How do you teach someone with little or no painting experience how to paint an icon in an online class?
That was a question I faced almost three years ago when COVID-19 closed the country, and Vladislav Andreyev asked me to teach a beginning-level online class for the Prosopon School.
Online teaching requires a different approach from live teaching. Unlike classes with students physically present in my studio, in online classes I cannot mix the initial paint for the beginners, nor can I correct their mistakes or physically show them what they might be doing incorrectly.
The first step in online teaching of beginners is to teach them how to mix their own paint — to instruct them about the nature of painting in egg tempera with dry pigments, the relationship between pigment and egg and water, and the various methods of applying the paint. This is the material that we cover in our 3-day PAINT MIXING CLASS (Feb. 2-4, 2023), which is a prerequisite for all the other classes that I teach.
Students receive all art materials necessary to complete the work, because it is essential that we all work with the same brushes and tools. Students also receive detailed written instructions and reference materials prior to the class. Classes are conducted live on Zoom and they are recorded. Students have access to the recordings for at least 3 months after the final date of the class, and they can watch the videos as many times as they wish.
During the class, I walk them through every step of the process, and we do the work together, aided by close-up views of my work via a web camera, as well as screen-share photos and one recorded video demonstration of making the egg mixture. There are ample opportunities to ask questions.
The Paint Mixing Class consists of six 2-hour sessions (2 each day, with a 1-hour lunch break): an introductory session, three painting sessions, and two pigment-study sessions. These sessions give students a foundational understanding of Prosopon-style egg tempera painting that prepares them for successful work in all the other online classes.
Most students follow up the Paint Mixing Class with a nine-week BEGINNING SERIES project class that starts two weeks later. (These classes are two 2-hour sessions each Saturday for nine Saturdays.) Over the course, we paint a small icon of the head and shoulders of either Christ, Our Lady, Archangel Michael, or Archangel Gabriel. (The projects rotate over two years’ time.) We work through each step of the process, learning the skills necessary to complete each step successfully.
Our icons are small (6’x8”) and the images are simple, and we take plenty of time to focus on the fundamentals of the work and how to handle the brush and the paints. Students get to observe me doing every step of the work via the web camera, and we do much of the painting together in class, with the students completing any unfinished work during the week. Many students paint more than one icon of the class project as they develop their skills.
For individual assistance with their work, my students in project classes are all enrolled automatically in my Tuesday Zoom critique sessions. They email me a photograph of their work, and on Tuesdays at 3 pm and again at 7 pm Central Time, I open each email and critique each photo. We celebrate the things they have done well, and I give them my suggestions about how to improve areas that need work or correction. Some students do not send photos but rather critique their own work considering my comments about the photos of other students. Everyone enjoys these constructive critique sessions, and we cover a variety of topics about icon painting.
This February our beginning project class will be an image of THE BRIDEGROOM — Christ at his Passion, with a crown of thorns. We will focus on the fine points of painting the face of Our Lord, which is a little different from other faces. This is a perfect image for our prayers as we move through Lent and Holy Week this spring. Classes begin Feb. 18, 2023, and end in April, with a few breaks included in the series. All classes are recorded in case students miss a particular class; they make up the work from the recording.
Beginning after the 4th of July this year, a second series of beginning classes will be taught with the subject of the project class being the Archangel Michael, Warrior. Please see our CLASSES page for more information about all our classes and the registration process. If you feel called to begin painting icons, come and join us. We’d love to have you!