Sep 7-12, 2015.

2. We started each morning with a liturgical prayer with candles and incense in the background.

3. When one writes an icon, it is more about a person’s relationship with God and less about artistic ability. After observing my icon style after a day or two, Fr. Mefodii noted that I appear impatient, unsettled, and too opaque for me to see God clearly. (He’s probably right.) Another student, for example, was writing too light – a meaning that she is frivolous and somewhat detached in her relationship with God. (She agreed, too.)

4. Everything in our icons is natural. Egg, pigment from rocks or plants, preservation. Not only is this God’s way, but tempera preserves colors and images for centuries. There is not any oil-based substance used in the traditional Byzantine-Russian icon-writing method of the Prosopon School of Iconology. From Wikipedia: “The art technique [tempera] was known from the classical world, where it appears to have taken over from encaustic painting and was the main medium used for panel painting and illuminated manuscripts in the Byzantine world and Medieval and Early renaissance Europe. Tempera painting was the primary panel painting medium for nearly every painter in the European Medieval and Early renaissance period up to 1500. For example, every surviving panel painting by Michelangelo is egg tempera.”

5. A new student in the Prosopon School almost always will write St. Michael first, as I have done. The second icon is almost always Gabriel. Gabriel is familiar to Michael in color and texture but is sitting and looking the opposite direction.

6. Writing an icon is as much about waiting on the icon as it is about creating the icon. Each layer of paint must be dry before proceeding to the next step. In our case, the weather was rainy and very humid. Unfortunately, and due to the moisture in the air, we all didn’t finish our icons simply because they were very slow in drying between steps.

7. In iconography, each layer (tempera, clay), color, accent, highlight, line, and texture (like the gold leaf) symbolizes something spiritual. In fact and as one is writing the icon, one is to be in prayer during the entire session. This being the case, our class was very quiet (a few whispers here and there) throughout. We did have some quiet, traditional chanting playing in the background. It was very pleasant. As was explained to us, some people will fast during the times they are physically writing. Paul, a friend of mine in Romania, tells that some will fast for three days prior to beginning the writing of an icon. (He suggests that the three day fast might be meant to wash out the less motivated…)

8. One of the most amazing and meaningful procedures associated with writing is the affixing of the gold to the clay that ultimately forms the halo of the icon character. It involves pulling deeply from within and then breathing closely (an inch or two!) onto the clay. After 3-5 deep breaths on the clay, one quickly places the gold leaf on the clay. If the moisture is correct, one can peel back the paper holding the gold leaf and the gold will remain placed perfectly on the clay. It is a beautiful thing to do and see. And it’s quite a sound to hear a room of students breathing on their icons.

9. Each morning and after our prayer, Fr. Mefodii would open with a short sermon or reflection. Very interesting. And he would always tie his words in with our personal relationships with God and with our icons. It was good and very interesting to hear him speak.

10. For the first few days, Fr. Mefodii would walk around the room and encourage students with a “good” or “excellent.” As the week went by, however, he began to “uh huh” or would even comment such as “but that is too dark” or “that needs to be smoother” or “that isn’t letting the light from within shine through.” Some of his previous students noted how nice and kind he is but he truly is a master working with apprentices and he never holds back when something is wrong or beginning to go in the wrong direction. I have never actually worked in a master -apprentice environment where each step is being watched and evaluated.

11. A final note – we were warned to not let animals get near the icons. Cats, especially, seem to like to lick icons. No one is sure why unless its the egg or perhaps there is a salty flavor. Anyway, animals like to lick icons so beware. Also, icons are water and egg based so until they are sealed (this can be up to six months after completion) any drips of water or moisture can stain or even damage the work so it’s best to keep the new icons covered and away from moisture. I need to travel to Fr. Medofii’s studio in the next few weeks and finish my icon – some more writing and preparation for preservation. I look forward to completing it so it can dry and season in order to cover it with linseed oil to finally protect it and bring out the deep colors. I also plan to attend, at least, a few iconography guild meetings in the next few months. I’m not sure if this will become a full-time effort or not – I may not be suited for the arts – but I want to give this a few months out of my desire to become familiar enough with it to understand it and appreciate it.

All in all, an interesting and rewarding experience. Kind people, interesting religious connotations, beautiful icons, and a week of contemplative quiet. How nice.

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Greek Eikon

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image [“eikon”], in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image [“eikon”], in the image [“eikon”] of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26-27)

The Son is the image [“eikon”] of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. (Colossians 1:15)

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Iconography Day6

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Iconography Day5

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Iconography Day4

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Iconography Day3

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Iconography Day2

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Iconography Day1

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Iconography Workshop

GabrielStudentAll this coming week (Mon – Sat), I will be attending a Prosopon Iconography Workshop that is being sponsored and hosted by the local St. Herman of Alaska Orthodox Church. As the website describes, the Prosopon method is a revival of the 15th-16th century iconography style of Andre Rublev. Rublev is considered to be one of the greatest medieval Russian creators of Orthodox icons and frescoes and is known, of course, for his famed icon of the Trinity. I know some of you own and display prints of this noted icon in your homes and offices.

From the St. Herman website:

Students will create icons using ancient techniques of painting and floating with egg tampera, with natural materials: carved wooded boards, pure gold leaf, and finely ground clay and mineral pigments mixed with egg yolk. Fr. Mefodii will emphasize the underlying theology of the icon, both the one upon which we work and the Image (Icon) of God in us. Previous “artistic” experience is not necessary since icon writing is as much a contemplative form of prayer as an ascetic discipline. The workshop will consist of six full-day sessions during which each student will complete an icon. Beginning students will receive step-by-step instructions and all necessary materials to paint/write the icon of Archangel Michael.

Years ago, I fell in love with the beauty and meaning of icons when visiting Romania. Since that time, I have been able to collect some original icons from Romania and have them here at home with me. Additionally, and in my desire to know more about iconography, I discovered the 1966 masterpiece movie by Andrei Tarkovski about Rublev (a film suppressed by the Soviet Union and unseen until 1971). In many ways, the movie is as complex and multi-dimensional as the icons created by Rublev. It is a stunning and excellent film and I recommend you have a watch.

I hope to bring you photo updates each day – they will be six full days from 9am until about 6pm – of my own developing icon. And I hope to further discover some more hidden places where God also exists – places in art that I have never been before.

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