In May I went to an iconography seminar at Diakonia Center in Salem, SC, conducted by Fr Anthony Salzman. At the seminar we did an iconographic study of the Archangel Michael and architecture. I call it a study because the prototype was a copy of an icon that had been Photoshopped so it could include some elements Fr Anthony wanted to teach us in the class. So the finished product isn't an Orthodox icon in the strictest sense of the word.
Everyone else in the class knew how to mix and use the pigments, but this was my first time. I've always been intimidated by them because of their toxicity. I think the cadmium reds and the cobalt blue can kill you if you breathe the dust; the titanium white pigment can kill you if it gets on your skin. So for a person like myself, whose modus operandi has always been trial and error, it was too much of a risk to err.
Today, since the boys and Margaret are out of the house, I started working on the varnish that I didn't have time to put on at the seminar. One of the ladies in my class talked about a varnish made of egg whites. I found a sentence or two of directions to make it in the book, The Technique of Icon Painting by Guillem Ramos Poqui. The directions aren't complicated, but the process seems pretty simple: beat egg whites into a foam, let it sit overnight, peel off the dry crust in the morning and the remaining liquid is the glair. The seminar-lady's recommendation of it wasn't that great. She said her paint cracked beneath it. But I'm curious enough about it to risk the cracks.