The Artist: Alphonse Mucha
Alphons Maria Mucha (AKA Alphonse Mucha) is credited as being the father of art nouveau (French for “new art”). Born in the Czech Republic in 1860, drawing had been his hobby since he was a small child. When he was around 19, he began taking on decorative painting jobs, especially scenery for theaters, and eventually began formal training at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts.
He got his “big break” as painter in 1894, while living in Paris. He had already been creating designs for magazines and advertising, and was asked to do a new advertising poster for a play featuring Paris’s most famous actress, Sarah Bernhardt. His piece gained so much positive attention, Bernhardt began a six-year contract with Mucha.
Mucha was soon producing several works for theaters, books, posters, and advertisements in his now familiar style of what soon became known as “Art Nouveau,” (new art). This style featured young women in flowing robes, sometimes with flowers, sometimes with halos, and often in pale, pastel colors.
Despite his popularity in this style, Mucha was frustrated it was his commercial work that gained the most attention. He wanted to concentrate on his fine art. This included his 1899 publication, Le Pater, an occult-oriented look at The Lord Prayer (of which not more than 500 copies were made), and his twenty-painting series, The Slav Epic, documenting the history of the Czech and Slavic people.
In the 1930s, Mucha’s work began being denounced as “reactionary” when German troops begin moving into Czechoslovakia. He was one of the first people to be arrested by the Gestapo there, and developed pneumonia during his interrogation in 1939. Shortly after his release, he died of a lung infection in Prague.
Many were already considering his style “outdated” at the time of his death, but Mucha’s art is still extremely popular with present day art lovers.
Despite the events surrounding his death, Mucha said his work was meant to bring people of all types together. The Mucha Museum in Prague features one of his inspirational quotes on the subject:
“The purpose of my work was never to destroy but always to create, to construct bridges,” Mucha said, “because we must live in the hope that humankind will draw together and that the better we understand each other the easier this will become.”
The Project: Mucha Yourself
Anyone who has visited a book store, wandered past the window at an art shop, filed through the poster art at craft and interior design stores and sites knows Mucha’s work is pretty much everywhere.
Take an even closer look, and it’s pretty evident Mucha and art nouveau-inspired fan art is all the rage. Everything from Disney Princesses to Doctor Who. Google any characters or pop culture icons with the words “art nouveau,” and there’s a four-to-one chance someone has done a Mucha-mashup of them.
If this is the case, what is there left to create? Well, is there any art nouveau fan art of…You? No? Let’s change that.
Find a full-body or waist up photo of yourself…or a relative or friend…you want to send back to the art nouveau era. Using tracing or other light-weight paper, trace the outline of your subject with a fine line black marker, making the outer edge slightly broader than the details. You can over-exaggerate features such as flowing hair or clothes if you want. Once done, carefully cut it out and set it aside.
On another, more substantial piece of paper, create your “Mucha-esque” background. The most obvious choice being that large circular “halo.” To make this, draw two concentric circles. Make the center one slightly off-centered or flush in the middle. Next, using a stencil or compass, draw several connecting circles in the space between the larger and smaller circle. Now, within each circle, draw items colors that best represent the subject of your drawing (fandoms, flags, astrological signs, flowers, occupation-related items, etc.).
Finally, give it a border and background. Mucha often flowers, stars, clouds, solid backgrounds, vines and other flowing designs, if you’re looking for some inspiration.
If you’re ready for an even bigger challenge, add some words. These can be free-handed or cut and pasted on the picture from printed out letters. Fonts.com has about eight or nine really good art nouveau style fonts to try out.
Once the image is set in place, color it in with colored pencil, watercolor, or marker. Mucha’s work often has shades of yellow, pink, blue, green, and other pastels. Take a look at some of Mucha’s work on sites like Pinterest for color and design inspiration.
How simple or detailed you go is up to you, but make it personal. Art was a very personal matter to Mucha, and this inspirational quote by him is often seen accompanying posters, essays, photos, and exhibitions featuring his work:
“Art exists only to communicate a spiritual message,” he said.
What message do you want Mucha’s style to help you convey about yourself?