Icons rich in symbolism

Gisele Bauche and Anna Mycyk display a completed icon.


Gisele Bauche and Anna Mycyk display a completed icon.

May 27, 2013

Anna Mycyk and Gisele Bauche share a passion for iconography. Stepping into Mycyk's Saskatoon studio, surrounded by icons, it feels as though one is being welcomed into a place of reverence.

"In an iconography workshop we want to create a sacred space for prayer," says Bauche. "The process of creating an icon is itself a prayer and it is also a metaphor for life."

The technical process of making an icon is rich in its symbolism and theological meaning.

The wooden board is representative of Christ's cross. "It is also symbolic of our personal and spiritual growth. The wood is a living thing, it grows," explains Mycyk.

A raised border around the circumference of the icon – the kovcheg – represents the Old Testament while the indented centre of the icon represents the New Testament.

"The kovcheg is also symbolic of the physical world while the centre signifies the spiritual side of ourselves," says Mycyk. "It serves as a protective border guarding the inner image which is sacred."

The icon also includes a linen cloth – a symbol of the shroud. The linen offers a layer of protection, it holds the icon together. Over the linen is laid a mixture of white chalk and marble dust, representing purity.

The iconographer then draws the master image of a saint, angels, the Blessed Mother or Jesus.

The prototype is etched onto the surface of the icon with a stylus "so that we don't lose our way," explains Bauche. "The permanently carved lines remind us of our original intention, vision or goal.

"Just as in life we can get lost on the journey, we may get lost in the traps of perfection or become frustrated with the process. The etched lines help us find our way back onto the path."

The first component of the icon to be fleshed out is the halo. Gold leaf is bonded to a red clay base through the moisture of the iconographer's breath.

"The clay, or earth, becomes our beginning and on that beginning we unite it with gold - heaven and earth come together," explains Mycyk.

"Our breath unites the earthly element with the heavenly element of gold. It symbolizes the Incarnation through which God united heaven and earth by sending his son, Jesus."

Next is the roskrish. Pigment made of egg tempera is applied to the image to create a marbling effect.


"The challenge is to allow the pigment to marble and settle as it will, the temptation is to try and control it. The spiritual lesson here is mirrored in the constant call to surrender our will to the perfect will of God," Bauche says.

Finally, fine strokes of white pigment called highlights and floats are added to the form in an attempt to capture the essence of the image.

"Floats are the forgiving element," Bauche adds. "It is a layer of colour tone on the icon which softens and forgives the small imperfections that may have occurred through the process."

After a series of highlights and floats, the iconographer returns to redrawing the original etched lines. "We return to the beginning and revisit our original intentionality," explains Bauche.