Meet Lucy: The most exceptional kitten the world has ever known!
In my day book where I keep track of all the dates and anniversaries in my life I see that May 24, 2006 is the date that Lucy “got her name”. The litter arrived on May 17 and Lucy’s three siblings were adopted in days. A few others were interested in a black kitten but no one followed through. After a week I thought I’d stop calling her Sweetie and give her a real name, though we all know what often happens when you do that. Yes, of course, she stayed with me. Considering the outcome for her and Mimi, I think it was meant to be.
I’ve been returning to this book idea now that I have the time and the skills for what I want to produce—I was shocked a decade ago when I couldn’t produce illustrations that were anything like what I was envisioning! I stopped after three, and you can read the rest of the story below. But I also think the cover illustration of Lucy is too cute not to include it in my selection of cabochons, tiles and note cards, with or without the text! Can’t you just see little Lucy’s face in a cabochon? A square refrigerator magnet and a tile with her image? How about a handmade cut paper note card?
You enjoy the rest of the story while I get to work!
As I said when I initially posted this in July 2010:
No, I haven’t added a kitten to my household of nine adults! But there is definitely a story, in more ways than one, behind this illustration.
Those stories contain both intense joy and overwhelming sorrow; they contain an unexpected loss of a kitten after the loss of many others, which led to the welcoming of Mimi and the Fantastic Four, and a promise to that kitten that I’d honor her brief existence with joy and love.
This illustration is one of many I’m planning for a little illustrated book of the life of a kitten, featuring Lucy, who will always be the most exceptional kitten! As I watched her grow, even before I knew she’d stay with me, at least for a while, I began intensely visualizing the slender little black kitten with the tail that curled in a perfect circle going about her busy kitten day of throwing throw rugs, tossing toss pillows and unrolling her favorite ball of purple yarn all over the house, all in front of colorful patterned backgrounds.
I created this sketch intending to continue with others, but the time just wasn’t right until now.
Well, that was the right time to get started, and almost a decade later I still have only the cover and two illustrations done (below), but I’m not entirely disappointed. I have the story completely written in two different versions and more illustrations drafted, but I realized right away that my art skills weren’t anywhere near what they needed to be to produce the illustrations I wanted, not even my hand-lettering was acceptable and I used to do a ton of calligraphy. I decided I’d need some practice. However, that year was the year I moved my mother to a nursing home and she steadily declined, passing away the following January. As she declined I focused on her needs as well as my brother’s.
The following year when I had more time I jumped into a project I’d envisioned in the late 90s before I even began working at home, Great Rescues, initially Great Rescues Calendar and Gift Book, which I designed and published in 2011. Then, finally, at the end of 2011 I decided it was time to work on my art illustration skills in all media, and in December began three years of daily cat sketches, setting aside about 15 minutes each day to do a sketch of my cats. As always, my cats led me to do something new and wonderful with my creative efforts in preparation for these illustrations and many others.
So maybe it’s time to start thinking it through again and get back to it. In the meantime, enjoy the illustrations and the stories behind them.
Raising a kitten the easy way
I’ve always been pretty bossy about raising kittens. In a house with six to ten adult cats, my adult cats long ago let me know through a few snitty reactions to overactive kittens that they didn’t care to share their space with kittens 24/7—but they’d be glad to share the kittens’ food. So kittens always had their own room, allowed out under supervision for longer periods as they grew older. Often the kittens have been somewhat frightened or even feral, and this confinement helped to calm and socialize them, and it also ensured they had food available all the time. My adult companions knew that the annoying little furballs would eventually be removed and that their overnight sleep on my bed with me would not be interrupted. Peace was kept.
But Lucy was by herself, and lone kittens are just lonely. I confined her only to the upstairs during the day, the spare cat room only overnight, so the older cats could still come and go upstairs.
But Sophie kept knocking down the barrier, and I’d turn around to see little Lucy cautiously tiptoeing down the stairs to my office.
Why not? I thought, three months is old enough to be out, and let her explore the house. She was wonderfully reasonable. She would return from the basement with big eyes and cobwebs tangled in her whiskers and wrapped around her ears and long, long tail. The cubbyholes of my house hadn’t been explored by a cat for years since all mine had grown older, and apparently I needed a kitten to do some deep cleaning. I knew there were no accesses to the outdoors or to the walls or ductwork she could get in trouble with, so I let her have fun.
Lucy, in turn, “did everything once”—she climbed every screen once, then never did it again, clawed furniture to try it out, but preferred the tree trunk, and so on. I was concerned that I had little time to interact with her in the middle of all the declining health, but she was so refreshing to watch scampering around and exploring her home as if it all belonged to her and seemed to enjoy playing on her own, then checking in with me. Most of the adult cats ostensibly ignored her, Stanley was confused by her—poor guy, he’d fostered so many kittens, but he was 25 years old—but she came to adore Namir, following him around and imitating his every move like a typical little sister, and in big-brother way, she got a little mock-annoyed swat now and then, but he
tolerated soaked up her adoration.
So I confined her only at night, and in January when Stanley needed to stay upstairs for his last days I let her out entirely and started her eating with the family.
Time for falling in love
I walked the final path with Stanley, one of my oldest friends, giving him and his final passage the dignity and love he deserved. In my sorrow at his passing, I could turn to Lucy to help ease my grief.
The rule for me in fostering is that any member of my household, up to a certain point, perhaps a year, was up for adoption, and this had included Lucy as it had all the others in their time. I hadn’t had time to look for a home for Lucy with caring for and losing my seniors, but I still raised her and thought of her in the context of joining someone else’s household some day.
And in all my years of rescue and foster, I have rarely had a cat from its kittenhood. Most of mine have been adults, or at most older kittens, near one year old.
I fell, really hard. It was my pleasure.
Anyone who’s ever fostered or adopted a kitten will agree that they totally occupy your entire attention for a while, not because they need so much care but because they are so darned cute! Everything they do is cute! I think it’s often what saves their little lives when they are found in the outdoors and crammed into shelters, that they are cute and irresistible and helpless people will do anything for them when they are young, active, playful, friendly, and CUTE!
So Lucy came to symbolize what I’d held in my heart and visual imagination about kittens from years of fostering. It was in the next few months that I began visualizing the illustrated story of the petite black kitten, the silhouette with yellow eyes and a long tail, turning everything she did into another image in the book: tossing the toss pillows, throwing the throw rugs, getting into everything possible so she’d know every inch of her little world. That unrestricted kitten-raising method was the very thing that led to this process.
And it grew from illustrating not only the cuteness of an active little kitten but also explaining to readers that this is what kittens do, look forward to it, enjoy it, understand it, prepare for it if you are considering adopting a kitten.
But if this level of activity and curiosity is not something you want to deal with, then just enjoy the book and adopt an adult cat or a different pet entirely. I’ve always been realistic with people when they consider adopting a kitten, so Lucy could help me make that point just by being herself.
The Ball of Purple Yarn
And the yarn ball illustration actually inspired part of the educational idea of the book. When Stanley was in his last few months, I decided to pull out my yarns so that I’d have something to keep my hands busy in the time I sat with him. The first time Lucy met “yarn”, I thought by her reaction—big round eyes, puffed tail, stiff legs, big interest—perhaps there was a squirrel hidden in the box (the box had been in the attic).
Apparently Lucy had a special love for yarn that she had for no other toy ever, and really did go digging in my yarn bag and pull out the purple yarn from all the other colors, and played with it. I took it away from her, knowing yarn can be very dangerous, even fatal, to cats if they eat it. I kept my yarn bag buckled closed and actually put that ball of purple yarn in a box and folded the flaps shut so she wouldn’t be able to open it.
But I returned home one afternoon to find purple yarn rolled out all over the house—I mean all over from the basement through the first floor, up the steps, even over my bed and into the bathroom, the whole ball was unrolled, and Lucy was sitting in the middle of the first floor looking very excited.
“I chased and chased and chased it until it went away!”
Of course, that will be another illustration. Of course, it also taught me another lesson about kittens that I’d forgotten—never doubt the ingenuity of a developing mind! Just like children, they’ll figure out how to get something they want, and they may not always make the best decisions. Because she loved the ball so much, I rolled it up and stitched it so the yarn couldn’t unravel, except for a long tail with I crocheted into a chain stitch, much safer to play with, and she loved it just as much. There were other balls of yarn in that box and in my yarn bag, but that purple ball was the only one she ever showed any interest in. I still have it hidden deep in my yarn bag.
And just a few notes on this illustration—I really need to change some of the colors–too much yellow! I had also drawn in her slightly open mouth in the original sketch, but painted over it for this color sketch because in my unskilled way I could not make it look right.
And then there was the way she “tossed the toss pillows” and “scattered the scatter rugs”. All kitties scatter the scatter rugs, but I did see her leap into the toss pillows I had on my bed at the time and flip over and somehow most of them were in the air.
These illustrations are by no means done, but they are my process for finding my palette and style, the text, and all the details of Lucy that I’d sketched out three years ago. We’ll see where I go with 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.
Help me illustrate, anthologize and publish my poetry, rescue stories and essays.
As I mentioned above, when I wrote this story in 2013 I had planned to expand the story to its natural length and include a set of illustrations done as linoleum block prints. I created one marker sketch in a style I’d use for the prints, but cutting and printing them is a time-consuming labor of love. Finishing this story and illustrating it is on my list of Patreon projects because it would take place over time, and support through Patreon would help to support me while I worked. You can read about it here or visit my Patreon page.
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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Tuesday: Rescue Stories
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And sometimes, I just throw my hands in the air and have fun!