is the cornerstone of Iconography. It is not possible to create a
successful icon without a correct accurate drawing. If, as a student
you simply trace other people’s icons and then, ‘Paint by
Numbers’, you will not learn very much. Similarly, free drawing
from reproductions of icons, without first establishing an
understanding of the principles of geometry and proportion that
underpin even the simplest of icons, will simply lead to confusion.
All students of iconography
should undertake a study of the geometry behind classical icons of
the Byzantine tradition. Appreciating the role that the simple
square, rectangle, circle and triangle play in their composition is
essential. How and where, buildings, landscape and figures fit into
the composition of an icon is not a matter of chance or fancy.
Geometry, or more precisely, ‘Divine Geometry’, can perhaps be
considered the key to an understanding of the very fabric of the
appreciation of the proportions of the anatomy of the human body is
also very important for iconographers. Certainly Icon painting of the
Byzantine Tradition is firmly grounded in the sense of proportion and
anatomical rigour of late Classical Greek and Roman Art. Painting an
icon is not an excuse for bad figure drawing, justified with dubious
theological excuses. An icon seeks to represent the body perfected,
deified and transfigured, not imperfect, mutated and immaterial.
should endeavour to draw from the finest and best preserved examples
of good quality Byzantine icons, or failing that, the best modern
copies of good quality icons in the Byzantine tradition that they can
find. It is important that the figure, its features, anatomy and
clothing are clear and easy to follow. Trying to draw from an icon
that is obscured by damage or age darkened varnish, or is simply a
poor quality reproduction, can be an unnecessary and pointless
struggle, which often results in passages of drawing that simply have
to be made up.
should be an enjoyable pastime, an end in its own right, not a chore.
Start tight, making sure the geometry is correct and the composition
of the icon is harmonious and congruous. Then begin to loosen up,
with gentle lines, hardly touching the paper at first, finding the
flowing lines of energy and dynamism within the composition, through
the figures, buildings and landscape. Then tighten up again once you
are happy with the location of all the elements of the drawing. Make
sure that everything is logical and that the folds in the garments of
the figures in particular, ‘make sense’ and sympathetically
reflect the stance or movement of the body beneath the cloth.
to the scale of the panel you are going to paint on, exact size if
possible, and then it can be traced and transferred directly onto the
panel you are working on, if not, make certain that the drawing is in
a proportionate rectangle that can be gridded and scaled up or down.
If you draw on paper that is a different proportion to your panel, it
will not fit, even if you grid it, as the rectangles of the grid will
be different sizes!
should not be afraid to compose their own icons, carefully selecting
their favourite parts of different icons and bringing them together
into their own interpretation. This must be done with care however;
examples of widely different schools and styles thrown together often
results in an alarming and unsightly aesthetic melange.