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Sotiris Panailidis

Portable Icon Technique – Mural Technique

I learned the secrets of Icon Painting and the traditional methods of its application, both in portable icons and murals, in Mount Athos. I spent 4 years training there under Monk P. Arsenios (of the Holy Cell of Saint Nicholas, “Bourazeri”) and Monk I.P. Kallistos Polatidis (of the Holy Cell of Saint Mitrofanis, Kapsala).

Portable Icon Technique

Having chosen the most appropriate wood, I coat it with cotton fabric dipped in lukewarm rabbit skin glue, and then I apply several coats of the so-called foundation or Gesso. When the surface is dry, I sand it with very fine sandpaper to obtain a smooth surface. After that, I make a sketch of the Saint or scene I am going to paint and I gild it with a 22-Karat gold leaf which I simply stick to the “mixion” (gold glue). Another traditional gilding technique that I use, and is known to very few others in Greece, is the so-called “burnished gold”, or water gilding technique.

In this case, the same procedure applies as in the aforementioned technique except, instead of gold glue, I use water or “tsipouro” as a binder and then burnish (polish) the gold with an agate stone or tiger’s tooth. I then start painting with colours diluted with egg white and vinegar.

This technique is the truly traditional one, and it was taught to me in the very source of this tradition, in Mount Athos. It is used by very few icon painters because it requires great experience and there are many technical difficulties in its successful application. My studio specialises in this technique with excellent results. The gold I use is Russian 24-Karat and of great thickness.

Mural Technique

In our days the fresco technique, which is the oldest and most traditional, is not used because: Firstly, it is too difficult; Secondly, the modern concrete constructions of Churches do not befit this technique; and thirdly, nobody to this day is fully familiar with this technique and all its secrets and therefore nobody experiments with it.

As a result, contemporary Icon Painters, myself included, work with two new methods of Mural Painting today. The first is the one done directly on a dry wall and it is only used in newly built Churches. This is because in older churches the walls are saturated with smoke and oil which are difficult to remove, therefore the colours cannot be fully absorbed and problems arise with the passage of time.

The second method has been used for a few years. I paint on canvas which is made of cotton and is carefully prepared by me. I use the best acrylic colours, known for their quality and endurance in time, and not plastic colours used by most icon painters because of their low price and simplicity to use. When the icon is ready, it is pasted up on the wall and I add the last colour touches to it in the Church, so as to harmonise the artistic effect and adapt it to the needs of that particular church. By needs I mean the architectural peculiarities of each church and, because of those, the different lighting. For, conditions in the studio such as height and lighting are different to those in the Church. The technique I follow is usually Palaeologan Renaissance as the essential base, expressed through my own artistic personality.