Evolution of a Series – The Christmas Project

To point out a strange fact, I have always been a sort of ‘one shot’ scene artist. In the past, I was prone to drawing character portraits or specific scenes with no sequence, all art that could be digested at once with little baring on the other images I might draw of the same characters. Now, it seems, a natural evolution of my artistic development has been a tendency to start thinking in themes, or series.

From a business standpoint, series are more marketable with the appeal of being able to buy a ‘set’ or to identify with that part of a series that represents you (ie. people love a birthstone series because that means there’s something personal involved in the symbolism of a series that they can get for themselves or gift to a loved one). From an artist’s standpoint, I’m enjoying the challenge of presenting a set of art with consistent quality that utilizes strong symbols and the potential to develop art with evolving symbolism.

My earliest attempt at such an undertaking has been a project that started out with indistinct roots in 2006. I was short on cash for the holidays and aching at the thought that I would be unable to provide any of the gifts that my loved ones deserved. I did, however, have some metallic cardstock and color pencils to my name. And so, in a torrent of sleepless nights and sketching, the first of the ongoing Christmas Project began.

Christmas 2006 – Angel of Noel

I never have been one for the traditional images of Santa, reindeer, and nativities for Christmas. For me, these images feel so overused and have lost the impact that I think more primal symbols such as holly, poinsettia, and the deep rich greens and reds of winter festivals have. The first of this series came alive with the realization that poinsettia flowers come in a range of simple, but striking colors that make for an elegant backdrop for this angel, who I wanted to channel maternal beauty and nurturing with a non-denominational appeal. She wears the veil of a holy maiden and the holly garland of a celebrator, her eyes closed as she honors the quiet elegance of the flowers and candlelight. I was also inspired by the Mexican legend behind poinsettia which speaks of two children who did not have the money to honor baby Jesus at their church’s nativity. Being poor, they could only manage to pick weeds to decorate the manger. The other children chided them terribly, but the weeds burst into flames that turned into a beautiful red plant, creating the beautiful miracle of poinsettia, which are known as “the flame leaf” or “flower of the holy night”.

Christmas 2007 – Holiday Nouveau

The next in the series was my first concerted effort to pay homage to one of my favorite masters of illustration, Alphonse Mucha. My favored holly and poinsettia are present, but portrayed in the decorative style of the art nouveau movement, which gives everything the sleek decorative flare that only crisp lines and soft color can. Snow-laden evergreen branches have worked their way in as well, as I’ve always enjoyed the pristine tranquility of snow hinting at the green boughs underneath. So peaceful and reminiscent of my days in Colorado, where snow covered everything, a rare sight around these parts. Interestingly enough, I discovered the difference between my style of anatomy and Mucha’s shows itself in the fact that the shoulders of his ladies are less muscled and more sloping with rounded subtle chins. It seems I do so love my athletic swimmer’s build when working with the female figure!

Christmas 2008 – Advent Angel

Another angel took flight in 2008, where I found inspiration in the amalgamation of symbols from the lovely birdflowers and birthstone series by Brenda Lyons and Jessica Douglas, who both struck a chord with me in combining the flowers and birthstones for each month with an angelic figure. This is perhaps the most symbol-heavy of the Christmas series with its original purpose serving as the first of what was to be a birthstone angel series. The Blue Topaz and Turquoise stones of December took form in the angel’s dual-toned wings. In the window behind her, motifs combining the flowers of December, the Narcissus, holly, and poinsettia, spiral around the center with narcissus growing at her feet. She also wears the crown of Saint Lucia, a saint celebrated in Scandinavian nations (and others) by a feast day near the winter solstice where young girls dress with a candlelit crown and bring sweets in a procession. A running theme in this series hearkens back to the idea of Winter as a gray season where the pleasures of good company and a fire stave off the cold. I also can’t imagine a Christmas without the presence of white candles and lights, one of my favorite decorative motifs for its simple elegance. However, I’ve decided to scrap this approach as the background feels too open and empty. I am sensing massive stained glass panels in my future!

Christmas 2009 – December’s Window

I loved the window behind the angel in “Advent Angel” too much to let it slip into obscurity, so I decided to feature it prominently in this year’s card, which seems like a paring down of all the things which have come before. I wanted to channel the sense of stillness in winter with the light of celebration, good company, and reverence for the life that lay dormant in the snow. There are no figures but for the cardinal, who thrives even in the gray winters. The window stands as a guide and a portal for all those who might appreciate the meditative feeling of decoration that light and shape can bring us. Again, the motifs of narcissus, poinsettia, and holly figure prominently.

What’s Next?

In keeping with more subtle, non-traditional symbols, I hope to work in more of the feeling of warmth in company or perhaps even more traditional, not widely known versions of Saint Nick. Christmas is a surprisingly varied and symbol-rich holiday and I hope to keep this series going for as long as I am able! It will be a challenge to see if I can continue to make each one unique as the years go on.

If you like these images and want to use them for your own celebrations, greeting cards and post cards are available at my Zazzle shop. I hope you’ve enjoyed this walk through the creative process and that you’ll join me for future looks into the creative thought behind other series in the works.

May your holiday seasons be filled with joy and light!

One comment

  1. Hayley E. Lavik says:

    I hadn’t realized how much this year’s instalment blended elements of the others until now as I saw it all together. These images really bring out some of the varied moods and emotions around the season (albeit ignoring a whole slew of others neither of us really seems to care about). I love that you draw on the more primal symbols, elements of the season as a whole, and the subtle contrast of that against what we do culturally to handle the dark and cold of winter.

    I find I’m particularly focused on the silence, the stillness, and the contemplative solitude of the season this year, so your 2009 card is very fitting 🙂

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