Patricia Fry’s Klepto Cat mystery number 22, A Christmas to Purr About, came around at the end of January so I had plenty of holiday decorations around to use as references. The Ivey family serve the homeless in a church shelter at Christmas and of course mystery and mayhem arise.
Patricia described two ideas she had in mind. First was a scene at a makeshift clinic for the homeless in a church around the holidays, and though it’s intended for humans Rags is there wearing a Santa hat as a sort of therapy animal for the other animals, and calming a frightened pit bull or a couple of chihuahuas or another cat. Second was Rags still wearing the Santa hat with a pouch in his mouth that’s spilling out cash in large bills plus a diamond ring.
We had already shown Rags with a pouch spilling gemstones in Colony Cat Caper and Rags with stacks of money in Meow for the Money. I jumped right on the idea of him comforting a pit bull because I had seen a photo shared by a friend of her somewhat timid but very friendly pit bull peeking out from under the covers, and you know how I love to use photos of animals I know.
From there Patricia and I worked out the details. I have plenty of photos inside veterinary offices and clinics and initially had a countertop with swabs and bottles and such, but that was too busy. How to make it look veterinary without the stuff? I changed the countertop to a familiar stainless exam table and added my trusty old photo of a stethoscope, one of the stock photos I’ve used so many times for ads and illustrations and other book covers and I really can’t remember what else. It just didn’t stand out well around Rags’ neck so I just placed it on the table in the scene and manipulated it so that it worked for the angle I wanted.
Then came Rags and what position he would take while interacting with the dog. I first had touching the dog’s head with his paw, but that didn’t seem like a very cat-like gesture. I had him sniffing or licking the dog’s head, but then you couldn’t see his face. I thought of having him crouch down at the dog’s level, but that left a big empty space right in the middle of the cover. So he’s wearing the Santa hat and looking down at the dog with concern and his paw on the dog’s paw. The model for Rags this time was a certain photo of Mewsette, with a few adjustments of her tail and her lifted paw, and lifting her face just enough to see her eyes.
Then the background, and making it a holiday scene as you’d see in the basement of a church, probably a classroom for Sunday school. I painted this illustration in late January and still had plenty of holiday decorations to photograph as references as well as plenty of photos of holiday decorations already in my collection. A tree in the background big enough to balance the composition would run behind the title and I like to leave that area with a more consistent background so the title shows up better. A smaller one would leave space that needed some interest, so I went for decorations in the room instead. I had initially wanted twinkle lights around a window and possibly a single candle on the windowsill with a tree with lights outside, but it just drew too much attention to itself and still left the composition kind of bare at the top. So I made the window into a small chalkboard with lights around it bearing a teacher’s note to the students, and added some decorations as a garland along the top with little stockings with gifts. That garland finally balanced out the bottom area of the illustration so it didn’t look weak and faded at the top.
Even though I painted this in January it’s kind of like Christmas in late June or early July by the time some of you get to read this. It’s another cover completed, and I’ve actually already finished covers 23 and 24 and will share them soon. You can find A Christmas to Purr About 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. and A Christmas to Purr About.
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.
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.
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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! —