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  • Heavenly Path News Team

"Orthodox Illustration Project"

The purpose of the project was to make available online a collection of graphic illustrations of the highest quality.

An wonderful initiative that took place eight years ago under the aegis of Orthodox Artists Journal.

"...It is my particular pleasure to introduce the Orthodox Illustration Project – an initiative under the aegis of the Orthodox Arts Journal.

In brief, the purpose of the project is to make available online a collection of graphic illustrations of the highest quality. The collection will focus on iconographic drawings and related graphic ornaments stylistically suited to the illumination of printed Orthodox publications. The project will address the needs of Orthodox book designers, graphic artists, and many others, who desire excellent imagery for their publications.

"...The seeds of the project were sown in 2009 when I was asked to draw ornamental capitals and other graphics for a new translation of the Psalter."

Currently, there is very little available in the way of ‘clip art’ that is well suited to Orthodox publications. The Orthodox Illustration Project will meet this need, but it is to be more than just a static database of clip-art. It is an open-ended call for artistic contributions to build up a library of imagery, and in the process, to develop a new and fresh, yet wholly traditional, style of graphic art for the service of the church.

The seeds of the project were sown in 2009 when I was asked to draw ornamental capitals and other graphics for a new translation of the Psalter. Then, in 2012, I worked extensively with Scott Patrick O’Rourke to develop a set of iconographic pen-and-ink drawings for liturgical book illustration. And Christabel Anderson contributed several excellent calligraphic drawings. We also devoted countless hours to scanning and editing ornaments from medieval Russian books and other antique sources.

We now have a significant collection of images that are properly formatted for contemporary publishing – about 150 graphics so far.

Although the project focuses on the beautification of liturgical books, we envision that these graphics will useful for many other purposes. They will be suitable as cover art or didactic illustrations for various types of Orthodox books. They will lend a liturgical dignity to the pamphlets and brochures that publicize church projects and charitable organizations.

They will be accessible to parish offices for use in bulletins and church school materials. And they will be useful to web designers for dignifying the Orthodox presence online. Our graphics also happen to be perfect for coloring books, which is an important means of exposing children to the beauty of Orthodox art. Call for Artistic Contributions

We would like to build upon our collection by offering an open invitation for artists to contribute. Are you an iconographer who has worked, or would like to work, in monochrome ink-drawing technique? Or an illustrator who has drawn graphic art suitable for Orthodox publications? Are you a calligrapher who could offer decorative capitals or marginal ornaments in a Byzantine, Slavic, or early-Romanesque style?

Since our focus and inspiration has been liturgical books, most of our graphics are monochrome icon drawings and ornaments. Nevertheless, we are very open to expanding our scope for the project. For instance, ink drawings pertaining to Orthodox culture, like images of Russian villages, Greek dancers, or church buildings, can be very appropriate for beautifying parish bulletins and other materials. In some cases, artwork in full color may be suitable also. For maximum flexibility, consider submitting any given illustration in multiple versions – colored, uncolored, with and without a decorative border, etc.

Most importantly, we are looking for work that is very high quality and conformant with Orthodox tradition. We reserve the right to reject any submissions that seem otherwise. This does not necessarily mean that only accomplished masters need apply. Pen-and-ink graphics can be relatively easy to draw well, and mistakes are easily corrected in Photoshop. So we would encourage any artist who finds an interest in this project to try drawing something. If an icon is beyond your expertise, consider simple ornaments – crosses, peacocks, church domes.

We are also in need of help editing drawings which need some work. This requires skill with Photoshop and an artistic eye.

All contributions must be free of copyright or authorized by the owner for unlimited distribution and reproduction.

Please contact Andrew Gould if you are interested in contributing or otherwise helping with the project."

Historic Precedents and Artistic Considerations

We begin with this question: What is the ideal form and style of graphic illustration for Orthodox publications?

Since liturgical art is the highest vocation of an Orthodox artist, and also the inspiration for any truly-Orthodox para-liturgical arts, we must begin with an honest look at liturgical books. We could easily say that our answer lies in the most splendid illuminated manuscripts of the middle ages – text hand-written on vellum with gilded capitals, copiously illustrated with jewel-toned miniatures painted in tempera. But these cannot serve as our model for modern printed books. Photographic reproductions of painted icons on shiny paper are cold and lifeless compared to hand-painted miniatures. And they do not sit comfortably alongside the perfectly uniform fonts of modern printing. It is not practical for modern book designers to seamlessly integrate icons, ornaments, decorative capitals, and paragraphs of text.

And if they try to do so, the effect seems too complicated, too pretentious, for the ordinary materials of modern paper and ink do warrant such elaboration. Without raised gesso and gilding, without the crinkle of handmade paper, modern books are doomed to a certain utilitarian simplicity, and their design must accept this, and not deny it, if they are to have dignity.

So it is quite appropriate that contemporary liturgical books are generally printed in just one or two colors (black and red is ideal), and that they use uniform digitized fonts. Fortunately, history is not devoid of venerable examples of simple printed liturgical books. Rather, they have been normative in the church for five-hundred years. At first, they were printed with moveable type and illustrated with wood-block prints. An examination of these early printed books shows that a very successful style of illustration for them developed quickly.

Most importantly, the general scale and texture of the carved wood-block icons and ornaments was quite similar to that of the lettering. Thus the graphics and the letters seem to belong together on the page – they integrate into a whole that is more than the sum of the parts.

These early printed books serve as the inspiration for most of our designs. The simple line-drawn icons bounded in a frame, the occasional ornamental header and decorative capital at the beginning of a chapter, the use of black and red – we find these an ideal solution for the aesthetic of modern typography and printing.

Technical Requirements for Contributions

Resolution should be at least 300dpi at the actual size that the graphic would be reproduced. So if you draw something tiny and imagine it will be printed larger, scan at higher than 300dpi. If you draw something very large, and shrink it down, scan at lower than 300dpi.

For ink drawings, we have found the following process works well.

Compose an initial sketch in pencil. Then lay tracing vellum overtop, and ink the drawing using rollerball pens or calligraphy nibs with liquid ink. Scan the ink drawing, then increase brightness and contrast in Photoshop until all pixels are either black or white (no gray pixels). Then it is very easy to edit mistakes in the digital image. Finally, save as .gif. If necessary, we can help with scanning artwork and formatting files on our end.

We are also interested in graphics derived directly from medieval book ornaments, or from older printed books that are out of copyright. These can be scanned from books and manipulated in Photoshop as described above to achieve true monochrome, and to correct any damage and warping in the original image.

As the collection grows, we will work to develop an interface for the database on the Orthodox Arts Journal website. We would welcome a volunteer with appropriate expertise to help with this.

Availability and Licensing

Updated 2017 – The Illustration Project Graphics are now available for easy download through the Orthodox Arts Journal website. Scroll down on the homepage to find the link, or access it here. The graphics are organized into categories, and most of them are available in both raster and vector format.

Images are available free of charge for use in non-commercial publications such as parish bulletins, parish websites, church school materials, etc. For commercial and professional uses, such as published books that are printed for sale, and commercial websites, we will ask for a voluntary donation to the Orthodox Arts Journal. We will also request that credit be given to the OAJ and to the author of the image where appropriate. No users will be granted exclusive rights to use any image.


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Iconography Today provides in-depth study through a variety of classes taught by renowned iconographer Dr George Kordis.

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