Saints are people that we know are by the side of God after death. Prayers to saints are prayers to intercede in earthly matters, not in matters of the soul.
It's an awareness of
>I know this man has died and gone to heaven
>I know that in heaven he is pure
>I know I am sinful
>If I were to ask God for something earthly, it would be tainted by my sinful desires, impure thoughts and needs
>But this man can ask God for all he wants and receive it, because he is pure of those sins and by the side of God
>So I can ask the man who I know is pure in heaven, to pray for me so I have safe travels, get a girlfriend, overcome this difficult situation etc.
Icons help us be aware that these people exist by the side of God. They're not supposed to be worshipped so characterizing them beyond the bare minimum runs the risk of people misunderstanding the saint, rather than his life for Christ, as sacred.
It's a fine line that Byzantine Iconography has been treading perfectly: All icons follow a specific symbolic tradition to the point where the symbols become a separate language.
Pic related is Philoumenos of Jacob's Well. A modern martyr that has been killed by jews for being a Christian monk on "their" land.
The second pic is a depiction of saint George.
The third one is a depiction of Christ's baptism.
Notice that despite the different subjects and time periods depicted, all follow the same symbolic style. They're always outdoors, the body proportions are always the same, there's no modern objects depicted, the expressions have a serenity to them, text provides some minor context.
I'm not specialized in byzantine iconography, so there's probably more common details. That's why in Orthodoxy icons are "written" not drawn. It's an entire code one has to learn to be able to properly depict a saint.
Other than avoiding idolatry by codifying the lives of saints, these kind of icons also attain a timeless quality that is central to Orthodox art. A medieval greek faithful that has walked into any modern day orthodox church will be able to understand the hymns, the timing of the liturgy, the locations in the church.
He wouldn't be able to read the english text on the 3rd icon, yet he would understand it depicts the baptism of Christ due to having seen these icons before. He wouldn't know what a haredi jew looks like, but he would understand that saint Philoumenos was a martyr massacred at Jacob's Well.
This isn't a cool feature of Orthodox art, but its central point. The church is the unity of all faithful, past, present and future and the art seeks to mirror that.
I'd sperg out more but this post is already getting into tl;dr territory. The bottom line is that statues of Mary are worship because your brain subconsciously understands her as a separate person that you're praying to. While codified icons of mary are veneration, because your brain understands the icons as a code. You don't worship letters when you read them, so there's no risk of accidentally indulging in paganism.