A spiral staircase, a ragged old belfry, a raven, and a bunch of black cats!
I was still working on cover number 23 when Patricia sent me a photo she’d taken of a spiral staircase and told me the next book would have a spiral staircase in it. I had seen a photo of the top of a decorative spiral staircase with old walls and shared it with her.
When cover number 24, Cats in the Belfry, came around Patricia wrote that there needed to be “3 or 4 black cats on it and, of course Rags. Black cats—right up your alley, right? There should also be a raven. The spiral staircase goes up to a bell tower in an old—old, abandoned seminary.”
I realized the photo I’d shared was horizontal and it wasn’t even the right perspective, so I was going to have to create a whole new image to fit the front of a vertical cover, and before I went placing any cats I was going to have to get that staircase issue resolved. So I gathered images of spiral staircases and old walls and windows in abandoned buildings and made up the rest and meshed it all together.
I pulled together a bunch of stock photos.
I had to decide where the cats and the raven would fit into the composition. Since the nature of a spiral staircase in a belfry in an old abandoned seminary tends to be rather dark and gray and brown and all the animals were black except Rags, who was gray, I had to build a lot of light areas into the composition and, though I’d really wanted to use the ornate railing, I knew I also had to simplify the details. I’d originally pictured all the animals being in the light area at the top, but when we had to go vertical I decided that Rags would be at the top and the black cats would be in various stages of climbing the steps. In order to be large enough the raven would also have to be at the top and in a prominent place, so I used the railings.
The model for Rags for this cover was one of our community cats, Perry, because the photo his caretaker had sent to me was perfect except that he was behind a chain link fence. No problem, I could work that out. Then as I worked him in and saw the way the light fell on his face I decided to keep it, and make it seem as if there was a window shining down onto that area with the raven and the cat at the top of the steps.
Then there were the black cats, and task of slogging through a decade of photos…but actually I knew exactly which three I would use, and they all turned out to be Mewsette. I wanted to be able to show their faces so it turned out only one would actually be walking. I remembered the photo of Mewsette trying to create art with my matboard, and modified her shape to fit the curve of the steps. Then two photos of Mewsette looking up at me so you could see their faces.
I outlined them on the steps, then added a little extra light around the area they would be sitting or walking, then added the one at the bottom and more light coming in on that level, then filled them in with appropriate highlights.
Fore the raven, I used two of my photos of of grackles, one for body and one for head, then added the specific heaviness and slightly roughened feathers of a raven, and then a few highlights.
Yes, did have fun with this one! And I’m just composing number 25 and it’s just as fun! Wait until you see it.
You can find Cats in the Belfry on Amazon.com.
About the illustration materials
I don’t use paper for most of these illustrations but chose Ampersand brand Pastelbord, which is a piece of Masonite with a very fine clay and marble-dust coating that has very little texture but holds layers of pastel so I can both do my finger-painting thing with blending softer pastels and sketch with harder pastels and pastel pencils, and it stand up well to multiple changes. I began the painting with soft pastels to cover the major areas with layers of color. I finished up the details and edges with pastel pencils.
But once I began working out the covers with all this Victorian detail like PAWSitively Sinister, I needed a little assistance in keeping the details in order so it didn’t take me until next year to do the painting. I used a self-prepared paper with a very fine surface texture and not entirely opaque so I could put it on my light table and trace the details in place and even draw on the light table with pastel pencils. These illustrations are 8″ x 10″ and the books are 5″ x 8″. Because the illustration is reduced in size it’s easy to lose details so I can’t go too big, and especially when working with patterns it’s important nothing is out of place or it’s immediately noticeable. Getting all the details just right on an illustration like this interior with cats can be tricky when it’s this small. The risk with this paper is that the surface is delicate and actually drawing too hard will remove the roughened texture and I’ll have a hole in my drawing! But it’s great fun to take my Photoshop composite and turn it into a painting.
About these book covers
I’ve illustrated a total of 19 covers for Patricia. You can see them below, but unfortunately you can’t click on the images to go to the article and read more about them. Use these links instead: Catnapped, Cat-Eye Witness, Sleight of Paw, Undercover Cat, The Colony Cat Caper, The Corral Cat Caper, Gallery Cat Caper, Mansion of Meows, Celebrity Cat Caper, Pawtners in Crime, Pawsitively Sinister, The Purrfect Lie, A Picture Purrfect Christmas, Meow for the Money, Claws for a Cause, Cabin FURvor, A MEOWvelous Witness, Cats in Cahoots, The Amazing CATventure, By Crook or By Cat, Merriment, Mayhem and Meows, A Christmas to Purr About, Cattywampus Travels. and Cats in the Belfry.
CWA Certificate of Excellence for “Illustration: Series”
For two years in a row my illustrations for the Klepto Cat Mysteries have won Certificates of Excellence in the Cat Writers’ Association’s annual communications contest. The covers included in these awards include covers 9 through 20, or Mansion of Meows through By Cat or By Crook.
All books are available in electronic format and most for print on Amazon.com as well as find the print versions on Patricia’s website. Reviews have been good, and a few reviewers have even mentioned the covers! I hope you enjoy these books, and Patricia and I are currently working on the next cover. That woman can write!
When we finished book 12 we also updated the two-sided bookmark that includes all twelve books so far which Patricia can hand out at book signings and book shows.
We’ve also printed two runs of note cards from three of the covers.
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Read more about book covers I’ve designed. Also, click here to read more about the Purrs of Wisdom cover and bookmarks, and also about books I’ve designed on my blog, What’s New?
Are you interested in illustrations or a book cover, or book design? Please contact me, I’ll be happy to discuss your project.
Each week on Wednesday I feature a piece of artwork, sometimes a current or historic portrait, sometimes an illustration or an art project from years ago, usually cat-themed, but sometimes wildlife or even non-animal subjects, and even projects from my commercial art life. Read other Featured Artwork posts.
Custom Commissioned Artwork and Illustrations from Portraits of Animals
From Animal Portraits to Book Covers to Advertisements
In addition to creating commissioned portraits beloved animal companions for the past 25 years I’ve also been a commercial artist since the 1980s both full-time and freelance and created many illustrations, book covers, advertisements, display signs and more. Visit my Commissioned Artwork pages to read more. They are not quite complete at the moment but there is still quite a bit to look at.
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! —