I painted a very special portrait recently, special because it was commissioned as a gift for a friend’s significant birthday, a friend who I know as well, and because it was to include all the cats with whom she had shared her life to date AND include the red maple outside the window seen in so many photos of her cats, to carry a memory of a happy place far into the future.
Some of you readers may recognize these cats, so I will tell you here that the recipient was Ingrid King of The Conscious Cat. It was commissioned by her friend Kathy. In 2010, Ingrid had commissioned me to paint a portrait of Kathy’s kitty Peaches who had miraculously recovered from a mysterious illness as her amaryllis bloomed just before Christmas, a wonderful gift. Kathy wanted to return the favor for Ingrid’s birthday, and even though they had pledged to not exchange gifts she felt it was important to do so for this one event.
“The idea was for her to see her home, her companion animals and the love that was behind the gesture,” Kathy said. “I knew that you had to be the one as I derived and still receive joy on a daily basis with the portrait that she commissioned for me.”
Kathy let me know of her idea in April, and it began with a painting of Ingrid’s house because of the red maple and its presence in her yard, with the cats in the windows. I’ve done that, though, and the animals always end up far too small or the painting has to be quite large. We discussed narrowing it down the just the maple and the window behind it, with the cats in that window. No one had a photo of the maple in autumn though, but friends went to get photos of just the house and the tree and I could leaf it out.
Another friend sent images of cat art Ingrid had considered and also purchased, and that changed my idea completely. Rather than tie it to strict reality, let’s just include the window with the brilliant tree outside, lots of sunlight, minimal curtains, and all the cats together as if they were really there.
Painting a portrait is one thing, but design comes first in my process with a portrait like this because each set of details, each cat, the window, curtains, everything would be built from one or more photos. Through the years I’ve designed things for Ingrid including bookmarks, a book cover, holiday cards and graphics for her Facebook page, all of which included her cats, so I knew her cats pretty well and had photos of them already, and had some experience designing for her. In 2017 Ingrid commissioned me to paint a landscape to give to a friend as well so I also had experience creating art for her in Kathy’s portrait and the landscape painting.
Initially I had wanted one or more of the cats to be on one level and the rest on a lower level, but couldn’t figure out how to do that without adding something like a cat tree, which I really didn’t want to add to the composition I had in mind, it would be another object, and distracting. I just wanted the beautiful window, the tree, the cats. So even though the window wasn’t wide enough I chose to modify it so that it accommodated all the cats on about the same level. That window does include the fleecy hammock loved by many kitties, so one cat could be in that, leaving only four to fit on the widened windowsill. I began looking for the best photo with the kitty in the hammock, and knew there was one of Allegra that as a bonus also had the tree in the background.
I started with that window, that tree, those curtains and built the background in Photoshop to make sure I kept everything in proportion. The window in the portrait is obviously wider, but I felt I could take artistic license with this to make it work. I straightened the angle of the window, made it wider, placed the tree in the background, and sketched in the curtains and was ready for the cats.
I added Allegra in the hammock, then went in search of photos of the other cats to fit in the composition. I found what Ingrid had commented was her favorite photo of Amber and Buckley, and it was so perfect for the composition, even with the lighting, and for the two girls, I knew it was meant to be.
The photo of Ruby was likewise perfect because at least one of the cats had to be sitting up, and this photo of her had her at the perfect angle, including the right lighting.
Feebee was a little more difficult because I knew of only one photo of Feebee and didn’t want to chance tipping off Ingrid that anything was up by asking for another photo of him out of the blue.
When I compose individual subjects I still need several photos to have all the details I need, even if I have one good pose. I had intentionally placed Feebee behind Allegra and the hammock, but I still had to fill in quite a bit more of him. In that case I choose another cat who resembles the one I’m working on, in this case I chose Moses because I had a photo of her in just about the position I wanted him to be in, and he resembled her so much I felt a connection between the two.
As I’ve been doing when I create portraits or illustrations from many photos, I created the composite in Photoshop, then transferred it to my drawing paper and painted a watercolor wash to be able to find my way around, and to help darken in and brighten up areas before I laid down the pastels. Then I began to work with my larger soft pastel sticks and worked my way down to the sharpened pastel pencils, the tree first, then the cats from left to right, then the curtains and the wall below.
Here are detail images of each of the cats. Click on any image to see an enlarged version.
After the day I painted the tree we all had magenta paws for all the shades of pastel dust that blew off onto the floor.
I love all the portraits I create. I have to, or I’d never hand them over. If I find a section that gives me trouble, I have to work it out. Often there are details I don’t care for, but I determine if that’s me putting my will on something, or if the thing I don’t care for is supposed to be that way. But I enjoy working on them all the way through. I never work on two at the same time because I want to focus not only on my composition, but on the subjects as well, and see what communications they can give me. I have always told my portrait customers that at one point I put away the photos and references and just do the finishing work. After all the time I’ve spent I must know my composition and my subjects pretty well in order to get those final details in there, and in that time of working I find I’ve done things I hadn’t even planned—added colors, changed eye shape a bit, added an ear tilt—and the person who loved that pet will tell me that was exactly the way it was. That information comes from somewhere, and I’m sure the animals, living or beyond, feel my call and let me know.
I told Ingrid after she’d received it this was a portrait I will always love. It took many hours including designing the layout, but the week I painted it was the most perfect early May weather and I worked from start to finish without a hitch, like running out of a critical color of pastel, or needing to rework an area. I listened to my favorite new age music and to Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea series while I worked; listening to a story while I work, following a plot, helps me keep the part of my imagination focused that tends to wander and distract me. Because everything went so well, I knew it would be good. Each day I looked at what I’d accomplished and was happy.
Each of the cats was different in how they communicated too. Buckley was the happiest and was so easy to paint that she went by too quickly, I wanted to spend more time with her but didn’t want to over work her. Amber was reticent and I had a little difficulty with her markings, but we got along fine in time. Feebee seemed happy having Moses as a model, and Allegra and Ruby were as if they were in the room with me. I framed it and sent it off to Kathy.
No matter how I feel about a portrait, it isn’t complete until the animals’ loved ones approve, so I waited to hear from Kathy or Ingrid, or both. Ingrid shared it on Facebook and tagged me, and then I messaged with her later. I would never print what someone said with out asking so I asked both Kathy and Ingrid to let me know what I could say. Kathy’s comments are above, where she commissioned me, and here is what Ingrid had to say:
This painting represents so much for me: the gift of friendship. The love of all of the cats in my life, both past and present. My beloved maple tree, who is like a member of the family to me. Bernadette captured all of it – the friendship, the cats, the tree – perfectly. Not only did she capture all of these elements visually, she captured the spiritual essence of it all. When I look at the painting, I don’t just see the cats, the window and the tree. I actually feel the presence of the cats who have passed on – it’s like they’re sitting by that very window again, as if they had never left. I viscerally sense the peace that my tree always brings me, especially in the fall, when it turns this spectacular red color. I hung it in my bedroom, next to the “real” window, and I love that it now infuses the room with that warm, red glow all year long, not just those few days in the fall when the tree is at its peak.
Thank you to both Kathy and Ingrid for giving me your comments, but especially thanks to you both for the opportunity to create this gift and to get to know these cats and this beautiful space.
Mother’s and Father’s Day Commissioned Portrait Special
I’m offering 25% off the purchase of a portrait certificate or a commissioned portrait that is booked between now and June 30, 2018, whether it’s for mother, father, grandparents or any of those special persons who encouraged your love of animals, even for yourself. Use the coupon code MOTHERSFATHERSDAY25. Read more here.
I also feature artwork which has not been commissioned, especially my paintings of my own cats. If you’d like to read more about artwork as I develop it, about my current portraits and art assignments and even historic portraits and paintings, I feature commissioned portrait or other piece of artwork on Wednesday. Choose the categories featured artwork.
Take a look at other portraits and read other stories
Read articles on The Creative Cat featuring current and past commissioned portraits.
Read about how I create commissioned portraits.
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Visit my website to see portraits of my cats, commissioned cats, commissioned dogs, people and a demonstration of how I put a portrait together from photos.
Download a Brochure
My brochure is an 8.5″ x 11″ two-page full-color PDF that half-folds when it’s all printed out, showing examples of portraits with an explanation of my process and basic costs.
Purchase a Gift Certificate
I offer gift certificates for portraits in any denomination beginning at $50.00, which is the basic cost of a small monochromatic portrait.
The certificate itself is 8.5″ x 11″ and features a collage of portrait images with the recipient’s and giver’s names, printed on parchment cover stock. The whole thing is packaged in a pocket folder and includes a brochure, a letter from me to the recipient and several business cards.The certificate package can be easily mailed or wrapped as a gift and shipped directly to your recipient.
I can also make it downloadable if you’re in a hurry.
Certificates are good for up to one year after issue.
You can purchase gift certificates here or from Portraits of Animals if you are also purchasing other animal-inspired merchandise.
I prefer to look over the work and price the portrait according to how much work will go into it, as described above, but you can either set a budget or get started by purchasing a certificate for yourself or as a gift.
How to Order
- “Certificate A” is for a minimum-size 8 x 10 black and white or monochromatic portrait with one subject.
- “Certificate B” is for a minimum-size 8 x 10 color portrait with one subject.
- Choose “A” or “B” depending on whether your portrait is black and white or color.
- If your portrait will be larger or have more subjects, add $50 or $100 or more to your certificate value with the drop-down below.
CERTIFICATE A $50.00
- Size: 8 x 10
- Subjects: One
- Color: black and white media such as charcoal, pencil, ink, or monochromatic media such as one color of pastel, watercolor, colored pencil, etc.
- Background or objects: none but shading or colored paper
CERTIFICATE B $100.00
- Size: 8 x 10
- Subjects: One
- Color: full color media such as pastel, watercolor, colored pencil, etc.
- Background or objects: none but a color or colored paper
Add to your certificate purchase
You can use the second drop down to add $50.00 or $100.00. For amounts over this we’d probably have a conversation and I can set up a custom certificate for your purchase.
You only need to enter an address if it is different from the address I’ll receive when you order. These are often surprise gifts and need to be shipped away from the home address to make sure they are a surprise.
Gifts featuring cats you know! Visit Portraits of Animals
Great Rescues Day Book:
Portraits, Rescue Stories, Holidays and Events, Essential Feline Information, All in One Book
Each month features one of my commissioned portraits of a feline or felines and their rescue story along with a kitty quote on the left page, and on the right page the month name with enough lines for all possible dates, with standard holidays and animal-themed observances and events. Great Rescues also includes a mini cat-care book illustrated with my drawings including information on finding strays or orphaned kittens, adopting for the first time or caring for a geriatric cat, a list of household toxins and toxic plants, or helping stray and feral cats and beginning with TNR.
Each book includes also 10 sheets of my “22 Cats” decorative notepaper with a collage of all the portraits in black and white so you can make your own notes or write special notes to friends.
The portraits in this book, collected as a series, won both a Certificate of Excellence and a Muse Medallion in the 2011 Cat Writers’ Association Annual Communication Contest, as well as the 22 Cats Notepaper mentioned below.
All images and text used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission, although links to your site are more than welcome and are shared. Please ask if you are interested in using and image or story in a print or internet publication. If you are interested in purchasing a print of an image or a product including it, check my animal and nature website Portraits of Animals to see if I have it available already. If you don’t find it there, visit Ordering Custom Artwork for more information on a custom greeting card, print or other item.
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Weekly schedule of features:
Tuesday: Rescue Stories
Thursday: New Merchandise
And sometimes, I just throw my hands in the air and have fun!