I illustrated, designed, and coordinated the printing and binding of Cranberry Goes to the Block Party in 2013. Just a very small but important number of copies were printed—this was given as a Christmas gift to members of my customer’s family in memory of their mother and grandmother, and great-grandmother.
My customer and friend wrote this brief little book, not so much for the sake of publishing, but for the sake of memory. She grew up on Long Island and her mother was a librarian and cat lover. She remembered her mother reading the books of Clare Turlay Newberry and studying the illustrations, and carried on the tradition with her daughters.
Maggie, the author, lost her mother in 2009 after a stroke, but her mother’s one adamant wish was that Maggie would take her Siamese cat, Cranberry, even though she had two children in New York who liked cats and Maggie is in Pittsburgh. Cranberry still lives with Maggie and is a daily reminder of her mother.
After a happy little instance with Cranberry Maggie quickly wrote a simple story, visualizing it as a children’s book in much the same style as the books her mother had read to her while growing up, and those she had read to her girls. When she told me about it she asked me if I would illustrate it someday, but at that time my own mother was in her last year and to my great sadness I had little time for art.
A few years later I created a sketch of the cat in question after visiting one day, and Maggie and I started back into the project, which she decided she’d give as a gift for that Christmas.
A few of my readers have compared my sketches to Clare Turlay Newberry, which for me is an incredible honor—to be compared to one of the most famous feline illustrators in history! I told this to my Maggie, who recalled her book and said she’d love to see it through and dedicate it to her mother. She sent me a copy of Newberry’s Marshmallow (above) as the book she most visualized while she was writing; if you get a chance to read Marshmallow, you’ll love the story, and both Marshmallow and Oliver as well!
I initially posted a sketch and outlined the idea in May, 2013, and through the following months worked out the illustrations, designed the text and pages and coordinated the printing and binding through my regular contacts for my commercial art business.
I had begun with my favorite, comfortable pencil sketches, but with that book went on an all-out study of Clare Turlay Newberry’s work, style and life. As an illustrator, I am often given a style suggestion for which I’m grateful because it gives me both a clear idea of what my customer wants and a challenge to work in a style that may be quite different from my own. Emulating, not copying, a famous artist’s style, I begin with finding my own similarities, then by studying the artist, gathering more details specific to her, and most importantly, learning. It’s how I’ve learned most of what I know about drawing and painting, by studying.
As I worked my way through a few sample sketches I found the initial charcoal to be lovely, very fun and true to Newberry, but they were fragile, losing charcoal with handling even on good toothy paper, and didn’t scan well.
I decided to work out the sketches in pencil, with which I have a lifelong relationship, and I’d loosened up my pencil style in all the daily sketches I’d done of my cats in those years. I designed them freehand, based on the events in the story and photos of Maggie’s cats which I have from visits, sketching the basis in light pencil lines on the paper, then filling in the details on top of that basis, all done on one sheet, one sketch per sheet.
The pencil sketches are durable and scanned well, but didn’t have that free and loose feel of the original charcoal. Maggie mentioned this when we reviewed the sketches and the first draft of the book, and I agreed.
In studying Newberry I had discovered that her drawings weren’t in charcoal after all, but were in black and white pastel. I would say I have a familiarity with pastels, and also a set of black, gray and white pastels that would work perfectly. Referring back to the sketches in Marshmallow that we were using as a guide, I noticed that the originals were all done in only black, no shades of gray and no highlights added; the color shown in the book was added later, and we were planning color only on the cover. I do love to “muck around” in my pastels, as I call it, and for me it’s often closer to finger painting as I add more pastel to my paper and run my fingers over and through it to mix and blend and even sharpen details. But I also love to use a single color of a medium, especially black, used to show its best assets, be it soft side-blending from a pencil, sketchy lines and crosshatches with a pen, or finger-blended pastel dragged across the page to create a contour with the shape of the shadow.
So, black pastel it was!
I sketched my way through all the illustrations in black pastel, and immediately grew to love three of the sketches, and was pleased with the rest. That love is a good sign, no matter if it’s an illustration, graphic design, website, or brochure copy, and it’s never steered me wrong. I completed another draft of the book, this time with covers and actual text placement, Maggie approved, and it was time to move forward.
I’ve been quoting printed pieces of all sorts since the mid-80s and had a good idea of cover, text and finishing for this, as well as a few local printers with whom I already worked who could do each part of the finishing. I had designed the book at 6″ x 9″, keeping in mind standard paper sizes and a cover that would wrap all the way around the book in one piece. Even with a few blanks, front matter pages and feline and human profiles in the back, the book was not thick enough to perfect bind, only 20 pages maximum, which on even 80# text didn’t add up. Maggie didn’t care for the idea of saddle-stitching, or stapling along the spine, and neither did I because we really wanted to keep with the original idea of the illustrated soft-cover children’s books we remembered from childhood.
Knowing the book’s stacked text pages had to reach a certain thickness in order to be perfect bound, where the edges of the pages are individually glued into the spine with a cover that wraps around and is squared flush around it, I wondered about the possibility of using heavy text stock or even cover stock, and that was what we ended up using. Printed on 100# matte-finish cover for the text pages the book was just thick enough for perfect binding, and the cover would be 120# cover coated on one side, which would of course be the outside. We had determined the cover would have color, and even though it would be digitally printed and we could use full color, we decided to just use one color in addition to the black, choosing a warm peach color. The covers went to the printer who could print on 13″ x 19″ paper, the text pages went to another printer who had the best quality black printing for the details of the illustrations, then the whole stack went to the bindery along with my taped and glued folding dummy.
So there we are! I’m so happy to have been able to do this for Maggie. Now I have the taste for little illustrated books that are perfect bound. We’ll see what I come up with next! In the meantime, enjoy a few more favorite spreads from the book, not in any particular order.
Below is a gallery of all 13 illustrations. You can click on each one to enlarge it.
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.
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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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!