This series began as my annual Christmas card back in 2012 and as a homage to Mucha’s stunning series “The Precious Stones”! I’m a long time fan of Alphonse Mucha ever since I discovered his work years ago in college and fell in love with his graceful, intricate compositions. I thought it’d be fun to challenge myself to an entire series in this detailed and decorative mode of work. The Lady of December sat alone as the only entry into this series until I recently decided to pick it up again!
“The Precious Stones” Female figures embodying the gemstones Ruby, Amethyst, Emerald, and Topaz.
I had tried to do a monthly series before in the form of a series of angels, but I wasn’t quite satisfied with the layout of the composition of the first entry in this series. The window and the figure felt disconnected, while the background seemed too empty with too much wasted potential.
I’ve also realized that while I am pleased with how “Lady of December” came out, there were a lot of reasons for me to restart this series completely, the main one being that I really enjoy the process of inking directly on paper with a pen far more than I do with a stylus on the computer. Ironically, inking on the Cintiq takes a very long time, since I have to rotate the format digitally, which takes longer than simply positioning the drawing board where I need it to be. I also really enjoy the tactile feel of paper. The second reason is a practical one, in that I won’t be limited to displaying my work in certain galleries and conventions where digital art is not allowed for display. Having traditionally painted pieces expands my audience and potential venues and also helps me to have a more widely appealing style than my more mature fantasy work, which is definitely niche.
Luckily, the fact that I’d already done a lot of the leg work researching the flowers and symbolism of January has made Lady of January an easy start! Angel of January’s Persephone-inspired dress with her Carnation and Snowdrop backdrop are themes I plan to draw on for Lady January. She draws upon the themes of Persephone dwelling in the underworld during winter and preparing to leave to enter the sun again, signaling the advent of Spring. I couldn’t choose between the two flowers representative of January – Carnations (which follow the US monthly flower scheme) and Snowdrops (which follow the UK scheme). I figured why not do both? I realize this makes me a cheater, but that’s the fun of being the artist!
I’m also in luck that Lady of December defined the format of the image with the circular window and long rectangular frame, which I used to make some rough sketches to get ideas for poses. Made with pen and white color pencil on toned paper (my favorite planning and thumbnailing media).
I think I like the middle pose best since you can see a little more of the window. I also like the way the veil drapes over the arm making a sweeping line down the composition.
I thought I’d give you guys a look at the progress on the Lady of January before we head off to our long July 4th weekend!
The first phase for designing the Ladies is to establish the window design, which is the main set piece and background element for this series. I keep a lot of reference books on hand for this purpose to get my creative juices flowing, including, but not limited to:
For design inspiration:
– Treasury of Art Nouveau Design & Ornament, Carol Belanger Grafton
– The Art Nouveau Style Book of Alphonse Mucha (Documents Décoratifs), David M.H. Kern.
– The Grammar of Ornament, Owen Jones.
– Art Nouveau Floral Patterns and Stencil Designs in Full Color, M. P. Verneuil.
– Mucha, Sarah Mucha.
– Mucha’s Figures Décoratives, Alphonse Maria Mucha.
(* Note: If you decide to purchase any of those books, using my links above will earn me a little kickback from Amazon!)
After spending time with my books, I scribble out a really quick flowing design, paying more attention to the flow rather than getting the design clean and precise. Working digitally with a Cintiq allows me to quickly copy, paste, and rotate elements till I’m satisfied with them.
Which is later cleaned up to look like this after trying the design out on my template and seeing how it looks with the figure on top:
Here’s the test image with the figure. All of that design effort might seem wasted, but it’s not in my nature to not design the whole thing anyways just because I can! I may also make the veil slightly see-through, which means we can see a hint of the Snowdrop motifs peeking through.
At this point, I begin one of the most intensive parts of my creative process – reference gathering! Pinterest is one of my main sources of keeping track of the fashions, jewelry, and inspiration that help me in my art projects. A lot of these images were gleaned from my previous years of reference gathering.
After references came doodling a few tries at a fashion for Ms. January on a pre-made fashion croquis:
It was also very important for me to find a model for reference who looks different from the model in my reference image (who is me). I hope to give each Lady in this series her own identity and unique look and that is where the useful site, F.tape, comes in! F.tape’s presentation of models in a visual wall helps me scroll through faces quickly in order to find one who appeals to my sense of the character I’m trying to capture. I wanted a fresh-faced character with red (or blond) hair who fits my mental image of a Persephone-esque figure for January.
January has a link to the Persephone myth especially via the birthstone of Garnet, whose crystalline bunches have been compared to pomegranate seeds. I imagine as winter nears its end in this month, Persephone anticipates her return to the sun. Of course, I may just be very Persephone obsessed, which is entirely possible!
The rough sketches from before have now become a clean ink drawing thanks to the help of Micron Sepia and Brown India ink pigmented pens!
I fear each Lady is going to be more detailed than the last! I am a detail addict, I admit. Now, I really, really want to start painting! But I need to figure out my colors first, since she is such a complex piece. Sometimes I do just move forward to paint without a study, but that can lead to tears with more complex pieces. For January, I want to conjure the themes of the Garnet birthstone.
I broke down all the main objects (ie. the veil, dress, flowers, stems, etc.) into their own layers in Photoshop so that I could easily tweak the colors. I came up with the following color palettes (mostly inspired by Complementary and Analogous color schemes), tweaking them as I went along based on feedback from my art groups.
Notice how the deep red changes from purple to a darker red as the palettes progress? A member of one of my art groups (who is in fact a January baby) made the point that most January babies identify with the traditional deep blood red of the birthstone and that when targeting the birthstone market, one must be as accurate to the stone as possible. I had thought the purple Garnets to be just as acceptable, but apparently the purple note stones are usually dyed that way to distinguish them from Rubies, making them a less pure Garnet.
I also received the unexpected feedback that January didn’t feel ‘wintry’ enough, which I hadn’t thought about. This makes sense, however, as January is traditionally seen as a colder month still under the influence of winter. I began pushing the theme more into silver and red rather than gold and red to see if I could cool down the warm notes that were making her too festive and warm (see 9 and 10).
Now I’ll be moving on to paint, where I intend to record my painting process invideo for you all! You’ll get to see the video a week ahead of the general non-Patreon public.
Fingers crossed my colors work with me. Watercolors have a habit of not matching the colors I have planned digitally by nature of their intense pigments and the challenge of mixing pigments to match.