Hello from Tbilisi, dear friends!
I have a feeling, that our Newsletter is growing into an Almanac and we need to do something with it. It's not, that I feel like a writer, willing to find some audience, - I guess we simply need some place for communication... On professional matters! I tried to organize a community as a Social Media, and I failed, not only because of technical issues, but because iconographers are people who rather work, than chat.
Now I am coming with a different idea: - let's create something stable, - kind of a Wiki, - an "Iconography Knowledge Base" (who knows a better name? Please, share). I think it is better, than trying to make a Facebook-like page for talking, and very soon I will invite everybody, who wants to make an impact collecting and sharing useful information with the whole professional community. There will be a social side too, - any material will have a "Comment" section, where we all will be able to share our opinions. Besides, - we will have a "News" section, where all members are invited to share events, thoughts and discoveries.
Here in Tbilisi it's way warmer than in St Petersburg in the same time of the year, and the whole feeling of the time is hot too, even though we seem to get used to live in a terrified world. My aunt who works with astronauts in NASA once told me, that we all experience weightlessness here on earth, - it's when we fall. I guess it's exactly what many of people of Ex-USSR are experiencing right now, waiting and waiting for the day of peace... And yet, - no peace, and it's still difficult to focus on anything, when you are in a position of Alice in Wonderland, - left the starting point, but yet no road map or plan can be made for the future. Do we want to return to live and work at home?? Of course we do, but without liberty of speech and connection with the world in all senses we can't. Do we hope to find some reliable position abroad? Yes we do, and hope that our experience can be used, but yet no news, - our profession is too rare to apply anywhere... It's like hanging between earth and heaven, just making efforts to live the routine like everyone on the globe… Sometimes our brains break out and start meditating on what kind of a hell Russian government continues to produce in Ukraine, and in the very Russia, breaking all what was built in these post-soviet years, but we make an effort and stop the brain. Why wasting energy?? Exactly like astronauts we need to continue to breath, act and perform, struggling and hoping to see light in the end of our tunnel... For now - no thoughts! Just pray and slowly walk forward. Pray and move forward, - that's the plan.
After our April Newsletter we have received a great number of emails with words of support from all parts of the world. THANK YOU SO VERY MUCH!!! The textile icons we suggested for sale to help Ukrainian refugees were sold within 5 days after the announcement. With your help we have collected $1250 and the 5th of May the money was given to the HelpingToLive fund. It turned out, that one of the volunteers from there was our friend, he facilitated the contact and made sure that everything goes well. Their Tbilisi office in a tiny building all covered with plants, mostly helps remotely. They have several types of positions, and for me the most striking was to learn about professionals, who are online almost 24/7. Their job is to constantly scroll and cross check a huge number of Telegram channels to monitor situation in different areas of Ukraine and Russia to make roadmaps for refugees. I met with a new reality, where peaceful people helped other peaceful people to find safe detour roads to avoid encounters with military troops. These literally boys and girls under 30, who left Russia or Ukraine after the 24 of February, took unbearable burdens doing one of the most urgent jobs of our time: they literally save people. If you like to learn more about these guys, you can check a Washington Post article Or the main Instagram of the fund.
In the meantime, our own activities got little more structured. Our local routine is the same as we had in Saint Petersburg. It generally sounds like "work as much as you can", but in addition to that we both now are spending more
time for learning!
Back in August 2021, when Olga started planning her Course 4, I asked if she could comment her tutorials in English, not in Russian, so that I would not have to translate, voice over and edit them for so long. Olga said "yes" and called her teacher who used to teach her 10 years ago… At that time Stacey worked as a tour guide for foreigners, visiting Saint Petersburg, and willing to explore most special cultural venues of the city. I love visiting her Instagram to see St Petersburg from a classical tourist's point of view, - what a unique experience!
It was defenetely a lucky day and Stacey agreed to take Olga, so their studies went on until February, when they eventually stopped, but it was not the end. The story has one more coincidence, and it continues till now. Born in the US, but still loving Russian culture, Stacey could easily return to her Homeland, but now she also lives in Tbilisi, searching for a job in the US and awaiting for her husband to get a permission to come with her. This means, that the English lessons continue! Now, when Olga comes up with a script for one of the assignments for the future Course, she meets with Stacey near Parliament of Georgia in a café called Prospero's Books and they discuss most common mistakes, finding the best ways to fix or to rephrase them.
In addition to process of filming the courses we both from time to time allow ourselves to spend some hours for "Art-Therapy" and to paint some icons... We continue using old wood, - here in Georgia it'
has 's mostly Walnut tree with exquisite natural crackelure texture. In addition to the wood, here in Georgia we found one more convenient surface to work on, - old ceramic roof tiles... We also discovered, that it is OK
to paint on either raw wood or ceramic surface directly with egg tempera or any other thin layered tempera, and seal the image with hot punic wax when it's ready.
Old wood surface, as well as old roof tile surface can make a the image way richer with texture, if artist thoughtfully emploes their qualities in the artistic solution. The icon on the right was painted on an old nut tree board, - and please note these stunning and extremely characteristic cracks.
If you like to see more, click the icon, - we've made a new album on our website, which we called Georgian Series and most images in this album are still available. They were painted with egg tempera (sealed with
punic wax), except for Olga's image of Rising Christ, - these two were done with encaustic. We love how they came out, and the only thing, which makes them little less convenient is their weight, - they are not that
light-weight as our usual linden tree.. They are not weightless, but I guess it's just their specialty! Both surfaces (old wood and ceramic tiles) are very good, reliable and very pleasant for paint application.
We strongly recommend them!
Art Therapy is a great time, but learning from a teacher is even better! It'a been long since I was willing to find some body to professionally learn from, and I found him here!
In my learning activity I am am painting images, different from what I used to paint, but I feel it is fully related to our profession. It is a totally new understanding of art, and I am accepting it as an adventure...
Some of our Facebook subscribers saw me starting this new path almost 2 months ago, - in April. At the time I published a History of one image (history of professional reloading), - here I will share it in a shortened version and continue with current updates. Here it is:
On Monday I was inspired by an fresco in Ateni Sion (Georgia). On Tuesday I made an easel and unpacked my colors. On Wednesday I started drawing and painting after more than a month break and I came up with the first image. I was kind of glad about it, - it came out the way I wanted.. Even with an option of total removal of the red garment, it was OK... Then on Thursday I had a phone call from a great Georgian artist David Sulakauri, (@datosulakauri), former student of from world-known restorer Adolf Ovchinnikov . He said he did not mind me to come and to learn from him. The model he suggested was a Crucifix by Rouault (similar to this one), but David said I needed to make my own version of it, from the very beginning thinking of exposing the character of the image, not copying it. It was great challenge, as even with colors I had to always check myself from point of expressiveness and minimalism of the means. The whole idea was to start the image not from construction, nor from outlines (as I used to), but from establishing the main expression right in the very beginning… I did not have much success in this try, but the David's words transformed my whole view on my job… I came home, cleaned up the board and started from scratch, using the new approach. It was not easy, but at least I tried and with Olgas participation arrived to this image.
Do you see any difference?
After that session my learning continued, and still goes on. I feel that the process of transformation will take another while, before I consciously handle my habits, but I am immensely grateful to David for sharing his understanding of art, inherited from his Tbilisi Fine Art Academy professor Edmund Kalandadze and from Adolf Ovchinnikov from Moscow, who lived in his home while copying Georgian frescoes. By the way, in 1990-s David used to live in the USA, where he painted a church with encaustic, and continues using it.
Speaking about encaustic, I must say it's a very specific, unique, and inspiring technique, hiding immense possibilities. I love it and I feel inspired to know, that more artists are trying it, even though when I have inquiries about teaching it on our courses I always say NO. In my opinion it's a technique for those, who know well what to want, - for those, who have learned how to draw and paint with other mediums, but wants to go further in expressivity beyond the limits. You may say it's a snobby approach, or, even worse, a way to hide a valuable knowledge, but it is not true. I guess my answer to my own self may seem strange, but that's how it sounds: Encaustic is a way of conceiving the image in its maximum expressivity, and it should only be used if other means are not strong enough. The whole principle of painting with any medium is in gaining specific opportunities, alternatively unachievable. We choose a technique to render a message in a best way it can be possibly delivered, like we use geometry to deal with shapes and astronomy to study remote galaxies.
It may seem funny, but I have heard several iconographers saying something like: - Look, it's encaustic, but it's applied so well, - it's almost as smooth as egg tempera!
But how can one possibly wish encaustic to be smooth? It can be vibrant, impressive, masterly, stunning and exquisite, but not smooth…
This is the reason I am not teaching it, - I am afraid to be immensely sorry to see my alumni possibly producing images, which could be much better realized in egg tempera or any other media. And it's not to humiliate other media, - far from that, it's just opposite! After dealing with egg tempera for 20 years I feel that any tempera is an absolutely indispensable school for serious iconographers and artists. That was actually the main reason, why Olga and I started making an egg Tempera course.
Egg Tempera Course
Egg tempera technique is a great medium, teaching to be free and responsible at the same time, to creatively subdue creativity to circumstances and goals. Now as we are filming it, I feel envy those, who start learning it now.
Learning art as adults you can avoid stupid mistakes, stereotypes and prejudices I had in abundance. I wish I could unlearn and re-learn the egg tempera from scratch, but instead of this I help Olga to share it with you.
The Egg Tempera Course starts taking its final shape, and I can even tell you the day. This course is called The Main Principles of Using Egg Tempera and consists of two parts. The PART 1 (basics, open for everybody) will start on the 22nd of September, while the the PART 2 (for iconographers only) will begin the 27th of October.
We made the basic part as an extensive introduction to the technique for any artist, wishing to work with egg tempera, - not just for iconographers. This
course gradually introduces the learners to most fundamental skills, little issues and nuances, showing our own tips and tricks collected during 20 years of experience.
Each of the assignments gradually builds up an understanding of the main qualities of the technique, fostering the ability to handle all kinds of approaches egg tempera may suggest.
The first part of the course is scheduled to last for 4 weeks and we plan, that after active learning our students will
feel comfortable solving all classical egg tempera tasks in their own images with no support from instructor.
The second part of the course has 6 assignments. We made them thinking about everyday needs of our fellow iconographers, willing to deepen their experience in painting. First three assignments of the course teach professional ways of modeling, highlighting and glazing with egg tempera, and the other three employ these techniques in several different methods of face-painting. This course will be particularly good for those, who studied at our online drawing courses as an opportunity to begin using the drawing skills in painting.
It's not easy to learn online, neither it is to teach… However, after producing and teaching several heavily loaded online courses in last 2 years I believe we have learned to turn the limitations into advantages. If you like to have a quick look, here are 3 our main points:
carefully measure out a right amount of homework. Sometimes it's good to provide several options for each assignment, so, it can be flexible.
Grant students an unlimited access to all the reference images and videos. Why should we limit access to the knowledge base?
(which I think is also the coolest one), comes from the fact, that learning is by far more effective, when we make possible learning from fellow classmates mistakes. I want to repeat one more time my gratitude to Lord, who made humans creative. It's so cool, that these creative minds produced IT industry, which made our lives more connected!
Zoom for Everybody
On Saturday the 25th of June I am going to make an open live zoom session (open for anyone on our mailing list and anyone we know).
At the end I will be happy to speak about our situation and answer your questions, - as we always do at our zoom meetings, but in the beginning I will make a short introduction to principles and method I am
learning from David Sulakauri. It's not just about the way you mix color, or hold your brush. It's about how you see and make your work, and what you want from it.. In two words: it's an inspiring way to handle your
inspiration, - what a good occasion to use this term!
We will have 2 zoom sessions for different time zones, - one for people in Asian part of the world, and one for those who live in Europe and Americas.
Please, let me know if at least ine is OK for you and you like to join, so I will email you the link. Now I will ask here, - please!!! join us some minutes before the meeting as I will not be able to let you when the lecture begins.
Ina Magdalena Hecker
And a sad piece of news.
More than 2 months ago, the 9th of April, one of very dear people left us, - Ina Magdalina Hecker has passed away. She was a great person, and now it's sad to think that we could not meet more often. Writing these words, I remember my strongest impression: in her presence (even in zoom) I felt all of us personally acknowledged, valued, and accepted as dear to her with most sincere openness.
We knew, that she was struggling with a devastating disease. She was brave, and all people around her were helping her and hoping till the last moment, that she wins and stays with us for a much longer time. Till the latest time she actively did her assignments as as a student and professionally worked as iconographer. Not sure she had a website, but we can some of her icons at her Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/inamagdalenahecker/
Today I read in some breviary to some bishop unknown to me, that he "left his physical body and parted for the Eternity". I believe that we should say this about Ina. She left us for a better place, where fishes talk to sparrows and play together with cats and elefants, where we will meet one day and there will be no more obstacles for us to be together.
And we are still here, - thinking about our daily routine and hurrying to finish everything in time... Thank you again for your support! We feel dearly supported and I look very much forward to seeing you in zoom!!! Yours sincerely, Philip Davydov (and Olga Shalamova)
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