Friday, April 19, 2024
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A Great Rescue and Commissioned Portrait: “Madison”

"Madison", pastel, 12" x 10", 2009 © Bernadette E. Kazmarski
“Madison”, pastel, 12″ x 10″, 2009 © Bernadette E. Kazmarski

A PORTRAIT IS a reunion of sorts, bringing together memories of times and places in order to portray the subject with some depth and history, even if it’s a simple portrait, and sometimes it’s a literal reunion as Madison’s portrait turned out to be for a childhood friend and me.

. . . . . . .

Here’s how Madison was rescued…

Deciding that she’d enjoy the company of a pet, Madison’s mom decided a cat would adapt better to her busy work schedule and frequent travel. She visited an adoption event through Advocats, a small independent feline-only rescue organization in northern Virginia. There she found eight-month-old Madison with his sister Dolly. Not having lived with a cat before she wasn’t sure she could take care of both so she adopted only Madison, who filled her home with affection and even traveled with her when she visited family in Pennsylvania.

. . . . . . .

She lost Madison, her first cat, to diabetes at only eight years old, in 2008, the year before this portrait was done. She didn’t have too many photos, but this pose was definitely a winner.

Yes, he’s really in the sink! When I work with a customer for a portrait, I ask them what comes to mind when they think about their animal companion. I advise them to choose a pose and setting as close to that visual as we can devise, using my own portraits as examples. It’s nice to have a formal setting where we can see every stripe and spot and whisker and sometimes this is entirely appropriate depending on the subject’s personality, but if they had a cute or quirky habit that can be illustrated into a portrait, we should do it. I always let my customer make the decisions for the portrait, but if I see a good photo I’ll put in my vote without hesitation. He looked so natural in the sink and I loved his expression. “Oh, he was always in that sink!” she remarked, and her smile and the tone of her voice told me it was right. So here he is.

Not just because he’s cute in the sink, although he is, but also because it will make her laugh when she looks at it, and what better healing for the grief of loss than to remember with a smile. I’m so glad to know that another person, a special friend, has a portrait that shows their animal companion as they want to remember them.

Animal fur is different from human skin, and because of texture and pattern it looks different in every photo you’ll see. In each of Madison’s photos, the details of his face were lighter or darker, the area on his chest had a collar and tag in one photo and not in another, and I worked and reworked his colors. These are common things to work around, and from both experience and real life I can fill in the details. It just so happened that just as I was finishing Madison’s portrait that big tabby cat Dickie came to stay for a year as a foster and he looked so much like Madison that he was a great model, and it must have been meant to be.

Detail of Madison's face.
Detail of Madison’s face.

I also liked the simplicity of the scene, and actually looked forward to painting the chrome faucet. There is actually color and tone all over the background though it may only look grayish white. I was using a slightly different sanded pastel surface at this point which I prepared myself and I wish I’d actually sanded it a little smoother so I could avoid some of the graininess in closeup, but from a distance the graininess add dimensionality to the image, which was why I’d chosen it in the first place. I still go back and forth with that when I look at this portrait; now I usually use this paper for landscapes that aren’t so detailed.

detail of the faucet
Detail of the faucet.

What I always do in building a subject, especially one I never met, is to work from the photos until I feel that I know my subject and the photos start to get in the way. Then I put them away and work with nothing but what I see with my creative eye. That’s when the essence of the personality is instilled in the portrait, and every time I’m amazed at what’s taken life on the paper. And I know by the reaction of the person who’s come to look at the work.

I never delude myself to think that a portrait can take the place of a real live animal, but it can certainly help with grief. Through the years, many customers have contacted me to let me know how much it means to have the portrait in their home, that they greet the portrait or talk to it, or visit it when they are feeling overwhelmed with loss, even that other cats have reacted to it.

The portraits work for me. I have several of my own to visit.

About Madison’s person

Madison’s person and I grew up next door to each other, but I hadn’t seen her in years after she moved away for employment. Later I moved my mother into personal care and eventually sold her house. Of all things, another person who grew up in our neighborhood but lives across the country found her on Facebook and sent an e-mail, and we managed to get together when she visited her mother.

Just as important, we managed to get our mothers together. Her mother had developed Alzheimer’s disease and was a little unsure of my mother and me, my mother lived in personal care but was pretty clear though not as able to express herself as years before, which was probably a good thing. We had pictures of our mothers to show them from when they were younger, and she and I remembered how, just like us, our mothers had been such good friends, spending some time talking at the fence between the back yards, and each evening in the summer sitting on lawn chairs between the houses, smoking and enjoying the sunset.

How wonderful to see her again and get our mothers together one more time. And to find out she’s just as much an “animal person” as me, and though she’d grown up with dogs she’s now adopted several rescued cats. And whenever I look at Madison’s portrait I think of that reunion

Here is Madison’s page in Great Rescues:

Madison's page in "Great Rescues Day Book"
Madison’s page in “Great Rescues Day Book”

. . . . . . .

And here is the quote for Madison:

When a man loves cats, I am his friend and comrade, without further introduction. ~ Mark Twain, “An Incident”

About Great Rescues Calendar and Gift Book and Great Rescues Day Book

day book with cat portraits
Great Rescues Day Book

Buster is one of the rescued cats in my Great Rescues Day Book, an undated monthly journal to record the dates of birthdays, anniversaries and events featuring sixteen of my commissioned portraits of rescued cats along with their rescue stories.

This book is built from Great Rescues Calendar and Gift Book, the original 16-month calendar published in 2011 to inaugurate my series of rescue stories related to the portraits I’ve painted over the years.

Click here or on the image of the book at left, or either of the links above to read more.

Also, read more about Great Rescues families, those who appear in each of the two volumes so far. I’ll be featuring one story each month corresponding with the portrait that appears in the book for that month. That means there are four extra, and I’ll slip those in when the story itself feels appropriate.

And click here to see the whole year of monthly posts of featured portraits!

Read other stories in my Rescue Stories series.


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.

Commissioned Cat Portraits

portrait of black cat on wicker chair
Samantha, pastel, 1994 © B.E. Kazmarski
Commissioned Dog Portraits

portrait of two dogs
Sophie and Ellie, pastel, 2009 © B.E. Kazmarski
Portraits of
My Cats

pastel painting of cat on table
After Dinner Nap, pastel, 1996 © B.E. Kazmarski

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.

Download a Brochure

cover of brochure
My Portraits Brochure

My brochure is an 8.5″ x 11″ two-page full-color PDF that half-folds when it’s all printed out, showing examples of portraits with an explanation of my process and basic costs.

Purchase a Gift Certificate

Sample Commissioned Portrait Certificate
Sample Commissioned Portrait Certificate

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.

I can also make it downloadable if you’re in a hurry.

Portrait certificates are a minimum of $125.00 because that is the minimum cost of a portrait.

Certificates are good for up to one year after issue.

You can purchase gift certificates here or from my Etsy shop if you are also purchasing other animal-inspired merchandise.

Enter the recipient’s name
Enter shipping address

You only need to enter an address if it is different from the address I’ll receive through PayPal. These are often surprise gifts and need to be shipped away from the home address to make sure they are a surprise.


Subscribe to My E-newsletter


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!




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

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