Susan LangSalvador Dali once said “Drawing is the honesty of art; it’s either good or its bad.” For some artists, particularly loose painters used to impressionism, drawing is a dreary necessity. For others it is an art form that is so intense they lose themselves in it. Artist Susan Lang, known for her rich and vibrant oil paintings, had her illustrations featured in Leadership Lessons from Great World Leaders, a book written by her husband, Professor Frederick Lang.

For someone used to painting, predominantly in oils – which is the most forgiving of the paint mediums – she used only graphite to create her illustrations of 10 of the most influential leaders of past centuries, including Alexander the Great, Elizabeth I, Winston Churchill, Catherine the Great and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Lang, who had never taken on a project like this before, discussed what she learned. She began with reference photos, paintings and sculptures. It took her over a month to render approximately 16 drawings to choose her final illustrations. She began mixing charcoal and graphite but ended up only using graphite.

“Peter the Great took me the longest to draw,” she said, laughing. “The first one looked like Groucho Marx and the second one Salvador Dali. I looked for more photo references.” One would never know by looking at the finished product. An accidental stain on the nearly finished drawing of Catherine the Great forced her to start all over again. But Lang took this all in her stride.

Like most painters, Lang is used to starting a painting with shapes rather than lines.

“Drawing is satisfying but you can’t rush it,” she said. She understood the meditative state inherent in drawing. She paid more attention to the details. Since she was actually drawing likenesses, she did her research beforehand, reading the chapters on each leader, getting to know them and bringing their inner character and strengths out in their portraits. One can see it in the fiery determination of Elizabeth I, or the strong patrician features of George Washington, or the intensity and faith of Martin Luther King, Jr.

“I thought about their lives and while doing the portraits it was as if I had a relationship with them,” she said. She studied Napoleon’s keen features and realized he was actually a handsome man. Margaret Thatcher was very much a lady, always wearing her pearls, even though she was always known as “the Iron Lady.” Golda Meir had strong features like the pioneer and statesman that she was. All reflected the elements that made them memorable, including Peter the Great, educated and progressive; Alexander the Great, a defiant warrior; Catherine, more compassionate yet skilled and shrewd; and Winston Churchill, showing the courage of his convictions. All exhibit a look of steely resolve and a commitment to their causes.

Lang said her husband will be working on another book about women leaders. If asked to do the illustrations, Lang said she looks forward to it doing it again. Lang will have an exhibit of her paintings at the Thistle Gate Winery during the months of September and October. Some of the illustrations will be part of the exhibit.