I recently finished a series of twelve paintings called Bejeweled Cats of the Zodiac. When I was a kid, birthstones and Zodiac signs were popular, not so much as a belief system but just as a pop culture thing. It was with this fond memory of outer space and pretty colors that I embarked on a series of Zodiac cats.
Having never done a true series of paintings before, I should probably confess that I naively jumped right in to this project. It turned out to be a challenge because in order to keep the series consistent I had to work on all twelve paintings at the same time. After an initial setback that involved an unfortunate amount of rework, I ended up with a clear set of themes to tie the twelve pieces together.
The most obvious theme, other than that they are all cats, is the symbols on the necklaces. Each necklace has the Zodiac symbol (as defined by astrology) worked in to the design. Many of the symbols are mirrored in the design (Capricorn, Aquarius, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, and Scorpio), but some are centered (Pisces, Aries, Taurus, Gemini, and Libra), and Sagittarius in particular has a triad design.
The next most highly visible theme is the color of the gems. These colors correspond to monthly birthstones. There is no single official birthstone list so I decided to base my jewels on a Swarovski crystal color chart. I'm a fan of Swarovski and their birthstones are all of distinct colors, which surprisingly enough wasn't the case with many other birthstone charts.
The mix of background colors is a little more subtle. Since birthstones don't correspond exactly to Zodiac signs, I made the nebulae the color of the current birthstone plus the previous month's birthstone. What's really cool about this feature is that it makes the color flow through the entire series. So for example Capricorn (the first zodiac of the year) has garnet red as the primary color, and Aquarius (right next to it) has amethyst purple as the primary color and then garnet red as the secondary color. Each painting in turn has its own primary color and then a secondary color from its neighbor. This effect wraps around from the last painting back to the first, making it an infinite cycle.
Now here's where I have to do a little hand waving. I assigned the birthstone colors based on traditional cultural practices for the Zodiac signs. So for example, the sign of Scorpio traditionally covers birthdays between October 23rd and Nov 21st. However, as of this year the sun doesn't actually enter the constellation of Scorpius until November 22nd. All of the current Zodiac dates are similarly off from the traditional dates, which also completely skips the thirteenth Zodiac constellation of Ophiuchus. I decided to overlook this break with reality given that the series is more about pop culture than science, but I'll admit that it vexes me.
As for the constellations themselves, if you look closely you can see these stars highlighted with an extra glow in each painting. I used planetarium software called Stellarium to create an image of the actual positions of the stars (as seen from my location) and then I manually traced those stars in each individual painting. So while the colors aren't real, the positions of the stars themselves are as close to accurate as I could make them.
The last common theme for this series is the little alien cats that appear in the background. Each painting has one little cat peeking out from behind the primary subject and a second little cat in a spaceship. This addition is clearly just downright silly and is meant to take off any edge of seriousness.
The cats themselves, the primary subjects of it all, they actually came last. That is, I chose the colors of the cats based on what would look good with the pre-determined backgrounds. From there I mixed in different eye colors and coat lengths, and threw in some stripes for good measure. Some of the cat choices have personal meaning to me, but most of them don't, and in order to avoid tainting your own associations with these darling little faces, for now I will leave it at that.
About the Author
Annie Dunn is the artist behind Chaos in Color. She's been a digital painter since 2003 and a scrap paper doodler for her entire life. She's kind of nutty about cats, has an odd affinity for skeletons, and likes to watch period movies on Netflix.