Above is “Marsha and Scruffy”, one of my current portraits, and yes, there is a human in this one! It’s been a while since I’ve been asked to include a human in a portrait and this is actually very fun, as I don’t often draw portraits of people in pastel.
This is one rare commission when the subjects are both in one photo instead of creating a composite. This is pretty much what they asked me to sketch except that the original is cut off on the right and bottom so I’ll be adding to that, and of course I have other images of both Marsha and Scruffy as well as being able to see them.
Marsha and Scruffy live close to me and I know them fairly well. I’ve also painted a number of other portraits for this household and their rescued cats which you can read about in “Big Kitty Love” and “You Are the Most Beautiful, Precious Girl” and I was pleased to be able to include one of the humans this time. We had started out with a portrait of Scruffy playing with shoes, but then Marsha’s husband decided he wanted this photo as the portrait.
Of course, human skin doesn’t have fur. While that may seem obvious, it does have tone and shape and even some texture now and then. As soon as I began this portrait it was clear that all my pastels are intended for painting animals and plants! While many colors work into creating a true flesh tone including those of furs and leaves, a basic shade that matches the subject’s skin is very helpful and I had exactly two colors in that range. I started, then stopped when I determined that those two were too dark as I am also compensating for the use of a flash which creates hard shadows and adds a tinge of green to areas of the photo. Marsha has very light skin and so when she stopped over to take a look I took a few more notes, and I think I have a good basis down at this point. Her face looks a little flat because I worked out all the shading I’d added when her skin was too dark, but everything is in the right place.
Poor Scruffy hasn’t had much attention! Actually he’s going to be fairly simple when I get down to him and I don’t want to layer too much pastel on him since he is so light-colored and I am totally looking forward to all that fur. I had asked about Scruffy’s expression, looking down, and did they want to see his face? No, this was what Scruffy looked like all the time. He is happy and playful and affectionate, but he rarely looks up at either of his people for any length of time because he’s always got some plans.
Marsha really is wearing a bright red jacket which was interesting to match because the red is heightened by the flash, but I think I’ve matched the color and toned it so it’s not overbearing in the composition. Because of that red jacket I chose to draw this on a big sheet of Art Spectrum Colourfix Fine Tooth Pastel Paper, tinted a darker shade of red (not a product placement, but other artists like to know what materials are used). I will likely leave bits of it showing through the gray background patterns.
A new habit from my daily sketches
I have a new habit with my portraits and paintings now that is no doubt a carryover from my daily sketches—no drawing underneath as I had always done, but working straight onto the paper while referencing my composite image on my computer screen as if I am drawing from life. I had done this with my recent landscapes, “A Bend in the Road”, “The Rope Swing”, “The Swimming Hole”, because for those landscapes I wanted the feel of en plein air painting though it hadn’t been possible in the moment, letting my hands and eyes make my own mistakes and adjustments as I studied my subject and let it develop before me on the paper. I knew I wouldn’t be able to focus on the painting if I was trying to find the guidelines I’d transferred onto the paper, so I went ahead and just painted and it worked out fine. This new freedom between me and my medium, trusting myself and letting my image build intuitively was part of my goal with my daily cat sketches and I was very confident and successful with this practice in those sketches.
It took me a while to get started on all the portraits I have now and in trying to determine what was standing in my way—the need to replace certain pastel colors, looking for the papers I wanted to use, adjusting my easel, not having a computer up here for two weeks, etc.—I also realized I was resisting the idea of enlarging my reference image and printing it out, taping it together and transferring it to the paper. I just didn’t want to, I just wanted to get to the paper, mess around, build my image, trust myself. Although a commissioned portrait is much more exacting than a landscape it just felt wrong to trace the image on and color in the underlying sketch like a paint by number. Well, the paper and pastels to start that way would be negligible and if I was totally wrong I could just start over—I’d actually tried that years ago, messed around, and humbly gone back to my original practice of enlarging the image and transferring it, right over my attempt.
I decided to give it a try, clipped my paper to the board on my easel and opened the photo as large as I could on my computer and started to draw as if Marsha and Scruffy were there in the room with me. This is the result. I feel like I know the painting much better than when I’d transferred it and colored it in. I’m glad to finally reach this point!
I rarely work on more than one portrait, or even more than one painting at a time. As I focus on my subject and each time I work on it I come closer to the final, I carry my usual focus with me even when I’m not working on it. Focusing deeply on more than one image had always confused me so I’ve avoided it, but now, working straight onto the paper without that underlying transferred image, I can actually switch my focus from one to the other and not feel that I’m missing something as I work. Time to grow and change with these things.
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As a side note, for the past five or six years Marsha has maintained a colony of stray and feral cats who happened to find her one-acre back yard that backs onto woods, having everyone spayed and neutered and providing food, water and shelter right outside her back door. One of them has become friendly and began visiting inside now and then, and more frequently, and that kitty is amenable to coming inside, it seems, so Amy will change her status from outdoor to indoor. Another in the colony had seemed to be struggling through the winter year before last when he’d shown up, so she lured him inside and set him up in her basement. He went back outside last spring and she brought him back in last winter, but it seems he had developed cancer, and that was probably what was wearing him down the year before, and possibly why he chose her little feral feeding area in the first place. She had him put to sleep early this summer. She was bemoaning the fact that her colony has decreased to only four cats, but she guessed that was a mark of success for TNR, and fewer cats outdoors to reproduce is never a bad thing.
Also read about other Commissioned Portraits and Featured Artwork
I also feature artwork which has not been commissioned, especially my paintings of my own cats. If you’d like to read more about artwork as I develop it, about my current portraits and art assignments and even historic portraits and paintings, I feature commissioned portrait or other piece of artwork on Wednesday. Choose the categories featured artwork.
Take a look at other portraits and read other stories
Read articles here on The Creative Cat featuring current and past commissioned portraits.
Read about how I create commissioned portraits.
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Visit my website to see portraits of my cats, commissioned cats, commissioned dogs, people and a demonstration of how I put a portrait together from photos.
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I offer gift certificates for portraits in any denomination beginning at $125.00, which is the basic cost of a portrait; the recipient is responsible for any amount the portrait costs over $125.00.
The certificate itself is 8.5″ x 11″ and features a collage of portrait images with the recipient’s and giver’s names, printed on parchment cover stock. The whole thing is packaged in a pocket folder and includes a brochure, a letter from me to the recipient and several business cards.The certificate package can be easily mailed or wrapped as a gift and shipped directly to your recipient.
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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 using one in a print or internet publication. If you are interested in purchasing a print of this image or a product including this image, check my Etsy shop or Fine Art America profile 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.
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!