Atelier saint André The byzantine style
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Elements of the frontal face

  • The eyes :

    The eye is stylized and characterized by a slightly flattened pupil and iris. If this is over-emphasized the glance could become sinister. The drawing of the eyelids never touch one another at the corner of the eye. The upper eyelid must not be drawn too low or else the glance could express an exaggerated sadness. The iris is rendered as though suspended from the upper eyelid. The direction of the glance is emphasized by an off white crescent on only one side of the iris.


  • The nose :

    Its length is the basic unit of measurement in the construction of the face. This measure is referred to as a module. The nose is rendered as fine and elongated. It is the axis of the face. The bridge of the nose is drawn in a triangular form and the tip is rounded.


  • The mouth :

    The mouth is drawn small and fine and the upper lip narrower than the lower. The lower lip is lightened and will receive a layer of very transparent red.


  • The ears :

    The ears are slightly shorter than the nose, they too are stylized and always represented at least the lobe showing (as in the case of the bonnet of the Mother of God for example). They follow the natural curve of the head and should not appear to be detached from the head.


.The construction of a frontal face

To draw a full frontal face properly it is necessary to know precisely the length of the nose. Then, using a compass, draw a circle the radius of which is equal to this length. Then, another circle is drawn having the same center but whose radius is twice that of the first. Finally a third circle is drawn which is three times the radius of the first. The second circle will approximately determine the size of the head, and the third indicates the halo. The halo won't be perfectly circular but will open slightly when reaching the shoulders. In fitting a face to a preexisting board, the process is worked in reverse beginning by drawing the triple radius circle and diminishing to the original nose radius.

Front faces

Once the framework of the three circles and the module of the nose has been drawn, the icon painter must be free to follow the inspiration of the spirit and must not become a prisoner of the geometry. The painter will be drawn to a particular school or approach (Russian, Greek, Cretan...), and must train his vision in the particular school and avoid mixing styles.

The beginner will find below some aesthetic rules for the composition of a face that may help to give life to his work.



  • To draw a bust properly, the face should be shifted slightly on the right (on the left) from the centerline of the board to avoid awkward symmetry and to give him movement...

  • The basic triangle of the bridge of the nose, the spacing of the nostrils, and the width of the lower lip will have similar measurements.

  • The equilateral triangle between the pupils and the tip of the nose is not exact in Russian schools. These schools appreciably lengthen the nose to give height and nobility to the face. The eyes are "fixed " on the nose giving the effect of an increased presence.

  • The eyes are not to be drawn on a direct perpendicular line to the centerline or else the glance will be too severe or angry. The distance between the eyes should be equal to the width of one eye.

  • The lower lobe of the ears should not go below the tip of the nose and the top of the ear should line up with the top of the cheekbones.

  • The line between the lips of the mouth should be placed roughly at one third of a module under the tip of the nose.
    The nostril closer to the center line of the board should be slightly broader.

.The three-quarter face :

  • The eyes :

    The direction in which the head is turned will dictate the position of the eyes. The eyes below presume the face is turned towards the right of the painter.



  • The nose :

    The nose, drawn perpendicularly to the center of the eyebrows, should follow a very light curve and only one nostril should show in the majority of cases.


The construction of a three-quarter face

To draw a three-quarters face properly, the artist must begin by tracing the three circles as in the drawing of a frontal face, determining the slope of the nose (and of the face) by tracing a tangent to the smallest circle.

Then parallels lines are drawn on both sides of this nose axis at a distance equal to one module. Finally, three perpendiculars lines that will establish the length of the face, of the nose and of the chin are drawn.

The two larger circles are used to define the volume of the hair and the halo. In the case of the Mother of God and of the angels, the forehead is very low and the perpendicular top line is just a reference mark. In the drawing at the right the hair of the angel is shifted forward to suggest a movement of worship. Three-quarter angel 2

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Last update : Mon, Dec 8, 2008, P. Grall © ASA 2000 - 2009 All rights reserved.