Female Muses through the Ages – Part 2


During the early days of the Modern Era, the classic female muse was a stereotypical image of a woman who inspired the artistic genius of male artists more on the basis of their physical appearance than anything else. But as time progressed, the later part of the Modern Period witnessed her metamorphosis into something more just a glorified female form. The so called “deity” of inspiration was no longer privy to the male artist’s gaze just for her superficial beauty.

In continuation with last week, today’s post will explore some of these emancipated women who changed the male artist’s perspective towards the female muse and redefined her identity.

Kiki de Montparnasse (1901–1953)

Born Alice Prin in France, Kiki de Montparnasse was a nightclub singer, painter, actress, and model. She posed for dozens of artists including Jean Cocteau, Moïse Kisling and Alexander Calder and inspired several others including Julien Mandel, Gustaw Gwozdecki, and Tsuguharu Foujita.

However, there is no doubt that she was Man Ray’s muse. Le violon d’Ingres, in which she is pictured from behind, with two violin f-holes painted on her back and Noire et Blanche are two of the most recognized works of Kiki by Man Ray.

Her look was legendary: a sharply cropped black bob with straight, thick fringe, pale white skin, dark red lips and severely painted eyebrows. This iconic helmet-like hairstyle would be seen in works of art including paintings, photographs and Pablo Gargallo’s 1928 bronze Kiki de Montparnasse.

Marie-Therese Walter (1909-1977)

Marie-Thérèse Walter was the lover and model of Pablo Picasso. Some famous pieces depicting this French muse are Le Rêve and Nude, Green Leaves & Bust.  Their relation fell apart after Picasso started seeing Dora Marr. While Picasso found another mistress, Marie-Thérèse never stopped loving him, and it’s believed he never stopped loving her — there is an abstract sculpture of her on his grave.

Dora Marr (1907-1997)

This dark-haired beauty was the muse of Pablo Picasso during the 1930s and ’40s. She has inspired several of his most famous paintings, including Guernica (1937) and The Weeping Woman (1937).  Marr, a photographer, was the only person allowed to capture the successive stages of Guernica as Picasso painted it. She is also said to have worked on elements of the painting.  This brilliant intellectual was also a talented painter herself. 

Monique Bourgeois (1921-2005)

In 1941, when Matisse was recovering from treatment for cancer, Monique Bourgeois took the job of nursing him, and doubled as his model. In 1943, after they had been separated by the fortunes of war, Bourgeois entered a convent. She didn’t meet Matisse again until 1946, when she came to see him to ask him to design and execute the Chapelle du Rosaire, his last and greatest complete work.

Gala Diakonova (1894-1982)

Elena Ivanovna Diakonova, otherwise known as Gala Diakonova, was a muse for her first husband Paul Éluard, Max Ernst and André Breton and finally for Salvador Dalí, also her husband. Gala posed for Dalí in works such as Portrait of Galarina, Leda Atomica, and Galatea of the Spheres. Gala appears in several other Dalí paintings and sculptures, notably The Madonna of Port Lligat (1949), Imperial Monument to the Child-Woman, Gala (1934) and The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus (1958–59).

Helga Testorf (born c.1933 or c.1939)

The muse of the American artist Andrew Wyeth was a German model Helga Testorf. For fifteen years, he worked on The Helga Pictures, a series of more than 240 drawings and paintings of the model. Helga was Wyeth’s neighbor, and the artist depicted her in various poses indoors and out of doors, nude and clothed. Interestingly, the sessions were a secret even to their spouses, and the works were located at the home of Frolic Weymouth who was his student, neighbor, and a good friend.

Andrew Wyeth – Braids (Helga Testorf), 1979. Dry-brush watercolor.

Edie Sedgwick (1943-1971)

The iconic 1960s figure Edie Sedgwick starred in several of Andy Warhol’s underground, experimental films such as Poor Little Rich Girl and Kitchen. Sedgwick was a fixture around Warhol’s iconic Factory, and stars in two screen tests and several films, including Beauty No. 2Ciao! Manhattan and of course Poor Little Rich Girl. Warhol also painted Sedgwick multiple times. Sedgwick’s pedigree and iconic sense of style, which included a cropped haircut, dangling earrings, fur coats, and occasionally, no pants, enthralled the rather shy Pop artist.

Ada Del Moro Katz (born 1928)

Ada Del Moro is the wife of painter Alex Katz, who has depicted her classic, dark-haired beauty in over 40 figurative works including The Black Dress (1960), Ada With Bathing Cap (1965), and The red scarf (Ada in polo coat) (1976). Katz’s portraits of his wife tend to show her stylishly dressed and radiating positivity.

Ilona Staller (born 1951)

Ilona Staller, also known as Cicciolina, married Jeff Koons in 1991. He was inspired by the porn star and Italian politician to create the sexually-explicit “Made in Heaven” series, which featured both photographs and sculptures of the couple engaged in various stages of lovemaking.

Sandra Bush

Not all muses are lovers. For Mickalene Thomas, her greatest inspiration has been her mother, Sandra Bush. Thomas has portrayed Bush, a former model, in several of her characteristically exuberant collage paintings as a quintessential 1970s babe complete with a massive afro and rhinestone-encrusted get-ups. In the 2012 film Happy Birthday to a Beautiful Woman, Thomas shows a different side of Bush – an aging woman, ill with kidney disease, who narrates her own incredible life story through questions asked by Thomas, who remains off screen.

Mickalene Thomas, Dim All The Lights (2009)

It is evident that with time the female muse was no longer just a young, beautiful woman, groomed by the male artist and displayed to the world as his “find” or “trophy.” In today’s day and age, the art world has debunked and abandoned the traditional ideas of a female muse and successfully obliterated the line between an artist and the muse. Now, one can be the other or even both for that matter.

The quest for inspiration is a continuing process that changes, evolves, and matures with the artists themselves. If a male artist draws inspiration from a woman, he needs to honor not only the artist-muse relationship, but also the personal identity and public image of the woman. No matter what age, color, shape or size, she is an integral part of an artist’s creative universe. After all, in today’s “selfie” and “Me Too” age, who’s stopping a creative genius in the female form from tapping into her own inner muse? She is very much capable of romanticizing herself and does not need a man to do so.

DISCLAIMER – All the information, data and imagery in this blog post is for informational and educational purpose only. While there may be copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner, I have only made it available with the sole effort to stimulate creative progress and artistic enrichment. Some images may have been taken from the links included below and I give full credit to these websites/pages, thereby in no way claiming them to be my own. I have also used these links for reference purposes and collection of data; therefore I give full credit to the respective web pages. Most of the data in this post is based on my personal experiences and opinions and I am not responsible for any material that is found in the links at the end of this post.

Sources and Photo Credits –




We Pick Our Top 10 Art Historical Muses












Female Muses through the Ages – Part 1


“Without a muse, an artist is simply a madman shouting to the stars.” ~ Ross Baldwin.

For centuries, muses have been responsible for rekindling the creative spark in artists, inspiring them to paint and guiding them through their creative process. From mythical creatures to enchanting real life beauties, history has witnessed innumerable muses in the feminine form that have captured many an artist’s fancy. The muse has the ability to renew an artist’s passion for art, thereby helpinghim or her to create memorable masterpieces. It is the oxygen to the artistic soul without which it will breathe its last.

The word “muse” originates from Greek and Roman mythology, where it was used to describe goddesses presiding over artistic disciplines. But anything or anyone can serve as the artist’s source of inspiration. Even though many men have been known to provide inspiration, the female form continues to pose as a muse for most artists. From lovers to spouses to friends, inspiration can come in many moulds.

Looking back in history, Andrea del Sarto, an Italian painter born in 1486, was married to his muse, Lucrezia, whose features very closely resembled his ideal female figure at a time when most other painters were building their beautiful female images on the well-loved bodies of boys. Since then, artists of the likes of Rubens, Bonnard, Renoir, Charles Blackman and Brett Whiteley have painted their wives over and over again, but their wives were their subjects rather than their muses.

To commemorate Women’s Day and Women’s week, here’s the story of some of the most stunning female muses from history who have navigated artists towards becoming the architects of several great works of art. This post, which is first of a two part series, will cover the influential women who inspired art in the early part of the Modern Era.

Saskia van Uylenburgh (1612-1642)

Saskia van Uylenburgh was Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn’s wife and muse. From drawings of Saskia lying in bed to allegorical paintings, he managed to show his love for his wife by depicting these works in tender, loving manners.

Rembrandt van Rijn, Saskia van Uylenburgh as Flora, 1641

Elizabeth Siddal (1829-1862)

Elizabeth Siddal, commonly known as Lizzie, was also an artist. Inspiring many Pre-Raphaelites, including Walter Deverell, William Holman Hunt, and John Everett Millais, Lizzie truly inspired her husband, Dante Gabriel Rossetti. In one of his most famous paintings Beata Beatrix, created after Lizzie died, Rossetti modeled the character Beatrice Portinari after Lizzie as a tribute.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Beata Beatrix, 1864-1870

Victorine Meurent (1844–1927)

A painter herself, she modeled for several paintings by Édouard Manet. Among these, Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur L’Herbe (The Luncheon on the Grass) (1862–63) and Olympia feature a nude Victorine in a nonchalant manner, which was quite shocking for the time. His Olympia (1863) shows a nude white woman (recognizably Meurent) lying on a bed as a black servant brings her flowers. In Street Singer (1862), Meurent poses as a woman on the fringes of society, provocatively eating ripe cherries as she holds a guitar. This painting, which shows a hungry girl with dark shadows around her eyes, could represent later years of Meurent’s life when she fell into poverty, appealing in vain for funds from Manet’s widow. She also modeled for painters Edgar Degas and Alfred Stevens.

Amelie Gautreau – aka Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau (1859–1915)

Parisian socialite and renowned beauty Amelie Gautreau was the ‘Madame X’ in John Singer Sargent’s iconic 1884 portrait of that name. The painting sparked a scandal as Gautreau’s clothing was considered “flagrantly insufficient”. She was a striking beauty famous for her unnaturally pale look which was attributed to consumption small amounts of arsenic. But it was later confirmed that she dusted herself with lavender-tinted rice powder. It is believed that in the painting Madame X, Gautreau’s exposed ear is pink because she rouged her ears to avoid “giving away the natural tone of her un-powdered, naked skin”.

Madame X by John Singer Sargent

Camille Claudel (1864-1943)

Camille Claudel was an important artist in her own right, but her work was often overshadowed by her relationship with her mentor, Auguste Rodin. Rodin made several sculptures depicting Claudel, including Portrait of Camille with a Bonnet (1886).

Emilie Louise Flöge (1874-1952)

Emilie Louise Flöge was an Austrian fashion designer, and businesswoman, as well as a partner of Gustav KlimtShe is shown in his 1908 masterwork The Kiss,which portrays the couple as lovers ensconced in glimmering gold.

Klimt also depicted her in a 1902 painting titled Emilie Flöge. Flöge’s pointed features and flat virgin body are encountered often in Klimt’s pseudo-erotic paintings tantalizingly glimpsed through elaborate surface patterning.

Hers is the blank mask at the centre of his 1913 picture, The Virgin. As often with Klimt, the unconscious face is set at right angles to the neck, as if the model had been hanged. On her pedestal, swathed in fabric designed by the master, Flöge is a debased version of the muse as a fashionista.

Audrey Munson (1891–1996)

Known as ‘Miss Manhattan’ and the ‘Panama-Pacific girl,’ Munson was the most popular model of her day. ‘Discovered’ when she was 15 years old, Munson first posed for sculptor Isidore Konti and became Alexander Stirling Calder’s preferred model. In 1915 Munson provoked a crisis among the censors of the American film industry when she played an artist’s muse in Inspiration – becoming the first woman to appear fully nude in a (non-pornographic) motion picture.

The female muse is one of the most romanticized figures in art history and in the past, male artists have predominantly hogged the creative limelight at their expense. During Renaissance and the period of Romanticism, muses were represented sensually and quite often erotically, thereby objectifying them to a large extent and reducing their role to a mere physical level.

Famous artist-muse couples like Picasso and Marie-Thérèse, Camille Claudel and Rodin are etched in art history, but we usually overlook these women as artists in their own right, not to mention human beings with their own identity. Sadly enough, they are remembered merely as models, lovers and muses.

However, with time, the once objectified female muse transformed into a strong, fierce woman who stood up for her rights and honor against the oppression of the society. Modern art is marked with such bold and emancipated figures that have made a place for themselves in the male dominated world. More about them in the second part of this post, so stay tuned!

DISCLAIMER – All the information, data and imagery in this blog post is for informational and educational purpose only. While there may be copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner, I have only made it available with the sole effort to stimulate creative progress and artistic enrichment. Some images may have been taken from the links included below and I give full credit to these websites/pages, thereby in no way claiming them to be my own. I have also used these links for reference purposes and collection of data; therefore I give full credit to the respective web pages. Most of the data in this post is based on my personal experiences and opinions and I am not responsible for any material that is found in the links at the end of this post.

Sources and Photo Credits –












We Pick Our Top 10 Art Historical Muses


When an Artist becomes the Muse

As artists, we all look for inspirations and find them in the most unimaginable places. We are like magnets that attract towards us, people or objects that can become our muses.

 Many a times, creations of another artist may also act as a muse. But this is treading on dangerous ground as the line between just getting inspired  and copying the other artist’s work is very thin.  Before we know it, we fall so deeply in love with the work of the ones we idolize, that we start imitating them and end up producing replicas of their work.

It’s one thing to try and learn from another artist’s work and hone our skills, but we should be careful not to get so absorbed in his work that we forget to develop our own signature style. As artists, we have to be honest with ourselves and not get caught in the honey trap of imitating other’s work. If we fail to break out of this trap, we’re neither being fair to ourselves nor to the one we idolize.

I am not saying there’s anything wrong with copying. There are enough artists around who are doing a great job with it and producing some excellent imitations which are accessible to those who can’t afford the original works of the masters. It is also a good way of practicing the finer nuances and technical aspects of a particular art style if you are an apprentice to an established artist or just started taking art lessons.

There are many artists who themselves offer their mentor ship to upcoming and emerging art enthusiasts and permit them to use their own creations as learning guides. The internet has proven to be a huge platform for not just established masters, but also upcoming artists, who want to share their knowledge with the rest of the art world.  All thanks to Google and You tube, it has become so much easier for us to locate and learn from artists whose work we love!

One such muse for me is an artist called Leonid Afremov, who also happens to be my all time favorite. He was a Russian–Israeli modern impressionistic artist who worked mainly with palette knives and oil paints. Using his unique knife painting technique and unmistakable style, Afremov created paintings that seemed to explode into millions of bright colors.

Known for his individualistic style and unconventional approach to showcasing his work to the public,  Afremov didn’t believe in the concept of art exhibitions, dealers or art galleries. He in fact sold his work online as he liked the notion of it being accessible to all. For this very reason, he regularly posted video lessons on You tube, where he taught art enthusiasts how to paint using his exclusive palette knife style.

I personally have learnt a great deal from Afremov’s lessons and have tried my hand at reproducing his technique in some of my artworks. In order to learn his technique, I picked up a couple of his compositions and worked with them, but with a difference. Instead of using a palette knife, I used flat brushes to reproduce effects similar to those produced by palette knives. In doing so, my objective was to take his technique to the next level and see if it gave my art individuality in terms of style, while retaining the same quality as an Afremov painting.

On completing the paintings, I realized that my work was distinctly different from the original. I decided to stick to the same color scheme as the original piece because I was attempting this style for the first time. The subject was also the same, as I wanted to master the technique thoroughly. Even though the final product was somewhat similar to the original, I managed to achieve an entirely different effect with the brushes as compared to that obtained with a palette knife. Sharing my observations below:

  1. While a palette knife produces thicker strokes, my brush strokes were flatter.
  2. There is more intermixing of colors when a palette knife is used, whereas the colors are individually more defined when using a brush.
  3. The palette knife strokes give a slightly raised effect as they involve the application of thick blobs of paint. On the other hand, a paint brush will result in a more two dimensional effect.

The paintings I chose were – “She Left” and “Winter”. I have shared below, images of the original artworks(the top two) as well as my versions(the bottom two). If you compare them, you will realize that my renditions are not complete replicas of the originals. So, in a way, not only did I manage to explore his signature style, but also invented my own style (or at least I hope I did!) All in all, it was a great learning experience that helped me practice Afremov’s technique until I felt confident enough to apply it to my own art.  I thoroughly enjoyed it!!

Next, I decided to be a little more adventurous with another composition. Since this too was an experiment, I picked up an image of Radha and Krishna for reference. Once again retaining the same color palette and silhouettes, I applied Afremov’s style to the background of the painting. I hope this is visible in the image below on the left, which is my version of the original artwork on the right.

I do hope I managed to impart originality to my work at the cost of being “influenced” by Afremov. Being inspired by artists or being influenced by their style doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to resort to copying. Even if you have not reached the stage of creating original art, there is always scope to brush up your skills and develop your own style. In fact, it is an evolutionary process that happens naturally over time.

But how does one retain originality? The trick lies in carefully studying the work that’s inspiring you and deciding what exactly it is that caught your eye. Was it the color palette, the composition, the concept or the subject matter? This will be a good way to start and will help you realize which aspect you love the most.

Try to incorporate this aspect into your artwork in your own unique style instead of replicating it exactly like it is in the original. This will happen when you have pushed yourself beyond the boundaries of creative thinking until you enter your very own personal domain of innovation.

When you are exploring and experimenting with the various elements that seemingly inspired you, some of them may turn out to be monotonous while others may suddenly ignite your imagination, so, look out for these sparks. Your body and mind will react to these stimuli and give you a sign. These beautifully intuitive cues will pave the path to discovering your muse.

Here are some pointers to help you transform your favorite artist’s inspirational works into your very own signature style, thereby aiding  your evolution and progress:

  1. Experiment and Explore – Love an aspect your favorite artist uses? Try using it in as many different ways as you can think of. Use different painting tools. For instance, Afremov used a palette knife, while I tried out the same technique with flat brushes. Use a different medium – if the original is with oils, try acrylics, mixed media or even collage making. They may enhance your art and make it exclusively yours.
  2. Modify the Color Palette – Google your favorite artist’s works or look them up on Pinterest. Take note of the color palette he or she generally uses and chose your own colors taking inspiration from this.  Use the image as a guideline for the palette and modify the shades.
  3. View the Subject Matter Differently – Sometimes even a subtle alteration of the subject matter goes a long way. The subject should excite you enough to explore further and possess the ability to go through the evolutionary process. Painting it in different color schemes, from different angles or changing the perspective can open doors to infinite new possibilities. This is what will make your work stand out.
  4. But, be prepared for the worst.  Sometimes the most favorable things may turn out to be boring. On the other hand, you may be pleasantly surprised by something you considered mundane. As they say, expect the unexpected!!

To sum it up, wade through works of art that interest you and invoke your creativity. Don’t play safe and tread water. Experiment, explore and awaken the artist in you. 

DISCLAIMER –The paintings that I have displayed in this post are my personal reproductions of original compositions by Leonid Afremov. I have tried my best to alter them by adopting a different approach in terms of technique so that they do not look like imitations of the original. However, they still resemble the original to some extent as I painted them purely with the aim of teaching myself Afremov’s style, hence I do not claim them to be my original creations.   

Sources and Photo Credits –


The “Fruits” of my Labor

When it comes to painting still life, the choice of muse is endless. If you want to extend your horizon beyond  flowers, one good choice would be fruits. Fruits have always been one of the classic subjects for still life.  They come in a variety of colors and shapes that are perfect for replicating onto your canvas. Some are best portrayed whole, but when cut, they can provide you with some interesting shapes to customize your work of art. All you need is some fresh produce, or just an image of these juicy wonders, paint, brushes and a canvas to unleash your creativity!

So that’s exactly what I did! Not only did fruits become the subject of my next experiment with art, they also ended up being one among my favorite muses!! Since I was attempting this subject for the first time, I decided to use as reference, an image that displayed a vast variety of fruits. This gave me the opportunity to understand their various forms and colors, as well as the play of light on each one of them.

I also learnt how to paint different textures, as each fruit possesses its own distinctive tactile quality that contributes to its individualistic character. So from the rough skin of a lemon to the smooth and shiny surface of a grape, I did it all! 

The image I chose also proved to be quite challenging for me as it comprised of some complex berries which were a conglomeration of tiny units, thus giving shape to the fruit in totality. I learnt how to paint each and every one of these miniscule yet elaborate building blocks, which are an important feature of the fruit in question when it comes to its detailing. These are what give their subjects a distinctive identity and will enhance the quality of your painting.

Without further adieu, I will share with you some pointers that I picked up while I was learning to paint this fruity composition. So let’s get started!!

  1. Go for interesting shapes – You can use whatever fruits you like, but those with interesting shapes usually offer the maximum options.  Apples, pears, bananas, strawberries, raspberries, oranges, lemons, and limes are some good choices. As you can see, the image I chose as my muse covers just about every shape and type of fruit. Visit your local grocery store or farmer’s market and see which ones appeal to you the most…after all its all about the inspiration!
  2. Pick up a variety of colors – Choose a wide range of fruits that provide you with a larger color palette to work with. This is also visible in my painting. It will add vibrancy to your composition, unless you are looking at monotones or intend to paint only one type of fruit.
  3. Wash and dry all the produce – If you are using fresh fruits, wash them thoroughly with water and pat them dry. If any of the fruits are particularly dirty, use a brush to scrub them clean.  However, if you want to retain the dirt as an extra element of interest or detailing, then don’t wash your fruits.
  4. Cut and slice the produce for more interesting shapes – Cut  the fruit into halves or slices  to add more interesting effects to your artwork. Cut apples, pears, and strawberries in half lengthwise, oranges, lemons and limes in half crosswise. Bananas may be cut lengthwise or crosswise. Raspberries, blueberries and grapes can be used as whole fruits. If you don’t like cutting the fruits,  you can use them whole.
  5. Select a focal point – Once you have arranged your produce on your table or platter, select a strong focal point that you can use as your reference. This is usually the fruit on the top of the pile and helps you start your drawing.
  6. Add props to the composition – The surface on which you place your fruits can serve as an interesting element in your composition. So, ensure that you put them on a table or a saucer that adds on to your artwork. They can provide some very impressive highlights and shadows to your painting, thereby adding to the drama.
  7. Texture – A textural effect arouses the curiosity of the viewer to  learn how it was achieved, hence he moves in closer to see how it was done.  One way to achieve this is to add impasto here and there, especially around your focal object, and very much so in the highlights of that object. As mentioned earlier,  a lemon will possess a totally different texture from a grape.
  8. Pay attention to the shadows and reflections – Deeper areas or shadows add interest to your work and will attract your viewer. Therefore, give special emphasis to the shadows formed by each fruit. It will also give them a 3D effect and make them look more natural. Similarly, look out for those lovely sunlight reflections. They too will make your fruits look more realistic.
  9. Work on a size you are comfortable with – Decide the scale of your artwork based on your comfort level. If you are not confident about painting details in smaller sizes, increase the dimensions of your work, hence your canvas.
  10. Use an image if not the real thing – The problem with painting fruits is that, like flowers,  they are perishable, hence start losing their freshness and luster with time. This will alter your artwork as you progress, so you have to be real quick in finishing it, before the subjects in question start decomposing. I personally prefer using a still photo as my reference for this very reason. Not only are my subjects preserved in posterity but I also have time on my side. So, if you are a slow painter, go for the digital option so that you have total control.

Did you know?

Here’s some interesting trivia for you!  Giuseppe Arcimboldo  was an Italian painter best known for creating imaginative portrait heads made entirely of objects such as fruits, vegetables, flowers, fish, and books. Arcimboldo’s conventional work, on traditional religious subjects, faded into oblivion, but his portraits of human heads made of vegetables, plants, fruits, sea creatures and tree roots, were greatly admired by his contemporaries and fascinate present day artists as well. At a distance, his portraits looked like normal human portraits. On close observation, one realizes that individual objects were actually overlapped to make the anatomical shape of a human head. They were carefully constructed by his imagination, hence the assembly of the objects was not random. So, if you feel you have mastered the skill of painting conventional pictures of fruits, shake things up a bit with this “bizarre” yet “unique” approach. You never know what innovations take shape!

I hope by now the artist in you is as excited and inspired by these succulent and juicy delicacies of nature as are your drooling taste buds!

Sources and Photo Credits – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giuseppe_Arcimboldo

My First Muse – Flora

For most artists, nature is one of the most common sources of inspiration. Flowers, in particular, have served as a muse to several artists. Since time in memorial, artists have told stories in their artworks through flowers, with an attempt to capture varying moods through symbolism.

Art through the ages has demonstrated that flowers speak a universal language that communicates deeper messages through their color and form. It is this language that is figuratively represented by artists in their work to depict a multitude of emotions and feelings, ranging from love, passion and desire to purity, innocence and even death.

Flowers can convey messages that words cannot, express hidden emotions, portray moods, or articulate a subtle feeling. Legendary artists from Claude Monet and Gustav Klimt to Andy Warhol and Georgia O’Keefe, have used flowers to express the surreal and the sublime, the joy and the sorrow, the beauty and the hurt.

Flowers have a played an important role throughout the history of art. They have been used by the Renaissance artist Botticelli as a subtle representation of religious symbolism and have also been the inspiration behind Matisse’s colorful masterpieces. When it comes to art, flowers do tell a unique story!

 I wanted to explore this hidden meaning of flowers as a symbol of art. As an artist, I wanted to see if  I too could tell a story of my own through blooms and maybe evoke a certain mood or emotion with the help of their colors and shapes. Since this was my very first attempt at painting flora,  I chose a fairly simple composition (or at least I thought so at that moment!), with more emphasis on color than minute detailing. As is evident in my painting, I have concentrated on the light and dark shadows and also attempted to retain the vintage effect of the painting.

My version of a painting of flowers

So there I was, all set and rearing to go with my paints and brushes! I had a picture of a pot of lovely purple blossoms in front of me (As I mentioned in my last post, this was the beginning of my learning experience, hence I used an image for reference). I was all charged up about recreating these beauties on my canvas, which was primed and ready for use. My paint tubes and palette were calling out to me and my brushes were rearing to show off their magic. I was totally smitten by the captivating beauty in front of me!

But where do I start?! So many flowers, such an elaborate background and to add to it all, a  pot and a lemon too! It’s not at all as simple as it looks…I am doomed!!

I took a deep breath and decided to tackled this challenge one step at a time. So, now I am going to share with you all some of the tools and techniques I adopted to achieve my goal….I like to call them my very own trade secrets!

  • Start by sketching out the basic silhouettes of the flowers, the vase/pot and other elements of the composition in front of you. You can use a charcoal pencil or a regular one.
  • Make sure all the elements of your composition are in proportion with respect to each other as well as the background in terms of their sizes. This will give a more realistic look to your artwork, unless you intend to take the abstract approach.
  • Look out for perspective in the composition. This is what makes objects appear smaller and closer together the further away they are from their viewer. In other words, they seem to become smaller and smaller as they more farther into the distance. This adds depth and dimension to flat images, thus making them look more real.
  • While sketching out the various objects, carefully observe their underlying basic shapes and draw out a rough outline for each one of them. These will act as guidelines for your final sketch and  you can work around them to achieve the final silhouettes more accurately.

Now, coming to the main subject of this particular composition…the flowers. How does one draw these? Well, the secret lies in their underlying shape here as well. In general they will fit into one of these basic categories – discs, bells, cones or spheres. (I was very fortunate to learn this from a fellow artist’s article when I googled for methods to paint flowers back then). But in my painting, I discovered a new one – star shaped blossoms! So, you never know what you may find!! Anyways, this is a very important aspect as that’s where the basic form of your flower lies.

Bell, Cone, Disc and Sphere shaped flowers respectively.

  • Each object in your composition, in fact each blossom for that matter will have its own highlights, shadows and reflections. So look for these details closely. One way I looked for these intricacies was by half shutting my eyes and looking at the image almost through my eye lashes. It worked like a charmed as all the highlights and shadows just popped up magically!
  • Coming to the bouquet or bunch as a whole, flowers in the back of the arrangement will have less color, focus and sharpness while the ones in the front will have color, intensity and sharpness. The focal blossoms will have the highest color intensity, sharpness and details.
  • In order to achieve a faded effect for those blooms at the back, paint them with softer edges. This involves more blending of the various shades you have used.
  • As mentioned earlier, flowers hold great symbolic power in the art world. Hence, every color or combination of color evokes a certain mood or emotion. Here’s a cheat sheet you can use as a guide to help you convey your message –

Red – Love, romance, courage, desire.

Pink – Gentleness, happiness, innocence, grace.

Blue – Peace, serenity, openness, relaxation.

White – Reverence, humility, purity, simplicity.

Yellow – Happiness, friendship, pride, joy.

Orange – Bold, passion, enthusiasm, excitement.

Purple – Royalty, dignity, tradition, success.

Hope that made it easier for you! To help you even more, here are some Dos and Don’ts  you can keep in mind while painting flowers:

DOs –

  • Select a simple arrangement if you are painting flora for the first time. Once you’ve got a hang of the basic elements of floral anatomy, you can graduate to more detailed arrangements and types of flowers.
  • Start with bigger flowers that have lesser detailing and work on getting the basic shapes, highlights and shadows right at first.
  • If you are not confident enough to paint an entire bouquet or vase of flowers, you can always do a single bloom with maybe a bud or two and a few leaves to complete the composition.

DON’Ts –

  • When sketching with your pencil or charcoal, don’t apply too much pressure and avoid drawing dark lines. These will be difficult to paint over later and will show underneath the layers of paint. They may also smudge and mess up the colors and eventually the painting.
  • The subjects of your painting should neither be too small, thereby leaving too much negative space around them, nor should they be so big that they leave no scope for a background. I personally achieve this with free hand drawing, but feel free to use a grid of squares to get this right.
  • Don’t get bugged if you are not able to figure out the underlying shape of the blossoms of your choice. Some flowers may not fit into any particular shape category I have quoted above or may be a combination of more than one shape.
  • Don’t struggle with detailing of each and every petal on those blossoms at the back…they should appear as if they are fading into the background.

I think I have covered all the tricks I had up my sleeve which helped me do justice to my floral muse. I hope the list of do’s and don’ts help you all in your explorations as much as they helped me!

Sources and Credits –













The Muses that Inspire Us

She thirsts for expression,

Swaying to her own beat.

She prowls inside our heads,

Craving to feast.

To feast on our minds,

A mangled array of confusion,

She wants to break free,

She’s looking for retribution.

She feeds on the dreamers and the wanderers,

She turns even the skeptics into believers.

Her insanity craves a palette of myriad hues,

To help her overcome the defiant blues.

To some she’s Mother Nature in her full glory,

To others she’s the sea in her raging fury.

To one she appears as unicorns, angels or fantasies,

While others have visions of nudes, Gods and galaxies.

She’s the celestial entity reining the aesthetic universe,

She’s the ethereal MUSE that inspires all of us.


Inspiration is something that comes easily to some people, while for others, it can be quite a struggle. What serves as inspiration, is called the MUSE. Most artists look for a muse as a source of their creative genius. But what is a muse? It can be anything that sparks your creativity and imagination, like a person, place, object or even a situation for that matter.

A muse is something that has to be considered very thoughtfully. For most artists, a person — especially a woman — will be a source of artistic inspiration. In mythology, the Muses were nine goddesses who symbolized the arts and sciences.

Having a muse that is capable of bringing your creative ideas to life, is a gift. Traditionally female muses have been the source of many artistic inspirations and great works of art, due to their beauty, character, or some other mysterious quality.

For most artists, a  muse is a person who ignites his or her fantasy. But for me, it can be anything that acts as a fuel and sparks my artistic neurons to get my creative juices flowing. It’s what unleashes my artistic energy.

Finding a muse can seem difficult sometimes, but certain things can fuel ideas for works of art.  It is this muse that penetrates the artist’s mind, which is the seed of  one’s creativity. This source of inspiration gives birth to the spark of creation, and thus an innovative idea is conceived in the womb of the mind. The artist then gestates and nurtures this notion of his imagination, until it matures into a viable concept. It’s now his baby, ready to be born, all set to see the light of the outside world.

But how does one find a muse? I believe that the muse finds the artist and not the other way round. It is a spontaneous process and cannot be planned or predicted in any way. Having said that, I would like to share a few personal tips with you all that could help you along your path to discovering your own muse:

  1. Think – Note down your thoughts and work on them. Even if they seem irrelevant and foolish,  pen them down.   Sometimes the most mundane of ideas spark a highly fascinating story or concept.
  2.  Memories –  Recall your past, look at old photos and reminisce about old times with your relatives and friends. Who knows? You may  find treasures while digging up the ground!
  3. Travel and interact – Talk to people and be active socially-by doing this, ideas will flourish far more easily. Travelling is an extremely important part of the creative journey, and has helped countless artists.  Believe me,  a change in environment can go a long way in powering up  your inspiration.
  4. Take note of your emotions –  When you’re exhilarated, remorseful, thrilled, bored, concerned or even feeling level, make note of exactly what’s going through your mind and how you see life in that state – even a simple emotion can be a source of great works  of art.
  5. Make a note of your dreams – Several artists have based their works on dreams. Salvadore Dalí’s paintings are said to have been fruits of their creator’s dreamy imagination. Keep a ‘dream diary’ where you write what you saw and how you felt in each dream. This will help in completing the concept.
  6. Read, listen and see – Read books, listen to music, visit galleries. Make yourself a journal with your favorites  and  a how-to-do manual with techniques you found unique and interesting. In today’s world of technology, the internet is also a great source of information so all hail Google and Youtube! Listen to an eclectic mix of music (opera, rock, jazz, anything). Be bold and experiment. You’ll be surprised how much inspiration this can give you.
  7. Dare to be bold? – Step out of your comfort zone and try things you would never do. It could prove life-altering and inspiring.
  8. Trust your  instincts –  Have faith on your gut feeling and just do it (As long as it’s not illegal!).
  9. Don’t plan too much –  Inspiration isn’t something you can plan. It comes to you spontaneously so if you try to organize it into a plan, the idea will become stale by the time you are done planning. Don’t try to be too methodical, just go with the flow and let things fall into place on their own.
  10. Start! –  Don’t keep waiting. Begin with whatever comes into your mind and play along as you go to shape up your concept. You’ll be  pleasantly surprised when you run into your muse as you cruise along your creative voyage.

In the next few posts, I am going to share with you a few of my muses and what inspires me to paint. But, before I do that, a DISCLAIMER…the next set of paintings are mostly imitations as they are my initial works and part of  my learning process. Hence, neither do I claim them to be my original creations nor take any credit for them. On the contrary, I am grateful to the original artists for providing me with such wonderful inspirations, which helped me hone my skills as I progressed along my creative journey.

So here’s a sneak peak of some of the muses I stumbled upon while learning the finer nuances of art. Each one of them not only contributed towards polishing my technical skills as an artist but also opened my mind to a vast array of creative possibilities. Hope they ignite the spark of inspiration within your creative centers as much as they did for me! I shall discuss them in detail in my future posts.