Here we are finally at the merry month of May with the Ladies of the Months series! So many of my closest friends and loved ones are May babies, I knew that this month needed to be extra special!
Lady of May’s Mood Board
Inspiration & Research
As ever, brainstorming begins with research. I start by looking into the meaning and namesake of the month of May. May is purportedly named for the Greek goddess Maia, meaning ‘the midwife’, with the month also the time the Romans venerated Bona Dea,”The Good Goddess”. I focused my research on cultures of the northern hemisphere, as they tend to celebrate similar seasons. For this series, I’ve focused much on the themes of the shifting beauty of nature, which reflects itself in countless ways in the way that people celebrate holidays around the year.
May Day, Beltane, and the May Queen traditions (among others) all informed the thematic image for Lady of May that was growing in my mind. The month of May conveys the start of Summer, blooming flowers, the celebration of youth, and the height of our abundant life before the harvest and the cold of winter begin to creep in.
In the end, I envisioned the Lady of May as a dancing, joyful young woman crowned with flowers, the May Queen who celebrates the height of summer.
So far, this particular Lady has gone even smoother than any of the past Ladies! The ideas have come together rather quickly and I’m excited to move forward. With my theme of a dancer chosen, I began by exploring different kinds of dancers in my reference hunt on Pinterest.
For Lady of May, the imagery from the season that resonated with me from my research was the May queen’s crown of flowers and her connection with dancing, youth, and joy. My reference hunt led me to beautiful recreations of Slavic flower crowns and the dancers of the Bharatanatyam tradition. The wardrobe of the dancers and the idea that a dancer becomes an instrument for the expression of spirit resonated with my concept for Lady of May, who is in and of herself, an embodiment of the spirit of the month. The fresh flowers crowning the hair of Indian brides also made it onto my mood board as another lovely example of the tradition of crowning women with flowers for symbolic and sacred purposes.
While Lady of May is inspired by all of these themes, I still wanted her to represent a wholly unique interpretation that doesn’t tie specifically to any particular culture, as all of the Ladies in the series are meant to represent their own unique embodiments of spirit. As such, Lady of May’s fashion sketches combined inspiration from both Indian and Japanese dancers.
With each Lady, I try to tie their birth flower into their wardrobe. Notice the Lily of the Valley imprint on her belts and the Hawthorn in her ponytail and sash. The design on the trim of the dress on the right is indicative of the red berries that both Lily of the Valley and Hawthorn have. Fun Flower Fact: The Lily of the Valley’s berries are quite poisonous while the Hawthorn flower’s berries can actually be used to treat a number of ailments!
Window Design Elements
Next, it was time to design the window! I went a little overboard with detail on this design because I wanted to emulate the intricate designs of Indian mandalas, while bringing an Art Nouveau flair with the Hawthorn and Lily of the Valley motifs.
The first sketch I made for the design was too simplistic while the next one was too detailed because of the layers of borders. In the end, the final design was a balance between the two.
References, Composition, & Color Test
With the window design and fashion of Lady of May figured out, it was time to bring it all together into a single drawing! I created a collage of reference photos to help give me a more grounded guideline to use for the line art. This collage includes things like bits of scarves, flowers, hair, jewelry, all cobbled together to make something vaguely similar to the final look I’m going for. From this collage, I create a line art base that I carefully tweak to match my own imaginary elements.
As for the composition, The Lady’s wardrobe elements, window, and foreground flowers are so complex that I decided to go with a very simple background that implies the trailing ribbons of the Maypole tradition. These ribbons also help reinforce the flow of her pose. There are some tangents I still need to fix in the line art (the way her left foot and left side of her skirt touch the background flowers), but I can fix those when I transfer the lines to paper. For now, the next step is a color test!
Making the choice for what colors to use for these paintings has been one of the most challenging tasks for creating this series. If the colors are off, she might not represent her birthstone well. Lady of May needs to represent Emerald, but also too much green in this composition will make it flat and uninteresting, while not providing good focus and flow for a viewer. I did quick color flats in Photoshop to test out different options before I put paint to paper. It’d be far too easy to mess this up by skipping this step!
Well, this didn’t help me out much because I love all of these choices! 2 and 4 are my favorite options because I like the clear silhouette of each one. The contrast between the dress and the sari in 2 is lovely, but is there enough green in this to represent Emerald? The contrast between the sari and dress in 4 is also nice, but is there too much green now? Ah choices!
The Final Painting
In the end, I chose the 2nd color scheme, but with a cool grey background to make the warm colors pop with contrast.
[Time Lapse Video Coming Soon!]