A genuine love of wood needs to be both practical and personal. It is necessary for the studio because of the kind of paint used to create the icons. Like so much of what is done here, the paint used is locally produced and looks to fulfill the land rather than extract from it. It is called egg tempera, a combination of pigments made from the rocks and plants around the studio and egg yolk from our little flock of chickens. When properly prepared and applied, it is a durable paint that does not yellow and gives luminosity to the color. However, once cured, it dries to an inflexible state that would quickly crack and flake off a flexible surface, such as the canvas used in oil painting. Because of this, tempera paint must be painted onto a solid surface, and traditionally this was a wooden one.
Personally, I love working with wood because of the tangible way it embodies knowing the world. Each length of lumber on the bench is unique, a testament to history and story. Repositioning each board to align them well into the needed width for a panel, I love the way the wood looks, feels, smells, and sounds.
–Symeon van Donkelaar, excerpt from “The Sacred in the Common: Making an Icon Panel,” in Issue Nine