Draw Like An Egyptian

Greg Patrenos

Ancient Egyptian artists, unlike artists of today, were not interested in being unique or in having their own style. What they thought or felt was not what they were painting or sculpting. What they were doing was making, permanent in stone, homage to their gods and pharaoh.

These images represented concepts, not individuals, and could not be changed. They were not meant to be portraits.

The Egyptian artists and craftsmen used a grid system to insure that everything was done exactly the same. Grid lines can still be seen in unfinished tombs. The use of grids and a formal canon or proportions explains why their art seems to change very little over 30 centuries of Egyptian history.

Rather than use the more complex Egyptian grid system, I use a 10 square system, that is my figures are 10 squares tall. My students use one inch graph paper, while I do guided drawing on three inch graph posterboards, an overhead also works well, just watch out for distortion. ( I now use a Promethean Avtivboard-this is the way to go !) I demonstrate both male and female figures. While using the same figures I demonstrate different positions for the arms and hands.

After the basic figure is completed, it is transferred to 12 inch X 18 inch manilla drawing paper which looks closer in color to papyrus than white. To transfer the drawing, first build up a layer of graphite on the back by rubbing it with pencil. Then, flip the paper over and trace the original ! Some students make multiple images or mirror images.

I also have posters and examples I have made of various hair (wig ) styles, crowns, jewelry, weapons and any other accessories a well-to -do Egyptian would have or wear.

We discuss the fashions and roles of various members of Egyptian society, most students tend to portray themselves as royalty.

I have the students outline their drawings in black before coloring, I prefer Prismacolor pencils. We discuss the color palette the Egyptians had and reasons for some of the colors they used. Women were usually painted a yellow ochre while the men were painted terra cotta. I give them a choice of modern or traditional for their color schemes.

There are several easy to use hieroglyph charts available to have the students write descriptive sentences about themselves. Look at the links on my Home Page for Egypt Art and Neferchichi ! I have to make plenty of copies as the students want to keep them.

A fun follow up is to have the students redraw their figures on black or brown butcher paper with a three inch grid so their figures are now 30 inches tall. These are then painted with fluorescent tempera paint. I custom mix skin colors and a nice turquoise for a more Egyptian look. Light your room/gallery with blacklights for a very special experience.

Good luck and have fun !


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