Text by Anya Grenier | Photo by Michael Ventura
This unfinished icon of the Theotokos
and child began as a test for another icon.
Danylevich tried different paints on it, but
couldn’t use the board for anything else
since she’d engraved the surface. She set
it aside for about eight years, then picked
it up again to complete.
To make her paints, Danylevich combines the pigments
with a mixture of an egg yolk,
vinegar, and water, varying
the proportions for either a
wetter or drier effect. Once
applied, the paints can be
altered easily with water to
To further illuminate the icons,
Danylevich uses the technique
of water gilding. She applies
23-karat gold leaf with a brush
called a gilder’s tip onto a base
layer of gilder’s clay before any
other paint is added to the icon,
and keeps a special gilder’s knife
to cut the gold on its camel skin-lined cushion. The gold leaf is so
delicate that Danylevich can’t talk
while working, as even a breath
of air could send the gold flying.
Danylevich uses earth-based pigments in her work.
She still has one small jar of powder from the nun
who first taught her how to paint. She uses it in tiny
amounts, and only on special occasions. The smell of
the natural powders mixed with water is therapeutic,
she says. “It smells nice, like after it rains.”