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Author Topic: Varnishing
SEG
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Does the color of Cobalt Drier change the colors of the icon?
The Cobalt Drier I have from a local store is deep blue and when I mixed it with oil it became lighter. On my test gessoboard it seems to be a mauve shade.

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George
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The latest issue of the Iconofile Journal has an indepth article on preparing and applying olifa (oil varnish) to icon paintings. The article, written by a monk at a monastery in northern California and who was a student of Leonide Ouspensky, has about 30 photographs illustrating how the process is done. To get a copy of the article subscribe now to the Journal:
Subscribe to the Iconofile Journal

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George O'Hanlon
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Iconofile, Inc.
A nonprofit educational organization about sacred art

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Nancy
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quote:
Originally posted by Maria:
To ask again - I have just finished my first icon, egg tempera. It has been blessed, on altar for 40 days, i.e., it has dried at least that long. My instructor gave me directions, over the phone, for oiling, using plain linseed oil. I applied as per her instructions, but I read on this board about other varnishes/methods. The finish does not look so great - any way to salvage it, either reapply, or using something else? The icon does not look very protected. I do not want to discard it, because it has been blessed.

Maria,

Do not fear. Your St. Michael icon will be fine. I suggest you apply another coat of oil once the first one is dry. Then another, if it still looks spotty or "unprotected."

Just recently I applied olipha to an icon of Ss. Sergius & Bacchus that I painted over a year ago. I knew there would be areas of dryness on this particular commission because wherever earth pigments are used, especially if they are applied in several layers, there is always more absorption of the oil in those areas. When I received the icon from my client, it was true. There were dry areas just where I expected them. After a full year of drying time, the egg had enough time to polymerize and the paint had become noticably more transparent... more beautiful. I am convinced the significant reason this second olipha application was so successful was because the icon had thoroughly dried. All problems were eliminated and the oil even dried more quickly.

I believe many of us many have trouble with olipha because we are so eager to complete the icon that we do not allow enough drying time. Perhaps we could be more patient with the icon and have less trouble. I have read it is advisable to wait at least six months, and from another source a year, before applying olipha. I'm inclined to believe this is right after my recent experiences.

Regarding olipha application, some people leave oil on the panel a couple of hours. I leave oil on the panel all day, moving the oil with my finger to the drier places throughout the day. It is helpful to use a box with a lightbulb in it to make a warm place and protect from dust. The ideas discussed about using the sun sound great. Perhaps a cover could be rigged that would allow some air circulation under it, yet still keep the dust to a minimum.

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Nancy Jackson
Timshel Studio
Vallejo, CA
(Northeast tip of San Francisco Bay)
www.timshelstudio.com

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Maria
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Hi Again,

To ask again - I have just finished my first icon, egg tempera. It has been blessed, on altar for 40 days, i.e., it has dried at least that long. My instructor gave me directions, over the phone, for oiling, using plain linseed oil. I applied as per her instructions, but I read on this board about other varnishes/methods. The finish does not look so great - any way to salvage it, either reapply, or using something else? The icon does not look very protected.

I do not want to discard it, because it has been blessed - and also it was a gift for my husband, Michael, for our 25th wedding anniversary - the icon is of the Archangel Michael. My husband thinks it is wonderful, even though I know better! Now my daughter Elena wants me to make one of St. Helen; and our priest wants me to make one of St. Panteleimon, for our church. Does any one know where I can get the patterns for these saints? I did not see in the Stroganov pattern book.

Many thanks,
Maria

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Frank
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I don't know that much about the rubrics for blessing icons, but I know that my priest (Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic) keeps icons on the holy table (altar) for 40 days and then anoints them with holy oil and blesses them with water.

The Technique of Icon Painting by Ramos-Poqui says this on page 69 about blessings:

quote:

"It is customary for the icon to stand in the sanctuary for a symbolic forty days before the final blessing. In a special short service, the icon is anointed with the holy oil used in the consecration of altar vessels or of a church. This blessing bestows on the icon something of the person it represents, endowing the material with a spiritual quality."

On the other hand, there is a Syriac Orthodox web site with prayers for blessing an icon at Syrian Orthodox Resources: A Prayer of Blessing for Icons, which says, "Here he anoints the icon with oil, not chrism, saying: In the Name of the Father +."

So Ramos-Poqui might be incorrect or it may be a jurisdictional thing. Perhaps the icon is really anointed with the "Oil of Gladness" with which the people are anointed on feast days.

I think the significance of 40 days is probably because 40 is a sacred number because it crops up so often in the bible. Moses was on Mount Sinai receiving the law for 40 days. The children of Israel wandered for 40 years. Jesus was in the desert fasting for 40 days after His baptism. There are a lot of other "40's" in scripture.

Thomas, I wonder if your icons for patrons are kept on the altar only for Liturgy and then blessed with water because it's impractical to keep them in church for 40 days when someone is waiting for them. Also if you produce a fair number of icons it may be impractical for you priest to have them on the altar for an extended period of time. I know I have some unblessed icons because I'm a little embarrassed to keep taking them to my priest (although he probably wouldn't mind) because he could have one of them on the altar all year.

I would think as long as the priest blesses it, it's ok. In the Western Church they would just bless it with holy water or with a sign of the cross over the icon and a short prayer.

A long post, but I hope it gives a little insight.

Frank

quote:
Originally posted by Thomas:
When the priest blesses the completed icon using the Holy Chrism can this be accepted as fulfilling the same theological role as the olifa? I have seen a lot of icons blessed with water but... chrism? What exactly is the 'theological' significance of olifa? Is the significance a 'latter day' assignment of value as so many 'traditions' of iconography are? There is nothing about 'anointing' icons that I can find. I have read nothing so far that ties olifa to theology. Is there something written to back up olifa's role in the icon process besides an ancient varnish?

And since it is a Middle Age treatment is it really the best way to protect a modern icon? It does not go on easily, dries unevenly and takes a long time. It is also a magnet for dust and soot. I personally think damar varnish makes a better choice. It is heartbreaking to work so hard on an icon and end up with a sticky, uneven mess.

40 days on the altar? Is that a church requirement by jurisdiction? What's the significance of 40 days? Most icons I have seen blessed for patrons have been a short prayer service at the end of liturgy with holy water or on the altar for the duration of liturgy. I thought icons, by their inception were blessed in the church's eyes because of the holy subject.



[ 19. September 2003, 11:54 AM: Message edited by: George ]

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Maria
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quote:
Originally posted by George:
A typical recipe for olifa is one half part of stand oil and one half part of raw linseed oil. Adding cobalt linoleate drier or manganese acetate is recommended to speed up the process of the drying.


The next issue of the Iconofile Journal (print journal) will feature an in-depth article on olifa with photographs of the entire process.

Thanks George, I'm looking forward to next issue, even though I am still struggling with current issue. Can my icon wait that long, if I have already applied the linseed oil to it? I only saw "linseed oil" in the store, not raw linseed oil, as recommended. Also, I do not know what "stand oil" is. As for the drier, i saw cobalt drier in store - what proportions are used with the oil?

Is there a different (still traditional) varnish that is preferred over the linseed oil?

Thomas, in my church (Greek Orthodox) I have seen priests do both - a blessing, after which the icon may be taken immediately, or, left on the altar for 40 days. If there is time, they say to leave it for the 40 days. 40 is a BIG number in our church [Smile]

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Tom
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George
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First, we do not recommend placing an icon board in an oven, even if the oven can maintain a low temperature. Warming an icon during the olifa application does not actually help the polymerization (drying) of the oil, but does cause undue stress to the icon board by drying the natural moisture in the wood. Some icon painters place the icon board in direct sunlight. The action of the light on the painting is well known to accelerate the drying process of oil.

A typical recipe for olifa is one half part of stand oil and one half part of raw linseed oil. Adding cobalt linoleate drier or manganese acetate is recommended to speed up the process of the drying.

A well applied olifa should increase the saturation of the colors of the icon painting, and give a soft sheen to semi-glossy appearance. However, expect to find areas of olifa somewhat duller in appearance in areas of thinner egg tempera application or where not enough egg yolk binder was used in the paint. Do not keep applying olifa to the board with the expectation of having an even appearance over the entire painting. This is usually difficult to do. However, if you have large "sunken" areas you may need another application of olifa.

The next issue of the Iconofile Journal (print journal) will feature an in-depth article on olifa with photographs of the entire process.

--------------------
George O'Hanlon
Executive Director
Iconofile, Inc.
A nonprofit educational organization about sacred art

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Maria
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I am reading the varnish posts with interest. I have just completed my first icon, done over many weeks, with an instructor. It is painted with egg tempera and also has gold leaf. The instructor said it should dry for several weeks before oiling. It has been 40 days on the altar for blessing and i just got it back. I called the instructor about the oiling procedure - she said to "puddle" linseed oil on it, leave on for an hour, then use my finger to wipe off excess oil. She said to keep checking to make sure any "dry" spots were oiled, every half hour, for 3-4 hours. Let dry for a day or two and re-oil any spots that appeared dry. She said I could keep it in a warm spot to aid the absorption and drying. I have an oven that I can set to 80 or 90 degrees F, that will keep temperature to within + or - 4 degrees F - she was concerned about using oven, because she had a student do this once and the icon became toast. My oven specifically maintains a low temperature for proofing bread dough, but does anyone have experience with this?

My question - what is the icon supposed to look like? Is it supposed to be glossy or matte, in the end? Do I keep applying oil to the dry looking areas? Instructor said linseed oil was traditional - she works in the Rublev style. She also said she buys linseed oil with a premixed cobalt dryer in it. She said my regular linseed oil would work fine, just take longer. From reading posts, it doesn't seem like linseed oil is the best choice. Again, this is my first icon, any suggestions would be welcome.

Many thanks,
maria

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Richard
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When the priest blesses the completed icon using the Holy Crism can this be accepted as fufilling the same theological role as the olifa? Regards from Richard
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George
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Why did ancient icon painters apply oil to their finished panels? One possible reason is given by Kurt Wehlte in The Materials and Techniques of Painting (1975) p. 507:

quote:

The mat-surface character of this type of water tempera, which was somewhat reminiscent of gouache painting, was probably considered undesirable and therefore modified by rubbing the finished painting with drying oils, which of course also had their ritual significance. These oils, sometimes applied hot, penetrated deep in the tempera layers and unfortunately caused them to turn yellow and eventually irremediably brown. At the same time, the colors became more transparent so that the black-greenish of the proplasmos began to shine through, especially in the shadows of the flesh, thus giving the entire painting a somber tonality. If one remembers that incense and candle soot further darkened these paintings of saints, one can appreciate that these tempera paintings often became unrecognizable under black and brown discolorations. There can be no doubt that the original gain in color saturation and depth was achieved with unsuitable means and proved costly in the end.

In spite of this, many icon painters still choose to use oil-based varnishes (olifa), because of the litugical significance of 'annointing' the icon with oil. To help protect the icon it is undoubtedly sound advice to isolate the painting layer from the olifa with an isolating varnish, such as a spirit varnish.

--------------------
George O'Hanlon
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Iconofile, Inc.
A nonprofit educational organization about sacred art

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George
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quote:
Originally posted by Peca:
Every kind of damar yellows in time.

There are two kinds of picture varnish in common use: the simplest consists of a soluble resin in a volatile solvent; the second is made of a resin dissolved in a drying oil to which a thinner is generally added.

A common misconception should be cleared up at this point. Most natural resins, whether hard or soft, will yellow approximately to the same degree as drying oils. The only difference is that the yellowing of oils and dried oil films is accelerated in the dark and may under some circumstances be reduced a little by exposure to light. Resin and resin solutions on the other hand, yellow through the action of light, but this yellowing is never reduced by darkness. In practice the long term effect is the same for both. It is therefore erroneous to assume that the dreaded yellowing of drying oils can be partly or wholly eliminated by adding resins. To what extent some of the new, non-yellowing synthetic resins have eliminated the problem will only be known by future generations. In the last 100 years, opinion regarding the choice as well as application of traditional resins has changed considerably, and it is no longer as unanimous as it used to be.

My statement made in an earlier posting to this forum:

quote:
Damar varnish is an excellent varnish, and from a conservation viewpoint is superior than oil-resin varnishes.
This statement was not to imply that damar varnish does not yellow, but as I wrote above, all varnishes, whether made with drying oils or volatile solvents, will yellow over time. The real point is that, of all the volatile- and oil-resin varnishes, damar can be removed with the least effect to the underlying paint film; and here is where damar excels. It must be added that synthetic resins solved in alcohol appear to have even less effect than damar, and are perhaps even better suited for picture varnishing.

Damar is recommended for the purpose of final picture varnishing by many experts in the field, such as Ralph Mayer who wrote in The Artists' Handbook of Materials and Techniques, 5th Edition (Mayer, 1985, p. 218):

quote:
The following ideal specification for a picture varnish were drawn up by the committee on the restoration of paintings and the use of varnish of the International Conference of the Study of Scientific Methods for Examination and Preservation of Works of Art, Rome, October 1930:
  1. It should protect the painting from atmospheric impurities.
  2. Its cohesion and elasticity should be such as to allow for all ordinary changes in atmospheric conditions and temperature.
  3. The elasticity of the paint film and tissues under the varnish should be preserved.
  4. It should be transparent and colorless.
  5. It should be capable of being applied thinly.
  6. it should no bloom.
  7. It should be easily removable.
  8. It should not be glossy.

Our three most generally approved picture varnishes that most nearly approach the ideal requirements are (1) a pure solution of acrylic (methacrylate) in mineral spirits, (2) a pure solution of polycycloheaxanone (ketone) in mineral spirits, and (3) a pure solution of damar in turpentine.

Kurt Wehlte also wrote in The Materials and Techniques of Painting (Wehlte, 1975, pp. 505, 506):

quote:
In oil painting the value of spirit varnishes (which should really be called alcohol-resin varnishes) is still disputed; in tempera painting, however, they can be valuable if applied correctly. Varnishes used to isolate the lower paint layers are particularly useful if they are made from resins that will not redissolve in paints or vehicles containing turpentine oil.

Damar deserves special mention... Turpentine-resins varnishes are the [most] common materials used for surface coatings.

One often hears complaints that tempera layers absorb turpentine varnishes excessively, and that the painter is then forced to apply several coatings, each after a tedious waiting period in which the varnish is allowed to dry. The reason for this is usually underbound tempera color or colors have been applied with vehicle too strongly diluted. The less medium the paint contains, the more porous it will be, and the more varnish it will absorb. In this case one can also observe a greater change of tone.

One possible scenario for varnishing tempera paintings would be to isolate the tempera paint layer with a varnish of bleached shellac dissolved in alcohol. Then after this has thoroughly dried, apply a final picture varnish of damar and beeswax dissolved in turpentine. Of course, this does not address the liturgical value of applying olifa on icon paintings.

--------------------
George O'Hanlon
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Iconofile, Inc.
A nonprofit educational organization about sacred art

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George
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quote:
Originally posted by Thomas:
What about tung oil?

Tung oil, although useful for furniture finishing, is not recommended by some experts in the field of picture varnishing. Here is an excerpt from Painting Materials: A Short Encyclopedia (Gettens & Stout, 1966):

quote:
Tung oil appears to dry in about two days in moist air, but the resulting film is always wrinkled or cracked and uneven. In dry air about 14 to 21 days are required and a smooth, coherent film is obtained. In either case it takes about 21 to 30 days for full gain in weight (12.9 to 13.3 percent). From this it appears to that tung oil is really a slow-drying oil, and that the rapid rate of drying in moist air is not 'drying' in the usual sense (i.e., oxidation and polymerization), but a colloidal change in which moisture acts as a coagulant... It is as unsaturated as linseed oil, but has considerably more tendency to gelatinize or separate in the heterogeneous phase so that the films produced are frequently dull or mat. It also yellows badly and may cause skin diseases.


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George O'Hanlon
Executive Director
Iconofile, Inc.
A nonprofit educational organization about sacred art

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Tom
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Tom

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Peca
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Do not varnish that icon. Every kind of damar yellows in time. Linsed oil even more so. Venetian turpentine is better, starasbur turpentine even better, and reportedly, canada balsam is one of the best in that sense.
Do not varnish such an icon without isolating it properly. If it is an egg tempera, it will (has)harden in time. By varnishing it, all the glazes (thin cotes on top) will become more transparent and will show what should not be shawn. You might even ruin it. It is possible to protect it, of course, but be very careful. In order for an egg tempera (in general) to be varnished, it has to be primed and painted accordingly. It means, occasional isolation coats to prevent varnish to penetrate and change the look of the painting. Everything else is just a guessing game.

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