Pet Love and Pet Loss, and How it Gave Me My Art

Seventh and last in a series of “pet loss and grief told from personal experience”

pastel painting of cat on windowsill
Suncatcher © B.E. Kazmarski

I simply have the observation that every time I’ve lost a cat, I’ve gained something in my life. I’ve made decisions about my career, began working in a new medium and found new friends, all around the time of a loss.

Perhaps the trauma of the loss caused me to see things from a new perspective, or to break an old habit and begin reorganizing my life, or just gave me a new perspective on myself so my same old life felt new again. I really think it was a gift from them so I might be distracted from my grief.

It began with love

I have a degree in English and wanted to be a writer and go on to study linguistics and comparative arts. Life took a different turn and presented other possibilities, and where I had neglected my interest in art before I suddenly had the time to practice.

A few years out of college, at night after work, I chose to pick up a pencil and paper and put them together because I felt the need to start expressing myself in images.

At the same time, inspired by my love for Kublai who had rescued me, I had been rescuing and fostering cats and, of those I picked up from streets and midwifed into the spare bedroom, a rag tag bunch of six had come together to share my life. Because of my experience with Bootsie I was busy learning as much as I could about feline health, diets, history and allopathic and naturopathic medicine so that I could give them the best care possible and not miss a single symptom of anything.

pastel painting of a cat on a bed
Sunday Morning © B.E. Kazmarski

And while they may have looked like common garden variety cats to everyone else, I thought they were the most beautiful beings to ever walk the earth. I had always loved cats because of their quiet grace and independent nature, but the opportunity to know these cats had rendered it from the general to the specific.

Images of my cats kept appearing in my thoughts as pencil drawings and paintings and I decided to draw what I was envisioning. The need to express and the subject matter came together at just the right time and I began producing images I could never have imagined I was capable of rendering, moving from pencil, the only medium in which I had any skill, to ink to pastel because I could leave them every day and return the next night without worrying about drying time or too much set up or clean up.

I worked faithfully on learning my technique and sharpening my inner vision as I spent years painting my cats. Learning each new medium, technique or style has been based on a vision of one of my household residents before I moved off to another subject, flowers or landscapes, usually. With their guidance, I’ve mastered pencil, ink, chalk pastel, oil pastel, watercolor, acrylic, oil, collage, mixed media and photography.

It continued with loss

I realized with my first loss after beginning to sketch and paint the power of a portrait, and while they had started out as expressions of love, they became also expressions of remembrance, and as I lost that original family of muses that this was the greatest gift of all, giving them a sort of immortality.

Through the years my cats have been the subjects of dozens of works, and others, seeing these works, want a similar piece with their own animal companion as a subject. I have had the pleasure of creating more than 100 commissioned portraits of cats, dogs, cats and dogs, and cats and dogs and people. They are gifts for loved ones, memorials to cherished companions who’ve gone before us, and lovely pieces of artwork featuring an animal a person loved. You can find out more about my animal portraits in the “Custom Pet Portraits” page on this blog or by visiting my website where I have a demonstration and images of cat and dog portraits.

.pastel portrait of cat
Bandit

pastel portrait of dogs
Sophie and Ellie

watercolor portrait of dog and two cats
Washburn Trio

Now Stanley watches over my studio in “After Dinner Nap,” Kublai forever rolls on the floor like a goof in “Are You Looking at Me?”, Fawn peeks out from under the dust ruffle waiting for me to walk by in “Waiting for Mom,” and there is also Moses and Sally and Sophie and Namir whose portraits I can smile and look at. I have two new portraits planned, of Allegro and Nikka that I intend to work on this spring, now that I’ve found the best reference photos.

The animal sympathy cards

But there was one other project that had been waiting in the wings all these years, and with the loss of Namir I felt as if I had finally, somehow, come full circle and arrived at the point where I could put my grief in images and design the animal sympathy cards I had always planned to do, but kept putting off until the time was right. I think I wanted to make sure that I had enough experience and perspective so I wouldn’t design something I’d turn my back on later, thinking it was incomplete or immature. Of all cats, Namir doesn’t appear here except for his pawprints in “I’ll always walk beside you”. But I wanted to make sure I memorialized Lucy, the little black kitty you see twice below, who I lost at 15 months to FIP, right after I had lost my four oldest friends.

animal sympathy card
No other eyes will look at you in quite the same way again.

animal sympathy card
The sweetest memories often come in quiet moments.

animal sympathy card
Remember the best moments with love and joy.

While I am a fine artist, I have actually worked as a graphic designer for more years than I want to tell. Designing everything from letterhead to websites every day, the task of designing these cards was second nature to me. I was glad, for once, to use my commercial art skills to create something for my offering of animal art, especially since my poor neglected cats could just expire all over my desk before I took my eyes off the computer.

animal sympathy card
always in your heart

animal sympathy card
They find a comfortable spot in your heart to live in forever and ever.

animal sympathy card
They find a comfortable spot in your heart to live in forever and ever.

I’ve found, to my surprise, that these cards are sometimes purchased for the loss of a human, or even a “thinking of you” card for persons who like animals—I never considered this. Using the images of my own cats for these cards, especially ones who had passed, was a little frightening; if one of the designs was not at all popular it could feel like a rejection of that kitty, who I loved so much. I am so glad I waited until my sentiments and designs were more universal, not so personal, to create these cards. Some are more popular than others, but I have reprinted all of them so no one has been left behind.

animal sympathy card
I will always walk with you.

animal sympahty card
Remember the beautiful moments with love and joy.

animal sympathy card
No other eyes will look at you in quite the same way again.

I intentionally chose to use photos rather than paintings for most of the designs. I like the softness and little bit of fiction I can work into a painting, but somehow I felt the realism of a photo was needed when expressing deep and sincere emotions of these cards.

animal sympathy card
Remember the beautiful moments from all those years together.

animal sympathy card
No other eyes will look at you in quite the same way again.

animal sympathy card
They leave their mark on us, don't they?

Each of the cats depicted here was or is one of mine and the dogs are ones I’ve come to know through friends and art customers. I am currently working on more dog images as well as images of home and nature where we remember our animal companions best. There are more cats than dogs because I live with cats and have lots of material, but more than that I am careful with the images I use, not only that they are easily recognized and accepted, but that I know the animal well enough to use its image for this purpose. They are conveying a heavy thought, and I don’t take the relationship with my subject matter lightly.

All animal sympathy cards can be found in my Marketplace under Animal Sympathy Cards.

Other images used for sympathy

And in addition to the intentionally-designed sympathy cards are the blank greeting and note cards I have available portraying a special moment of one of my cats I’ll always remember.

pastel drawing of a cat on a bed
Afternoon Nap

pastel painting of a cat looking out a window
Winter Window

oil pastel drawing of cat in the sun
Warm Winter Sun

pencil drawing of a cat on a windowsill
Sleeping Beauty, my Sally, pencil © B.E. Kazmarski

pencil drawing of striped cat
Stanley's Stripes

pencil drawing of cat sleeping
Don't Wake Me Up

We have each other to thank

Animals give us so much in everyday life, but my cats have given me my career.

Pet loss and grief told from personal experience

When I was losing a pet and making decisions, and after I had lost a pet and was dealing with grief, I was most comforted by hearing stories from others about their experiences. Sitting with one of my cats in the middle of the night, trying to determine if they were suffering in any way, if they were ready to let go, struggling to make the decision about euthanasia and what to do after they died, I felt so alone and only hearing what others had experienced and what they had decided helped me put my own situation and decisions into perspective, and let me know that I was not the only person to experience the anguish I was suffering. I’ve composed this series of articles in the hopes that others find comfort in my experiences and those of the others mentioned here, and that information included about services and products may help them in their decisions.

Read the other articles in this series:

To love that well, which thou must leave ‘ere long: my first and worst lesson in pet loss

Starting with pet loss—before the loss: begin preparing yourself for loss by being proactive about care and providing palliative care yourself at home

Options for “After Care”, featuring Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation: aftercare, and a profile of a business and a person I find exceptional, and exceptionally comforting

Heal Your Heart After Pet Loss, a Remarkable CD and Guidebook: your grieving process, and a very special CD and guidebook for those times when you need a comforting voice

Turning Loss into Creativity with Ingrid King and Buckley’s Story: how grief can become the catalyst for change, turning grief into a creative effort

Pet Loss Support Information: ideas and resources for where to find comfort and support in your loss, including books about and inspired by the author’s personal experience

Pet Love and Pet Loss, and How it Gave Me My Art: my own experience turning multiple losses loss into multiple creative endeavors

About the images used in this post

All of the images used here are of my artwork, from portraits to designed cards. It’s one of the things that helps me with losing them, to know that their image goes out in the world and they are thereby, in a way, immortal. To see the art visit my website and look under “Fine Art and Portraiture” for the gallery, “My Cats“. Also look under “Photography” for the five galleries of “My Cats“. You can browse prints and notecards in my “Marketplace“.

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Bernadette

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 “Pet Love and Pet Loss, and How it Gave Me My Art

  • January 29, 2010 at 4:08 pm
    Permalink

    Thank you so much for the compliments! I can’t say any more than I already have about the source of my inspiration except that they continue to inspire me, even at this moment. Was I also nominated for an award? Guess I’ll have to see. Anyway, I couldn’t be happier knowing that my artwork will reach even more people on your blog. I visited–it’s really interesting! I have a photo blog, too, along with The Creative Cat and the others, and I really enjoy reading the journal-type blog. How about if you use the one called “After Dinner Nap”–Stanley, and this portrait, are the symbol of my commitment to my art; it’s on this page on my website, http://www.bernadette-k.com/fineart/index-mycats.html, about halfway down. You can link to this article; I have links out to my website from it. Let me know if you need anything else, and thanks again!

    Reply
  • January 29, 2010 at 2:36 pm
    Permalink

    I found you via the Conscious Cat blog and so glad to have found a kindred spirit. We were all nominated for the same blogger award today. As a cat person was especially moved by your words and images on the process of grieving. I’d like to feature your art as “Cat Art of the Week” at my blog The Boomer Muse. On Saturdays it turns into Cat Saturday AKA Kitty Wisdom 101. Let me know which image and link you’d like me to use.

    Reply

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