Yesterday I told the rescue story of little Augie, the kitty in the center of this portrait, and a little about her sisters, Percy and Ebi. Today I’ll tell you more about them, and about their portrait.
The initial reason for wanting a portrait was to remember Augie, her brief life and the impact on her household, and in this of course they wanted to include their original girls Percy and Ebi, unrelated but adopted together from the Animal Rescue League in Pittsburgh. While the three girls were friends, especially Percy and Ebi, there were no photos of them all together so—twist my arm—I had to visit and we had to look at cat pictures to find the ones we wanted to use, and then I could take others of Percy and Ebi for the details I’d need.
One of the challenges with creating a grouping of three or more, especially when they are calicoes or torties or spotted or some coat pattern that is not symmetrical, is to determine the features you most want to remember, like tails or unique markings, and make sure to include them in the painting. And you have to get all those spots in the right places!
But you also have to position the subjects logically—if two cats really didn’t like each other or didn’t cuddle, it might feel wrong that they were tucked up together in their portrait. Of course, their humans may also want to imagine the moment they might have cuddled, it’s really all up to the humans there. Balancing their physical appearance with their positioning, especially with more than two, can be like a virtual Rubik’s Cube of juggling cats and details that is also pleasing to look at. In the end, we find a composition.
In this case, I am eternally glad for Photoshop, where I can scan the images, trim them out, and even add tails that weren’t in the original photos, change out facial expressions, move paws around, all sorts of neat things, and often provide as many ideas for my customer as necessary.
But M. and S., the kitties’ humans, had a few lovely and clear photos of Percy and Ebi, especially one with the position we decided we wanted to use. The girls were young here, so they also provided a photo of Ebi closer the age we wanted to depict her; Percy I knew I could work out her age from the photo I was given. And because tails are often the casualty in photography, either out of the picture or just not in view, as here, I also took photos of the girls’ tails when I visited, because, you know, it was very important to get that unique little orange spot on the end of Ebi’s tail, and Percy’s tail was just glorious, as most long-haired cats’ tails are, adding the random multiple colors.
That image also easily accommodated adding Augie. We couldn’t have her lying down because she was so small in comparison to the other girls, but there were two good photos of her sitting upright. We did like the left-hand one because it showed her stripy side and her tail with the little white spot on the end. However, it was the expression in the other photo that was the most important, so typical, but impossible to work into her posture in the side view. It meant not showing too much of her in the portrait but she was tucked between her sisters and her most important feature, that little face, would be prominent.
And I had to be sure to maintain Percy’s dreamy expression (“she’s the ‘Queen Bee’ and we kind of compare her to Cindy Crawford” her mom said), and Ebi’s extremely alert expression as the little clown. We didn’t want a scenic background, just the cats, so I chose a neutral tone to match the tones in her home, and added in a number of other muted colors to give it interest, especially shades of green to enhance the reds in their coat colors.
Below is a detail image of the three faces and some of the background.
And just for good measure, here are detail images of just their faces, Augie, Percy and Ebi.
I not only love to get to know the stories of my subjects, I need to in order to be able to create a portrait I feel is accurate. Even if I meet them in person and take my own reference photos, I need to hear their person describe them. I want to capture not only the image, but also the relationship between the two. How else could I paint those faces? And I meet some truly wonderful people.
I also painted another portrait for this couple in 2003 of a dog they had adopted, Nelli. They had initially wanted to adopt both a dog and a cat but with their schedules didn’t feel a dog would be happy and so adopted Percy and Ebi. After losing Augie they felt the need for another animal companion and decided they could probably work with a dog. A friend was a registered breeder of English Labradors, only breeding her females three times before retiring them, spaying them and offering them for adoption. Nelli had a perfect personality for living with two cats who ruled the house, and for hanging out with humans. Nelli will have her own article some time, but for now, here is her portrait.
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All images used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in purchasing one as a print, or to use in a print or internet publication.