“I am absolutely obsessed with trees and woods. I would live there if I could – but I didn’t want to just ‘copy’ them or use a very realistic way of painting. They are exhilarating, enchanting, dreamy, living and breathing things, green cathedrals, but how could I translate that?”
Creating fine art in the tradition of the Orthodox Church, Edinburgh-based iconographer Katherine Sanders has been able to intertwine faith with creativity, but now she hopes to reach further, bringing the distinctive style to her favourite subject from nature – trees.
As a child starting out on her creative journey, Katherine found support and encouragement in her family, with treasured, early memories of a handmade chalkboard and collection of chalks in a tin being presented to her by her Grandfather, amidst the chaos of her huge family celebration of her fourth birthday.
School teachers nurtured her blossoming talent and Katherine found herself on the art course of her dreams at the tender age of 17. Much to her dismay her art started to feel flat. Struggling with mental ill health at the time, she found herself dropping out of the course. Initially she set aside art all together and sought new paths. An ill-fated career change into secretarial work ended when a kindly boss recognised it was not where she belonged and talked her into returning to university in her twenties.
It wasn’t until she settled into university life on a religious studies course, found her faith and met the man who would become her husband, that Katherine grew in confidence enough to take up drawing again.
She explained: “When I became Orthodox, shortly after we met, I began to look at icons – properly look at them. What strange pictures, not at all how I had been trained, but compelling. When our priest had a visiting iconographer give a teaching session, I didn’t really ‘get’ why one of the fifty eyes I drew was right and the others were not! I wasn’t completely discouraged and found a teacher in England, way down south, who did week long residential courses twice a year.”
She added: “Thanks to my husband’s support, I was able to go and that was it – just like joining the Church – it just clicked for me. Here was a kind of art that was still demanding and creative, but gave my work a longer, deeper meaning.”
Katherine refined her craft, becoming highly skilled in icons, but until last year she struggled with branching out beyond religious works.
But this changed: “I was led to a Russian iconographer working in Brussels, who I’ve been learning from for a couple of years now, and she has been instrumental in teaching me that everything can be painted as an icon. So I began painting trees, then carvings, with symbols or just pleasing shapes. I am still painting icons of saints – I have six tiny ones and a large one in my studio right now – but I’m so happy to share the way I see trees with other people now.
“I am actually inspired for the first time and have the confidence to try things, and keep going when it gets challenging. Maybe it’s being older, but I feel more free to be creative than ever before.”
For more information and to buy Katherine’s work visit: https://katherinesandersicons.com/shop/
“One of my other hobbies is doll making – I’m experimenting with cloth dolls, stuffed and sculpted with wool (yes, I have another shop on Etsy called Katherine & Kitty, after my daughter and I) – but my big influence in doll making is a wonderful Mexican lady who lives in Canada called Fabiola Perez – her blog, Fig & Me, is a very free, imaginative space to explore crafting, being out in the wilds and making things that everyone loves to hold. She is such a generous and creative person, I was able to do a workshop with her last year and it really inspired me. http://www.figandme.com/blog”