Immanuel Icons

an orthodox christian iconography studio
in pittsburgh, pennsylvania

How to Paint
Glass Icons

a folk tradition
developed in Eastern Europe

If you are interested in learning how to paint traditional Byzantine icons, nothing will help you more than drawing.  Andrei Rublev drew for 10 years before he began painting. 

If, however, you want a short-term, more colorful project, either for yourself or to do with groups of adults or children, try this folk tradition.  (Note:  this is NOT the medium I typically work in, just one I recommend for a SHORT--2-3 hour--project!)

To paint a glass icon, you will paint on the reverse side of the glass with the traditional medium of egg yolk and natural dry pigments.   Scroll down the right-hand column for directions ------>
Archangel Gabriel

Peasants in 19th century Transylvania discovered that, although hand-painted icons from Greece were out of their price range, they were able to produce their own icons on glass.  Following in this tradition, the above icon and any glass icon you would like to commission is painted on glass in the reverse order that one would paint on wood.  Sometimes this tradition is referred to as "reverse glass iconography."  If you are drawn to this medium and/or, like the Romanian peasants, have a limited budget, please see the Contact Info and Prices page.
One of my God daughters receiving a 4X6" glass icon of the Myrrh-Bearing Women (Resurrection of Christ). This photograph is not posed; Perhaps she is trying to enter the scene? In any case, glass icons can hold up a 3-year-old's pious intentions because of their protective layer of glass. Children also seem to like the luminosity of the gold paper.
Smaller icons come with a stand on the back and larger ones with a wire for wall hanging. Candles and incense can be freely lit nearby because of the protective layer of glass. (Candles and incense can also be lit before wood icons, but some precautions should be taken.)
I join glass iconographers working today in using oil paints (added to natural pigments) instead of egg to allow for greater transparency and control. Because they are painted in reverse, I end the icon with large planes of color, as shown above. When the icon is flipped over and placed over gold paper, it looks like the image to the right.
1.  Say a prayer.  Cross yourself.

2.  Break open an egg
by tapping it against the side of a sink, inserting your thumbs into the crack, and pulling it open. 

My 7-year-old helped me with this stage.   Kids love the tactile nature of glass iconography, especially because it is REALLY how icons were and are painted by real iconographers!
3.  Let the yolk fall into your hands,
the whites falling through your fingers.  Rinse the yolk gently under running water.
4.  Dry the yolk by rolling it around a paper towel.
Rinse and dry your hands off too.
5.  Grasp the yolk in one hand and poke it with a knife with the other hand.
Let the INSIDE of the yolk (the yolk minus the yolk sack) flow into a container.
6.  Mix in 2 teaspoons of water.
Stir with a spoon.  Transfer to a bottle with a dropper, if you have one, for easy dispersion.
7.  Draw (or trace) desired image onto the glass with Sharpie pen (and Gold Pen if desired.) 
If you use my pattern, you can move the glass around to incorporate whichever image  or image combination you like.
8.  Mix the egg yolk with Titanium Buff until it is like "heavy cream." 
Cover all the flesh with this color (face, hands, the Christ image including loincloth), without regard for any of the details.  Just cover it all with thick paint.  Dip often into the paint so you are not spreading too thin.
9.  Mix up the Red and cover the cloak and any flower details.
Do not touch the wet flesh color with any wet red color--they will bleed into each other.  This is why I designed her cloak with lots of trim:  to keep the colors separate.
10.  Mix up the Blue and paint her undercloak, if desired, and any flower details.
You might experiment with watering down some or all of the blue for a more transparent effect, that will let the gold paper shine through.
11.  Mix up the yellow and paint any flower details. 
Yellow plus blue will make green for leaves.
12.  Let the paint dry several days, if possible
or at least several hours.  Put the gold paper or aluminum foil on back and place in frame or use copper tape to go around the edge, attaching the paper to the glass.
19.5" X 19.5" icon of St. John the Wonderworker (of San Francisco/Shanghai) and St. Raphael of Brooklyn, each holding churches they established (in CA and NY)