When I, at the beginning of 2021, decided that it’s time to start creating courses, I also decided that each course will get its own “card”.
I really love Alphonse Mucha’s illustrations and wanted to draw inspiration from his work. This way, each course will get its own lady as its figurehead!
Mucha was a painter, illustrator and graphic artist who was born in Moravia but moved to Paris and went on to become one of the greatest exponents of the art nouveau style. He’s famous for his decorative theatrical posters – particularly those of his muse Sarah Bernhardt.
Mucha produced advertisements, decorative panels, designs and illustrations that became some of the best-known images of the period. His work is rife with mythological themes, the female form, and lush vegetal decoration.
“Respectable women don’t smoke.”
In the 1890s Mucha painted two advertisements (above) for a cigarette paper rolling brand, “Job”.
‘Job’ is a superb example of the art nouveau style, and they both display all of Mucha’s trademark characteristics. His paintings are distinguished by the women in them, and he used them as a strategic way of drawing the customer’s attention by combining the women’s feminine beauty with the message about the product that she symbolised.
In ‘Job’, smoke coils around the head of a woman with long, flowing hair – which became his signature style. Mucha was inspired by Michelangelo’s Sibyls in the Sistine Chapel.
‘Job’ also exemplifies another very identifiable characteristic of Mucha’s work was that his images can at first glance appear to be rather sweet and innocent but, upon closer inspection, reveal themselves to be very sexually charged.
At the turn of the century, respectable women didn’t smoke, but there was a popular custom in France of linking l’amour, le vin et le tabac (love, wine and tobacco) and employing women to advertise tobacco, in order to impart a sense of illicit glamour to the product.
In ‘Job’, the extravagantly stylised hair reinforces the underlying erotic content of the poster – framing the curves of the body and highlighting the fact that both women comfortably dressed; one in what seems to be a nightgown or shift, and the other seeming to have wrapped herself in a bedsheet. Both ‘Job’ women are also leaning their heads back in a sensual way, clearly enjoying their cigarettes.
I have a large chocolate tin that is decorated by the brunette ‘Job’ woman – and it’s a striking picture. And though that was the jumping-off point for my idea to create the “cards” in a Mucha inspired style, I wanted to convey confidence and pride rather than sensuality.
The Mucha halos.
Many of his advertising images feature a single, seductive woman with a halo-like circle around her head. In Paris, he studied under teachers who specialised in female nudes, allegorical paintings as well as historical and religious paintings in a realistic and dramatic style – which shows in his work.
Moët & Chandon, 1899 Autumn, 1900 Sylvanis Essence, 1899
The woman in the Moët & Chandon painting is wearing a dress and robe in the Byzantine style. The pale colours – pink and soft peach – are to remind you of the creamy, soft taste of the champagne the poster is an advertisement for. And the decorated chalice, rich fabrics, as well as the fact that she seems to be getting up from a lion-headed throne, are all reminders of the luxury the drink offers.
Mucha was also lucky in that advanced printing techniques, and the popularity of posters in turn-of-the-century Paris, led him to singing a contract with printer F. Champenois which provided him with a reliable stream of income.
Mucha’s images often feature a woman with a halo-like circle around her head, which helps to draw the eye of the viewer to the woman and her typically elaborate headdress and clothing.
The fantastic and elaborate Byzantine-inspired headdresses appear in many of Mucha’s paintings. His choice of colour and detailing set his work apart from others’ at the time.
Donna Orechini, 1906 Zodiac, 1896 The Blonde, 1897
Though Mucha’s work is stunning and beautiful and has clearly stood the test of time as it’s still popular today, he reportedly also found it frustrtaing to constantly work in the same style.
He felt that his art was spiritual and “nothing else”. The irony here is that his art was commercially very successful.
From research to sketching.
Once I’d been researching the Mucha style for several weeks, I felt ready start sketching out my own idea.
I’d noticed that Mucha’s subjects, even when dark-haired, often tended to look more caucasian than anything else. And it’s understandable, his art is of its time, but I wanted to use a more middle-eastern look as my model.
When I found the photo of English actress Ruth Berkley from circa 1903, I knew I’d found the pose I wanted to use. And I loved the idea of using a wreath rather than an elaborate headdress, and so I started sketching:
Ruth Berkley, c. 1903 Initial sketch Further developed sketch Finalised sketch Sketch decorations Colour palette selection Colour testing Inking
I knew I was going to make changes to her heritage (as compared to my reference photo) and so I wanted to give her a beautiful Roman nose that would make her profile stand out. I also looked to Mucha’s Donna Orechini for referencing her skin and hair.
Once the colour testing was done I was able to progress to inking the final drawing. I wanted the final picture to be in brigh, warm colours so I chose teal, yellow and green to contrast nicely with her warm skin.
At the last, I also decided to go with a a typography look, rather than a hand-lettered look, simply because it made it look more finished and thought through.
Process video in 30 seconds.
As you can see in the video, in the beginning I was still searching for the profile I wanted to have in the final picture. After a few tries I finally got it right and was able to start sketching.
In total, the painting took almost 21 hours to complete over the course of about two and a half months.
I love the final painting, she’s everything I wanted and she’s gorgeous to boot! She’s very much true to the work of Mucha, while at the same time it’s a more modern, simplified version.
She’s the face of the Money Mindset Workshop.