The paintings planned for the Faith at Home project represent a significant development for my work at the Red Earth Iconography studio. For the past 20 years, the studio’s work has been focused on creating original icons painted in egg tempera on handmade wooden panels and gilded with gold leaf for churches and homes across America and Europe. Following this path ultimately led to the creation of a local colour pallet and a style of iconography that is informed by the land and the presence of Jesus the Christ at all times and in all places.
However, a lot has happened in the last year. A new studio has been set up in Central Alberta, my two oldest children began their theological studies, and I’ve made friends at a local monastery. All these beginnings have introduced me to new communities, their beautiful expressions of faith and the need for liturgical art in their daily lives. It was a couple of months ago, while talking with a friend, that I first explored the idea of pivoting the studio’s work from commissions for patrons to artwork for homes.
In our discussion, I became very excited about the idea and over the next couple of days of prayerful consideration, I became convinced that this was the direction to which the studio was being called. While I consider it a profound blessing to have had the opportunity to create icons in their most traditional form and, by that, celebrate the incarnation they embody in their vision and presence, for a while now, I’ve had a growing discomfort about this approach limiting their accessibility to a broader audience because of their cost. The last egg tempera icon I created took a full three months to complete and cost enough to put it out of reach for most people—students, young families, and monastics among them.
To date, the best solution I have had to this problem has been to offer high-quality art prints of the finished icons. Because of the studio’s limited equipment, these have been largely limited to an 8×10″ (~20 by 25cm), which did keep the cost affordable. While this was the goal, one of the things that I’ve really enjoyed learning from this work has been the amazing technologies that exist for creating beautiful and long-lasting artwork. I think it’s a shame that so much of what passes as devotional art in our lives today is so cheaply made and that we haven’t been more intentional in using this technology to create ethical and beautiful artworks. In exploring what’s possible, I’ve been introduced to companies that can create artwork that is well-made, affordable, and long-lasting.
As this goal and its technological opportunity were taking form in my mind, I also began work on the studio’s final icon of the year for a project entitled Eating and Drinking with Jesus Christ, which is happening for a parish hall renovation at St. Mary’s Anglican Church in the city of Regina, Saskatchewan. For many years, I’ve used a computer after the icon’s drawing is complete to plan out the colours and other details of the work. In an attempt to use something a little more intuitive, I had recently purchased an iPad for the studio, and so in November, I began the “colouring” of an icon of the Mystical Supper on this new device. However, it quickly became apparent to me that there were new possibilities here as well. After the first day’s work, I returned to our home and admitted to my wife that I was a little disconcerted about what I had experienced—it felt eerily close to painting! With a little practice using this device, I’ve found that I can use it recreate the painting methods I know and love, as well as painterly effects of transparency and imperfection that create such a lively presence in the finished work.
In doing so, the last detail regarding the studio’s direction has come into focus. As I write this, the studio’s first icon, informed by traditional painting methods but created and printed using modern technologies, is being rendered by a small printing company in Montreal. I’m excited to share the results once they arrive and hope to offer the first artwork for the Icons at Home Project soon.
As I’ve meditated on what the last three months have culminated in, I’m quite joyful about the results. Where I had originally feared that making icons in the way I have for so many years might be coming to an end, instead, I can now see that I’ll be adding a new piece to the process. Just as I’ve always loved the drawing process in and of itself, this rendering stage has the potential to add artwork that is meaningful and beautiful when done intentionally. However, it in no way blocks the possibility of using it as a step towards painting the icon in tempera and gold (either by my hand or another’s). Instead, the project’s goal of providing liturgical artworks that embody and celebrate the home’s central place in daily family worship becomes possible and accessible.
While I share this knowing that many things are still in formation around this project, I’m excited to share its blessing in the hope that something very good is being created here and that 2024 will be a very good year.
I’ll be writing more in the coming weeks about the icon itself and the beautiful reality the Mystical Supper reveals about the reality of the events surrounding it and the mystery in which we participate during the liturgy.