It’s daisy time, and July is also the time I remember Namir, so it’s time to feature this little sketch, “Conversation With a Daisy”, and the reference photos I used to create it.
I planted Shasta daisies the spring I moved in here, and before long my back yard was a field of daisies. They became a naturalized part of my backyard wildlife habitat, blooming where they pleased.
Unlike the native oxeye daisies, the Shastas had l-o-o-o-ng stemps and were easily bent or knocked down. I’ve always brought vases of cat-safe flowers indoors, and in late June and early July I always had a vase of bent up daisies in the kitchen. So, in June 2003, I had carried in an armload of my Shasta daisies that had been knocked over in a summer storm and put them in the crystal vase on the kitchen cabinet, always a risk in a house of cats who ate nearly all green things but who considered freshly-cut flowers a special treat. They were kind of a sorry sight but I thought they were beautiful.
Namir thought they were worth investigating, especially the one that had been bent and was facing downward. But by the time I got my camera, this is what I got.
I snapped several photographs, but he would not stretch himself out again and sniff that daisy! “I already did that, I don’t have to do it again, cats only sniff things once and then they know all about them,” he said. So much for me, but I know how to get my models into the positions I need, and this one was easy: hold any object above his head in about the position the daisy had been—snap! If you look closely in a couple of the photos below you’ll see a twig coming in from the left edge.
I made sure I got that lovely curve of his back, and that all his stripes were clear. I decided right then and there that I would draw this in pencil, not make a watercolor painting as I’d been thinking. I could see the pencil marks and the blending.
But I still didn’t get the position I’d wanted for the actual sniff.
Art for a benefit, creating the drawing and raffling it off for veterinary costs
It was December 2004 before I did the drawing. Namir was about 10 years old and my veterinarian and I had been watching his heart murmur since he’d come to me in 1996. But in 2002, years before his heart murmur worsened, he began to develop cystitis with occasional partial blockages and bloody urine, but he had no crystals and his urine was a normal pH. That’s what they call “idiopathic cystitis” because nothing could diagnose it so finding an appropriate treatment was impossible.
In November 2004 he actually blocked and needed to be hospitalized. I decided to do the sketch and frame it, then raffle it off on my website and among friends, and at the little shop room I had above a friend’s business at that time. So I sat down with the idea and photos, decided I still needed the head position I liked so much, got him to get his head in that position by holding a stick over him and did a few quick sketches of him on another piece of paper. Then I transferred that by eye to the actual drawing. Needing money to pay a veterinary bill can be a great incentive to push your boundaries, and that it did, and I did sell the sketch and several prints for enough to almost cover his costs. At the end of this article I have more information on his condition and the aftermath.
I had initially seen this as a sweet little watercolor, but I kept following that first visualization in pencil. I call pencil “my first and favorite medium”. My mother was a newspaper crossword puzzle fan and I’ve been sketching in pencil since I picked up one of her readily-sharpened No. 2 pencils with the yellow paint and the pink eraser and began to make lines on one of her lined 3″ x 5″ index cards. I actually remember doing this and watching myself make the lines; I have no idea how old I was but I believe I was in kindergarten or first grade. Fast forward a few years and I sat on our dining room table looking out the window at the gnarled crabapple tree in the snow, No. 2 pencil in hand and a piece of blank paper, trying capture the bare tree against the snow, learning the many things a pencil could do.
And from that beginning I often say that “I can speak in pencil”, that what goes in my eyes and comes out the tip of the pencil has very little logical translation much as you would speak fluently in more than one language. I see the scene, and I see the pencil drawing. That’s also one of the reasons you’ll see so many of my daily sketches in pencil, and I have a huge body of works in pencil featuring my cats, commissioned portraits, wildlife, landscapes, waterscapes and flowers.
So when I saw Namir stretching his entire slender self up toward a downward-facing daisy I looked at his crisp gray fur with its muted stripes, his graceful curving figure, the simplicity of the daisies and immediately decided I had to do a pencil sketch and would call it “Conversation With a Daisy”.
When I look at scenes like my kitchen it’s when I really mean it when I say, “That’s why we have art.” I can use only what I need of the original scene, and still you see my point of inspiration, plus no one really needs to see my cluttered little kitchen. But it’s not only about being able to leave things out; these choices are part your aesthetic decision about what’s truly important to your statement. In this case, it was Namir’s exploration of the daisy, and briefly I considered leaving out the bunch of daisies and the vase too, but I liked the interaction between his shape and the vase.
Working in pencil I can also express details either with strength, like Namir’s fur, using both texture and opacity for you to understand what I see, or with subtlety, like the barely outlined curve of his cheek and the whisps of his whiskers curving upward toward the daisy in curiosity, just enough quick lines to see the fur on the curve of his chest.
One of the things I enjoy about pencil is the expressiveness of the lines you can make, and this simple drawing makes use of not only a soft pencil lead similar to that old No. 2 but also harder leads that make lighter but cleaner lines, and I’ve also used the point of an extremely sharp pencil, a slightly dulled pencil and the full side of the pencil to create detail and texture, and even combinations of all of these in one simple line as you can see rounding his left whisker pad, above.
I do love flowers, and I don’t give myself enough of a chance to draw and paint them—partly because I’m usually outside tending to them instead. But in this case, along with comparing the two shapes of Namir and the vase, it was another reason to include the vase of daisies in the drawing. As with Namir, I didn’t draw every daisy in the vase or even every petal, in fact they are a little rough and sketchy up close, but overall you get the sense of daisies when you look at them. I looked for the details that stood out most to me, and that was the stems with their tiny leaves, and the positions of the flowers and their petals.
And I also don’t take enough time to sketch just everyday objects, though I study and photograph them all the time. How to work with the complexity of a bunch of daisy stems refracted through the facets of flowers and leaves cut into the crystal vase? Again, look for shadows and light, and recognizable shapes.
I sketched this in 2004 and framed it then. Namir’s idiopathic cystitis began causing issues as his heart murmur increased, he began to suffer occasional bladder infections and needed to be hospitalized and catheterized, not from the usual crystals in his urine, but because of swelling, somewhere along the line. My veterinarian and others who treated him guessed that he’d picked up a herpes virus when he’d been an outdoor unneutered kitty at the beginning of his life and it settled somewhere in his bladder instead of his upper respiratory tract as they usually do.
His condition continued on. Because of his heart murmur and developing hypertrophic cardiomyopathy we had to be extra careful of any treatments and of the possible retention of fluid since he was already showing some fluid build up around his heart. In August 2005 he suffered his first round of congestive heart failure and this persistent bladder issue was a huge concern, but after he’d been on a diuretic for a while he would still have infections and urinary issues, but never came near blocking again. Not sure if trading one thing for the other was worth it, but with all that Namir managed to live to be 15 years old with his sense of humor fully intact. No one who met him ever had any idea that his health was so precarious, and for all the really painful treatments he endured, all the veterinarians and technicians at the specialist and emergency hospital welcomed him for a “visit” and I often read in his medical reports how he loved “face scunches” and kisses, and how he sat on someone’s desk and laid all over the papers.
Where to find this sketch
As I mentioned above, I raffled off the original sketch to pay for Namir’s veterinary expenses, but I have prints and notecards with this image.
I offer prints as:
- digital prints on matte-finish art paper
- giclees on art paper
- on canvas in standard sizes
- as framed prints, as shown, and custom framing is available
You can find this art and more on Portraits of Animals.
I also have this sketch in a set of notecards called “Feline Sketches”, a collection of this and other pencil sketches from years past offset printed on acid-free cream cover with matching envelopes as well as writing paper. You’ll also see memo pads, but I only have a few left and I need to reprint.
These cards are printed offset, meaning that ink is applied to a plate, and that plate is applied to the piece of paper, not the type of digital reproduction I use for my full-color cards and prints. Pencil is not truly black, and when I’d reproduced my pencil sketches using ink in the past they often looked like charcoal sketches instead.
When I had these printed the printer and I did tests to match the ink to the pencil drawings and used Warm Gray 9 ink instead of black ink and I’m very pleased with the outcome. In this one, Namir’s fur looks just like Namir’s fur did, and it looks so much like my original sketch that, printed on the same cream paper, it’s hard to tell them apart.
A few veterinary hospitals purchase my animal sympathy cards, and while they also purchase the more designed 5″ x 7″ greeting cards, a few also choose a selection of these, and I use them as well myself.
You can purchase a set here browse these note cards and more on or Portraits of Animals.
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.
Photos From the Archives and Vintage Photos
On the weekends I feature older photos of my feline household.
Photos pulled From the Archives were taken by one or another digital camera of mine between 2002 and, well, yesterday, but usually they are older than that, and I had never had the chance to feature them.
Vintage Photos of my household of cats from days gone by were taken on film with my Pentax K-1000.
They’re a fun way to “introduce” other members of my feline family who came and went before I began blogging, and to illustrate my feline family from about 1983 when I purchased my camera.
Gifts featuring cats you know! Visit Portraits of Animals
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:
Sunday: Essays, Pet Loss, Poetry, The Artist’s Life
Monday: Adoptable Cats, TNR & Shelters
Tuesday: Rescue Stories
Wednesday: Commissioned Portrait or Featured Artwork
Thursday: New Merchandise
Friday: Book Review, Health and Welfare, Advocacy
Saturday: Your Backyard Wildlife Habitat, Living Green With Pets, Creating With Cats
And sometimes, I just throw my hands in the air and have fun!
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