An Inside Look at the Ancient Art of Iconography

This LA-based graphic designer stepped out of his element to join the ‘Icon Guild of Southern California’ early one Saturday morning and learn about one of the Church’s most ancient types of art. “It’s a blessing for us now to have this craft that was developed so long ago,” says one member of the religious iconography guild.

Video Transcript

Genie Deez: There’s a group of artists that get together regularly to create one of the Church’s most ancient types of art. They’re called the Icon Guild of Southern California. Icons are painted images of saints, angels and the divine but created with painstaking detail. The class is normally composed of experienced painters and craftsmen, but today they have a new student, and I’m completely out of my element.

Icons. Pasadena, CA.

Genie Deez: It’s 7:30 in the morning, on a Saturday — not a weekday, on a Saturday. Today I’m gonna do something I’ve never done before. It’s outside of the art I normally create. I’m a graphic designer, and normally my art style is very minimal and modern, clean. But today, I’m gonna take an eight-hour class at Beckett Studios on iconography painting.

Group: [chanting] With Your most Holy spirit, enabling Him to represent Your most Holy Mother, the One who held You in her arms and said, ‘Protect them from all evil and instruct them in good counsel.’ This I ask through the intercession of Your most Holy Mother, the Apostle Luke, and all the Saints. Amen.

Member of Guild 1: With icon painting, you start from dark to light because that’s how the spirit in the person comes to Christ. As we get closer to God, we reflect God more so. So the image is to reflect God in us.

On average, it takes 40–50 hours to complete an icon.

Member of Guild 2: Well, that will dry a little lighter, but the idea when you’re doing Roskrish is to do small circles. That way it disperses the grains.

Genie Deez: Thank you, sir. Oh, that’s perfect. They play this ancient monk chant music while we’re painting, and it almost takes you to a different world. It’s like stepping back in time. The people around you melt away and it’s just you and that icon. It’s almost a meditation. You go, ‘how can I become more patient?’ Or ‘how can I better communicate with God,’ or how can I represent these virtues to other people?

Member of Guild 3: It’s a blessing for us now to have this craft that was developed so long ago.

Member of Guild 4: It has brought a focus to prayer; it has brought a focus to my life.

Member of Guild 5: That’s the prayer, it’s to be open to the gift of the Spirit.

Genie Deez: Eight hours later, and I have a much deeper appreciation for iconography work. When you see this in a church or a cathedral and you walk right by it, you really don’t have a chance to admire the detail. I’m a newbie, I came in today. I had to do mine on paper, but they’ve been working on these for months and at the end, it looks beautiful. There’s layers and layers and layers of patient effort on top of here, and that’s something that I did not know before coming to this class.

Heart open [Two Church bell chimes]

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