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Betsy Porter
Art and Iconography

Traditionally, line drawings are used as patterns for icons.  Whole books of such patterns are
available; and you may receive patterns from your teacher.

You will find many more patterns at   Click on the British
flag, then Gallery, then a subject, and you may find a tab for "tracings and transfers."   

There are over a thousand icon patterns, including borders, details, clip art, and religious
motifs, at, plus full-color albums of icons, mosaics, and wall paintings.  
Artistic quality of patterns is variable, but you can find many unusual subjects at this site.

For even more patterns, see

The patterns in books are sometimes reversed (mirror image).  Repeated tracing, xeroxing,
and photography may leave pattern drawings distorted, blurred, faint, out of square, or
otherwise hard to work with.  Be prepared to make adjustments and refinements.

Below, I have included a few favorite line drawings for your use.  They have come from a
variety of sources.  You will find some (but not all) of them as full-color icons in the gallery or
elsewhere on this site.  Sorry, I can't translate the inscriptions!

However, now that inexpensive color reproduction is available, the easiest way to obtain a
good pattern is sometimes to make a color print of your selected icon, as long as it is in good
condition.  After xeroxing to size, tape it to your board, put a sheet of carbon paper under it,
and trace the main features and lines with a ball-point pen, just as though using a line drawing.

Whatever type of pattern you use, you will almost always need to make refinements or
changes.  With experience, you can make your own drawing, based either on a traditional icon
or on another image that attracts you spiritually, or even a photograph of a modern saint. The
image should show both eyes and at least one ear of your saint, and mouth should be closed.  
Take time to develop and finish your drawing; you'll be working with it for many hours.
All rights reserved.
When you have selected an image to paint and have settled
on a pattern, you are ready to select a board and to
lay out
the icon on its board

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left; Christ the Teacher - center and right; the Mandylion or Holy Face, Image not Made by Hands
Christ in Glory; the Fourth Day of Creation; the Holy Trinity
left to right; Christ Emmanuel, Christ the Teacher, Christ Pantocrator
11 icons of Mary, Our
Lady, Mother of God,
Theotokos (God-Bearer
or God-Birther), the Virgin

The icon of Our Lady of
Tikhvin at right is intended for
a gilded background -
burnished in the halo area,
matte gold for the rest of the
The Presentation in the Temple; The Passion; Resurrection Icon of Women at the Empty Tomb
Archangel Michael in a landscape; The Holy Silence (or Silence of God); Archangel Gabriel
5 icons of Saint John the Baptist

The icon at right was designed to have a
gilded background; areas to be gilded are
colored red.

It shows Saint John the Baptist with wings
as "Angel (messenger) of the Desert."

John's upcoming death by beheading is
indicated rather surrealistically by the dark
cave in which his head rests in a footed
golden dish.  In right foreground, "the axe
is lying at the root of the tree."   Left and
right mountains may be different colors.
Saint Peter the Apostle, Saint Mary Magdalen, Saint Francis of Assisi
Saint Andrew the Apostle; Saint Marina (Saint Margaret); Saint Seraphim of Sarov
An angel delivers Saint Peter from Prison; Saint Paul sails the Mediterranean preaching the
Gospel; the Apostle/Evangelist Saint John with his disciple Prochoros on the Island of Patmos
The Prophet Isaiah; The Prophet Moses at the Burning Bush; Saint George and the Dragon
3 Archangels; Michael in parade armor; Uriel with Book of Life; Raphael with Emmanuel image
The Apostle and Evangelist Mark; The Prophet Daniel in the Den of Lions; The Prophet Ezekiel
Some patterns are unidentified, or easily adaptable for a variety of saints.  Above; generic female
saints - a nun, a martyr, and a queen or princess.   Below left, a prophet or a challenging teacher.   
Below center and right; these patterns for Saint Nicholas and Saint Basil can be used for other
early bishop saints by changing the distinctive face, hair, and beard as appropriate.
SELECTING AN ICON TO PAINT - As with any other learning, start with the easiest and work your way up to more
difficult images.  For your first icon, select either a view showing the head and shoulders of your saint or angel, or a
hip length half figure.  An angel is especially recommended as a first subject.  You will learn to paint a beautiful face,
curly hair, wings, and richly ornamented Byzantine garments.   Choose a board or panel in the size range between 8
x 10 inches and 11 x 14 inches.

A gilded background, or even a large gilded halo, is a lot of work and is not recommended for your first icon.  Wait
until you are confident of your
gilding skills.

For a second icon, challenge yourself with an icon showing two people, such as Mary with the Christ Child.  You will
learn to paint a smaller face; and you will be depicting not just the holy people but the relationship between them.

From there, you can progress to a full-length figure in a landscape or building - perhaps including animals.  This will
enhance your ability to paint a very small face, and you will learn to highlight the lower part of the garment, as well
as to paint
landscape, buildings, and furniture.  Once you are comfortable with these artistic challenges, you can
move on to icons depicting a group of full-length figures.  Push your abilities, but only one step at a time.

No permission is required to use any of the patterns below, or to use any historic icon as a pattern, or to copy any
design for personal use.  However, artist's permission is required to copy a recent design for commercial use.

Historic icons often have great intensity and appeal, and you may wish to use one as a pattern and
guide for your own work.  Unfortunately, they are frequently in poor condition, with colors faded or
darkened, and entire portions of the image missing or poorly restored.

If you are just starting out, it is best to work from a line pattern such as those shown on this page.  There
will be plenty to learn.

With experience and understanding of typical icon style and structure, you will be able to make your own
pattern.  Work for an image similar to the original, as it would have appeared when new.  You can trace
the easily visible outline and eye position, then sketch in the face and the flowing folds of the garments.

How about a pattern for another saint?  There are books of patterns, but they never have all the images
you might want.  You may have to make your own pattern.  If you do not have the desired icon in your
books, then look online for icons, and choose one or two that you like.

Print out the icon, and xerox it to the right size for your board.  You may have to make several copies,
two or three each of slightly different sizes.  After some careful fitting to the board, choose a copy to
use.  If it printed bright and clear, you can tape it to your board, put the carbon paper under it, and use it
as a pattern.

Sometimes, especially with ancient icons, the colors are so dark that it's hard to tell where the lines
should be, especially the draping of dark garments.  Or there may be incomplete areas to fill in.  In this
case, tape the print down to a flat surface, place tracing paper over it, and make a pattern.  This may
take several tries.

Use similar icons and patterns as a guide when drawing the draped garments.  No stray lines; all must
intersect with other wrinkles to make the typical branching lines for wrinkles.

Some icons, both new and ancient, are badly drawn or have clumsy areas.  Go ahead and make
whatever improvements you see fit.

If parts of the original are missing, badly restored, or hard to see, review other icons of the same or
similar subject for suggestions.  Those long-ago iconographers had their own artistic struggles; perhaps
you can do a little better!  Your icon, like theirs, will be a unique work of art and devotion, so there is no
need to follow the historic icon in every detail.


A lesson of experience:  Just because that icon is new and easy to see, does not necessarily mean that
it is a good model.  This is a common problem with depictions of modern or non-Byzantine saints, such
as Saint Francis of Assisi.  I do not recommend working from a contemporary model until you are
thoroughly familiar with the Byzantine style of iconography.

I have seen many modern icons where the saint has a beautiful face, but where the hands are poorly
drawn, or where the iconographer does not understand the draping of Byzantine garments.

Background landscapes are sometimes poorly painted and should not necessarily be copied.

Even if you love the face and the general concept of a modern icon, look it over with extreme care.  
Trace it onto tracing paper and make any necessary fixes before applying it to the icon board.