A painting a day: #23, Sea Star

If you haven’t kept up with this project, here’s a quick summary: I did the first 12 paintings all on the same big sheet of paper. Those were all fairly realistic still lifes. For the second sheet of paper, I’m doing more free/abstract reworkings of all the paintings from the first sheet. Since the first sheet gave me practice in rendering objects accurately from life, the second sheet provides practice in interpreting freely, without so much care for the way things really look.

All last week, I kept looking at Specimens and thinking of mandalas — which makes perfect sense, since the brooch pictured at the top of that painting is one I embroidered with mandalas in mind. So when it came time to rework this particular picture, of course I had to do a mandala.

I drew a big circle in pencil to demarcate the boundaries of the painting, and then just got started, freehand, with my paints. It didn’t seem feasible (or interesting) to reproduce all the pieces of jewelry in their entirety, so I deconstructed them, selecting particular features and sprinkling them into the mandala as I saw fit. To my surprise, the mandala almost immediately developed into something extremely delicate, with the small scale and bright yet gentle colors of an antique.*


I’ve noticed that every time I try to draw a mandala, I very quickly get bored with just going around and around in circles. Often I’ll combat this by introducing radiating lines, and I did that here as well — perfectly echoing the design of the original brooch.


Even though this is a painting of jewelry, there are a lot of textiles involved. I tend to like adornments that combine soft things with harder, glossier metal and gemstones, and so there’s much more fabric and thread in my jewelry box than in most people’s!

The pink radiating lines are running stitches (interspersed with beads), and the black frondlike things come from a fabric necklace.


I also added other bits from the necklace’s printed fabrics, and seed pearls and pink and blue French knots from a Japanese embroidered brooch.


At this point, even the radiating lines were getting swallowed back into a tight concentric form, so I had to decide what to do next. I opted for yet another dose of radiating lines, this time mimicking the tiny chains on the necklace in the original painting. I’m really happy with how those came out — not just the tiny links but also their undulating arrangement, which was freehand like everything else in this piece.


I admit, by this time I was getting tired: tired physically of painting such tiny shapes, but also mentally tired of figuring out what to paint next and where to place it. So I decided I was done. Then I remembered to check the mandala against the original painting, to make sure I’d included each piece of jewelry that was in the original. Good thing I checked! I’d left out my hair ornament. It seemed too complicated to try to fit it in at this late stage, so I just added a little fillip of its maroon color to each of the radiating black “fronds.” There: done.

Actually I like those little plumes of red — they give a dollop of fine feathery attitude, next to those brassy chains. They remind me of the military uniforms of a bygone era… you know, like Napoléon.


I really like this painting, though I don’t think it shows to advantage on the big sheet of paper. It’s such a dainty little piece, it gets lost amid all the bolder shapes and colors.


But just by itself, I love it. And I think it looks even more jewelry-like than the original painting, even though that one clearly depicts jewelry! I think it’s that that one merely represents actual jewelry, whereas this one is a kind of fantasy of what jewelry should be. I wish I could wear it.



*I’m thinking particularly of a 1787 Sèvres bowl I sketched in July at the Met, though actually, that bowl has much more muted colors and a design so simple that the makers weren’t sure it was appropriate (the factory owner fretted that it was “barbaric” to leave it ungilded!). But I remember, while drawing it, just how taken I was with its fineness.