“The TNR Story”
63 spayed and neutered cats in two paragraphs of cat shapes
“and no one ever had any more kittens, and they all lived happily ever after.”
This art was inspired by working in post op at the last Homeless Cat Management Team TNR clinic. I study cats all the time but it’s not too often I get to handle that many cats, especially when they are still pretty much under anesthetic, aside from a few ambitious ones. Cat after cat, large and small, male and female, solid, striped spotted, I cleaned ears and checked toes and combed fur for fleas and other parasites and finished off their ear tips, applied flea treatment and in passing studied their fur and their markings.
In that state they all look pretty much the same as far as where they came from and where they will be returned, whether it’s to a human and a loving home or to a human and a parking lot where they’ll be fed and watched over by a colony caretaker, regardless of whether their paperwork says they are stray or feral or owned by a caring human, at that moment, as I always say, they are all just cats.
All the fur colors and patterns and textures, the way they felt as I handled them, each of them soft and warm and relaxed, and then later as they awoke in recovery and began to get up and bathe a little and find a comfortable spot and position in their carrier or trap, stayed with me and I envisioned this artwork as I drove home, all those cat shapes together in simple marker sketches, simple colors, clearly visual, telling the story of TNR.
I began to plan it out that evening, but especially since it’s far from my usual daily sketch I knew it would take extra time, and that was about when the upstairs computer went into retirement, but the idea stayed with me and each day since I’ve worked out a few more details of medium, style, the actual shapes of all the kitties and how I’d represent their spots.
I decided I’d do it for “Just One Day” day, June 11, when shelters are encouraged to stop any voluntary euthanasia for just one day and instead photograph and actively promote the animals in their care for adoption, making the United States a no-kill nation for just that one day. Spaying and neutering companion animals regardless of whether or not they are actually a pet is a big part of reducing the amount of killing that happens in shelters, both by reducing populations being born and populations living on the streets by removing kittens and rescuing friendly cats for adoption, and by keeping these cats, considered unadoptable, out of shelters altogether.
We served 63 cats at the May 25 clinic, so there are 63 little cats in the art. I don’t know if the balance of coat colors and patterns and fur types and sizes represent what was actually there, but I let the choices rise from my subconscious so it’s no doubt in part from memory and in part from my design sense of a visually interesting layout of colors and shapes. I tried to capture each cat in a very simple representation so they were seen as a group, the way I remembered them all.
I also intentionally kept the colors limited. In part that’s the way I visualized it and I honor those visualizations. Each cat is outlined in black and the coat patterns and colors, built from a light orange and a dark orange and a gray to shade the black. As I continued to visualize I decided it could also easily be reproduced by screen printing so I planned it out with clear edges that could be easily color separated.
I had planned how I would draw the grid of cat shapes and laid out a physical grid in pencil on a piece of semi-transparent layout bond way back on clinic day, leaving space top and bottom for the text, then spent the intervening time thinking about cat shapes and how I’d represent the stripes and spots and such, letting the layout of colors and patterns work itself out in my mind. I watched my cats in sleep and at rest to derive the positions of the cats and drew a little cat shape in pencil inside each of the blocks where a cat would appear. I then laid another sheet of the layout bond over top and began coloring them in starting with the lighter orange and determining which would stay solid light orange and which would have stripes and which would have spots—and which would become dilute calico and dilute tortoiseshell—then moving to the light blue to represent the gray and dilute kitties, adding black stripes to some and building tuxedo cats and cow spotted cats and tortoiseshell cats and even a few Siamese-patterned cats, outlining them after finishing each coat pattern.
I actually used my set of colored Sharpie markers for this because it gave me the line quality I wanted, but I didn’t have a gray marker the right shade in any of my marker sets. I used a light blue intending to desaturate it in Photoshop after I’d scanned the art so that the blue appeared gray, which I did but I decided I really liked it better with the original light blue. Gray cats do have a bluish cast, and it simply looks more colorful and eye-catching with the blue, plus blue and orange are color complements and I think that visual is at work here as well.
So we’ll see what I end up doing with this. For now, I’m glad to share this inspiration, and even though “Just One Day” was yesterday, we can still work to reduce the numbers of animals killed in shelters every day.
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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!