A couple of new animals to paint in the next cover illustration—birds! Cover No. 36 had so many possibilities I had a hard time settling on which one I’d paint.
Patricia emailed about the cover for book 36 and asked how I was at drawing birds. Rags makes friends with two small parrots, conures, and included a photo. I thought there was something familiar about them. When she mentioned the book The Parrots of Telegraph Hill about a long-standing flock of parrots living wild in Telegraph Hill in San Francisco I remembered the story I’d heard some time recently.
“We’ve had wild parrots similar to this in our area too. I first saw them when I was walking and I heard a horse whinney—in a tree. Yeah—in a tree. I looked around and finally spotted a couple of small parrots mimicking the horses they heard in the area, I guess. Learned that there was quite a band of the little guys in Ojai,” she said.
As part of the story, Rags meets a few of these parrots in a park while with Savannah walking on his leash and climbs up in a tree with them. She suggested the illustration could also show him looking at them from the ground below. Either way, the parrots take to him even though he’s a cat so they could be fairly close to him. Later they fly into the car with Savannah and two of them go home with them and Rags also interracts with them in a home environment. At one point, one parrot is riding on Rags’s back—holding onto his harness—in a garden atmosphere, when a hawk attacks.
Wow, that’s a lot of great imagery! But that wasn’t all!
Separate from the parrots, Rags makes friends with a great horned owl who interacts with Rags when he is locked in a small shed with windows, and suggested they could be looking at each other through the window. “Think about it and see what you can conjure up in your mind,” she said.
I’ve visited plenty of wildlife rehabilitation sites and sanctuaries and have many photos of owls, especially, and I knew just the great-horned owl who would fit this illustration. Martha was rescued by The Wildlife Center as part of Humane Animal Rescue (formerly the Animal Rescue League) here in Pittsburgh. Her wing was broken too badly to release her, so she is a demonstration owl at shelter events. I took photos of her a decade ago at one of those events.
And then she added, “Since the title has whisker in it, we might consider a real closeup of Rags’s face with one of the birds nibbling on his long whiskers. Just a thought. You know your craft—what do you think?”
As I mulled over all of this, visualizing this and that and the parrots and the owl and the tree and Rags on his leash, I was thinking that having Rags in the tree would be the easiest way to have him interact with both the parrots and the owl, and the cover would be different from any of the many other covers we’ve produced. So I asked what season it was and what kind of a tree they might all be meeting in.
She liked the the idea of a closeup of Rags and one or two of the small green parrots in the tree. “What do you think about a great horned owl in the background? If it works out. Not crucial.”
Okay, we were on the same track!
And then she sent me a very special photo of “Rags” in a tree. The character Rags is based on her mother’s real-life kitty Smokey. “Oh, oh, I have pictures of Smokey (Rags) in a tree. Let me see if these spark any idea. That’s a strawberry guava that Mama loved—my grandmother gave it to my folks when they built this house. It split in half and died a few weeks after Mama died,” which happened earlier this year.
That solved it for me. She sent two photos that were better than anything I could ever come up with in so many ways, and one photo was purrfect!
Because the cover is vertical, I added more tree top and bottom. I added Martha the owl in the darker background so she would stand out, then searched for stock photos of the conures so I could find one in just the right position to have it stand on those little twigs next to Rags and groom his whiskers.
And there you are!
About the illustration materials
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 a total of 19 covers for Patricia. You can see them below, but unfortunately you can’t click on the images to go to the article and read more about them. Use these links instead: Catnapped, Cat-Eye Witness, Sleight of Paw, Undercover Cat, The Colony Cat Caper, The Corral Cat Caper, Gallery Cat Caper, Mansion of Meows, Celebrity Cat Caper, Pawtners in Crime, Pawsitively Sinister, The Purrfect Lie, A Picture Purrfect Christmas, Meow for the Money, Claws for a Cause, Cabin FURvor, A MEOWvelous Witness, Cats in Cahoots, The Amazing CATventure, By Crook or By Cat, Merriment, Mayhem and Meows, A Christmas to Purr About, Cattywampus Travels, Cats in the Belfry, CATalyst for Clues., The Perilous PURRsuit, Secrets, Trickery and Meows, The ImPAWsible Mission, Meowmoirs of a Kleptocat, Revenge at its Felinest, FURever Bound, Cats Don’t Squeal, The Secret Claws , FURever Friends and Wrong Side of the Paw.
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
Click the links above to see the other awards.
All books are available in electronic format and most for print on Amazon.com 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 two runs of note cards from three of the covers.
. . . . . . .
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.
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.
Subscribe to my e-newsletter
Subscribe to The Creative Cat Preview E-newsletter.
Weekly schedule of features:
Tuesday: Rescue Stories
Thursday: New Merchandise
And sometimes, I just throw my hands in the air and have fun!