Marketplace: Supporting a Small Business

Kublai, my lighting director.
Kublai, my lighting director, the first cat photo in my house, 1990.

When you work with a small business or purchase from a small business you are putting your money directly into the economy, and you are directly contributing to the welfare and life of an individual and their family. I love being a small business owner not just because I can make my own rules and wear jammies all day—actually my customers make the rules and jammies are embarassing when customers come calling—but because of the flexibility I have to meet my customers’ needs and special requests, the cool new things I get to learn, and what I can do for the economy and other small businesses in return. The first week in May is National Small Business Week and I celebrate what small businesses bring to our lives, our community and our economy, and I thank each one of you who has purchased from me as a small business.

Cookie my art assistant, at age one!
Cookie my art assistant, at age one, 1993!

Twenty-five years ago this year I started the process of building the business I am still working and promoting today, as I mentioned in yesterday’s post about my very first commissioned portrait. Seventeen years ago, I fulfilled a big part of the overall plan that I had worked a decade to reach when, for the first time in forever, I stayed home to go to work. Even considering the wild ride these years have been, I wouldn’t reconsider my decision. I love everything I’ve had the chance to do, all the people I’ve met, and all the businesses and organizations I’ve helped to succeed as a commercial artist. In return they’ve helped me, too, as every assignment has also been a lesson, and every accomplishment another level of confidence and credibility.

two orange kittens
Timmy plays with Smudge’s tail; Smudge studiously ignores him, 1994.

I remember the 1990s after I had bought my little house and done a good bit of fixing-up, and all I wanted to do was stay here and enjoy what I’d accomplished so far. When I left for work each day I’d stop at the door and look at my office with its new windows, new paint, my art on the walls and carry that vision with me as I left for another day of unknown length and content working as a typesetter for a direct mail company.

Every evening my cats would settle around me at my computer while I designed books and print materials as a freelancer or worked on my next sketch or painting and planned out upcoming art exhibits. Even my fosters assisted with this, upstairs in my studio, which was my foster room.

Sun-Ra on my work table supervising me.
Sun-Ra on my work table supervising me, 1997.

I remember checking my voice mail at home while I was at work that last autumn I was at my day job, and listened to the message from the small press publisher who’d found my art online. He had an idea for a book that incorporated text and art, and he liked the style of my pastels and how I treated animals in my paintings, and he also saw that I was a graphic designer and freelanced as a book designer. He wanted me to illustrate and design the book.

That one call was “it”. I had been freelancing full time nights and weekends as well as carrying a schedule of new paintings and art exhibits monthly and was still working full time, but knew the time was near. I could live on what I made from the book publishers and the other customers I had at the time, one of them a home builder who had me create artist’s renderings of his house plans and flyers from that. The art sales were gravy. My office was set up, my car was paid off and the only other debt was my mortgage, money in the bank, health insurance and retirement set up. But was I really ready? I only needed one good nudge. That call was it.

two old cats
Stanley and Moses curled together at the foot of my easel, 2003.

By the end of 1999, I had gone from designing and proofreading to buying print at my day job, which gave me an immense background in printing processes, printing papers and costs and scheduling, the final touch for what I needed to succeed in my business.

And in those last few years, when I paused at the door before I left, it wasn’t just to dream of working here, but to look forward to the reality of working in this lovely room I’d created surrounded by my artwork and supervised by my cats, and outside of my windows, my vegetable and flower gardens, the birds in the trees, the skies and the seasons.

desk with six cats
Desk with six cats, taken in 2006, but typical of my desk at any given time.

My felines were there for me, unconditionally, at the end of a long day at the computer; above, my desk in summer 2006 featuring Stanley curled next to Sophie, Kelly bathing, Namir and Cookie curled in front of me and Peaches having a good scratch on the file cabinet, six cats and not one of them black….

…or when I came home from a long day at one hospital or another, or a day of doctor appointments for my mother or brother, or just a long night with a big project, as below in the summer of 2010.

It’s 3:00 a.m., do you know where your human is? 2010

And yes, Stanley and Moses and Cookie and Sophie and Namir and Kelly and Nikka were very glad I just quit going to work one day, and we’ve never looked back. I’m so glad I was home for their last years.

Oddly enough, one of the benefits of working at home has been to be able to be with my cats as they age and as they have passed. I know that I’ve been able to prolong their lives with a good quality to each day, and keep them comfortable at the end, because I was here to do what they needed. And I’ve been able to write about those experiences and everyday occurrences with this household of felines in hopes that I can help other cat owners in small and large decisions about cat care.

Tortie Girls reporting for work.
Tortie Girls reporting for work, 2011.

It wasn’t until 2010 that I began making things to sell. I hesitated in this tiny house to let myself pull out my yarns and paints and ideas and start making a mess. Before that I had a few note cards and I painted portraits and had no space to work and no place to store things, but I carved out a spot and began with crochet items and prints of my artwork, and once I began there was no stopping me. Because of that I’ve also been able to follow my inspirations and develop a virtual shop full of things my cats have inspired. Following those inspirations has developed my skills so that I am a better artist, a better illustrator, and a better crafter, finally fulfilling my goals of confidence in creating what I visualized, no matter what its intent.

Meet my quality control team: Mewsette, Giuseppe and Jelly Bean inspect each card.
Meet my quality control team: Mewsette, Giuseppe and Jelly Bean inspect each card, 2013.

I largely work with other small businesses to create my merchandise, whether I’m making it or they are, like the local family-owned chain of art supply and craft supply stores and the small woman-owned, family-run printing business that does most of my printing for my own materials and for my customers. We all support each other, and in the same way I work to meet my customers’ ideas for a project, they work to meet mine as well, and we all look out for each others’ costs, celebrate each others’ successes and console each others’ hard times.

Mimi assures your orders are purr-fect.
Mimi assures your orders are purr-fect, 2016.

Each thing I offer for sale begins with an inspiration from my life and goes through the hands of several other small businesses before it’s completed. When you purchase from me, it goes to keep a roof over my felines’ head and mine, to feed us and keep the utilities on, to support what I do to help cats whether I’m fostering or trapping or promoting the Homeless Cat Management Team, to buy materials to move on with the next customer project or the next idea I have, and so in turn your purchase supports many others as well. You can see what I do here every day—and especially on the days when I don’t get the chance to post because that’s when I’m so engaged in one of these activities that I have to come back and report later.

Me and Cookie! Copyright © Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 2012, all rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.
Me and Cookie! Copyright © Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 2012, all rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

So while I’m constantly sending you messages about products and sales and events, in a big way I’m not only encouraging you to purchase things so we can keep the lights on, but also engaging you in our lives here, and sharing the life of a creative person, and helping support others in their careers too. No day job was ever going to make me happily stay up all night or wake me up in the morning full of ideas like this one does.

I’m hoping to be able to move forward with new ideas that I’ve been planning to enact for the past several years including some more advanced screen printing equipment to make my own screens and a heat press, a way to really waterproof my basement so I can set up a printing shop down there for screen and block printing in addition to my woodworking shop so that my tools don’t rust, and to purchase other equipment like a die cutting machine, a larger and more advanced printer, and, honestly, just the time to sit down and spend time writing and editing my stories, anthologizing ones I’ve already written and writing the new ones. And then to promote all of these things better than I can afford to do right now.

With all that took extra time in the past decade or so with family it was nearly impossible to build up a savings as I’d planned and I’ve been hoping to sell enough fast enough, or to find a way to invest in these projects to see these new ideas come to life, but it’s moving very slowly. I’ve been considering a GoFundMe sort of thing but I’m just not sure I’m up to that. So the more you purchase, the sooner you get to see these new ideas I have.

You may also see this little graphic at the bottom of some posts and in my sidebar if you are on a computer. If you can’t find anything to purchase on Portraits of Animals but you’d still like to support my continued growth as a business the button below leads to a link to Paypal. I will use your money wisely, and I won’t disappoint. Thank you!

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Kelly the Studio Cat supervising my work from the studio windowsill.
Kelly the Studio Cat supervising my work from the studio windowsill, 2011.

Kelly the Studio Cat supervising my work from the studio windowsill, 2011.

Take a look at other new merchandise and featured artwork.

Marketplace is a feature on The Creative Cat to share the latest coming out of my studio with my readers. Once a week on Thursday I feature something new in my “shop”.

Read about creating custom items

Find out more about creating custom items for your own home using the images you see here. Visit the “Ordering Custom Art” page to see samples and read bout how to order.

Find out about events and festivals where you can find me and my work.

Sign up for my e-newsletter (below), check the widget on the sidebar on my home page, or sign up to receive posts on Portraits of Animals Marketplace. I plan on plenty of events this coming summer in the Pittsburgh area.

It’s all done under the close and careful supervision of my studio cats!

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Browse some rescued cats and kittens!

Gifts Featuring Cats You Know!

Inspired by felines you know! Visit Portraits of Animals!

Handmade and made from my designs, gifts from Portraits of Animals!

Jelly Bean has a sudden inspiration and reaches for the brushes.
Jelly Bean has a sudden inspiration and reaches for the brushes.

Visit my gallery of handmade and gifts to see what’s available on 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.

© 2017 | | Published by Bernadette E. Kazmarski

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!



Inspire Me Monday

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From health and welfare to rescue and adoption stories, advocacy and art, The Creative Cat offers both visual and verbal education and entertainment about cats for people who love cats. From catchy and creative headlines to factual articles and fictional stories, The Creative Cat provides constant entertainment and important information to people who love cats, pets and animals of all species.

2 thoughts on “Marketplace: Supporting a Small Business

  • May 7, 2017 at 9:11 am

    What a wonderful journey Bernadette! I so admire all you’ve accomplished and it’s so wonderful you can do it with such lovely assistants helping you by your side! Purrs from Deb and the Zee/Zoey gang

    • May 7, 2017 at 8:13 pm

      Thanks, Deb! I know it’s been a journey for you too, and your beautiful family has also inspired you in the same way. Happy Small Business Week to you too!


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