Gallery / October 2023
October 2023

Newsletter October 2023: Italia+

Course in Desio | Course in Seriate | The Book | Course on Theology | Symmetrical Faces+ | Courses in Australia and the USA |

Dear Friends,
After teaching iconography to people of different countries for many years, I see that most icon schools of our time train their students to perform a certain sequence of operations. The most common concept, which however is rarely declared (but still hangs in the air), that to paint a good icon you just need to be accurate in copying.

I think that this was not the way the old masters worked. From what we can see on old icons, frescoes, mosaics and other art pieces, their main aim was to create a message, establishing a visual dialogue. Professional skills and techniques were necessary to reveal the ideas, but they were never the main focus point.

It’s like in cinematography, - one can have lots of special effects, but they alone don’t constitute a profound visual experience. The same about our predecessors, - they were great in creating stunning details, but they had no problems sacrificing details for the sake of the whole when neecessary. For contemporary iconographers this seems to be the most crucial problem: to unlearn focusing on details; to stop making images look like summaries of achievements; to learn how to put details together to create an image.


The previous month was both exhausting and inspiring at the same time. I began typing this letter yet being in Italy, where we just had 2 courses in person near Milan, - first time after COVID. We researched new methods and principles of drawing, under-painting and painting, trying new tools for starting images from scratch.
I hope that these photographs can show our process, we had 2.5 days for research and 1 day for actual work. Most students who came to study with us in Desio work professionally for a number of years, and yet they wanted to gain new skills and abilities.

In Desio we worked with shapes instead of lines, learned how to set our lines free, and how to professionally evaluate our work. I also suggested to try one of the most unusual approaches - we began revealing the image character with the very first brushstrokes. I also think that this probably is one of the most promising methods, allowing (and even making) us clearly see and evaluate the most characteristic details. It taught us to distinguish the core parts of the image from rather secondary ones, and how to emphasize the values we wanted to promote.

One more time I will use this opportunity to express my gratitude to Georgian artist David Sulakauri, who taught me to look critically at my work. Now I see much better, how little is enough for an image to speak.


The second course was taught by Olga’s, her program was a first of a kind in all senses. Back in 2019 she was contacted by Seriate Iconography School, founded in 1978 by the Russia Cristiana association in the outskirts of Bergamo. Prior to us, this school used to invite such iconographers as Fr Igor Sendler, Adolf Ovchinnikov, Fr. Zinon Teor and his two followrs, - Paul and Victor.

Olga’s mission was not to teach a usual course, but to share her work method. Many school staff and senior members liked her works, so they wanted to know what makes her method special and how she got where she was. To answer this inquire Olga made her program like a presentation of her method principles, explaining why and how she gets her images to look and be the way they are.

At the end Olga came up with two separate programs for different groups of iconographers. The first one was for 16 teachers of Seriate iconography school. It started on Thursday, September 14 and lasted for 3 days. In a series of presentations and practical tasks Olga taught our method and principles of drawing, based on the basic anatomy of the figure. She demonstrated how this method opens up an unlimited number of opportunities in enhancing the expressiveness of the image, and in controlling the whole drawing and painting workflow.

The second program was made as a one day presentation (morning + afternoon sessions) and the audience was much broader. The Seriate School had announced this event through their socials and other channels several months ago, and at the end we had 60 people who could hardly fit into the main Conference Hall.

During the morning session Olga was showing why and how contemporary iconographers can research and work on their own, and during the afternoon session she spoke about her own work process, demonstrating different stages, criteria for choosing models and making personal choices.

Olga spoke Russian and interpreted in Italiano, so, if you know either of these languages, you may like watching this presentation on Youtube. We strongly recommend using something larger than a cell phone to see the details, especially during the first session.

During the week after the Course and Seminar we continued our stay in Seriate, being invited to a special event.

It’ worth remembering that Russia Cristiana established first connections with people of Russian humanitrian culture when it was still the USSR. They helped to publish and bring books, forbidden by communist to our Soviet country. Some of you may even have heard the words “SAMIZDAT” (which means “published-by-yourself”), or even “TAMIZDAT”, which means “Published There” - (abroad). For many years Russia Cristiana was providing different kinds of support to Russian dissidents in the Soviet period, and lately - by giving space for all kinds of Christian cultural events in the very centre of Moscow… Events like independent book presentations or exhibitions of icons, which the Russian Orthodox church of Moscow Patriarchate did not agree to host at any of their official spaces…

The event I am talking about was organized by Russia Cristiana to celebrate 100 years of the founder of the society - Fr Romano Scalfi, and the purpose was to create a space for dialogue between the Russians, who left Russia (like us) and those who continue to live there. Our group made of priests, professors, editors, writers, and other thinking professionals, gathered at round tables discussing the best ways to continue being helpful to our nation and the world around us in new circumstances. It was quite an inspiring experience, - a chance to see old friends in real, to speak with people who share our hopes and to pray together. Now we are returning home, filled with excitement about new projects. Teaching courses in Desio and in Russia Cristiana we discovered a high request for professional support and professional communication, so again we are thinking about a possibility to gather people at some internet platform to share information, to answer iconography questions.


In the nearest days we finally expect the book with Olga’s illustrations to reach US shores and get delivered to the bookstores. I was said they will have this book available in international distribution centers as well. It’s almost there and now I am more than happy to share the details:

The official date for the release is the 10th of October. It’s going to be sold throughboth publisher's online store and Amazon.


On October the 7 (this Saturday) we will finally start teaching our brand new course, called Theology of Icons. It’s our first program, made to educate iconographers in theology and theory with overall idea to teach seeing Christian art through prism of it’s history.

We will evaluate the images from point of view of their creators and context they worked in, leaving sophisticated stylistic analysis to art critics. We will slowly walk through the main historical periods of Christian art, asking why and how the frescoes, icons, mosaics, and other masterpieces were made the way they were made and what factors had shaped their appearance. Here is a link for details:

If you have not yet seen the first video I made as an introduction, please, give it a look, and please, forgive the technical imperfections, they are being solved on different levels.


Several more news on our teaching activities:

1. As some of you may remember, we began filming our courses in the first months of COVID with our very limited skills and most elementary technical equipment. We are certain that this our very first Course still has no competitors, as it provides most essential information about the basics of face anatomy, we just want to make a newer version of it. The plan is to film it with a better camera and sound, adding some insignificant updates to the content. We hope to finish it before the New Year, so it will start on January or February with both English and Italian versions published at the same time. Let me know if you are interested, - I can add your name on the list and inform you when we are ready.

2. In 3 weeks we have our Egg Tempera Basics starting again. The group has already gathered a good number of people and we are good to go.

3. I have to apologize for one thing: I published our previous Newsletter in August, when everybody was busy with other things, and I think this influenced our Iconography Study Group, made to help iconographers to practice and memorize what they had learned at our courses. In February-May we both got really inspired, when we saw how participants of this program managed to consolidate their knowledge and skills they gained at the courses. What was only a tentative success, became a real achievement; what was hardly began, became a practical skill, that’s why we thought to repeat this experience.

So, now, after such a successful experience in February-May, we had only few registrations for the new program, and I asked Olga to extend the registration period. So, we are officially extending it and now the New Iconographers Study Group will start on November 2, 2023 to give one more chance for those, who missed the previous announcement.


While our Australian Basic Iconography Course and Advanced Icon Painting Course groups are slowly filling up, we have good news about our US program. Now I am actually typling this text from Belgrade. We had to come here to apply for the US visas, and we also saw the city museums. In addition to that our friend Todor Mitrovic invited us to visit his High School of Ecclesiastical arts and say a word to the students before their new year of studies.

Yesterday, after a half a year of waiting we have finally had our US visas approved!! Ta-daaam!!! This means that we are going to come to The New Skete and have our course there in person. In the nearest days we will choose a model and hope it’s going to be a great course. Yet I have to make a page for it, however, please let us know if you are interested.

The New Skete church Two words about the location: it’s a little monastery in woods in the very north of New York State. You can read the story of the monastery here. In brief: it consists of two communities, men and women, living on a distance of 1 mile (as far as I remember). We live this place not only because of stunning nature, but also because of the very personalities of monks and nuns, - they are all great people and very enthusiastic ones too. In my life i participated many weekday evening services in many places, but only in the New Skete I saw how even a most routine service can be accepted as joyful act of celebration. Their church is also one of a kind, - on the top part they have painted some special men and women of 10th century, yet with no halos, as they hope these people will soon be officially recognized as saints.

This course will start in the morning on Monday, May 14 2024 and last for 5 days until the Friday May 18. As always, we will bring all the necessary tools and materials with us.

Yet we have no other plans for the US, so, if you have in mind any religious or educational institution, which would be interested in hosting our retreat, right before or after the May 14-18, 2024, we will be delighted to consider all the options. By the way, - just to mention, - our policy is to give a free scholarship to the person who helps organizing our course in situ.


And two more words about us: the work helps.
Having so much work to do in different fields does not leave time/space for any nostalgic thoughts. Besides, we are deeply thankful to you and other people we have met in our previous years! Our son has finally managed to find a place to stay and to make a registration, so he will even be able to work to support himself.

Life continues and we feel remembered and prayed for on different ends of earth, - we are not alone.

Inspired by this feeling I decided to ask you to say a prayer about one more person. I will dare to ask you to pray for one of our students, whom some of you may have met in some of our Classrooms, - it’s sister Shoshannah also known as “Ecce Fiat”. She was recently diagnosed with serious health issues and now will have to undertake a heavy and difficult treatment. Let’s continue to pray for the Peace and remember sister Shoshannah in these nearest months.

Yours gratefully, Philip and Olga
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