A Portrait of an Old Cat: Afternoon Nap
An old cat, a gentleman,
he has found a quiet spot, upstairs in the afternoon,
and has so perfectly placed himself a little off-center
on the expanse of white bedspread,
illuminated by stark winter light through the window.
(Stanley finds all the best places.)
You know those moments where you walk upon a scene of your cats doing something that you always want to remember, whether it’s a regular habit or a one-time thing? This scene was one of Stanley’s regular habits during his last few years; every afternoon he’d head upstairs with intent and I’d find him curled in the same spot on the bed.
All of my art begins with a moment, be the subject my cats or nature or even a more abstract visual theme. It’s where I go from that moment of inspiration that differs from one work to the next. Sometimes I’ll decide on a more formal portrait, more detailed, more planned, to capture a moment. I’ll take photos and write a few notes and keep it in my files for the day when I have time to follow up, and often this is determined by how often and how clearly my original image appears in my conscious mind—sometimes a painting really wants to be done and I find myself visualizing it all the time, other times it leaves and comes back at a moment that is meaningful. But sometimes I’ll do a quick sketch and leave it at that. The image is simple, it works best small, I only want to capture the mood, and there isn’t enough essential detail to warrant a larger, more detailed piece.
With “Afternoon Nap” I decided I wanted that moment. I’d already taken a few photos of him just to preserve the moment and was considering this sort of a scene as a more formal portrait. At his age he slept pretty soundly but I still tiptoed out of the room and ran down the stairs for my stuff. I grabbed my small box of pastels and a piece of my “experimental” drawing paper, choosing a heavy drawing paper to which I’d applied marble dust mixed with gesso and just a little bit of fine fine grit pastel medium, applying it with a brush to have just a bit of texture. I got to work, standing at the foot of the bed to quickly capture the essence of the scene I visualized in that instant: all the shades of shadow and highlight in the white bedspread, the fold under the pillows and the curve of the mahogany headboard just giving enough detail to know it was a bed, and the pastel winter light full of sun and just a bit of green reflected from the ivy on the tree outside the window. Instead of drawing with the ends of the pastels I dragged them over the surface in layers to get the depth of color and shadows, Stanley himself just in simple tonal colors, the only solid detail in his white paw.
It was all over in about ten minutes, and though I’d taken the reference photo I never made any changes from that initial inspired session. In its frame, I have allowed the edges to show, mounting it on deep burgundy mat board. I still have this painting, treasure it for its memory of Stanley as he watches over my office, and use it as inspiration for other similar sketches. You can read more about this painting in “A Portrait of an Old Cat”.
I love snow light, inside or out, and with the bare trees and anticipating snowfall I’m reminded of other snowy days and the cats who enjoyed them with me. Today I’m featuring five paintings of my cats done in winter light, each rescued from a life outdoors in the cold, ice and snow, and glad I could provide a loving home from where they could simply enjoy a snowy day from the inside. At the end I have information about where you can find each of these images.
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A Formerly Feral Kitty Finds Her Place: Sunday Morning
Moses made it back upstairs after breakfast before I had a chance to make the bed, and I didn’t have the heart to move her. So I got a sheet of drawing paper and my pastels and did a quick sketch of the scene, finishing it later from a photograph.
It was a pleasure to work in a looser style and just to catch the mood and all that wonderful winter light filling the ruffled batiste curtains through the east and south facing windows, sweet Moses being bold out in the open on the bed.
Look at the date: 1989, very early on in my career. I knew of one kind of pastel drawing paper and had cheap pastels and colored chalk, not sure whether I should make the investment in “real” pastels, and I had my cats. I guess that was all I needed. Now, years later, it’s a marvel to look at what I did with so little experience—if I did this as a daily sketch today I’d be glowing with pride and thrilled to share it. I also have this memory of a house I moved from long ago, and a happy scene with gentle little Moses that conveys more than the photograph ever could. Though no one but me would recognize her, I know this signifies a new confidence Moses had grown to feel that year, two years after she’d come to me, and that would grow slowly, slowly over the next 17 years.
Moses watches over my easel in the corner of my studio, and I continue to draw inspiration from her, the moment and the style with all the work I do.
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Little Kelly: Winter Window
Kelly pauses in the stark pastel light of a winter afternoon through the big north window in my studio, absolutely still in contemplation as she watches birds flit about at the feeders or Buddy the squirrel making a fool of himself. Kelly is petite for an adult cat, making the window seem vast, and the light is so diffuse that nothing has a hard edge. It is a scene I remember even in the heat of summer.
“Winter Window” is an original pastel on drawing paper I prepared myself, image size 8″ x 8″ painted in 2002 right in my office while Kelly looked out the window, and as often happens capturing that moment of inspiration also catches something essential that more planned paintings don’t. Though only I would recognize this as Kelly and she is facing away I will always feel I captured something very deep about her personality and about our relationship with this simple image.
In 2002 I was casting about for a holiday card image, saw little Kelly quietly looking out the window as she often did; silently so not to startle her I grabbed my pastels and a piece of my “experimental” drawing paper and got to work, standing right in the middle of the room to quickly capture the essence of the scene I visualized in that instant: the pastel winter light different in each pane of the window, the view softened by falling snow, the muted shadows inside, the softness of the bright overcast snow light. But it was all inspired by Kelly’s particular quiet and contemplative nature, I just loved her little shape, her petite figure in the midst of that vast light, and even then I remembered her early history living outdoors with a stray/feral colony; I had always wondered, in these moments, if she thought about those experiences that had so marked her cheerful and affectionate nature with timidity. For me, this has always been a portrait of the Kelly I knew who lived in her happy world with me and her feline siblings, but with part of her still in that other life, and separate from me. Who would know that in one quick visual and a 15-minute sketch I would be able to capture all that? But as always, I’m glad I took the time, and now I have this wonderful memory.
“Winter Window” was purchased by a Creative Cat reader who knew Kelly through my articles, and understood how I might feel about letting go of this painting at just this time. Read more about her here.
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A Colorful Moment, a Colorful Cat: Warm Winter Sun
Nothing is so clarifying as brilliant early morning sun, and nothing chases away the chill of a winter morning. Here, Namir was lulled to sleep by the natural warmth and comfort. While the main body of this work is lit by direct sunlight at that beautiful, long angle, the rest of the work is lit by reflected light.
Yes, this is the header image for The Creative Cat, a favorite painting of Namir from 2000 since he was the inspiration for me to begin blogging. He was a very creative cat, fully understanding the importance of lighting and color and composition as you may have seen in other photos and images of him I’ve share here.
The long strip of sun that comes in the back door early on a winter morning and reaches all the way to the far wall is a prized napping spot after breakfast. I love my chalk pastels but at that time I was exploring the colors and paint-like qualities of oil pastels, which had, up to that time, felt like crayons to me, stiff, unblending, building up in irritating blobs. But seeing this I wanted that impasto feel of paint, and the depth of shadow to contrast with the brilliance of this medium to capture the covers of my gardening books on the shelf and the highlights and reflections from Namir. I know I began it on paper, right there, and finished it from a photo, but I’m not sure where I ended one and began the other. I was pleased and honored that this painting won an award in the 2001 South Hills Art League’s annual juried show. Namir still looks over the corner of my office downstairs where my working easel stood for year, and which now displays new work.
Where to find this artwork
Some of the originals are still available (yes, I am ready to give them up); if you are interested in the details, please ask.
- In my “Winter Cats” holiday cards set.
- In my set of twelve “Feline Greetings Art Cards” set available in my Marketplace and on Etsy.
- Individual designs are available in my Etsy shop as singles or in quantity.
- Each of these paintings is available as a print, but aside from Winter Window I don’t have them set up in my Etsy shop, I just have so many prints already they are already hard to find. Hint: a new website is underway.
Each week I feature a piece of feline artwork from the archives to the present day, and discuss its history and process. If you’d like to read more about artwork as I develop it, about my current portraits and at assignments and even historic portraits and paintings, each week I feature a piece of artwork on Wednesday and a new product on Thursday. Choose the category for featured artwork.
Participating in Inspire Me Monday on Create With Joy.
All images used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in using one in a print or internet publication. If you are interested in purchasing a print of this image or a product including this image, check my Etsy shop or Fine Art America profile 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.
© 2014 | www.TheCreativeCat.net | Published by Bernadette E. Kazmarski
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!