How To Draw Byzantine Icons

Icons were established during the Byzantine Empire. Byzantines showed their devotion and religiosity through these icons well known as the Byzantine Icons, which are sacred treasures of the Orthodox Church. The icons usually focus on the Holy Mother of God or Holy Mary, Jesus, angels and saints. These can be mosaic, paintings or murals. Byzantine icons are symbolic with bright or vivid colors and often have gold backgrounds symbolizing the divinity of God. A popular example of a symbolic icon is the image of Jesus Christ with a small mouth and large ears. The large ears symbolize Him hearing everyone’s thoughts and prayers and the small mouth means that He speaks holy words.  If you want to draw a Byzantine icon, follow the steps below:

  • Select a Byzantine icon you would like to draw. You can check on books and Internet for images to draw. If this is your first time to draw, you can choose an image showing only the head of the subject or his waist up. Make sure to choose an image that shows both eyes and at least one of the ears.
  • Copy the icon. If you found an image on the Internet, right click on the picture and click “copy image”, then open your word document, paste the image and print. If the image comes from the book, you can photocopy it.
  • Study the image. Check on the image, giving closer attention to details. If you’re familiar with the subject, it will be easier to draw it and make sure you don’t miss something.
  • Create grids. Using a ruler, create grid of squares (about 1x1 inch) over the image you chose.  The grids will serve as your guide in drawing your icon.
  • Draw.  Copy or draw the icon on your material (like a white paper or card board) section by section using the grid of squares as your guide.  
  • Finalize. Once the image is done, use coloring materials such as paint, pencil color or watercolor to bring life to your drawing. You may want to stick with the original color of the garment used by the icon because it symbolizes his personality. It is believed that the inner garment represents his personal life and the outer garment represents his life as known by the public. However, you can choose if you want your colors to be brighter or lighter.

You can always make your own interpretation and do some variations. Searching on the history of your chosen image can help you understand better the subject and its details. Drawing a Byzantine icon can be challenging especially for beginners. However, you can keep on practicing and slowly, you’ll definitely see an improvement.


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