Excerpted from Lesson 5 of  THE TECHNIQUE OF ICONOGRAPHY: Method and Teachings of Xenia Pokrovskaya and the IZOGRAPH SCHOOL OF ICONOGRAPHY. Text written by Marek Czarnecki, copyright 2003 held by Izograph.

Drawing, designing and composing an icon is the subject for an entire book.  As we begin to learn to write icons, paint icons if you will, the best way is to copy good, solid, classical, fundamental prototypes.  How do we determine which are the best to use?  For the outsider or beginner, all icons look the same ― whether Greek, Russian, classical Byzantine, Old Believer style, folk types, icons influenced by western naturalism and icons mass-produced in artistic workshops for tourism revenue.

Before we discuss technique, we need to establish some criteria.

What kind of icons will we write?

Today, iconography is at the stage of archaeology; we are rediscovering a phenomenon that for the most part remains hidden, remote and unpracticed. As you write icons, you will see the puzzled astonishment of family and friends who will say to you: “You mean people still make icons? I thought they were only in museums and old churches!”  Here in the United States where the tradition is very new, we know icons only from reproductions in books. We cannot venture off to St. Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai desert, the Benaki Museum in Athens, the Tretkyov in Moscow or even our parish church to examine prototypes first hand.  As an iconographer, one of your most important resources is your own library of books on iconography, which contain good clear, color reproductions of prototypes.

Nothing substitutes for seeing actual icons. If you are able, make every effort to travel to where you can observe the great icons masterpieces first hand.  Reproductions in books never accurately convey the living presence, the human touch, material construction, texture and subtlety of the colors in the real icon.  Books are a pragmatic, and for most of us, necessary tool, but they can only be trusted up to a point.  Try finding the same icon reproduced in different books and you will see this is not an argument about nuance or taste —the differences are radical.