3 Lessons I Learned From Scumbling

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI spent Friday evening and most of Saturday and Sunday sitting around a table with seven other people and writing* an icon under the instruction of a gifted iconographer. (*Because icons are seen as a depiction of the Holy Scriptures, the act of creating one is called writing, not painting.) I’m still processing this amazing/formative experience, but there are three thoughts/lessons that are clear enough to communicate to others.

#1: Trust the process. Things were going fine until it was time to work on the face of our image of Christ. The way that iconography works, you put down the skin tone (which is dark) first. Then, you add lighter and lighter tones to create the shape/highlight of the face. I crouched over my icon, attempting my best effort at a technique called scumbling. It involved using an almost dry brush and circular motions to apply highlighting to the face. Except, to me, it looked like I was putting clown make-up on Jesus! But I continued to diligently scumble, because I knew that this was a process that iconographers had been using for centuries. So, even though it didn’t seem to make sense, I chose to trust the process.

#2: Trust the teacher. Even if I didn’t trust the process when it came to scumbling, I knew I could trust our very capable instructor, Joe Malham. He would never say this himself, but Joe is an amazing iconographer – and quite a patient instructor!

#3: Sometimes, you have to step away for a better perspective. Even though I trusted the process and trusted our instructor, I must admit that I was still a little worried about how successful my scumbling efforts were. Then I stood up and stepped back from the table. It’s amazing what a little bit of distance can do!

So, of course, I’m going somewhere with this. Particularly because the process of writing an icon is an act of spiritual formation/discipline/worship, I couldn’t stop myself from applying these icon-writing lessons to my life. (I also had to acknowledge that these aren’t actually new lessons. They’re just old lessons presenting themselves for a review!) I hope that you find them to be helpful for your journey as well!

And because I know you’re wondering, here’s a photo of my completed icon. It’s a portion of the “Supper at Emmaus” icon. (If you’ve seen the original, you’ll note that Joe took a little creative license and swapped out the roll on the table for a cup.) There are some final technical touches (frame, lettering, varnish, etc.) that Joe and his assistant will add, and then it will be blessed by the priest at St. Gregory the Great.

Jesus - supper at Emmaus 4.17.2016

P.S. Here is the final completed version!

completed icon May 2016