Instructional Resources for Catholic Icon Painters: The Icon Painter’s Handbook and the online Academy Course

A fully online and remote formation- soup to nuts – for icon painters by a British master iconographer

I am pleased to recommend The Icon Painter’s Handbook, by Ian Knowles, which is available here. Ian is a Catholic English icon painter with many commissions under his belt, and who is a former student of Aidan Hart. He produces this book with the blessing of his former teacher (Aidan wrote the Foreword). As a good student of Aidan Hart, one of the foremost Orthodox iconographers in the English speaking world, Ian has excellent technique and understanding of the tradition. Also, incidentally, in the manner of his former teacher he refers to icon ‘painting’ and does not conform to what began as an affectation and has become a contemporary fashion in the English speaking world, that of refering to the process as icon writing!

This can be used in isolation or in conjunction with the first and foundational module of Ian’s excellent four-module online icon-painting course, which offers a full formation in iconography called the Academy Course in Icon Painting. This offers regular real-time online meetings with Ian and other students for questions and discussion as well as a full set of recorded videos and materials. 

I asked him if this full formation is available to those living in America. He told me:

Yes! The online programme is done remotely and at different levels. First there are the four modules, all now recorded and available. Purchased once with lifetime access. Then there is the Academy, which is open to all those students for mutual support etc, with a monthly lecture program, and then email critiques, one-on-one tutorials via Zoom, and weekly tutorial groups via Zoom, of which we have one comprising of four students from the USA and who would welcome new members.

At nearly 300 pages, this is just Volume 1, of a proposed four-volume set. This covers all the introductory principles in drawing, painting and understanding what icons are. Once you get to the end of this course, it will equip the more resourceful to continue self-directed study, applying the principles to other subjects. Otherwise you can sign on to the online courses that Ian offers through the Academy Course. 

This book is available as a pdf, hard-back book or as an interactive, electronic flipbook in which there are embedded demonstration videos. You can follow this link: to see a more detailed description of the content, and even see how a flipbook works!. It is more than a simple paint-an-icon sort of book, but it is designed to help in the formation of an iconographer as painter of sacred art. Theology and spirituality are integrated into practice, fundamental principles into precise artistic skills and as such it is Catholic friendly.

After leaving the studio of Aidan Hart, Ian started to take commissions and taught icon painting for several years as the head of the Bethlehem Icon Centre, which he founded and led (and which was endorsed by the local Melkite Church as well as the Prince’s Foundation School of Traditional Arts). Some readers may remember that I wrote about this at the time. An article about Ian and his school appeared in the Jerusalem Post here. 

When the Bethlehem Icon Centre closed (a casualty of Covid), Ian returned to the UK and started to offer workshops there. In parallel with the in-person teaching, he recorded videos. All four modules of this full formation are now recorded and available. The book accompanies the first module. 

In his foreword Aidan writes of the book and Knowle’s teaching: 

Ian Knowles has drawn on his experience as an icon painter and teacher to assemble this beautifully designed Icon Painter’s Handbook, and in so doing has made an important contribution towards increasing the skill of icon painters in the West, both experienced and learners. This thoroughly revised edition incorporates refinements suggested by his teaching, as well as a thorough knowledge of the icon’s theological tradition.

Examples of his work follow:

Interestingly, in recent years he has been working on the development of what he feels can be a contemporary English style and his starting point for this is the work of Matthew Paris, the 13th-century Gothic illuminator from the School of St Albans. You can see examples of how Ian has approached this on his website. This is something that I have been doing myself and writing about for about 10 years now – here is a past NLM article in which I make the case and another here. Ian and I reached the conclusion about the value of Paris’s work today quite independently but I am glad that the ‘movement’ is beginning to gain momentum. A number of the plates I painted for the Little Oratory were based on the 13th-century Westminster Psalter, the illuminations of which come out of this gothic School.

As I explain in the second of the articles linked above, I think neo-English gothic is particularly appropriate for the Anglo-American Catholic Church in general (and not just the English Church), most especially for the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham churches…so perhaps you might like to look at Ian’s work and consider some commissions!