Sourcing Icon Painting Materials in the UK.

The most commonly used suppliers  of icon materials in the UK are Cornelissen, Stuart Stevenson and FitzPatrick. All of these are based in London.


cornellisonCornelissen’s is the best known but has very high delivery costs, so it is best to make up a good size order. It is an amazing shop, near the British Museum, which looks as if it stepped out of a Victorian postcard! They were established in 1881 and their description – artist’s colourman – says it all. They source their own pigments which are high quality with great depth of colour – but you may have to grind some of them. I found yellow ochre and lapis-lazuli quite hard work. They do a range of traditional pigments, for those who prefer them -but a word of warning: you really need to check that the paints in your palette are lasting and chemically compatible with each other. this applies to all pigments, but more to the less stable early pigments. Of course, earths, which are the backbone of your icon palette are rarely unstable. They also sell an interesting range of locally sourced pigment (London pigment) by Lucy Mayes.

You can get everything you need, from your pencils, paper and brushes, through your whiting (or marble dust if you prefer, all your gilding equipment, golds and varnishes. They sometimes have gesso panels, but it is cheaper to buy the gesso and do your own. If you are doing big work with lots of gold, they have discounts on ten books of gold leaf and can advise on how many books of leaf you will need to cover a surface (that is edge to edge so I would add a third on that unless you are very experienced).


Stuart StevensonStuart Stevenson has a very modest exterior but can compete with Cornelissen in range and expertise. It is a bit of a walk, down Clerkenwell Road, but worth every step. Alternatively, they give excellent phone advice. They are a family run firm, and  I have phoned many times to ask advice on anything from the best gesso to the best gold size for assiste gilding. Postage is according to order, so better for small amounts. For me, the real gem of the shop is that they stock Maimeri Artist’s pigments, which are very fine ground –  so a dream to use on faces. Their Yellow Ochre light, with English Red and either a Terre Verte or Ivory Black+Yellow Ochre Light= Green make the most extraordinary range of face shades. They also stock Sennelier colours, another reliable brand. I note they stock Gamblin colours, but have never used them: nor have I used Old Holland. If you try out a new colour range, I recommend getting a few background/ garment colours first, to get the feel of them.

In other materials, they have a good range of gold, and it is worth comparing prices with Cornelissen. Both firms have colour charts you can buy. They also stock Liberon oilless ultrafine steel wool, which is invaluable for smoothing bole surfaces for gilding ( a steel wool with oil in it ruins the gilding surface before you have begun). there is an interesting micro mesh sandpaper I haven’t yet tried out. I buy my gilding knives from there – they are light to handle and well balanced.


AP FitzpatrickAP FitPatrick, in Cambridge Heath Road, are geared to mail order and they prefer you to make an appointment to visit. They stock Kremer pigments – another reliable brand. They have a very interesting range of brushes – some nice Isabey squirrel hair for washes, string bound bristle brushes for gesso (better than a metal ferrule, which cuts the bristles when you are bashing away to get bubbles out) and a very good range of your icon painting sables. I have just found a Vaishali sable, which may become my brush of choice for assiste gilding.

They stock gessoed and ungessoed icon boards in limewood, various sizes including circular boards, at a reasonable price. Unfortunately, these don’t include boards with kovcheg/kivotos – the recessed ‘sacred space.’ They only sell acrylic gesso, so you will need to get your egg tempera gesso materials elsewhere.

Posted in Online Icon Course: Sourcing Books and Materials, Technique of Icons: Sourcing Books & Materials

A2: Greece: Design Exercise 1: Learning to use the Brush.

In the Online icon Course, linking the history of the Church to the development of iconography, we have now started the second set of exercises based on the classical cultures which influenced icon painting. We are looking at A2 Ancient Greece and the art of brush drawing, with brush drawing exercises.

I cannot over-emphasise how important this often overlooked exercise is. Many students plunge into trying to paint perfect faces – which requires perfect brushstrokes – before they are comfortable with drawing with the brush. The Greeks were, and their icon painters still are, masters of brushwork par exellence. 


A2 Greece_Blog Exercise A2a+A2b_pic1

Posted in Online Icon Course Update

Hellenic Judaism, Icons & Gold

chrysopigi52_metamorph_paths2-smIt is a long time since I updated the News, but that doesn’t mean nothing is happening! As I am now at a monastery in Greece, life has changed quite a lot. I can no longer do the one-to-one online tuition – partly because of a poor internet connection, and partly because of sheer lack of time. I have been putting out feelers to other people who may be able to take this on, and some possibilities are emerging, so stay tuned! Practical workshops too, are temporarily on hold – but stay tuned, as there are some ideas in the pipeline. Meanwhile, you will find some tutor info. on the recommended pages – I am still on the lookout for recommendations, particularly for a tutor in Greek Iconography, so again, stay tuned!

B anastasis squareThe tuition page on the subscriber pages has therefore also changed in character. It will now offer more substantial guidance on following the course on a d-i-y basis, and using it as supplementary study. The course can be a great help to students of the icon who cannot attend a full time course or are looking for an in depth background and seeking to improve their technique by supplementary design and painting exercises. It can also be of great help to priests, those involved in church architecture committees or the use of images in churches, as well as being of more general interest to teachers and catechists.

OIC pdfs picNow – to the Updates. For a long time, I have been hoping to add pdf versions of the podcast lecture pages. The newer podcast lectures now have these files attached, and eventually the older pages will be updated. We have had some issues with making the podcasts because, since Apple discontinued their Garageband podcast software I have been trying to find replacements and also to make the pictures a bit larger! We are still working on it, but we have been able to start posting the podcast lectures again.

IMG_3195So – what are they? The main work is going into the Hellenistic Judaism section. This is not as obscure and irrelevant as it appears at first. In fact, the longer I work on it, the more critical I realise it is, to understand the icon and the origins of Christianity. It shines a light on so many of the Old Testament and Gospel icons, that you find yourself tripping over a new understanding of the Gospel and its icons at every stage. Although it is loosely based on a historical timeline, starting with Abraham, in fact it is thematically arranged.

dl3sm2For example, I am currently working on the theme of Bread. This is in context of the feast of Unleavened Bread, which started as ‘food for the road’ when the Hebrews escaped out of Egypt. Bread opens many doors in the Gospels – Jesus refers to getting rid of old leaven. Leavened vesus unleavened communion bread is still an issue between east and west, and the karpas – bitter herbs – of passover are depicted in many icons. Bread includes the harvest themes, of which Pentecost and it’s icon is one…and so on…

IMG_3748I have, at long last, managed to get up the red bole section preparatory to gilding, and am now working on the ‘collecting your gilding materials’ podcast.  Meanwhile, I am learning classic Greek iconography technique here, and an alternative gilding method and gesso finishing method which, eventually, will be added into the course materials. If you yourselves have stage by stage material on icon and gilding techniques you have used, and would be willing for them to be part of these pages, so that we can build a key iconography resource, or any other contributions – even purely on liturgy ( Greek Orthodox first) I would be very glad to hear from you.

Finally, if you are signed up to the course and would like general comments on your work, or want to share a project you are working on, please send me some photos by email with some text explaining your project, and I will make a response on the subscribers tuition page. Material will be posted anonymously by default, unless you specify otherwise!

Posted in Online Icon Course Update

Judaism: podcast lecture: Sacrifices & Birds

Red heifer sacrificeThis is the continuation of an excursus about sacrifices – perhaps appropriate that we have got here at the start of Lent! We all talk about ‘making sacrifices’ and the ‘paschal sacrifice’ but this is in context of a long history of the Judaeo-Christian tradition. What did sacrifice mean for the early Israelites when they left Egypt. What was the meaning of the bloody temple sacrifices which were so much a feature of Jewish worship until 70 CE? When Israel leaves Egypt, they sacrifice the first paschal lamb – a big insult to the worshippers of the ram god of Egypt. Jewish commentators point out that, in many other ways, Jewish sacrifices challenged the cults of the gods around them, replacing them with the worship of the One God.

It was a remarkable achievement! This small fragile nation persisted over more than 2,000 OIC A3dii Holy Wateryears to such good effect that, by the time of Christ, the world was ready for the worship of the One God, and millenia of worship of multiple gods was swept away in a few short centuries. As a Christian, it has been humbling to realise, during this study, to what degree Judaism ‘prepared the way of the Lord.’ This podcast focuses on the proto-covenant with Abraham – the Covenant of the Pieces (Genesis 15), and the significance of the sacrifice – not only of a ram, but also of a young cow, a goat, a turtle dove and a pigeon.

OIC A3dii LastJudgementIn the process, we come across Lenten ashes, holy water, and a number of icons. Did you know the cleansing water came from the Pool of Siloam, and the arcading we see in icons of the paralytic, was built in the time of Herod the Great. Did you know it is in Leviticus the the association of goat cults with the devil is first mentioned (Leviticus 17:7)? We discuss the goats of Yom Kippur and the parable of the sheep and the goats, in context of the Last Judgement icon. Well… sign up for the course for the rest!


Posted in News, Online Icon Course Update

Judaism: Podcast Lecture: Plagues & Stars

OIC_A3di_17_DionysiouAthos_RainHail+fire This is the beginning of a short series on the theme ‘Battle of the Gods.’ The Torah (Ex.12:12/Numbers 33:4) states that the plagues are selected explicitly to defeat and humiliate the gods and symbols of Pharaonic Egypt. It’s not kidding! When you go more deeply into this and, especially, follow the Jewish commentators and Midrash, you realise how incredibly well designed the Israelite religion was. Israel’s existence would become a direct challenge the multiple religions of the Mediterranean basin. the plagues are just the opening salvo!


OIC_A3di_11_SerpentWildernessMoses opens with the ‘Battle of the Rods’ – the miraculous shepherd’s crook from Sinai challenges the shepherd’s crook held by pharaoh in his formal statues. The serpent theme from Genesis to the Cross is explored. the apocalyptic weather conditions prefigure the rain of hail and fire in St. John’s Apocalypse. The devastation of crops happens at the time of the great festival of the rebirth of Osiris. the redemption versus the death of the firstborn leads from Egypt to Jesus the firstborn Son, and the theme of lamb sacrifice in  the Liturgies of the Church is introduced.


OIC_A3di_31_Jacob_star_emmanuelThis is a section rich in iconography, completed by the star vision of Abraham, on which the pagan prophet Balaam builds, in his famous prophecy of Christmas – ‘a star shall arise out of Jacob.’ In this lecture we are starting to explore how the events of the Old Testament lay the basis for New Testament iconography. A whole new understanding, of the Bible and Christian iconography, opens up when one approaches Bible study from a visual point of view.

Posted in News