In early December I was given a commission that intrigued me. Truth be told, I had never heard of the woman at the center of this story, despite my penchant for (unfairly) obscure female role models.
God knows that female achievements have been swept under the carpet of history for centuries. There are so many accomplished female pioneers we could learn so much from. Alas, they remain relegated to the unreachable upper shelves of history, gathering dust and utterly invisible to the general public.
I researched diligently and with gusto. I enjoy digging for information and cross referencing data to see what stands up to scrutiny and what is mere exaggeration. I found some contradictions, but soon a clearer picture started to emerge. There was no doubt that this was a complicated, often controversial figure and that I needed to tread with care and impartiality.
When I felt ready, I moved onto the potential image. What should I focus on? An image destined for a book cover (as this one was) should not try to emulate the text within, but it must entice the potential reader to pick up the book and start reading. I went back and forth quite a bit regarding what should be in it and what should remain “unsaid”.
It is my belief that ruthless editing, the making of a succinct image, is the secret to any successful collage. Therefore, I set out to create a compact illustration of who this woman was. I highlighted what I felt were her most distinguishable characteristics as a person.
Since nobody really knows what she looked like, we have been at the mercy of versions with a variety of biases depending on the source. I had no intention of following suit. I was not about to create yet another completely fictional, cartoonish, or idealized image.
Instead, I wanted to evoke her character rather than her appearance. We do have records that describe her bravery, resolute character, tenacity, entrepreneurial spirit and her love of country and family. Of course, there is also bloodshed and war, which should never be ignored, but her circumstances only made her an even more unusual person. In my estimation, the whole of these facts painted a better picture of who she was far beyond any external trait.
If there was one physical attribute that was pointed out to me by experts, it was her distinctive, intense gaze. Eyes and faces are evolutionarily pleasing and instantly capture the attention of the human brain. I decided to use it to some extent, and settled on making her look sideways (and not directly at the viewer) as if showing vigilance and shrewdness.
So far, she was coming through loud and clear, yet in a minimalistic, elegant way. I surrounded the visible part of her face with a flower motif in magenta, the color of bougainvillea. This beautiful climbing plant grows vigorously all around the Mediterranean. I also used one single curved acanthus leaf that suggests location (the acanthus plant being quintessentially Greek). The word itself derives from ákanthă or thorn. I’m sure that being a nonconformist woman, many people must have considered her “prickly” or of difficult disposition despite her achievements.
I then added the circular shapes, which are are symbols of unity and are specifically connected with femininity. Meanwhile, the flat blue background is clearly a reference to the sky, while the waves of the sea are visible in the larger circle.
Through this process, I was following her story and trying to tell it with color, shape and line. Once all these elements were in place, I considered my work done. Encapsulating the story of a larger than life personage in a single image can be daunting at first, but I enjoyed the challenge.
If you are still wondering who this remarkable woman might be (and you are not alone for the reasons mentioned above), perhaps you'd like to read the following article. Enjoy!