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Featured Artwork: Calico Cat Mysteries Book 9, “Olivia’s Secret”

The cover for Olivia’s Secret may look familiar—I used the artwork alone as my featured artwork for October 2022. I’ve included more on that below. This cover looks so simple and yet I pulled together a lot of things to make this cover because after this many covers for Olivia I felt her and some of the cats are always in similar poses and wanted to mix things up a bit. We are constrained by the vertical shape of the cover and we like for the cats to be prominent which means they are usually sitting up. I remember digging through folder after folder of photos on my computer to find the right front porch, the right sunflowers, and even the right photo for the ginger kitty, Archie, who is always represented by my former foster Bert (of Bert and Ernie) but is now called Simon.

Here is what Patricia described:

I love the covers we do with flowers. In this one, Olivia and Archie (a good-sized fluffy orange tabby) have an episode around a metal bucket of sunflowers. It’s on a random porch–so outside. There are comments about how Olivia and Archie are about the same color as the sunflowers. There could be a stool or step or something next to them so one cat is elevated a little, if it makes for a better visual.

So, first we look for a porch. At one time I photographed houses for builders and realtors, and I randomly photograph houses along with other things because the light is nice or they have nice flowers or something, and they are scattered over 20 years of digitals and another 20 years of film photos. I can remember where some are, but sometimes I just have to start opening folders and looking. I any case I knew when I found the yellow brick house with the green porch I had it. I loved the green as a backdrop, and the white railing would lighten it up while Olivia and the sunflowers would stand out against the dark background.

Good, got the background, now let’s find the sunflowers. I know I’ve photographed vases of sunflowers and spent way too much time looking. In the end I had taken photos of the sunflowers in the planters on Main Street and just pieced them together. I also discovered that you couldn’t see what they were in because of the eventual positions of the cats, so I let that go.

Sunflowers on Main Street

The two cats have grown up together and Patricia has supplied new photos of Olivia all the time so she looks more mature than when we started.  Bert/Simon’s adopter sends me photos of him every few months and I wanted to use an image that looked like he did as a young adult.

Bert/Simon today

I did have a photo of a longhaired ginger cat sitting facing front but turned around to look up and to the right so he’d be looking right at Olivia. Also Patricia had sent a photo of Olivia looking up and to the left as if she’s thinking. I liked the two poses because they were a little different and they were eyecatching. I used those two photos for what turned out to be the first draft, just pulling images together in Photoshop.

First draft

I could rearrange the sunflowers so Archie didn’t fade into them, but we also needed to be looking at at least one face. So I used another photo of Olivia and used this photo of Bert/Simon which I also spent too much time looking for, but it was worth it.

Bert/Simon for cover

When I changed the two cats, it all came together right away, and painting it was fun. I loved the green background, such a nice bright green, almost like my favorite sink. Both of them looking at us is really eyecatching. The sunflowers break up the linear shapes. And overall it’s one of my favorite covers.

I actually painted this cover last September 2022, that’s how far behind I am on featuring covers. This is cover number 9 in Olivia’s series while we just finished working on cover 16. I’ll work on catching up—again. I was almost there at the beginning of the year.

Here’s what I said about it as featured artwork

two cats and sunflowers
Olivia and Archie, 8: x 10″, pastel © Bernadette E. Kazmarski

Two pretty gingery cats and some yellow-orange sunflowers, what could be more autumnal than that?

This painting was originally an illustration for one of Patricia Fry’s recent book covers, Olivia’s Secret, which I haven’t featured here yet—we just finished that cover and the book was published at the beginning of September, just a few weeks ago.

I still have the original art for all the covers and, as I’d mentioned regularly reviewing my artwork, this recent cover kept catching my eye as a nice painting. Book cover illustrations, out of context, don’t often make good freestanding works because the content is often tied up in clues or information about the content of the book, like a mystery book cover with the word “DIE” on a scrap of paper. And the illustration has to accommodate text as well, including the title, author’s name, sometimes a subtitle or description or review, so you get awkward empty areas.

You’ve met Olivia, the calico cat, and Archie, the ginger cat, is a friend of Olivia’s and shows up in the stories now and then. Olivia is also Patricia’s cat and she supplies plenty of photos of her for me to use. Archie is modeled by a foster from 2014 named Bert (of Bert and Ernie) now named Simon. In this instance, sunflowers played a part in the mystery, and she wanted them positioned on a porch. The book covers are 5″ x 8″ so I need to compose vertically and steps work well, and the green in the reference photo I used made a vibrant background. There is more to the illustration top and bottom, but those areas are where the title and other information go, and have little detail, so they conveniently crop out.

The two pretty cats, the sunflowers, the vibrant green, as I looked at it repeatedly while in my studio and thinking about my next monthly desktop calendar (especially since I totally skipped September!) it hit me like a smack on the forehead—there’s my next calendar art! To date, Patricia and I have finished 69 covers—69! I’m sure a few others out of that many will make nice desktop calendars too.

(We’ve actually finished 80 now.)

Here’s the synopsis of Olivia’s Secret:

Olivia shares the secrets that crack this unusual case. Parker and Olivia arrive home from a road trip to find a mystery building in their own backyard. Parker’s cousin, Pamela, seems to be missing, only there’s evidence that she’s in the area. Parker’s concerned that her cousin has run away from her responsibilities again, until a coworker reveals that Pamela may be a witness to a crime. New question, is Pamela hiding out or has she been kidnapped? Unable to determine whether she should be worried about Pamela or angry with her, Parker calls on her friend Jag and her spunky neighbor, Nonnie, to help sort through the possibilities and clues. This leads them to get involved in a cat rescue situation, which delights Olivia, and it’s the calico’s quick thinking that ultimately puts a halt to the terrorism.

You can find Olivia’s Secret on Patricia’s website and on

About the materials for the cover illustration

I use a self-prepared two-ply illustration board with a very fine surface texture to hold the pastel, and also be able to use other media. It’s not entirely opaque so I can put it on my light table and trace the details in place. I initially started out with a sketch in watercolor but I’ve been using my brush markers more often to block in the colors and especially the dark areas; the markers are alcohol based and don’t cause as much ripple in the paper and have cleaner edges than watercolors. Then I put it on my easel and finish it with my pastels, a mix soft pastels and pastel pencils especially for details.

Getting all the details just right on an illustration like these book covers can be tricky when they are small. Depending on the detail in the illustration, I work them almost twice the final size of the cover—the cover is 5″ x 8″ and I work at 9″ x 12″.

Other illustration materials I’ve used

I don’t use paper for most of these illustrations but chose Ampersand brand Pastelbord, which is a piece of Masonite with a very fine clay and marble-dust coating that has very little texture but holds layers of pastel so I can both do my finger-painting thing with blending softer pastels and sketch with harder pastels and pastel pencils, and it stands up well to multiple changes. I began the painting with soft pastels to cover the major areas with layers of color. I finished up the details and edges with pastel pencils.

But once I began working out the covers with all this Victorian detail like PAWSitively Sinister, I needed a little assistance in keeping the details in order so it didn’t take me until next year to do the painting. Especially when working with patterns it’s important nothing is out of place or it’s immediately noticeable. I start with a complete composite that I’ve built in Photoshop using all the photos and images and art so that Patricia can see just what it will look like, and I have all the details in place. It’s far more difficult to correct an illustration than a Photoshop composite, which I can adjust infinitely. That way, when I get to my actual painting, all the decisions have been made and I just need to paint.

I use a self-prepared two-ply illustration board with a very fine surface texture to hold the pastel, and also be able to use other media. It’s not entirely opaque so I can put it on my light table and trace the details in place. I start out with a sketch in watercolor and even marker to block in the colors and especially the dark areas. Then I put it on my table and finish it with my pastels, first the soft pastels for coverage, then pastel pencils for details.

Depending on the detail in the illustration, I work them sometimes twice the final size of the cover. Getting all the details just right on an illustration like these book covers can be tricky when they are small. The books are 5″ x 8″, but this illustration was 10″ x 16″, which helped me to paint in all the leaves and details of the bark.

About these book covers

I’ve illustrated over 70 covers for Patricia over two series of cat mysteries. Rather than list them all here, you can explore the category Book Cover.

Klepto Cat Book Covers

CWA 2018 Muse Medallion AND Certificate of Excellence for “Illustration: Series”

Illustration: Series, Klepto Cat Covers 27 through 32
MUSE™ Medallion and Certificate of Excellence

Patricia publishes about six books each year and I’ve entered the covers since 2015. I’ve won a Certificate of Excellence each year, and often won a MUSE™ Medallion too.

2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2021

Click the links above to see the other awards.

Bookmarks for Patricia L. Fry's books.
Bookmarks for Patricia L. Fry’s books.

All books are available in electronic format and most for print on as well as find the print versions on Patricia’s website. Reviews have been good, and a few reviewers have even mentioned the covers! I hope you enjoy these books, and Patricia and I are currently working on the next cover. That woman can write!

When we finished book 12 we also updated the two-sided bookmark that includes all twelve books so far which Patricia can hand out at book signings and book shows.

We’ve also printed several runs of note cards from multiple covers, including a Christmas series.

. . . . . . .

Read more about book covers I’ve designed. Also, click here to read more about the Purrs of Wisdom cover and bookmarks, and also about books I’ve designed on my blog, What’s New?

Are you interested in illustrations or a book cover, or book design? Please contact me, I’ll be happy to discuss your project.

Featured Artwork

Each week on Wednesday I feature a piece of artwork, sometimes a current or historic portrait, sometimes an illustration or an art project from years ago, usually cat-themed, but sometimes wildlife or even non-animal subjects, and even projects from my commercial art life. Read other Featured Artwork posts.

Custom Commissioned Artwork and Illustrations from Portraits of Animals


From Animal Portraits to Book Covers to Advertisements

In addition to creating commissioned portraits beloved animal companions for the past 25 years, I’ve also been a commercial artist since the 1980s both full-time and freelance and created many illustrations, book covers, advertisements, display signs and more. Visit my Commissioned Artwork pages to read more. They are not quite complete at the moment but there is still quite a bit to look at.

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.

2 thoughts on “Featured Artwork: Calico Cat Mysteries Book 9, “Olivia’s Secret”

  • da tabbies o trout towne

    very nicely done ! one of the way awesome aspects of your work, is how
    you paint their eyes so they look real….if this makes sense. I can’t even
    get the eyes to look right with the coloring books I have. hope all is well

    • I know what you mean–that was one of my first lessons when I painted those first realistic paintings back in the late 80s. It’s the little reflection of light on their eye, and the shading in the iris. That’s hard to achieve in colored pencil if that’s what you’re using. The little dot of light is always the finishing touch in my paintings.

      Things are getting better, still a mess but less of a mess, I’ve located all my materials and carved out some space on my worktable in the basement, but most of my kitchen is still down there too so it’s tricky.


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