This portrait is a very special tortoiseshell kitty named Steeler, who I actually had the chance to meet just one time. This portrait was a surprise gift to Steeler’s human, in memory of Steeler. Here is a little of the story of Steeler and her person.
Though Steeler and her person, Bernie, live relatively close to me, I met them on the internet, on a post on Ingrid King’s site The Conscious Cat titled Tortitude: The Unique Personality of Tortoiseshell Cats. I had met Ingrid at the Cat Writers’ Association conference in November 2009 and began reading her blog, and soon found the very active post and joined a group of people who all wrote about the wonderful personalities of our tortoiseshell cats, and our other cats as well, as I posted about my Cookie and Kelly and calico Peaches. I noticed Bernie’s name, similar to mine, and her cat’s name too—Steeler, were they perhaps fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers? Indeed, as a tortoiseshell cat Steeler wore the Steelers’s black and gold colors every day, and she had also stolen Bernie’s heart—and they lived “right down the road”, in Steeler country!
Bernie lives in a somewhat rural area and now and then a stray cat would show up in her yard, but none had ever approached her or her home. The little tortoiseshell cat came to cry at the door, but Bernie had never had a cat before, and didn’t want one right then; her husband was nearing the final stages of Alzheimer’s disease as she cared for him upstairs, taking in a pet was not something she felt she could do. But the little cat knew better, she had a mission and persisted, meowing and tapping her paw at the door. When winter came and no shelter could take the cat Bernie decided, if she wanted a home that badly, she would just let the cat in.
Sure of her mission, Steeler immediately became a vigilant watchcat over Bernie’s husband, staying in his room, sitting under his hospital bed and he surprisingly responded to Steeler, calling her his “little bunny”, perhaps thinking of the two house rabbits Bernie had taken in. Steeler was also a comfort to Bernie as she cared for him. Though Steeler had lived outdoors and possessed a fair amount of tortitude, Steeler was not feral, only a stray who’d been abandoned. She was an adult, possibly between 7 and 10 years old, and was not spayed and had an unknown issue in her throat that caused her voice to be rough and raspy; she had had an obviously difficult life. Bernie had Steeler fixed and fixed up, put a collar on her with a little Steeler’s emblem, and Steeler came to own the home and the person who’d taken her in. Living in a large restored Victorian farmhouse full of antiques and valuable collectibles, Steeler also had her cardboard boxes and lots of toys, and there was no place she was not permitted to go.
Steeler was devoted to Bernie, as I saw when I visited as we traveled to meet with the rest of the tortie gang in April 2011. When we returned after a day, Steeler had not eaten a bite, pacing around still worried and talking, and would not be satisfied until Bernie reassured her that she was home and she was okay.
Steeler provided as much unconditional love as Bernie could take as later that year, while Bernie’s husband continued to decline in a VA nursing home, her son was diagnosed with lung cancer. Her husband and son died weeks apart in December, and Steeler’s constant quiet presence was a comfort during the long dark nights of grief.
In spring 2012 after a dental procedure, Steeler’s health began to fail beginning with a cardiac issue, and she died at the end of April. Such a short time together, yet she left a lasting impression on Bernie. After that amount of loss Bernie was understandably distraught, yet a while later two young kittens showed up out of nowhere on her porch, a little tortie and a little gray tabby. She was sure they’d been sent there by Steeler, and now she has a little rescued family named in memory of her son and his career with the Department of Justice.
“But Steeler will always be my number one,” Bernie whispered as she looked at Steeler’s portrait when she was here.
Steeler’s portrait is done in pencil with watercolor washes from one of Bernie’s favorite photos of Steeler, with her paw raised as if she’s beckoning. I’ll often change the extreme foreshortening when moving from a photo to a portrait so that the subject’s proportions are as your eye would see them, but in this case the photo was so familiar, and Bernie had used it as her profile photo so often, that I decided to leave it as it was.
I had done a portrait for Bernie to give to her boyfriend, Jay, who was also a member of our online tortie gang, and who, as you see in the collage portrait below, also has a number of cats and other animals, and includes Steeler who Jay is holding on the right. I had decided to do that portrait as a pencil sketch with limited color to make the collage effect work with such a number of different subjects, and decided to do Steeler’s portrait in the same style.
And that was also because it was actually Jay who commissioned me to do this portrait as a gift for Bernie, though she had also mentioned wanting a portrait. This can be complicated, though complications like these are not necessarily bad, but when they stopped here a few weeks ago to visit and pick up the portrait I had no idea that this was still a surprise for Bernie—I had thought she knew why she was coming here. I had framed it and had it covered in my studio. After visiting with the Five and with Smokie and Bella I uncovered it and handed it to her. Handing someone a memory is a very special moment, one I don’t soon forget.
So rather than capturing all the realistic details in living color, I am glad for the pencil with watercolor, the loose details and more general shapes. Memory is not exact, but recalls collages of moments in time run together, and a less detailed portrait is a beginning point for many different moments as the mind wanders.
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!