Sept. 2009 – ‘Icon Painting’ with Despina Mtselou

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After an introduction to the history and traditions of Byzantine icon painting, wood panels are coated with a thin layer of gesso.

Paints are made from ground natural pigments individually mixed with egg yolk, vinegar and water

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A traditional design is chosen and drawn, in this case, the Archangel Gabriel,

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the first (base) coat of paint is mixed and applied,

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and the image is revealed after several more layers of paint, applied in specific order of colours and brushstroke techniques (based on a single line) are applied, in traditional sequence.

Only with a sound knowledge of this and with a steady, confident hand, can the image be successful and this is where Despina’s fine teaching skill in guiding the artist ( and the artist’s own capabilities) determines the final outcome. It’s a long process that requires both patience and total concentration.

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Only once all the different layers of colour have been applied, in sequence, is the icon is ready to be gilded with  gold leaf:

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The all important signatures are then written to identify both the saint and the artist:

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Before the final stage: a protective coat of varnish:

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the end result:



Scottish artist, Carole Robinson standly proudly by her first icon, with her tutor, Despina Mtselou

Included in the course is a day trip to visit and study icons ‘in situ’ in some of the many churches and monasteries that are to be found tucked into remote hillsides all over the island.

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Beginning at Aghios Taxiarchis or Church of the Archangels, Gabriel & Michael, visitors queue to drink from the holy spring (in order to ensure they will revisit Skiathos one day in accordance with local superstition!) we learn that all churches built on such springs were once the site of temples dedicated to the ancient gods in pre-christian days and, as such have been holy ground for at least a few thousand years.

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Another church, dedicated to Mary the Mother of Christ in her role as a ‘Mother’ or the ‘Giver of Life’, we learn is a place of pilgrimage for barren wives or a place to give thanks if a childless couple suddenly receive the miracle of a longed-for child.


Throughout the tour which culminates in the beautiful ancient Monastery of Evangelistria, (the birthplace of the Greek flag) with it’s  church and museum set peaceful surroundings, our guide, Victoria  Sandels, explains much of the history, practices, traditions, rituals and beliefs, held in the Greek Orthodox Faith. Her knowledge of iconography; it’s symbolism, practitioners (ancient and modern)  is well researched, and hugely enlightening. Her tour is highly educational and informative – but peppered with moments of (respectful) humour and amusing anecdotes! All this (and the wine tasting at the monastery produced by the monks) makes for an extremely enjoyable and very popular tour.


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