A Journey of Prayer and Work through Iconography
Our third guest blogger in our Sacred ARTy Facts Series is Steve Knight, the President of ESAG. He shares with us his journey towards becoming a professional Iconographer, insights into his work and some of his beautiful icons.
Steve in his studio working on a Crucifixion triptych for the Adoration Chapel at Holy Cross
I cannot remember a time when I wasn’t making art. I was never bored as a child because there was always something to draw, colour, paint, build, or sculpt. Any media would do. I never had an art lesson until I returned to UBC in my mid-twenties to study for my teaching certificate. This gave me the opportunity to explore new materials and techniques. When I began my teaching career, in addition to my regular teaching duties, I became the art teacher. What more could I ask for.
Pantocrator, 2017, 12" x 9", acrylic & 23kt gold leaf on gessoed wood
My father had a great collection of books many of which were art books, which I browsed through over and over again. My first encounter was in the pages of a few of these texts.
My journey into writing icons, began when the pastor of my school asked me to paint a huge image of Christ the Pantocrator for the parish’s feast day which was in three weeks. Using the school’s art materials, I successfully completed the 8’ x 15’ image on time and on budget.
Nativity, 2014, 12" x 10", acrylic & 23kt gold leaf on gessoed wood
I started to “paint” a few icons, having no idea as to what the technique was. After I joined the Epiphany Sacred Arts Guild I was able to take a week’s course in the basics of icon painting. In 2005 I studied at St. Gertrude’s Monastery in Cottonwood, Idaho, and in 2007 I continued my studies at the Iconographic Arts Institute in Mt. Angel, Oregon.
Steve in 2007, at the Iconographic Arts Institute in Mt. Angel, Oregon.
Between and after those courses of study, I painted and studied, studied and painted. If one expects to develop his/her skills then one has to put in the time. I have devoted hours to working on developing my skills as an iconographer.
Catherine Doherty, St. John Paul II, St Teresa of Kolkata, 2017, 14" x 33", acrylic & 23kt gold leaf on gessoed wood
Iconographers “write” icons because the images are prayers in paint and are called are “windows into heaven”. The style and form of the icon have virtually remained unchanged in almost two thousand years. There is a permanence about them as they bring the faithful to prayer and meditation.
Holy Family, 2016, 14" x 11", acrylic & 23kt gold leaf on gessoed wood
As the icon is in itself a prayer, the process of writing an image is also a prayer. They are, as Fr. Dunstan Massey, OSB, says, “Ora et Labora,” prayer and work. I always begin the days work by praying an icongrapher’s prayer. The writing of an image can be a very spiritual experience but it is also hard work, not a “paint by number” exercise, as I was once told. I have been writing a Crucifixion triptych for the Adoration Chapel at my parish, Holy Cross. After six months of work, it will be completed this week.
I also devote a lot of time to teaching iconography to adults and do workshops at my old school for the upper intermediate classes.
After all the hard work and long hours to create these beautiful images the greatest joy for me is to see them in church bringing God’s people to prayer and contemplation. I have seen images I have made take someone’s breath away, make their heart race, and bring them to tears. The beauty of the images connects the viewer with Our Heavenly Father who is the source of all beauty.
The Epiphany Sacred Arts Guild is a society of artists and associates promoting the practice and appreciation of sacred arts as defined by the magisterium of the Catholic Church. Meetings are held monthly on the second Saturday of the month, from September to May.
Call for submissions for ESAG’s 2018 15th Anniversary Exhibition and application forms can be downloaded HERE.
St. Stephen, 2015, 18" x 11", acrylic & 23kt gold leaf on gessoed wood