Commissioned Portrait: Ripley, Murphy, O.G., Veda and Missy Kitty

"Ripley, Murphy, O.G., Veda and Missy Kitty", 20" x 30", pastel, 1998 © Bernadette E. Kazmarski
“Ripley, Murphy, O.G., Veda and Missy Kitty”, 20″ x 30″, pastel, 1998 © Bernadette E. Kazmarski

The process is different for each portrait I create depending on what’s needed. This portrait needed just about all the tricks I had in my little bag at the time. It’s a good example of a pretty complicated portrait with several subjects and a scenic background, plus it’s five rescued cats, what could be better?

This portrait is another I painted fairly early on, 1998, and as with “my first portrait” the weather reminds me of visiting this customer and her feline family. It’s also the one I use as a demonstration portrait for people to read about my process in detail and I’ve been answering a lot of questions lately and thought I’d use this portrait to explain.

I had the opportunity to visit their home and meet each one of these fine kitties, and so spent about two hours following them around and photographing them in their habitat and with their habits, and talking to their caretaker about each one of them. She and her husband had adopted each of them individually either from shelters or from rescues, so each had a story that added to what I gathered about their personalities. We talked about where the portrait might be hung to help determine size and certain elements of the design, but she left the details up to me.

Organizing the photos I'll use.
Organizing the photos I’ll use.

Being able to photograph them myself gives me the best visual information—after all, would you photograph just your cat’s tail anticipating that someday you might need that photograph? I can do that if I feel I need it.

Depending on the complexity of the portrait and how many photographs I have to combine to get the scene, I may simply begin the drawing with no preliminaries or will create a pencil sketch to size. However, it’s a rarity that I don’t combine fewer than three pictures, even for one subject, and for this one I lost count of the number of pictures I combined. Each of the subjects is a composite of at least two photographs for face, paws, tail, eyes, ears, etc.—in some cases I used six in a composite for just one cat, and had still others I referenced for fur and eye color. Each of the subjects had to be made into a composite that matched the pose their person wanted before I made that final composite that I would draw from.

When it came time to do that full composite at this point in my career I changed my process to the one I use today. At one time I used to have to sketch it out, even enlarging and cutting and pasting on a copier but as soon as I got a computer and a scanner I began to use PhotoShop, scan the photos and combine them into a final finished composite, or a portrait like this would have taken me weeks to put together. It’s not only important for me to work from, but for the family who commissioned me. I could visualize this and several other compositions, but she couldn’t see them. As a commercial artist and illustrator I want to be clear what I’m doing and what my customer expects so there are no questions or disagreements later.

The composite we chose to paint.
The composite we chose to paint.

For this portrait, I created two composites which I liked equally, and so did my client, but in the end the spot over the fireplace made the decision for the long narrow format. I had an idea to use the bay window with windowseat for them all because the light was so beautiful and each of them visited this spot regularly, plus I enjoy painting architectural details.

So I made a composite image of each cat, then combined each of the individual composites, added the window in the background with enough of the windowseat included for placement, and sent the image above off to my client for approval—on paper.

O.G. loved everyone while Veda was a little skittish and Miss Kitty kept to herself.
O.G. loved everyone while Veda was a little skittish and Miss Kitty kept to herself.

A composite like this also means I have to equalize the lighting, make up shadows and highlights and the lay of the fur when I get down to the final drawing and when designing the posture and setting, which can be tricky. But it’s also one of the ways my cats have earned their living as I model them into the pose and lighting I need…sort of.

I always try to place the subjects against a background area which will complement their looks. But it’s not all about their looks—in combining multiples like this, I try to pair together animals which are friendly with each other and keep the “enemies” far apart.

Ripley and Murphy were buddies.
Ripley and Murphy were buddies.

When I began work, I enlarged the composite to the actual size of the finished drawing, printed it out, covered the back with a dark shade of pastel, and transferred it onto my drawing paper, which is an archival quality, 600-grit sanded paper.

After generally filling in the actual colors in the drawing and checking to make sure that everything was in proportion and in proper perspective, I was ready to work the actual drawing at my easel, with all the reference photos near. Below, some are clipped onto my drawing board but others are in envelopes around me so that I can replace them as I work.

On the easel.
On the easel.

I usually work the background first, then work one subject at a time, keeping the whole work at about the same level of detail. I may go over a portrait three or four times this way, each time working more color and detail into the painting. In this case, because the window is a large portion of the work, I wanted to make certain all the structure and detail of it wouldn’t compete with the subjects, so I left it with less detail and color than the subjects and the surface they’re resting on.

The final pass adds the highlights in the fur, the whiskers and the sparkles in the eyes. When they look back at me from the drawing, I know it’s done. But it’s not really done until my client reviews it to make sure I’ve gotten everything right—after all, they are your companions, and I’d be just as fussy about mine. In this case, Veda was just not right—she’s a very tiny, slender cat, but shy, and the only clear picture I had gotten of her was of her hunched up a little scared under a table. Even though the image was accurate, it just wasn’t Veda, so my client sent me a few more photos of just her and I reworked that area. Since I had to slim her down and make her a little taller, and Veda is primarily black against a pale background, I had to actually lift quite a bit of pastel off of the paper and start over in some areas. If you compare the finished portrait at the beginning of this article with the sketch below, you’ll see the difference in Veda’s image.

O.G. loved everyone while Veda was a little skittish and Miss Kitty kept to herself.
O.G. loved everyone while Veda was a little skittish and Miss Kitty kept to herself.

I wish I had taken better photos of this portrait, but in 1998 I had no idea I’d be able to post images this size on the internet. I had a website at the time, but big images were 600 pixels wide, and most images were 100 to 300 pixels wide. My how times have changed!

So this is how I put together a portrait with five subjects. The process is the same even if I don’t get to meet them, and even if they aren’t all together or alive at the same point in time. It just takes a little visualization.

Also read about other current 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 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 $50.00, which is the basic cost of a small monochromatic portrait.

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.

Certificates are good for up to one year after issue.

You can purchase gift certificates here or from Portraits of Animals if you are also purchasing other animal-inspired merchandise.

I prefer to look over the work and price the portrait according to how much work will go into it, as described above, but you can either set a budget or get started by purchasing a certificate for yourself or as a gift.

How to Order

  • “Certificate A” is for a minimum-size 8 x 10 black and white or monochromatic portrait with one subject.
  • “Certificate B” is for a minimum-size 8 x 10 color portrait with one subject.
  • Choose “A” or “B” depending on whether your portrait is black and white or color.
  • If your portrait will be larger or have more subjects, add $50 or $100 or more to your certificate value with the drop-down below.


  • Size: 8 x 10
  • Subjects: One
  • Color: black and white media such as charcoal, pencil, ink, or monochromatic media such as one color of pastel, watercolor, colored pencil, etc.
  • Background or objects: none but shading or colored paper


  • Size: 8 x 10
  • Subjects: One
  • Color: full color media such as pastel, watercolor, colored pencil, etc.
  • Background or objects: none but a color or colored paper

Add to your certificate purchase

You can use the second drop down to add $50.00 or $100.00. For amounts over this we’d probably have a conversation and I can set up a custom certificate for your purchase.

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

Art and Gifts featuring cats you know! Visit Portraits of Animals



Mother’s and Father’s Day Portrait Certificate Specials May 1 through June 30 from Portraits of Animals!

Sample Commissioned Portrait Certificate

In everyone’s life is at least one special person who shared a love of animals, and in that person’s life there is often an animal companion who is or was very special to them. Mother’s Day is May 14 and Father’s Day is June 18. Portraits take up to four weeks to complete, especially with framing and then shipping, but you can also give a certificate and invite the recipient to choose their own portrait subject and provide photos and memories.

I’m offering 25% off the purchase of a portrait certificate or a commissioned portrait that is booked between now and June 30, 2017, whether it’s for mother, father, grandparents or any of those special persons who encouraged your love of animals. Use the coupon code MOTHERSFATHERSDAY25 and purchase a certificate here or on Portraits of Animals.


All images and text used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission, although links to your site are more than welcome and are shared. Please ask if you are interested in using and image or story in a print or internet publication. If you are interested in purchasing a print of an image or a product including it, check my animal and nature website Portraits of Animals 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.

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© 2021 | | Published by Bernadette E. Kazmarski

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!



Friendship Friday.
Friendship Friday.


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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