Commissioned Portrait: Nick, Slightly Unconventional
Nick was a full-bred Himalayan and also a rescue cat. His person had won a certificate I’d donated to one of the local animal shelter benefits and decided she wanted to remember this long-lived Himalayan cat who was just a little out of the ordinary in several ways.
For one thing, Nick was blind, and had been most of his life. The strange thing was she had no idea how long he’d been because he apparently adapted to it without notice, and for years looked right at her with those lovely blue eyes, truly seeming to focus on her face.
His “sisters”, who were slightly younger, didn’t treat him any differently and he still followed all his habits, ate normally, drank his water, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. She had noticed he seemed a little “dreamy”, gazing around, perhaps not focusing his eyes, but never anything obvious like running into something or getting lost. One year, on an annual exam, her veterinarian mentioned his blindness because his pupils did not react, and that was how she found out. It didn’t seem recent, may have been months or even years and the veterinarian hadn’t seen any reason to examine his eyes, but Nick never seemed to mind.
For another he liked to go outdoors to patrol the yard and driveway, never going farther, and even once he was blind he apparently still followed the same patterns outdoors—though that included the winter as well. In fact, he loved snow, almost as much as he enjoyed stretching himself out on the asphalt driveway in the sun, the black surface absorbing heat and reflecting it back on to him and his sisters. I didn’t see this but laughed at her description of them as “looking like a bunch of dustmops out there on the driveway”.
And there are elements in the relationship with an animal that can’t be examined, but which make them special to us, and this is where I love my portaiture. To her Nick was decidedly out of the ordinary, she wanted a slightly looser style of portrait, something a little different. I love to loosen up, especially with lots of fur, and I also like to work my pastels on different surfaces in addition to the sanded drawing paper I typically use for fully detailed portraits. I’ll use a textured paper or add texture to a heavier drawing surface using gesso or marble dust, adding a bit of fine or coarse grit medium to hold the pastel. In this case I mixed gesso and marble dust in equal parts so that it was thick enough to hold brush strokes and brushed it in thin layers onto the the surface horizontally, then vertically, several times letting each layer dry in between, creating a varied cross-hatch linen-like surface (look closely in the closeups of his face, above, and paw, below, to see the texture).
So I loosened up the lines as well, in part because on that surface it’s difficult to get the level of fine photographic detail. Also, I can rub colors into the surface of the board, then gently brush another color over the texture to create depth, as you can see in the shadow above.
We used a photo I took that day and he shows obvious signs of age in his posture, how his paws are held and even the texture of his fur. It’s clear that his eyes are not focused, and might be obvious to someone with experience with a blind cat that he actually could not see.
We decided to be honest about where he was in physical posture and all he looked like at that age, but to make his eyes focus as she remembered them for most of his life, even when he’d been blind.
Not wanting any objects in the portraits, we decided a blue background to match his eyes would be attractive with him and complement his fur, making it a very subtly-colored portrait using such a limited palette.
Nick was 18 when I did this portrait and I believe he lived another two years beyond.
. . . . . . .
Because Nick reminds me of Lakota, I had originally set up this post for last week to celebrate the integration of Lakota into our household, especially as he was moving himself into my studio. Today I share it just for him as he decides his next move. I didn’t get a chance to paint him —yet—but I was truly looking forward to all the art he’d model for, choosing the colors of pastels and watercolors and studying his poses and details for someday art. We haven’t seen the last of him, and perhaps he’d look nice in a pose like this.
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Thank you, Maru!
Absolutely beautiful! And an amazing kitty as well!
He was, Carolyn, and the dustmops on the driveway still crack me up ten years later!