How to Draw Orthodox Icons

Written by andrew dewitt
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How to Draw Orthodox Icons
(Illustrations by Andrew DeWitt)

Orthodox icons are stunning in their depiction of religious leaders, saints and figureheads of the Bible. These works of art have a mysterious, ancient and powerful quality about them. One of the reasons for this lies in the basic shape structure of these paintings. Almost every icon is built around the shape of a triangle. This is perhaps in reference to the idea of the Holy Trinity. Each icon is made out of one large triangle with several smaller triangles within the picture. For the example in this article, you will be learning to draw an Orthodox icon of Christ.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Paper
  • Pencil
  • Black ink pen
  • Eraser
  • Coloured pencil in orange, tan, beige, red, blue, yellow and brown

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  1. 1

    Draw a large triangle in the centre of the page. Draw an oval at the top of the triangle for the head. Add a circle around this oval for the hair. Draw a cross in the centre of the head to mark the nose and eye guidelines. Add a short horizontal dash below the eye guideline for the nose. Add another dash just below this for the icon's mouth.

    How to Draw Orthodox Icons
  2. 2

    Draw a small triangle in the centre of the illustration for the hand of the icon. Attach a sideways triangle to the bottom right corner of the hand triangle. This will create the other hand.

    How to Draw Orthodox Icons
  3. 3

    Draw two small circles on the horizontal eye guideline to create the Icon's eyes. Add a long thin rectangle running down the middle of the the face to create the nose. Add two small squares on the bottom right and left sides of this shape. Draw the eyebrows with a curved line above each of the Icon's eyes. Add the beard with two curved parallel lines in a "U" shape and the base of the head. Add the moustache with two upside-down "L" shapes under the nose.

    How to Draw Orthodox Icons
  4. 4

    Draw a large circle around the head for the halo. Add six diagonal lines coming out of the head and connecting with the halo circle. Add folds of clothes with diagonal "L" and "V" shapes on the chest, arms and shoulders. Add the pupils with small circles inside the eyes. Add the hair with parallel wavy lines inside the head. Separate the fingers on the left-side hand by drawing two diagonal parallel lines inside the top of the hand and two sets of horizontal parallel lines just below this. Add the thumb with a small, thin rectangle to the bottom right of the fingers.

  5. 5

    Draw the fingers on the right-side hand with three horizontal lines inside the hand. Create the thumb with a small, thin rectangle above and to the right of the fingers. Add a book in this hand with a simple rectangle.

  6. 6

    Erase any pencil guidelines that are no longer needed. Trace a black ink pen over the pencil lines you wish to keep. Let the ink dry for several minutes before carefully erasing the pencil strokes.

    How to Draw Orthodox Icons
  7. 7

    Color the face, neck and hands tan. Color the left side of the robe red and the right side of the robe blue. Color a band of robe on the left side orange. Add orange as the base colour for the halo. Color the hair brown and the lips pink. Add highlights with yellow to the outside edges of the halo and orange band. Add highlights to the skin with beige on the nose, cheeks, forehead and palms. Color the book orange. Use a light brown for the background.

    How to Draw Orthodox Icons

Tips and warnings

  • Make a photocopy of the line work in Step 6 so that you can try colouring or painting the image with different colours or styles.
  • Be sure to let the ink dry thoroughly before erasing the pencil or the image will smudge.

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