Posts Tagged ‘Alexander the Great’


This person is powerful, authoritative and in control.  Not because of who she is (we don’t need to know) but because of how she sits.  More important than her pose is how the drawing sits on the page.  It’s the composition that conveys authority: the stable triangle.

The artist/student worked from a photo I had found in The New Yorker.


This woman clearly wants to intimidate us with her stare, her full-frontal symmetry,  the loosely clasped hands ready to attack, the machismo in the spread legs and feet firmly planted for maximum balance.

Despite these theatrics, the photo doesn’t work.  She’s ridiculous. She wants to look tough but, look, she’s a shorty—those platform shoes!

QueenVictoriaLinesI know, Victoria, queen & empress, barely came up to five feet and Alexander, the so called Great, was a runt, but photographers, painters and sculptors had tricks to make them look grand anyway.

That trick is composition. The most authoritative and  stable compositional trick is the triangle. This is nothing new.  If you look at the dozens of madonnas that Rafael painted you will always find him squeezing the figures into a triangle.  Here are two examples.

RafaelMadonna2Lines Raphael3LinesYou can be sure that he started his drawings for the paintings by roughing in a triangle, just as I’ve done here in green.

For our exercise in class, working from that New Yorker photo (magnified on the Xerox machine), the students started with a tall triangle on their page. Way at the top, a short horizontal line marked the chin line.  A little farther down, a horizontal line marked the end of the torso which coincided with the knees.  The assignment then was to fit the sitting figure into that A-frame.


In this drawing by Jeanne Mueller you can still see the lines of the A.  I encourage students to minimize erasing and to leave in preliminary outline and guide lines.

The drawing becomes powerful because of the composition.  Compositional thinking will free you from the temptation to obsess about details.  Notice that there’s no need to articulate  those staring eyes.  There’s no need for harsh outlines. The line quality is actually fleeting and open.  Look how asymmetrically the hair is drawn.  We don’t need any literalness or precision.  The power is in the composition.

Take the A-Frame and your drawing won’t derail.

RafaelMadonna1LinesRaphael, 1483-1520

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.





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