2023: After an incredibly busy 2022, in which I completed a great many commissions, I was finally able to rest by brushes and begin my sabbatical. In September, I returned to the Courtauld Institute of Art to read for a second MA, snappily entitled “Byzantium and its Rivals: Art, Display and Cultural Identity in the Christian and Islamic Mediterranean.” I am privileged to be supervised by Professor Antony Eastmond on this journey into new geographical and historical territories.

As reflected in the course title, Byzantine scholarship has developed and broadened its scope enormously in recent years, with much new work being done in exciting areas and from new perspectives, all of which inspires further research and enquiry. With this in mind, I will be continuing my studies at PhD level, and when possible, offering courses designed to help icon painters navigate the complexities of Byzantine art and iconography.

More news soon about Icon Adventures Summer School 2023, but for now, here’s to life-long learning!

Post Pandemic

Although the pandemic has prevented me from delivering my courses in Italy for two years in a row and my Walsingham retreat had to be postponed several times before finally happening in September 21, it has been a period of exciting transition and growth in other areas of my work.

Following my accreditation as a lecturer with The Arts Society, I have been busy lecturing to a new audience on iconography and medieval art history.

Going Forward: Icon Adventures Online

Icon Adventures Online

Little taught and interesting areas of iconography will form the basis of online courses to be introduced in 2021. These will be accessible, affordable and professionally delivered using live online classroom seminars and pre-recorded tutorials.

These unique courses will combine Trecento and Italo-Byzantine Art History with the practical use of Medieval Panel Painting techniques.

The first online course will feature the important ‘Man of Sorrows’ icon.
The art historical aspect of the course will explore the fascinating journey of an icon from East to West and examine the development of its devotional function and spiritual meaning. (Italo-Byzantine + Franciscan art history).

The practical painting part of the course will deliver step-by-step guidance on how to write this simple and powerful icon using Byzantine painting and medieval gilding techniques.
This course will be particularly suitable for those new to icon painting. For the more experienced, it will provide a valuable insight into the transmission and development of iconography in the western medieval sphere.

Please use the contact form to request priority notice.

Reflections on the 2019 Retreats

The 2019 Assisi Retreat took place at the end of June in the midst of a heatwave in central Italy. With average temperatures of 39 degrees C for most of the 11 days, the five of us had to learn the art of the siesta quickly.

Given that our average age was 74.2 years, we all managed the heat, the painting course and visits to the wonderful Franciscan sites surprisingly well, with two of the group even finding the stamina to paint a few landscapes and figure studies.

Due to two last minute cancellations, our group was smaller than anticipated, however we were then able to accommodate one of the young Sisters from the Convent Guesthouse, who wanted to learn some icon painting in order to use it in her youth work in the Philippines and produced a lovely and very contemplative icon of St Clare.

The other icons produced by the group were all completed very successfully and with great devotion and skill; they included two single figure images of St Francis (after the Bardi Chapel Vita panel), one St Francis receives the Stigmata (after Berlinghiero) and one Madonna and Child. All of these images date from the second half of the 13th century, produced in Umbria or Tuscany and are a Franciscan fusion of Romanesque and Byzantine sacred art.

One of the many highlights was our pilgrimage to the Sanctuary of La Verna, with it’s deep sense of peace, amazing views and refreshingly cooler mountain climate. This area is also famous for it’s black truffles – as one lucky lady in the group found out when she was given a very large truffle by a local hunter in a village cafe en route to the Sanctuary! After a huge lunch and the unique 3 pm service and procession to the Chapel of the Stigmata, we were incredibly fortunate to have our icons blessed by one of the Friars, who not only was himself an icon painter but knew the Greek Orthodox blessing rite and gave his time most generously.

The 2019 Walsingham Retreat followed at the end of September and was filled to capacity, with two of the group undertaking huge journeys from Indiana, USA and Ontario, Canada. The variety of icons produced by this group was remarkable and the result of our intensely creative, energetic and dedicated studio practice. In addition to the individual icon projects, a lot of specific practical skills improvement was achieved as part of the time allocated to this.

We were all deeply enriched and inspired by an evening of contemplative prayer, generously given by one of our group who is trained in the Carmelite tradition and very experienced in delivering such sessions. In addition we found time to have a Quiz Nite with due silliness, an Origami and Popcorn party and a Film Nite, featuring the fabulously produced dvd digital exhibition ‘I, Claude Monet’.

To all my lovely, amazing students this year (including those from the other four workshops at St Seraphim’s and in Bath) thank you for sharing your many gifts, creative energy and spiritual wisdom with each other.

Pax et Bonum.

New art pilgrimage for Autumn 2020: The Sacred Art of Siena and Pisa

Plans are finally in hand to launch a new Icon Adventures tour for the autumn of 2020 to the beautiful medieval cities of Siena and Pisa, in central Italy. (This has long been on the list, ever since completing my MA in Late Medieval Sienese painting at the Courtauld..!)

The tour will probably be 6 or 7 days (tbc) starting with 1 night in Central Pisa and the rest in Central Siena, via private minibus transfer. There will be a return minibus transfer to Pisa for the convenience of the airport.

Prices and dates will be announced soon. However in keeping with Icon Adventures principles, it will be a small group and there will not be any single supplements, age limits and the price will be as competitive as possible to make this an affordable experience for all.

It will be mostly an art history holiday/art pilgrimage, focused on the sacred art and masterpieces of late medieval painting in Central Italy, especially works from the famous 13th – 14th Pisani Maestri and those from the Sienese School (Duccio, Simone Martini, the Lorenzetti brothers, Ugolino di Nerio as well as the many other anonymous painters of the period).

The itinerary will begin with a rendezvous in Pisa and an overnight stay, with a visit the following day to the Museo di San Matteo to see the fabulous collection of altarpieces, croce dipinte and panel paintings. (Self-Guided visits to Pisa Duomo, Baptistery, famous leaning campanile etc may be possible for early arrivals.)

A private transfer will take us to Siena and our centrally located accommodation. The Siena itinerary will include visits to the famous Duomo and Crypt, the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, the Pinacoteca, specific churches, the Palazzo Pubblico and the Archivi di Stato, with free time to visit the many other significant sites (e.g., the Spedale Santa Maria dell Scala.)

There will also be an option to do a practical, one day taster workshop on Sienese painting, using the method described by Cennini in ‘Il Libro dell’Arte’ (c 1390).

For anyone who paints icons or has done the IA Assisi retreat, this new tour will provide a fascinating follow-on experience in terms of iconography, medieval gilding and panel painting techniques.

As always with Icon Adventures, there will be a chance to do more, with day trip options for visiting the famous Tuscan town of San Gimignano with its medieval tower houses and art – or to Montepulciano and Pienza for wine and cheese tasting and fabulous views over a quintessential Tuscan landscape.

Interested? Please email Helen via the contact page to receive advance notice of the dates and early bird introductory prices.

Ci vediamo…

Icon Painting Workshops at St Seraphim’s Trust, Walsingham 2019 & 2020

St Seraphim’s Trust have invited Helen to deliver several icon painting ‘taster’ workshops in 2019 and 2020 as part of their Heritage Lottery Funded programme of activities. The 2020 courses will include a 5 day workshop.

Summer 2019 workshops:
(10:00 am – 4:00/4.30 pm)

18th & 19th May (we painted an icon of the Archangel Michael)

8th & 9th June (we painted an icon of the Mother of God of Kazan)

20th & 21st July (fully booked)

2019 Cost: £25.00 per person

Spring and Summer 2020 workshops:
(10:00 am – 4:00/4:30 pm)

4th & 5th April

16th & 17th May

15th & 19th June (5 day)

2020 Costs and bookings: Please contact St Seraphim’s, details below

The workshops will take place in the new gallery space and provide a basic introduction to icons and the technique of icon painting. Participants will be able to ‘make and take’ a small icon and gain a deeper appreciation of Russian icons through the tradition established at St Seraphim’s in the mid 1960s.

Places are limited to 7 pax per workshop and priority will be given to local participants. Materials will be supplied.

To book a place, or for more information, please contact St Seraphim’s Trust directly:

Tel: 01328 820610

St Seraphim’s Trust
Station Rd
NR22 6DG