Glass Icon ProjectProject and pattern by Randi Maria Sider-Rose, Iconographer
Peasants in 19th century Transylvania discovered that, although hand-painted icons from Greece were out of their price range, they were able to produce their own icons on glass. Following in this tradition, icons are painted on glass in the reverse order that one would paint on wood. The resulting glass icons have the vividness and immediacy of folk art, while still being icons in the aid of prayer.
If, like the Romanian peasants, you want an original icon but have a limited budget, you can commission a glass icon from Immanuel Iconography Studio. Or you might like to try this glass icon project yourself. A glass icon makes a treasured gift. And glass icons can be done as a devotional project for a small group during Lent.
The Romanian peasants would have painted everything on the back side of the glass. To simplify the project, you can trace the pattern of the icon onto the front of the glass, then paint on the reverse side of the glass with the traditional medium of egg yolk and natural dry pigments.
Gather your materials.
To remember our Creator God, the iconographer working in egg tempera gathers up the materials — metaphorically the whole world in the elements of animal, vegetable, and mineral — and offers them back to God.
- A 4×6 picture frame with glass. IKEA is an inexpensive source.
- Pigments (the dry color). You’ll need four colors:
- Buff Titanium
- Red Oxide (made from iron)
- Ultramarine Blue
- Yellow Ochre
If you can’t get these at a local art supply store, you can order them online from Kremer Pigments. The smallest size of each, 100 grams, will be plenty, even for a group project of up to 20 people. The cost is about $8 per color.
- Palette or small containers to put the paint in.
- An egg.
- A sharp knife, a small measuring cup or pitcher, water, a spoon.
- A dropper bottle (nice, but not necessary).
- Paint brush. A #4 round suitable for watercolor or acrylic works well.
- Sharpie pen and DecoArt Gold pen.
- Gold-colored paper or aluminum foil to back the painting at the end.
- Pattern for the icon.
Iconography is first and foremost an act of prayer and service. Humility, not artistic skill, is the basic requirement. Before working on an icon, pray and sign yourself with the cross.
Break open an egg.
Tap the egg against the side of a sink, inserting your thumbs into the crack, and pulling it open.
Children can help with this stage. They love the tactile nature of glass iconography, especially because it is REALLY how icons were and are painted by real iconographers!
Separate the yolk.
Let the yolk fall into your hands, the whites falling through your fingers. Rinse the yolk gently under running water.
Dry the yolk.
Dry the yolk by rolling it around a paper towel. Rinse and dry your hands off too.
Drain the yolk.
Grasp the yolk in one hand and poke it with a knife with the other hand. Let the INSIDE of the yolk (the yolk minus the yolk sack) flow into a container.
Mix in two teaspoons of water. Stir with a spoon. Transfer to a bottle with a dropper, if you have one.
Trace the pattern.
Trace (or draw) the desired image onto the glass with Sharpie pen. Use the DecoArt gold pen for the edging on the Theotokos’s mantle or gown. Move the glass around to include whichever image or image combination you like.
Paint the flesh.
Mix a portion of the egg yolk with Titanium Buff pigment until the paint is like heavy cream.
Cover all the flesh with this color (face, hands, the Christ image including loincloth), without regard for any of the details. Just cover it all with thick paint. Dip often into the paint so you are not spreading too thin.
Paint the cloak.
Mix up the red paint and cover the cloak, along with any flowers that you want to have colored red.
Do not touch the wet flesh color with any wet red color. They will bleed into each other. This is why the cloak has lots of trim: to keep the colors separate.
Paint the undercloak.
Mix up the blue and paint ther undercloak, along with any flower details that you want to be colored blue.
You might experiment with watering down some or all of the blue for a more transparent effect, which will let the gold paper shine through.
Paint flowers and leaves.
Mix up the yellow paint and paint any flower details that you want to have colored yellow.
Add blue pigment to the yellow paint to make green for leaves.
Add gold backing and frame.
Let the paint dry several days, if possible, or at least several hours.
Put the gold paper or aluminum foil on the back of the glass, and place them together in the frame.
If you prefer, you can use copper tape around the edge of the icon, attaching the paper to the glass.