How an Icon Is Born?

There was a meeting with Hieromonk Luke from Xenophontos Monastery (Holy Mount Athos) in St Elisabeth Convent in Minsk on May 25, 2018. Hieromonk Luke is an icon painter and a jeweller. He taught a brief practical lesson on painting icons with tempera.


The process of painting an icon is a painstaking one, preceded by a lot of prayer and fasting. The monk chose not to portray a sacred image in the presence of so many spectators. Instead, he decided to paint a young man in Byzantine style on a small wooden board. First, Hieromonk Luke drew a pencil sketch on a gessoed wooden board (gesso is the name of a primer coat made of chalk mixed with glue and linseed or olive oil).

Secondly, he covered the surface with a semi-transparent egg emulsion (egg yolk mixed with vinegar). Sometimes icon painters use white wine instead of vinegar. This coat is required to prevent the surface from absorbing the paint and distorting colours. Next, he made the paints. As a rule, the paints are stored in powder form and are mixed with egg yolk right before painting.

Once paints are ready, the icon painter fills the background using ochre. The thrilling action begins: the face of a young man is revealed from within the board layer by layer. When you watch the ingenious work of a real artist, you can hardly notice how time flies.