This Painter Finds the Beauty in Bagels

Artist Anna Sanders is dedicated to capturing bagels' gorgeous curves and colors.

Anna Sanders Bagel Paintings
Photo: Courtesy of Anna Sanders

A truly good bagel can be eaten without a second thought, while a bad bagel has the power to absolutely ruin your day. But what about a beautiful bagel? It may have never crossed your mind to take in the colors, curves, and crevices of these parboiled baked goods, but one artist is capturing them in her paintings.

Anna Sanders—who's also a City Hall reporter for the New York Daily News—doesn't exclusively paint bagels, but her series of sliced and shmeared still lifes serves to celebrate their visual appeal. I reached out to Sanders via email to find out everything I could about her bagel art.

Food & Wine: How long have you been painting and how did you get into it?

Anna Sanders: I always enjoyed making art in school, but got back into the hobby as an adult in summer 2016. My therapist suggested I do something "just for me," so I took a four-week watercolor class in DUMBO. I didn't realize what was missing until I took that class. My job can be fairly creative, but taking time away from work and everyday life to make something for no particular reason is deeply relaxing. Painting for the process, not necessarily the result, is very therapeutic and life affirming because it slows down your thoughts while giving you the space to follow your instincts and trust yourself and your brush. Mistakes can and do happen—often. But sometimes those mistakes create something beautiful and unexpected. Painting is a gift to myself.

What is your preferred painting medium?

It really depends what I'm trying to accomplish and the subject of the painting. I use watercolor, varieties of gouache and acrylic, depending on my mood and the supplies I have available. I typically turn to acrylic when I'm embracing the chaos, using thick paint and bright colors. Watercolor is more subdued and harder to control, so I use that medium when I'm in a more patient mood and willing to wait for the water to dry before adding layers of paint. Gouache is somewhere in between acrylic and watercolor for me and I like the flexibility it allows, as well as the more matte finish.

What made you decide to paint that first bagel?

It was New Year's Day and I wanted to start 2020 off by challenging myself to try something different and a little more technically difficult. I don’t usually have the patience for still life, so I thought this could be the year I hone the trial and error needed for it. I was also a tad hungover and there’s nothing better to cure a night of drinking than a New York City bagel. So I ordered two bagels, one to paint and one to eat.

How did bagels become a recurring subject for you?

Several friends wanted to buy the first bagel painting, so I continued to make them and discovered what a versatile subject they are. When I find a subject I enjoy, I also tend to paint it over and over and over again. I’ve gone through phases of avocados, cherry blossoms, beaches, waves, sunflowers, dunes, and lavender.

Let’s talk bagel aesthetics: What elements of a bagel are beautiful or alluring?

The colors and the shape are gorgeous. I love how richly vibrant the baked outer shell can be, where toasty tans and doughy beiges seamlessly blend together. The curve of the dough into itself is also delightfully plump. I find painting curves—on people or objects—more appealing because there’s a fluidity to them that allows for more flexibility than rigid straight edges and lines.

What details do you focus on while you paint them?

I focus most of my attention on color and light, mostly because I personally gravitate toward Impressionist works and like having fun mixing colors while painting. Those are also the two elements that can be the most varied, since most bagels are about the same shape and size.

Is there an element or characteristic that must be accurate to capture the likeness?

The round shape, the hole and the light/shadows are essential to paint realistic bagels. But perspective may be the most important part of any still life and that’s something I still struggle with. I’m trying to add more elements to my paintings so the viewer has a better sense of where the bagel is supposed to be in space.

In your experience, what’s the best medium for capturing bagels?

I like using gouache for most of my bagels because it gives me control over the colors without being too bright and messy.

What is your usual bagel order?

Everything bagel with avocado, egg, and cheese. Sometimes I like to toast the bagel to keep the eggs warm, though I know that's a controversial choice for a fresh bagel in this city.

Has painting your own bagel order revealed anything to you or made you appreciate it more?

I’ve never really appreciated how chaotic everything bagels are! Each one has colors beneath the seeds and salt that are fantastic on their own—but then you have hundreds of little elements on top of that that seem to burst out of the bagel, causing a frenzy of shadows and shapes on top. Those seeds tell their own story, too, and tend to follow the curves of the bagel. Depicting the patterns helps give 2-D bagels their shape.

Are you looking at any or all of your other breakfasts differently?

Sometimes! When you regularly draw or paint, particularly inanimate objects or from human models, you start to look at everything differently. You see how colors change in light, how shadows create faces and the importance of perspective. I’ve caught myself staring at cups of coffee and muffins, mapping out how they’d need to be depicted to look the most realistic. Muffins can be greasy, for instance, which can cause a reflection of light that would have to be included in a painting. Ceramic mugs have all kinds of shadows and the coffee itself has movement that can be conveyed in a painting.

Do you show your work, if so where? Are you planning to show or sell the bagel artwork?

I haven't shown my work anywhere apart from my apartment and social media, though I have sold most of the bagels I've painted. Many of them are specific bagel orders that friends, colleagues and followers have requested. (Everything bagels are the most popular.) I’m open to showing them somewhere in the future and am always interested in selling my work or doing commissions for bagel lovers.

Follow Sanders’ bagel (and other) artwork at

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