In How Sara O'Connor Began Painting, I discussed my overarching art practice and process. In these upcoming blog posts, I hope to share each of my specific styles with you: pointillism, floralism, and strips. I want to share with you their roots, their growth, and the overarching themes that unite them. So without further ado, it’s my pleasure to introduce to you the style that got me started: pointillism.
The Painting Begins with Teensy Tiny Pointillism (2015)
I began exploring the dot in 2015 with teensy tiny pointillism, or as art scholars would call it, “pointillism.” All of the dots were the same size – incredibly small dollops of paint – and they weren’t raised at all. You could say I was first interested in the visual texture of the dots on the canvas and only later on in my process did I begin to explore their physical texture and upper limits. My first piece was called “Marble Dusting,” and she has a kind of galactic, nebula-like feel to her. I used a combination of warm colors for the “marbles” – reds, oranges, and yellows – and for the sky, I used cooler, more cosmic shades of blues and purples.
When I made her, my mind felt a bit like it was spinning because of the anxiety I was experiencing at that time. At the same time, I felt a sense of calm as I submerged myself in the paint and the deliciously soothing dots of color. That seemingly contrasting emotional state is what I was trying to capture, and I’m proud of how she turned out. She’s never been for sale and never will be; she was my first, so I want to keep her close. But, if you want to get a sense of what that series looked like, you can check out “Big Blue.” From time to time, I get commission requests in the teensy dot style and it’s nice to revisit how I began.
This might be a good time to mention that almost all of my paintings are “shes.” Almost every piece I create is a self-portrait in some way, though not in the traditional sense. They’re not an abstract rendering of my physique or movement, but they are self-portraits of my mental state at the time I created them. Because they’re a kind of interior self-reflection, I refer to almost all of them with the feminine she/her because those are the pronouns I predominantly use for myself.
Getting Juicier (2016)
A year into my art exploration and it was time to get juicy! For the first time in 2016, heavy textured pointillism was born. The dots are getting plumper and more varied in size. It wasn’t until about a year into this heavy textured pointillism phase that I started making dots as big as a fist and as teensy as my original pointillism all on one canvas, but throughout 2016-2017 my dots are slowly increasing in plump-ability as I begin to experiment more.
The First Series is Born (2016)
My first heavy textured pointillism piece was called “Reign,” which became the first piece in my Earthly Series series, though I didn’t realize it at the time. I created her when watching the TV show Reign, and I was smitten by the beautiful costuming and music. Every piece in the Earthly Series is either two-tonal in color or has divided movement. Or both! The composition is almost like a Westernized reimagination of the yin-yang symbolism from Chinese philosophy, with the two sides dancing with each other. I worked a lot with blues and greens as at least one half of the color dance in this series because I’m so drawn to water. In keeping with that water motif, the lines of color become more wave-like and have an undulating flow to them, like the tide. If you want to get a good sense of the wave like motion and my use of blues and greens, “To Sea, To Land, To Sky” and “Reign” are great examples. I wasn’t just using blues and greens, though, as you can see with “Inside A Conch Shell’s Soul,” which has a more striking color contrast than the previous two as it is a reimagining of a conch shell (perhaps the conch shell that trapped The Little Mermaid’s voice) tumbling in the ocean’s current.
Overall, the mood of my Earthy Series is like a woman rocking her hips and dancing by the ocean. There’s a calypso-like, almost sensual energy that’s also calming and soothing about the artwork, like how the same movements a woman uses to dance can also rock a baby to sleep. They’re hyper-feminine, a celebration of women celebrating and rejoicing in life – slightly untamable but a primal feeling everyone can understand.
Nora Elizabeth: Exploring the Divine Feminine (mid-2018)
After indulging in the two-tonal waves of color for a few years, I began a new series in the middle of 2018 that I call the Nora Elizabeth Series, which is a more of an iconic design I recreate in new colors for private and corporate collectors than a true series. Why Nora Elizabeth? Well, I named the series after my precious bunny rabbit, who has since passed. She was quite a little lady, and she taught me a lot of about life and femininity, so I painted a lily of the valley inspired portrait of her and of me when I’m role-playing hyper-femininity.
This series carries forward the undulating energy of the Earthy Series, but in a distinctive color palette. Every Nora Elizabeth piece has a white peak or ‘cap’ on the wave of dots, sprinkled with gold, and a dark blue background, in keeping with the lily of the valley inspiration. Other colors may vary, based on what collectors want, but, at least so far to date, these elements have never changed. You can also see that for the first time, I’ve stripped away some of the dots and am utilizing negative space. Since I like to showcase my art when they’ve found their new homes, here are a couple of Nora Elizabeth pieces in the wild - example 1, example 2, and example 3.
Diving Into Being Submerged in Color (Late 2018)
After exploring the divine feminine for a while, I returned to another consistent source of inspiration: the ocean, this time a reimagination of a key moment from The Little Mermaid. In the Disney film, there’s a scene where Ariel is singing in her cavern of collectibles and she begins to swim upward toward the surface. The camera shifts from her face to what she’s seeing: a circle of light shining on the surface of the water but seen from below through this small hole at the top of the cave trapping her in. I’d imagined myself a lot as Ariel when I was younger, playing in the ocean or a swimming pool, and I didn’t want to end up trapped in that cavern like she is at that moment. I wanted the same thing she did, what that light seen from below represented: freedom from the walls around me.
So, I broke down those walls and dove into that circle of light, using my colors to make it clear that there was no border or boundary, only free, endless, embracing expanse. When I close my eyes, I’m literally and utterly submerged within the color on the canvas, floating freely in the center of it. From my experience, people find this series to be particularly soothing and relaxing. Perhaps it’s because of how I gradate the colors, a slow, intentional process that’s peaceful and gentle. Everything about my Submerged in Color Series is designed to comfort and inspire. I want people to feel empowered to swim toward the light, whether that be the sun, the moon, or their inner child, and I think people receive that intention when they engage with it, which is deeply satisfying.
I began my Submerged in Color Series with a bombtastic cherry red piece, which you can see to the right of me in this post from Instagram and again in this post, alongside a Submerged In Color piece featuring earthy browns and coppers. I also did some that look more directly inspired by the scene in The Little Mermaid, like this one called “Ultramarine Dream.” My favorite to-date though was transposing the design into my floralism series, to create “A Song of Winter Roses.”
Dancing with the Waves
As you can see, the color blue and the ocean specifically have been big themes in my pointillism work. Even the Nora Elizabeth series, which was more specifically tied to my sweet bunny, still has that Sara O’Connor signature wave-like motion, and the white peaks of color visually echo the crest of waves. You might say that the ocean is a “star” in my work that I’m featuring and want to highlight in a new way with each of my series.
Femininity also shows up a lot, sometimes more directly than others, but it’s always there. This is in large part because of what my art represents, my personal mindscape I mentioned earlier. I don’t know many other artists who are creating these kinds of self-portraits that don’t always look like self-portraits. You’ll hear a lot of artists talk about how each artwork has a piece of them, and the same is true for my art. I’m just more literal in that these are direct reflections of my mind, my thoughts, my emotions. They’re mental landscapes, imprints of myself in the moment that I’m creating.
Because I’m painting personal mindscapes, there is both continuity and change as I move from series to series, which gets back to the ocean imagery. The ocean is both always itself and also constantly changing, with an ebb and flow to it that is both soothing and brimming with energy. That study in harmonious contrast is something that means a lot to me and pervades my work. A lot of my work tends to focus on two predominant colors and may seem binary, but if you look more closely you’ll see that it’s never just two colors. Even when I have two dominant tones of color or color families, each one will come in shades. There’s always variation within the contrast of colors.
At heart is the idea of all these colors dancing together as a cohesive unit, impacting and influencing each other like the ocean and the shoreline. Each of us humans is a tiny dancer joining in to the communal expression of life. The yin and the yang, the endless dance.
This piece was written in conversation with Gretchen Jones.
If you’re interested in reading the other parts to this series, you can find them here:
The Perfection of Pointillism - this article!
Falling in Love with Floralism – coming soon!
Time to Strip – coming soon!
Conclusion: Impact on the Onlooker - coming soon!