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Fourteen Years and a Few Serious “Thanks”

watercolor of two cats on windowsill
“Studio Guardians”, watercolor pencil © B.E. Kazmarski

January 1 is the anniversary of the day I began working at home and it’s very easy to remember what year I’m celebrating because that day was January 1, 2000. I still remember that first day, going to sit at my desk in the room downstairs even though it wasn’t really a work day. I’d been freelancing and working at that desk in the corner for a few years already, and looking out the two big windows to watch birds at the feeders and observe the neighborhood, my desk and the windowsills lined with my family of felines, happy I’d be sitting still for a while so they could get in a good bath and nap on me and my papers. Below, my desk in summer 2006 featuring Stanley curled next to Sophie, Kelly bathing, Namir and Cookie curled in front of me and Peaches having a good scratch on the file cabinet.

desk with six cats
Desk with six cats, taken in 2006, but typical of my desk at any given time.

Over the years my customers and work projects have evolved as has my family of felines, though lying all over my desk never went out of style, even in the wee hours when I was up with a project as in the photo below from 2010 with Peaches on a box, Mimi on the windowsill, Dickie on my desk, Cookie having a good bath right in front of me, and Giuseppe  on the right. It really was 3:00 a.m.—there were plenty of times in my mother’s last years that I was off at a hospital unexpectedly for hours to see to her care that I just worked whenever I could, and my cats took it all in stride.

It’s 3:00 a.m., do you know where your human is?

I realized last year that, including the time I’d spent freelancing in the 1990s, I’d been working at that same desk in that same corner of the room for 15 years, and as much as I loved the views out the windows, the convenience to the kitchen and outdoors and all the memories, I was really tired of that spot! I’d worked over the course of 2011 to renew my studio and absolutely loved it in that room, using it just for fine art, framing and creative activities since it’s quite small and I didn’t want to overcrowd it.

But I also enjoyed the change in scenery and found the room conducive to writing as well and began moving more and more of my work up to my studio. As my work has included more fine art, writing and creating gift items and less commercial graphic design, I’ve been spending more time in the studio and enjoying every minute. For many years it was the “spare kitty room”, holding many memories of sitting in that room and looking out that window while trying to tame or comfort or treat a rescued cat, and may still serve that purpose again if it’s ever necessary, but I think I’ve moved that operation to the bathroom for now. I think my family of felines appreciates the change in scenery too, or they just like to make sure I am properly supervised as you see Jelly Bean, Mewsette, Giuseppe, Sunshine and Cookie on the chair.

five cats in studio
The Curious Quartet joins Cookie in getting ready for a day of work.

And that change from commercial to more creative work is the reason for my “thanks” today. I do all my own framing and block printing and items like my keepsake boxes and wood-mounted art are from prints I make myself. But all those greeting cards, calendars, garden flags, art prints and more which I sell are designed by me, but printed by three small local printing companies, each of whom I’ve known and worked with for at least ten years, and to whom I owe a good portion of the success of those products for the care they take with my work. These printers also print plenty of other items I’ve designed for my commercial customers from newsletters and business cards to multi-folded promotional brochures, and my experimentation with my own products has also been a benefit to my customers.

Printing with everyday photographs and text is one thing; I’ve been designing printed materials since the early 80s and can anticipate the outcome from an average design. But tossing in the layered effects from a graphic design program, or the depth of color and detail in a high-resolution scan of one of my paintings, and even many of my photographs have challenging color and contrast especially those of black cats, the outcome is far less predictable and can change from product to product, paper to nylon to a polymer. At this point I’m working with small quantities of these items to see how they sell, and because I print small quantities they are all printed digitally, and that can outcome can vary depending on the state of mind of the digital machines, known to be fickle.

Each of these printers takes the time to run sometimes multiple proofs until the image is as good as it can be on any product (read that: “Until I like it.”), then matching that proof every time the job is run, and they’ll also make suggestions about products, such as a paper stock with a slightly different finish, that may work better for a particular image. They’ll also let me know about new equipment and services they have and new products I might be interested in and work with me from discussing one of my bright ideas to seeing it through the experimental stage and hopefully printing it. I’ll bet they make faces when I call up and say, “You know what, I have in idea and I want to know what you think…”

But that’s how things like the garden flags were born. My success with all these printed materials begins with my art and design, but the success of the actual product depends in good part on these people, and they take it seriously. I’d like let you know where these products are made and to thank them here.

Graphic Impressions

garden flags with cats
Garden flags are here!

I’ve been printing with Graphic Impressions, a business of about four people in the print section who design, print, and finish all the materials, since 2003 when they were the first small company around to start running a color digital printer and I could provide my customers, and then myself, with affordable small runs of full-color brochures and post cards.  Since then they’ve printed thousands of post cards for customer events and outreach, brochures, invitation sets and tickets, and this was where I began working out ideas for greeting cards, beginning with small notecards, then working my way through all possible sizes and shapes as I worked out the availability of envelopes and efficiency of different sizes of cards. I actually worked my way through these designs with the memorial cards for several of my cats when they’d passed—I used to have them printed and mailed them out to friends, some of the cards odd sizes and with complicated folds as part of the presentation of my memorial. My feline art cards, animal sympathy cards, holiday cards and others all started out this way.

This printer also prints and laminates my placemats, and printed the original Great Rescues Calendar and Gift Book except the die-cut cover and the new Great Rescues Day Book, and the 2013 and 2014 Compositions in Black and Green and In the Kitchen With Cookie calendars as well as this year’s new 12 Sketches of Cats limited edition art calendar, which grew from the fact that they print nearly all the digital art prints I sell.

The most notable product at this printer, though, is my garden flags, which was one of those bright ideas I mentioned above. They’d hosted a “graphic design summit” for their reseller customers like me where we could meet local vendors and providers of papers, materials and services, and this was where I’d first seen, among other products, the digital satin my garden flags are printed on. I had wanted to sell placemats and called the manager, Mike, with my idea, then sent over a bunch of designs to print on various woven and polymer materials. The materials were a little too expensive to sell as a placemat, but I noticed the digital satin had a nice look as a fabric and the art looked great on it…and I’d been thinking about garden flags. We printed a test flag in late summer 2012 and I found I could stitch the pocket into the fabric instead of adding a band of fabric at the top as the pocket, then hung it in my back yard for the autumn and winter. By spring 2013 I was hooked on the idea and we worked out quantities and pricing and printed proofs of the very first designs from spring 2013. Now I have ten feline designs and am planning Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s designs as well as—gasp!—non-feline designs with my birds and butterflies and flowers.

The Printing Press

note card
“Conversation With a Daisy” note card, one of the “Feline Sketches” set.

I’ve been working with Derek at this one-person shop since 1998 when I needed to print a small run of custom note cards for a customer using a sketch I’d done. I knew many printers in the area from freelancing and also my position as a print buyer for the company I worked for, but no one who could efficiently do a really small run in my area. A printer rep introduced me and since then I’ve printed both commercial and personal items there, from business cards to greeting cards to tablets and punch cards. In an era when most printers were “going digital” Derek still ran inks on a small press, and I still had customers who needed plain old one-, two- and three-color printing for business cards, letterhead, forms and newsletters.

Derek has printed my one-color note card sets, “Kitties Being Kitties”, which is black ink on cotton laid paper, and a set of nature note cards and note paper entitled “Eye on the Sparrow”, which is also black ink on natural white cotton cover and text. When I envisioned a set of note cards with my feline pencil sketches through the years, “Feline Sketches”, I knew I wanted ivory paper but not black ink or they would simply look like charcoal sketches. Derek ran tests with warm gray inks to see which best matched the nature of pencil on paper and I am still pleased with the outcome every time I look at them. He’s also printed memo pads with the same artwork as well as art prints on the same cover stock for all of these cards. All inks are soy-based and I can go out and purchase the paper I want wholesale to provide to him.

Many small printers don’t have a bindery department and Derek has binding and finishing equipment to saddle-stitch, coil bind and score and fold large quantities. Those calendars Mike printed at Graphic Impressions were coil-bound at The Printing Press, and each year he scores and folds several thousand greeting cards for me. Recently acquiring a digital press in addition to the old ink presses, Derek printed and bound my Feline Style Sampler as well.

American Wholesale Thermographers

halloween design featuring four black cats
“Happy Meow-lo-ween from The Four Housecats of the Apocalypse!”

What the heck is “thermography”? It’s those raised-print business cards and letterhead you could always get at one-day print services. Ink needs time to dry but thermography dusts an embossing powder to a printed product and then runs it through a dryer so business cards can be trimmed and boxed immediately. The technique has been around since some time in the 1980s, and since then many of the “one-day business cards” you see advertised are actually transmitted from thousands of small print shops to local franchises of this company, printed overnight, then shipped out in the morning. Today they also offer “flat printing”, which is the regular old ink on paper printing we all know, and digital printing, not quite in one day but usually a lot faster than anyone else can get it done because they are set up for it.

And to add interest to the story, 20 years ago I actually worked at the local franchise I now print with. I had taken a sabbatical from my day job in 1993 to explore my artwork, and that was when I initially began to explore working at home or some sort of self-employment involving my artwork. I began part-time at this place, using desktop publishing skills I’d learned renting time on a Mac in Kinko’s for the previous year, then increased to nearly full-time with an afternoon shift that allowed me to get work done and meet with customers in the morning and early afternoon, then go in to sit and typeset business cards and letterhead and envelopes and rubber stamps to be printed that night. After a year my former company asked if I could come back as a kind of “fill-in” person to design, proofread, convert customer design files from Mac to PC since I used both operating systems, and quote printed materials and buy print for customers of the company. The hours were different but the pay was much better, and while I still had my eye on working at home at some point in the future I felt it was a good financial move in support of that, allowing me to purchase health insurance and set up my office, and put money in the bank. The company now employs about five people in all, and one of the people who now works in the front office was hired when I worked there—Liz and I were typesetters side by side until I left, now I get to talk to a friend when I call for questions or pick up a finished job.

Even before I left AWT, though, I had begun having my own business cards, letterhead and envelopes printed there as well as customer jobs. They acquired a digital press in 2005 and I balanced printing full-color items between them and Graphic Impressions, depending on quantity and timing and the need to drop ship, and now I balance full-color digital jobs among all three depending on the quantity and timing as well as finishing.

Whew! There are times when I have multiple jobs at all three printers for commercial customers as well as myself, and this past autumn was no different as I prepared for the holidays along with my customers, many of whom are small non-profits who hold their annual benefits and outreach events just before and during the holiday season. I had one big flow chart to keep it all straight and make sure I didn’t lose track of anything. Now it’s all done, at least for the moment, until I start on those Valentine’s Day things…

I always say that there is no greater advertisement than a happy customer, and I love to pass business along to these three companies who support me as my business grows. Even if you’re not in the area, if you have ideas for things you’d like to have printed whether it’s a creative project or a business project here is their contact information. If not, at least you know where many of the things I offer are coming from.

Graphic Impressions

They don’t have a website at the moment, but visit their Facebook page.

180 Bilmar Drive, Suite 6
Pittsburgh, PA 15205

Phone: (412) 928-2411
Fax:  (412) 928-2487

[email protected]

The Printing Press

Derek Danko

246 Moon Clinton Road
Suite 101
Moon Township, PA 15108

Phone: 412-264-3355
Fax: 412-264-3477

[email protected]

American Wholesale Thermographers

AWT only works with resellers, but many artists and writers qualify as resellers if the majority of what you are printing is your own work for resale and promotional items. I work with the Pittsburgh franchise, though you’ll find franchises here and there around the country; each is different depending on the needs in their area, but you can choose to work with any franchise you want.

P.O. Box 12750
Pittsburgh, PA 15241-2750
Telephone: 412-257-0800
Fax: 412-257-8460

Happy New Year!

Whatever it is you do each day, I hope you love it as much as I love my job, and I hope you have cats and/or any other pets to supervise you while you do it!

You can read more about my background in my 13-year anniversary post from last year and about my education in my ten-year anniversary post and on my About page. Also visit my blog What’s New in Bernadette’s Studio? to see current commercial projects and visit my main website in Graphic Design and Illustration to see projects by product and by customer.

. . . . . . .

I finished composing this article and posted it, then turned around to get up and stretch. This is what I saw. I can’t get away with anything. I’m not even sure if I can get out of the room.

five black cats
How they celebrated New Year’s Day 2014.

Browse some rescued cats and kittens!

cats for adoption

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.

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© 2013 | | Published by Bernadette E. Kazmarski



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.

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