Sinai St. Gabriel the Archangel

Please let me know if you would like to be on my email contact list for workshops, lectures, events, and postings of new works.

Original Icon Commissions
are accepted, as well as orders for specially mounted limited edition prints of the icons shown on this website.
Contact me by email:

Please honor the opportunity to see these icons online,
and do not reproduce the images without my permission.

Vladimir Theotokos

commissioned for Eastern Orthodox Chapel at Ft. Lewis Army Base, WA

In January 08' I was interviewed by Christine Valters Paintner for her blog, Abbey of the Arts. Here is the interview:

“For the invisible things of God since the creation of the world are made visible through images.”

-John of Damascus, On Holy Images

What is your primary medium?

When I write icons I work in acrylics. My other work is mixed media and acrylics.

Are you rooted in a particular faith tradition?

Oriental Orthodoxy.

How do you experience the connection between spirituality and creativity?

When I paint an icon, I work as a scribe, which is to say I follow the canons and traditions of Orthodoxy, not my own muse. In Orthodox theology and tradition, icons are the Gospels ‘written’ in paint. Unlike the way an artist works, the iconographer doesn’t approach an icon with the attitude of “today I feel like painting the outer robe of the Theotokos* (The Blessed Mother, literally ‘God-Bearer’) hyacinth purple…maybe I’ll give her a nice smile, or paint her on a piano lid.”

If you don’t get out of the way, you end with a holy image, not a real icon with sacramental presence. In traditional Byzantine iconography, there is little room for personal expression, which is not a bad thing – it’s a different type of energy that works through prayer and fasting. You get out of the way to serve the Mysteries.

When I work on my own artwork it’s another story, I am playing! The last 2 years I’ve been experimenting with a palette minus the earthtones of the icons; thalos, magentas and every quid color I could find. I worked in paint, pencil and pastels on recycled surfaces and experimented with encaustic. I’m fascinated with texture under glazes. Most of the art I created in that time has not been shown yet.

What sparked your spiritual journey?

As a young teenager living in southern Spain, I experienced a vivid, beautiful vision that revealed Jesus as the Incarnate Son of God, the invisible made visible. The gift of that vision has been the light of my journey.

What role does your spiritual practice have in your art making?

In my church, sacraments are actions that are an expression of the Word made Flesh–the unseen made seen. Nowhere on this earth is this more densely expressed than in the Orthodox Eucharistic liturgies. Layers of gold, scripture, singing, icons, clouds and smells of incense creates a place where the Kingdom of Heaven and the place of earth meet. You can really believe this is happening–it’s not a theological idea, it’s real. Every week this experience informs my art, my life.


Podcast with Khouria Frederica Mathewes-Green

Fr. Michael and I had the joy of meeting Khouria Frederica last month during a conference our church sponsored in Spokane, where she was the keynote speaker.
On Sunday we recorded an interview for her podcast on Ancient Faith Radio before attending Holy Qurbana together.
During lunch the day before, several Kochammas and Khouria Frederica sat together. It was clear that we all share a great love for the beauty and truth of Orthodoxy. It would be a powerful witness to a hurting world if we could support one another in ministry by proclaiming the Gospel --together.
Let us continue to pray for unity within our beautiful Church.


Published Interview

Thanks to Molly Gilmore-Baldwin for her article about my iconography in The Olympian 03.25.2005. Here is the text:

ARTS: Iconographer puts her heart in vivid works

A detailed painting of the Madonna and child, set off by carefully applied gold leaf. Rich colors and stylized poses. Faces that look something more than human, with big eyes and small mouths.
This sounds like a masterpiece from another time, but it's actually the work of Heather Williams Durka of Olympia.
Durka is an iconographer, an artist who paints images of Jesus, Mary and the saints that are used as part of Eastern Orthodox Church services.
"It's the gospel painted, theology in images," Durka said. "It transcends all of our doctrines in words."

The artist first encountered an icon at a street fair in 1990 and fell in love with the mysterious image. "These eyes seemed to be looking into my soul," she wrote on her Web site.

She began taking classes in iconography, and from there, she has journeyed into a new life writing icons and teaching iconography.
Her love of icons led her to a new religion -- Oriental Orthodox -- and it was through her artwork that she met her husband, Father Michael Durka.

The modern use of the icons, rendered in acrylic on gessoed wood or masonite, has extended outside of the Eastern Orthodox religions.
Heather Williams Durka recently wrote an icon of St. Benedict for St. Benedict's Episcopal Church in Lacey, and her work also can be seen at St. Mark Lutheran Church in Lacey, St. John's Episcopal Church in Olympia and St. Ephrem Orthodox Mission in Olympia, the Oriental Orthodox church where Father Durka is the priest.

Iconographers refer to what they do as writing the icons, because each icon -- meant to represent the figure as it appears in heaven -- includes very specific symbolism and lettering. The figures are posed and clothed in specific ways.
In the Theotokos (which means "God bearer"), an image of Mary holding the baby Jesus, Mary always holds her head tilted to the left, toward the child. She wears a blue robe, overlaid by a deep red one. "Red stands for divinity and blue stands for humanity," Durka explained. "She is human, but she is completely clothed in the life of Christ." 

The symbolism must be exact for an image to qualify as an icon. "We don't decide, 'I'm going to do her mantle in green because I like green,' " she said. "People could do that, but it's not an icon when it happens."

In fact, even the procedure for painting the icons is part of the symbolism. The colors are applied from dark to light. "In the first chapter of Genesis and the first chapter of the Gospel of John, the light comes into the darkness, symbolizing God's love and beauty," Durka said. "Which is what this is all about."

Prayer is central to the creation of an icon, she said, pulling out a prayer that has been said by iconographers for centuries and centuries.
"Enlighten and direct my soul, my heart and my spirit," the prayer asks. "Guide the hand of Thy unworthy servant so that I may worthily and perfectly portray Thy Icon."

written by the hand of Heather Williams Durka, 2005

But while Durka prays before writing an icon and while she does it, it's the creative process itself that is perhaps her most profound prayer.
"In Orthodoxy, there's a man named Bishop Theophan," she said. "He says that when you stand before God with your mind and your heart, that's prayer. And to me, doing the icons is one step more. "My heart is in my hands. It's all about prayer."

At the end of this newspaper article is a quote of St.Theophan, the beloved spiritual advisor and Orthodox bishop of the 19th century. What he actually said is that we approach God in prayer with mind in heart. The wording is theologically and spiritually significant, in that it identifies a core relationship within Eastern Christian spirituality and its conception of human nature.

Contact me by email:

Please let me know if you would like to be on my email contact list for workshops, lectures, events, and postings of new works.

Original Icon Commissions
now accepted, as well as orders for specially mounted limited edition prints.


The Faces in the Window, part 1

Faces have always fascinated me. When I was little I carefully studied the ‘People of the World’ section in an old encyclopedia and memorized all the different facial structures, skin colors, hair types, and eye shapes.

The way I looked at faces changed one day, years later, when two faces looked back at me.

Tender Mercy Theotokos
written by the hand of Heather Williams Durka, 2000

On a side street of Seattle’s Fremont street fair in 1990, two faces stood out like a sunbreak in December from the usual array of colorful crafts for sale. Under a glass panel of a vintage jeweler’s case was a reproduction of Mary holding the infant Jesus mounted on mattboard. Mystery permeated the image with its deep colors of burgundy and blue, its rich gold haloes and cryptic lettering. The otherworldly glow of the skin and the elongated shape of the faces looked like nothing I had ever seen ~ human yet more. Then the large eyes resonated and drew me in ~ these eyes seemed to look into my soul. What was I looking at?

GoldenAngel. bw focus
Holy Archangel Gabriel
written by the hand of Heather Williams Durka, 2005

I left Fremont determined to learn more about this elusive art form. After a research session at the Seattle downtown library I discovered the historical and spiritual significance of the icon. In January of 1991 I signed up for a class on iconography given by a Greek Orthodox Presbytera (wife of the priest) from Tacoma. Over the next 10 years I attended many more icon workshops and later studied privately with teachers of traditional Orthodox iconography. Working in acrylic and gold leaf on gessoed wood panels, I’ve been writing icons ever since.


The Faces in the Window, part 2

Originally made for use in the liturgies of the Orthodox Church, icons are Windows into Heaven, images of Jesus and the saints as they are framed in eternity ~ looking back at us who are here in time.
The icons offer us a sacramental encounter in the Light of Christ.

Christ the LightGiver
written by the hand of Heather Williams Durka, 2005
commissioned for Eastern Orthodox Chapel at Ft. Lewis Army Base, WA

In most Orthodox households there is a space~
and often spaces all through the household ~ where icons are prominently displayed as reminders to pause and look through heavenly windows as we hurry about our days here on earth. In recent years, as copies of the images become more readily available, this tradition has spilled out into the homes of the followers of many other faith traditions.

Icons are not individual acts of artistic creation.
Holy images are handed down faithfully through the Church from one generation of iconographers to the next. Colors remain constant, symbols and forms stay the same. Today, many images are available that vary from the Orthodox Tradition. To an Orthodox Christian it is essential that an iconographer work within the liturgical life of the Church and under the guidance of her bishops and priests.

St. Benedict
written by the hand of Heather Williams Durka, 2005
Patronal Icon commissioned by St. Benedict Episcopal Church, Lacey, WA

The faithful believers maintain that true icons are sacramental images of the Gospel and the Body of Christ in the Communion of Saints, i.e., sacramental images of transfigured life in the Church of Christ.

Just as the Christian scriptures have been translated from Aramaic, Greek, and to Latin and into other world languages, an iconographer translates the Gospel into color and image. That is why we often say the icons are written rather than painted.
So, I work like a scribe on each ‘translation’ ~ praying the individuals or congregations who have commissioned an icon ‘into’ each stroke of the brush. This is my favorite part.
That and seeing those faces looking back at me when I’m done.

Holy Apostle & Evangelist Mark
written by the hand of Heather Williams Durka, 2005
Patronal Icon commissioned by St. Mark Lutheran Church, Lacey, WA


Writing the Icon of St. John of Patmos

When asked if I would be interested in writing a patronal icon for St. John Episcopal Church of Olympia, my husband and I were delighted. Bringing the spirituality and art of icons to our brothers and sisters in Christ deeply touched the heart of our commitment and mission to spread the Gospel.

I work as a scribe writing this color translation of the Gospel with prayer and fasting over the ensuing months -- praying with each brushstroke, praying the congregation of St. John's into each brushstroke of the Gospel.

St. John of Patmos
written by the hand of Heather Williams Durka, 2004
Installed as Patronal Icon for St. John Episcopal Church of Olympia, WA

St. John the Beloved translates the revelation of God's love for us. And taking this Word to heart, "The Theologian" holds open the Gospel pages to the Alpha and the Omega -- the great symbols from The Book of Revelation According to St. John.


How do we venerate an icon?

Veneration given to the icon passes to the prototype, so any veneration to the icon passes over, through the Spirit in the Church, and greets the Lord and the saints with a holy kiss.

Expressing our gratitude and humility,
we offer a kiss, a hand-kiss, or a simple hand-touch to the icon.
The face is never touched or kissed, however;
we offer our veneration by touching the image's hands or feet or garments.

Yaroslav Theotokos
written by the hand of Heather Williams Durka, 2005

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