Commissioned Portraits: Samantha, and Honey, Tommy and Andy
There has not been another kitty in this person’s life since Samantha. Sometimes a memory is too dear, and time must pass before the heart is ready for another love. We read Samantha’s rescue story yesterday, and today we’ll read about the rest of her family, including the cats who came just before her.
This portrait is also special for me, not only because Samantha is a lovely little house panther, but because in the rendering somehow I managed to surpass anything I’d done to date. I painted it just about this time of year, 20 years ago and it’s wonderful to look back on that time in my life as an artist, and as a pet portrait artist, and celebrate that anniversary. This was very early in my art career, just two years after I’d begun formally painting pet portraits, and I still didn’t feel entirely confident in what I was doing but I worked through a whole flood of doubts as I painted Samantha’s portrait, and that gave me a level of self-confidence I’ve carried since.
Creating the portrait
I never met Samantha for all the times I visited this person’s home, though she was still around but in her late teens when I painted the portrait, and not feeling well. I knew Samantha was 19 years old and her person was being protective, and that was fine with me. But I remember when she showed me the reference photo for the portraits—I worked with her and I’d seen her enlarged photos of the beaches she’d visited, so I knew she had an eye for photography—but this photo was so perfectly posed and lighted I couldn’t wait to get started. Samantha’s mom remembers taking the photo, just capturing that moment when Samantha awoke and gazed around sleepily, relaxed and content, in her wicker chair with soft light coming in the sliding glass door. In the photo Samantha was still fairly dark as black cats tend to be, but she knew I had my Kublai as a model and could properly highlight her face and fur.
Seeing the wicker chair and assuming it was one of the larger fan-back chairs I thought Samantha was a much larger kitty, but when I stopped at her condo to talk about the portrait and saw Samantha’s chair I was surprised it was one of the tiny ones, and Samantha was quite petite, much like Mimi is. In fact, Mimi reminds me very much of her.
And though the elements were all there, much still needed to be changed to make it a good piece of artwork, and that was where the doubts came in. For one thing the pillows were entirely different colors but she had changed her decor from blue and cream to mauve and seafoam, and though I’d gotten the pillows pretty much done already she asked me if I could change the colors to match her decor. Visualizing something that’s in front of you in another color entirely and being able to render that realistically can be a mind-bending experience. Well, so, I learned how to do that.
That color adjustment changed my ideas for the background. Behind and under the chair were art and boxes and such, but I’d planned a swirly background of shades of blue and was itching to get to it. Blue obviously didn’t work and I didn’t want to do just green or mauve so I decided to blend them all together. I’d never done this in a painting but the experiment worked well and is one of the background techniques I still use today.
And then that wicker! Wicker is so familiar but what a tangled mess it suddenly appeared to be! I set aside impatience and focused on just what I saw. I was still beginning a portrait by enlarging my image to full size—in that day small portraits were done on the copier but larger ones were done with my photo projector that I also used for painting signs. In this case I used the projector and traced it out on tracing paper, then smudged chalk all over the back of it and traced my pencil lines onto my sheet of drawing paper. In this case the drawing paper was Canson Mi-Tientes with a distinct laid pattern that was difficult to overcome and a working surface I still find particularly unforgiving. Getting the background and all those wicker weavings smooth was so time-consuming, but at least I had the outlines on my paper as I was focusing on one strand of weaving at a time.
And then as now, I work the portrait evenly all over, as a rough fill with color, then two or three successive levels of detail worked into the image, finding it easier to work the details consistent that way. The last thing I do is the main subject so that I can finish off their “edges” which is usually a texture of fur against the background, and the most important part, their face. This is especially important with a black cat since pastel, being dusty, blows all over the place and all those lighter colors fill in on top of whatever is there. In this case I also had to be sure the dark shades I’d used for Samantha didn’t dust off onto the pillows too.
One of the reasons I always say this portrait was a turning point for me is that I finally was able to release myself from each tiny color and drawing decision as a logical decision and just let go and paint. Of course, when I stand there in front of a piece of paper with my pastels or whatever medium I make decisions of what colors to use and blend and how to build the shapes and shadows with blending or hard quick lines or something in between, but I remember working on Samantha’s face, specifically her eyes, then deciding to take a break and coming back a few minutes later to look at what I’d done. I looked at the shading in her eyes and really had no recollection of having done what was there, though it was just minutes before and I’d always carefully planned each move I made in a painting. Finally, what I saw with my eyes came right out my hands with no intellectual intervention from me, and letting my creative mind make the decisions results in a far better portrait than one in which I’d determined each minute detail. For an example of comparison, look at “Waiting for Mom”, the painting of Fawn under the bed I’d done in 1988, the very first one I’d done in this realistic style, and though there were a few little leaps of faith in it most of it was very planned; this doesn’t mean it’s not a good painting, in fact all these years later I still feel it’s one of my best, but compared to Samantha it feels a little stiff. Once that door was open, that little neurological path from my eyes to my hand that bypassed the logical part of my brain, it stayed open, and this happens all the time without realizing, and I continue to develop it through my daily sketches.
I continued to look at Samantha’s eyes and face, and even later seeing things I didn’t even remember doing, colors applied, blends and clarified edges I hadn’t consciously decided to create, the clarity of her eye in front of her pupil and the shadows and highlights within her eye, highlights on her face and paw, I didn’t know how I’d done this. For this reason for many years Samantha was the signature of my business, on my business card and brochure, until I decided to use the portrait of Stanley, which is my signature portrait now.
Another portrait at the same time
Though there has not been another kitty since Samantha, there were lots of kitties before. In fact, when I painted Samantha’s portrait, I also painted another of three cats she had known before and who were, in part, the ones who led her to Samantha. Below is a scan of a 3.5″ x 5″ photo of that portrait, the best I have though I’d tried to photograph it through the glass as I did Samantha’s portrait. You’ll just have to trust that all the details are there.
Honey, Tommy and Andy were mom, son and daughter from back in the days when we didn’t necessarily spay and neuter our cats, and they were three of a long line of cats before them. While Honey had other kittens this little family of three was a perfect combination: Honey, though petite, was decidedly the boss; Tommy, big and rangy was as sweet as candy; and little Andy playful and affectionate.
Honey, in the front, was the mother, and Tommy on the left and Andy on the right were two of her kittens. “Honey was tiny, but she was the boss, definitely the leader,” Samantha’s mom said, remembering the three cats. “Tommy was big but as gentle as a kitten—Honey used to boss him around—and Andy was sweet and playful. We were definitely a family,” she continued. Honey lived into her late teens, outliving both her children, and after that the home was without cats for a while, and then she found Samantha.
Planning the portraits
When we planned the two portraits, Honey, Tommy and Andy would be “in heaven”, so they look as if they are in the clouds.
When we ultimately chose Samantha’s pose, that one perfect photo of her awakening from a nap on her little wicker chair, nestled among pillows in the sun, she was looking upward at just the right angle that when we hung the portraits on the landing in her home she was indeed looking up at them, and thanking them for leading the way for her mom to find her.
And not only does the heart hold the memory dear, but also the things attached to the memories. Samantha’s mom still has the little wicker chair, even today, knowing it’s just an object, just a part of all the things Samantha touched in her home, she’ll always keep it as part of the memory of Samantha.
What I learn from my portrait families
After the portrait was completed her person told me that Samantha had developed renal failure, and that she was giving her subcutaneous fluids on a regular basis. I had begun working with the house call vet I still use today, and had given her information to Samantha’s person, and the veterinarian had set her up at home with a fluid bag and instructed her how to administer the fluids. I’ve done this plenty of times since then, but at that time I had not and was greatly intimidated when my black cat, Kublai, needed them a few years later. I remembered Samantha and her mom, and that gave me the reassurance if they could get through it, I could do it too. I’ve learned so much from both the cats I’ve known and the persons who’ve loved them.
The heart is sensitive after caring for a loved one through a sustained or chronic illness as well, less likely to take risks in many ways. I had no lack of adoptable felines and we considered several, but a dramatic change in schedule just didn’t allow for another adoption for quite a few years after she lost Samantha. Our employer began reorganizing the company nationwide, and she was given an opportunity that required her to travel frequently and for several days, even weeks, at a time. In a way, it was an antidote to the suddenly empty home.
While many kitties were presented and could have done well with her travel schedule, the memory of Samantha’s long decline into kidney failure and the final months of administering subcutaneous fluids herself at home made her consider what she would do if a feline illness presented itself while she was traveling. Risky; best not take the chance, at least until the traveling is over. Sometimes that is the best decision, especially as the months turned into years.
Choosing Samantha as the cover kitty
At left is the original edition of Great Rescues Calendar and Gift Book, on which Great Rescues Day Book is based. It was a 16-month calendar and only 8″ x 8″ and where the day book is larger and has a printed cover I had bigger ideas for the first edition of this book.
I had visualized this project, cover and all, for over a decade, and in a corner of my mind I had always pictured Samantha on the cover, possibly because she had also been on my brochure and her portrait meant so much to me as an artist. I knew I wanted to use a warm, rich color for the cover, dark enough to support the foil stamped text I had in mind. I had initially used the portrait of Bandit because of the red in his portrait and how I love that portrait as well, but my heart went for the little black kitty and the portrait that had changed my outlook on my career as an artist.
Samantha’s mom agreed for Samantha to be on the cover; it’s one thing to be in the book, quite another to be on the cover and therefore see your kitty’s portrait all over the place as I promote the book. I knew how she felt about Samantha still, after all these years, and that might be painful. In the end, it’s a joy for her to have a copy forever on her coffee table so she can not only look at her portraits on the wall, but her copy of the calendar in her living room.
That original book had a die-cut cover as well, so the actual outside was a heavy stock with the title and cover text printed in gold foil, and the portrait of Samantha was printed on lighter gloss cover on the page underneath. The cover was actually printed on black-core mat board, which was the best solution I could find to the color and style I wanted. I just wanted something a little different, and it was. And I know Samantha’s portrait on any cover is eye-catching.
About Great Rescues Calendar and Gift Book and Great Rescues Day Book
Samantha is the May kitty 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.
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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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.
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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!
2 thoughts on “Commissioned Portraits: Samantha, and Honey, Tommy and Andy”
Bernadette…I’ve said it once before…I will continue to say it…I envy your talent…..
Honest to God…this looks….real…..does that make sense ???
Tabbies, it makes perfect sense. I think this was the first time I truly captured the life in my subject, not just in their eyes but in their whole body.