Gilding and painting a Byzantine icon with Peter Murphy

Ref: S5D31997

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About this course

This course is an introduction to painting and gilding a traditional Byzantine icon. Learn how to water gild backgrounds and halos with real gold leaf over a red clay base. Make and use egg tempera paint, using genuine medieval mineral pigments.

Course Description

This course explores all of the ancient techniques used to gild and paint a Byzantine panel icon. Using two beautiful Cretan style icons as our starting point, you will learn all of the traditional techniques used by the Early Medieval Byzantine master craftsmen. This includes water gilding, laying and burnishing 24 carat gold over a clay base and then learning how to make and use tempera paint from free range egg yolks and authentic semi-precious mineral pigments.

This course will introduce you to the techniques of egg tempera icon painting and the plan is to complete a small Byzantine style icon.

Techniques covered include: the basic principles of design; water gilding; the correct mixing of egg yolk and pigment; the various ways of applying egg tempera, e.g. petit lac (puddling) and dry brush modelling.

To allow you to go into some depth, you will work from a small range of reproductions of traditional Byzantine icons, which you can trace and transfer onto the gessoed panel provided. This means that in the class you can concentrate on gilding and painting. Demonstrations are given at each stage of the process throughout the week, giving ample one-to-one tuition between demonstrations.

Day 1: Brief description of the process; discussion about the principles of design; transferring of images to the gesso board; water gilding the halo/background

Day 2: Building up first modelling layers

Day 3: More of the above

Day 4: Begin to model faces

Day 5: Complete face; painting of background, halo and lettering

By the end of the course, you will have learnt water gilding and egg tempera painting and produced a Byzantine style icon painting.


Arrival Day - this is the first date listed above

Courses start early evening. Residential students to arrive from 4pm, non-residential students to arrive by 6.45pm.

6.45pm: Welcome, followed by dinner (included).

8 - 9pm: First teaching session, attendance is essential.

Daily timetable

Classes 9.15 - 5pm, lunch is included.

From 6.30pm: Dinner (included for residential students).

Evening working - students may have access to workshops until 9pm, but only with their tutor's permission and provided any health and safety guidelines are observed.

Last day

Classes 9.15am - 3pm, lunch is included.

Residential students are to vacate their rooms by 10am please.

(This timetable is for courses of more than one day in length. The tutor may make slight variations)

Course Materials


  • The course fee includes the cost of providing gessoed boards, gold leaf, the pigments and eggs. If the price of gold varies significantly between course publication and course start, you will either receive a refund or be asked to pay a little more to cover any additional costs.

What students need to bring

  • Lots of scrap paper for unloading unwanted paint from brushes
  • A notebook for notes
  • Large glass jar for water for washing brushes
  • Cloth for cleaning brushes
  • Pencil and paper for drawing
  • Quality sable brushes, preferably kolinsky hair sizes: 0, 1, 2 and 6 (Please bring others as well, if you have them.)
  • A larger soft brush about size 10, which can be artificial hair or a sable/artificial mix; though not as good, it will be a great deal cheaper than pure sable
  • A cheap artificial hair brush about size 3 for mixing pigment and egg
  • A pair of compasses
  • An artist’s palette knife or equivalent for picking up powder pigment
  • A ceramic paint-mixing palette - by far the most useful is the rectangular one, 19 x 10 cm, with five dimples and five rectangular troughs. (Plastic palettes, being light, annoyingly move around when you are mixing paint in them.)
  • Two small containers suitable for accurately dropping out water and egg. Any of the following will do: small plastic bottles with nozzles; pipettes, along with two small bottles for the egg and water; eye droppers with their bottles.
  • Any materials from the available to buy list or you may buy them from the shop.

Available to buy

  • Available from shop:
  • A good variety of art materials are available to buy, including sable brushes, sizes: 0, 1, 2 and 6, larger soft brushes about size 10 and size 3, palette knives and ceramic paint-mixing palettes.

Additional information

Suppliers: L. Cornelissen and Son Ltd. AP Fitzpatrick Please wear appropriate clothing/aprons for the workshop or studio. This includes stout covered footwear, i.e. no open-toes or sandals.


Peter Murphy

Peter Murphy was educated at Jacob Kramer College of Art and the University of East London, and trained with iconographer Guillem Ramos Poqui in London.


Residential option available. Find out accommodation costs and how to book here.

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