Friday, January 1, 2010

Glorious Bells

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Back in the Studio!

Interestingly (at least to me), I worked in my icon studio for the first time since the summer yesterday and today, and tonight I'm writing on my blog for the first time in forever also! Hmmm.

Well, the pretty good reason for the hiatus was that I was working day and night trying to get our Orthodox home exchange website up and running, which it now is! The link is in the righthand margin if you're interested - it's called Egeria Home and Hospitality Exchange. I won't go into the details here; all the information is on the site itself at

The picture on this post is a bit of drawing I did for the website - I recently started doing calligraphy with a quill (ie a goose feather cut at the end into an edged nib) and boy, now I know what all the fuss is about. There is nothing like drawing or writing with a quill. I don't know if I can go back to metal nibs. The quill nib is flexible and so allows for so more more expression. If you write with a modern metal nib it is nearly impossible to understand how the writing and drawing in the famous manuscripts (eg The Book of Kells) could be so beautiful. With a quill, even if you are not a great calligrapher, it makes a lot more sense.

Anyway, the doodads above were early experiments with the quill. I was replicating some decorations pictured in a book of medieval Russian (although they lump a lot of Armenian stuff in there) manuscript decoration. I love it - it's so fresh and inventive, like so much art from the period. I copied a bunch of these little illustrations and we included them in the Egeria website to add warmth and charm to the look and feel. The idea was one of homeyness and antiquity at the same time, which I liked as being very appropriate for an Orthodox home exchange site!

That done for the time being, I'm continuing work on a largish icon too - a family icon commissioned by a friend as a surprise for her husband. It is quite complicated; a portrait-format board about 14"x 20"with a routed center which is rounded at the top (yes, I will try to post photos at some point) and with generous raised margins. In the routed area are the three standing figures of Sts Peter, Herman and Mary (sister of Lazarus). These are the dad, the family, and the mom's saints, respectively. On the lower margin below are three medallions depicting Sts Finnian, Victoria and Simeon (now some of you will know who this family is. . .shhhh!!!), the three children in the family. These medallion shapes are wreathed with entwined olive branches, a reference to the wedding psalm which says "your children will be like olive shoots around your table." Above the whole group, on the top margin, is the Theotokos holding a protecting veil over the whole composition.

It has taken me a long time to get to where I am now. Namely I 'established' the drawing today and yesterday. This means that I went over the preliminary drawing, which had been put on the gesso with water-soluble pencil crayon, with more 'permanent' egg tempera. I put that in quotation marks because when it is fresh egg tempera is not very permanent, but it's much more so than the pencil, which disappears easily with a little water.

The use of water soluble pencil crayons, especially in a nice sepia colour, is a great trick from my teacher Heather. They allow you to draw fluidly and directly onto the board, which makes the drawing much more alive. Those of you who draw will know that as soon as you attempt to transfer a drawing in some way, something in it dies, no matter how careful your copying or transferring. You do have to be slightly crazy or confident to work a drawing directly onto a gessoed board; I'm a little of both but I always have a lot of studies and preliminary drawings informing the seemingly 'freehand' drawing onto the board. Plus there is always the reassurance that if you mess up at this stage there are fixes in the form of water and sandpaper! Of course for more formal elements, like the olive branches, I have the design carefully worked out in advance. But faces and hands, etc, I prefer to draw in a more immediate way so as not to lose the aliveness.

Anyway, today saw the breaking of an egg, always auspicious in the studio of an iconographer! It means something is getting done. This is the most exciting phase, because you are now able to 'open' the painting, that is, to begin to lay down fields of pale colour and watch the icon begin to take shape and come alive. This process will be especially rewarding in the case of this icon because it was such a complicated icon to compose, and the drawing is, naturally, very detailed.

One other thing I have observed while working today; that is that I am applying knowledge of the end of the process to how I proceed here at the beginning. That is to say, now that I have a bit more experience both in painting icons and in egg tempera itself, I know what things to avoid at the outset, because they will just make life harder down the road.

A good example is drapery lines. When I was more of a rookie, I would establish too many of these lines - that is, lines describing drapery inside the figure, as opposed to the outlines. What I learned later is that as the icon is being painted (as opposed to drawn -- I don't use the term 'written' very much, because it's not very useful in this type of discussion, but that's another post) -- as the icon is being painted it shifts and changes, and decisions you may have made at the drawing stage seem crazy to you now. It is hard to describe. It's like choosing a route by looking at a map, but when you hit the open road you can see a much more beautiful way to go, and you start to take a new route.

The problem is, if you have lain down your lines in egg tempera which has been allowed to cure a bit (ie it's more than a few days old), you are now fighting with these lines even as you are deciding on new lines, because as egg tempera ages it becomes more and more difficult to remove.

This characteristic is wonderful, of course, -- it's what allows egg tempera paintings and icons to last ages and ages, and it's inherent in the very technique of painting with it -- it's what allows for that tremendous subtlety --but it's a problem if you want to change something! You always have the option of sanding lines off, and goodness knows I've done plenty of that, but it's a nuisance to be avoided as it creates dust. Not to mention that any washes or layers of colour you have done over those lines will now be ruined when you have to go beneath to get rid of the lines. If your wash was nicely applied and you like it, having to ruin and redo it can be sad, since it can be difficult to replicate exactly what you did the first time that was so successful!

So all of that laborious discussion was just to say that now as I draw I have all the memory of that stuff in my mind, so I don't bother to establish interior drapery lines until some painting has been done already. It makes life easier all around - flexibility further into the process, and a simpler, faster drawing now!

However: I DO include all those interior lines in the studies and preliminary drawings for the icon, because without them you won't end up with a believable outline. You don't want St Peter to look like he was made with a cookie cutter. Don't ask me what the logic is of coming up with lines at the beginning and then losing them and then finding them again is - maybe it's something you have to do to understand.

Happy St Spyridon's and St Herman's days to those on the new calendar! Glory to God for all things.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Egeria Exchange is live!

Hello! Are you here? Well, as of November 16 you should go here:

because that is the actual website! Thanks for dropping by :-)

Jenny Hainsworth, proprietor
Egeria Orthodox Home and Hospitality Exchange

Monday, November 16, 2009

At LAST! We are LIVE!

Well, friends, the big day has finally come for Egeria Orthodox Home Exchange. We are live on the net and ready to receive membership registrations!

For a limited time, get your one-year membership to Egeria for only a penny!

Head over to and peruse the site. It takes only a minute to sign up for a membership. Soon this blog will be taken down, and news and user stories/ testimonials will appear on the site itself. Thanks to all who have been following, and God bless!

Egeria Exchange. Matching Orthodox Christians and their friends for home and hospitality exchange -- worldwide!

You have friends there.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Where are we now?

Thanks so much for your comments and questions. As of today, Sept 24, we are in the test phase of the site, making sure everything works so there are no problems for our users.
Free memberships will be offered first to -- well, those who ask! Everyone on our Facebook page will be invited to list for free, as well as those who have posted comments on this blog. This way we can get a healthy list of possiblities right at the outset, so that there is value in purchasing a membership once we begin to register members in the normal way, ie through Paypal/ Visa. Watch this space, and if you are able, find us on Facebook too! Thanks again.

September 24, 2009 6:00 PM


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A New Testimonial -- this one from Bath, England!

Having been Orthodox from the cradle, I've been exposed to the wonderful feeling of being able to offer and to receive hospitality from friends far away, planned ahead of time or on the spur of the moment, and it is this feeling of true homes from home that Egeria offers.

Among the many places I've had the joy of being entertained and taken into the houses of Orthodox people who I didn't know before I left home are Romania, Greece, South Korea, the USA, Canada, Germany and Montenegro, all of which are memorable experiences with images flooding back to me as I write.

And, as to how well Egeria would work, I can offer one example: Earlier this year, after Jenny had already started thinking about proposals for Egeria, she had a call from a friend of a friend who was coming to the UK. She put me and several other people in touch with them, and they threaded an itinerary between these contacts (luckily we all live in picturesque places).

So when it turned out that I was away for over half the time that Maximus was in Bath, it was no problem. We arranged to meet up when I was there, but before that, because I'd spoken to him plenty beforehand, I was able to call people in my church and make sure he was encouraged to stay for a meal afterwards, as well as encouraging him to myself, and I think that introduction really made a great difference to him and his party's stay.

There are so many other anecdotes I could add, but I think that for the sake of brevity I'd better end there. The possibilities of the Egeria network are pretty much endless, and with Jenny's wit, humanity and graphic design underlying it, I can only be sure that it will reach its potentials.


Thank you, Ambrose!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Nearly There!

Well, it's June. How did that happen.

I just got back from an amazing week studying Byzantine Chant at St Nicholas Ranch in Dunlap, California. The course is put on by John Michael Boyer (Protopsaltis of the San Francisco Metropolia) and his crack team of teachers and guest lecturers. We're talking about Fr Ephraim Lash, Dr Constantine Kokenes, the sublime Stelios Kontakiotis (who came all the way from the island of Tinos to demonstrate what happens when, as my fellow student and friend Fr Kosta put it, you "cram an angel down your throat") and newly-minted PhD Dr Alex Khalil. It was a jam-packed week, with two services and three classes every day. As JMB says, you don't go there to catch up on your sleep. No indeed. But my brain was buzzing very happily despite the sleep deprivation, and despite learning of the existence of INVISIBLE NEUMES, which, as we all know, are just not fair.

Alright, in Egeria news. Things are really cooking now. Our awesome web developer Robert is going full tilt to have the site basically completed in early July, and then we will do a round of beta testing. Basically this means that we will ask a bunch of folks to log on to the Egeria site as though they were customers and proceed to navigate through the site so that we can ensure that everything works properly. This will take up part of July, then it's over to Robert again for fine tuning. Then we launch the site and open our virtual doors for business in late August -- or allowing for Ortho-flex time, September.

Now a big question when you're setting up a home exchange is, of course, how do you get started? How or why does anyone become a member if there are no other members to exchange with yet?

What we're doing is offering free memberships to friends, family -- and pretty much anyone else who asks -- for a limited period of time, or up to a certain number of listings, say about the first 300. That way by the time people are paying the (small) fee for the membership, there is actually something there worth paying for. Then as more and more people join, the usefulness of the site and the value to each member goes up. There will probably be a period of time after that when new memberships are good for three years for the price of one year. In any case the memberships are guaranteed -- if you cannot find a match within the term of your membership, it will be extended one year for free.

Well, I'm getting bleary-eyed as it is rather late, so I'll stop typing now. I created a Facebook group for Egeria tonight, so feel free to hop over and chack that out too -- I'll post news as it comes up. Look for Egeria to be open for business this September!
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