In a week where I’m celebrating my habit of daily sketches is this sketch, one of my first. It’s Kelly, Mimi and Cookie enjoying dinner on the evening of December 7, 2011.
Nearly all my daily sketches are “in the moment”, not made from photos and usually not from memory. They catch the real events from our days here, and for that reason, just as photos bring back memories as you flip through them, of that moment and of that time, each of my sketches also brings back memories, but with far more detail. Possibly because they touch many more parts of me.
As I said at the time:
No time for a sketch this morning, the usual time for sketches as warm-ups, but I knew I’d be gone all day, hoping I could get one later.
I knew I wanted to get this one, but also knew I’d have a limited time since they get their bowls before the young animals do and the three girls don’t waste any time once they get to it. I had my sketchbook and pencil on the sink and as soon as I set down the bowls for the kids I got right to the sketch.
Sketches like this one have so many levels of meaning for me, and just as surely as photographs they take me back to a particular time.
I had actually intended to sketch the three of them eating at some point that December; Cookie had been very ill at the end of November and though she recovered, we knew her time was short. I love to feed my cats, I love to watch them eat, all their little quirks and habits, and they are so, so happy when they eat that it’s always a good memory. I loved watching these three girls eat together, my two torties at 19 and 20, so accustomed to the habits of our family meals, and Mimi, who had slipped herself in between to eat with them each day though she was only seven years old. I knew Mimi wanted to share every possible moment with her two fur sisters who had accepted her as family without question when she’d come in from the streets with her kittens, and to take that experience for her later inherited duties as feline household manager.
So I was prepared with an idea and a lot of memories already, but no guarantee the muse would visit me that day, only the hope. Though I photograph my cats plenty of times while they are eating, the sketch is more intimate because I study them in the moments before the sketch, waiting for the inspiration if it should come, letting my eyes move over them until I find the perfect composition that captures that moment. Later, when I look at a sketch, I always remember that moment of inspiration, the instant it all came together when instead of looking at my cats I suddenly visualize the final sketch, decide on medium and paper, and get my materials together as quickly as possible.
Then, because I’m going to actually draw this on a piece of paper, carefully recording with my eyes their posture, the positions of their ears, how they hold their whiskers, the way the light falls on their fur, and million other details of their physical and emotional state so that, with a quick and minimal sketch, I can capture the essence of the scene, letting the image flow from my eyes to my hands and onto the paper in the way that my art happens. That’s a lot of information, and the process of observation and creation embeds the memory more deeply into my soul the way it does all of my artwork, every painting and sketch.
I framed this sketch and it hangs in my kitchen, where I look up at it each day at some point while I’m feeding my current household. And I am grateful for the embedded memories—the way Kelly always stood while she ate all the years she was with me, shuffling her long legs every few seconds to resettle her position and curling the end of her tail, softly folding her ears back just a little as she ate, and the way Cookie crouched and held her tail curving out to the side but often seemed to eat at an angle to her dish; I think she may have been keeping a protective eye on the others. Mimi, the protegé, the representative of the next generation, was there with them, in the middle, becoming a part of the leadership, learning to carry on the management of the household, as she has.
And today, it’s a memory of Cookie and Kelly together in a very happy moment for all of us that could have been from any meal in the years prior.
I look at this now and think, “In the moment I sketched this, Cookie and Kelly were right there, in the fur,” and it all comes back to me. My sketches bring back more tangible memories and I remember exactly the light on their fur, how their soft ears moved around as they ate, how Kelly shuffled and resettled her paws all through the meal, how Mimi still felt a little like an intruder, crouched and and ate quickly in small bites, how Cookie was always at the corner of the group where she could watch everyone while she ate, and see how I recorded it all.
Aside from all the practice for me as an artist, and all the things I’ve done and created with my sketches, this is one other gift I cherish from this process, using one of my personal gifts, making the memories tangible for me. For others these are artwork and images that are enjoyed, though if you’ve known my cats you may have a memory attached to certain sketches as well. But I look through my daily sketches on paper, around my house on my walls, here and on other sites, and I see all those wonderful moments and memories as well as artwork. And oddly, without the felines depicted there, I might not be recording anything at all this way. Perhaps this is part of my thanks to them for the inspiration they have always given me.
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