Gisele Bauche (left) leads some of the participants in a 5-day workshop at Providence Renewal Centre in the process of writing an icon of the Mother of God.


Gisele Bauche (left) leads some of the participants in a 5-day workshop at Providence Renewal Centre in the process of writing an icon of the Mother of God.

September 8, 2014

In iconography, the process is more important than the result.

"Writing an icon is a journey, and it's the stages of growth. The process is what's important with icons, not the end product," said Gisele Bauche, who led a seven-day iconography workshop at Providence Renewal Centre, Aug. 17-23.

"That's much the same with our lives, where we're in such a panic to reach the end goal without delay. With iconography, as with life, we are to trust in the slow work of God and to believe that God will look after things."

In the workshop Bauche guided participants in learning how to write an icon on a wood panel covered with white gesso, egg tempera from natural pigments, and gilded with 23-carat gold leaf. The image written by each participant was that of the Mother of God.

Bauche said writing an icon is for everyone. Her workshops are interdenominational, appropriate for any age, and suitable for people whether in sickness or in peak health. Regardless of personal circumstances, she incorporates Taize prayer and centering prayer to bring unity to the group.

Writing an icon is about taking what is invisible and making it visible, taking the abstract and making a concrete image.

"Icons are a discipline. Icons are also a prayer, and they are tools to spiritual growth, tools to spiritual nourishment, and a form of contemplation and meditation. No one walks into writing an icon without being transformed," said Bauche.

The many steps in the process involve moving ultimately from chaos to unity with the fullness of God.

"We apply multiple layers of gesso, so we start out with our icon being white, representing all of us when we are born, and we are pure. That is what the boards mean, that you are beginning pure. But as we move along in life, we have moments of goodness and moments of sin and falling, moments of wavering" said Bauche.

During the process of writing the icon, as in the process of journeying through life, problems and difficulties inevitably arise. There is a veil that goes over the icon. If mistakes are made, the veil is forgiveness. The veil symbolizes the forgiveness and reconciliation that people can attain through Jesus.

"Writing an icon, your theology and your spirituality become fuller and more balanced. You become enriched," she said.

About 10 years ago, Bauche apprenticed with Russian icon master Vladislav

Andreyev to learn the ancient art of iconography. Following in the Byzantine tradition, he founded the Prosopon School of Iconology.


Everything about writing an icon is spiritually and theologically symbolic. For example, the wood board symbolizes both the Old Testament and Christ's cross. The kovcheg, the indented centre of the icon, represents the New Testament.

The workshop also included daily prayer, demonstrations, theological reflections, group sharing and some instruction on the historical significance of icons.

Christina Schoenrath wrote an icon for the first time at the workshop.

"I am a writer, and I had never looked at icons before as a means of writing. It's a very ancient form of writing and, as a result, already in the last couple of days my own writing has been transformed by it. It's been a good experience," said Schoenrath.

The term "writing an icon" is used because it is not a painting. An icon is more instructive than a painting. Icons are prayer, a tool for a spiritual makeover.

"My end goal is to know that this journey of writing an icon will continue, I guess even in spite of myself," said Schoenrath.

"It's continued on for such a long time, and it's so ancient that, really, I can't get in the way of it. I step out of the way and let the hand of God keep writing."


Participants required a background in neither art nor theology. The writing is more of a prayer experience than an art experience.

"People are better off with no background in painting because it's so different from painting and it's so freeing. You let go everything you've ever known, and anyone can come in and write an icon," said Bauche.

Years ago, Anne Brodeur was told that people like her who paint with watercolours or oil have a more difficult time writing an icon. That did not deter her from giving it a try. She has now been taking Bauche's classes for five years.

"I really enjoy it, and I have been doing some of my own icons at home, and I will continue. For me, it is a form of prayer. It's not me looking at the icon; it's the icon that's looking at me," said Brodeur.

She has a different feeling towards every icon. A couple of icons she has written do not have the same impact or stir the same emotions as others.

Although all 10 participants in the workshop received the same basic instructions, and used the same materials, no two finished products were identical. All started out on the same road, but everyone diverged onto different paths.

"It's not a matter of making a perfect work. It's a matter of what it becomes to you, the way it makes you feel and the way it makes you pray. It's not a perfect piece of art. There is no right or wrong," said Brodeur.


Schoenrath agreed that everyone brings something different – their own gifts and personal style – to the writing of an icon.

Brodeur said she can see an icon and recognize whose it is because its style represents the person. There is something of the person that shines through in every image.

Zoyla Grace, another participant, said writing an icon includes a divine element. Those who gaze upon an icon will see the face of whomever they are writing, whether Jesus or John the Baptist or the Mother of Tenderness.

"My end goal is to know that the Mother of God wants to be with her children," said Grace. "This is my end goal: that she goes out into people's homes and brings support, blessings and encouragement that people need today."