Wednesday, May 29, 2024
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Fred and Simba, a Cat and His Guy

sktch of man holding cat
Fred and Simba, charcoal and pastel, 12×15 © B.E. Kazmarski

In 2010 my friend and customer Carolyn Kozlowski of My Three Cats & Co., Inc. said she’d like to commission me to create a portrait of her brother-in-law and his cat as a gift for his retirement from 40 years of teaching high school biology.

The cat, Simba, is a great love of Fred, and had been for all Simba’s 17 years at that time. While Simba was generally well he was pretty arthritic and moving slower all the time. Fred’s retirement, his affection for Simba and realizing Simba’s age all came together into the idea of the portrait.

Oh, and a certain daily habit of theirs…

Detail of portrait of man with tuxedo cat
Detail of two faces © B.E. Kazmarski

Pam, Carolyn’s sister and Fred’s wife, had captured a wonderful image of Fred cradling Simba on his left arm as they had done many times in those 17 years. After consideration of other poses involving only Simba, there was no question that this pose was the best image, not only as a portrait of Simba, but also as a gift for Fred to remember a special moment between the two.

Medium and style are always part of the decision in creating a portrait, finding what really suits the subject and theme, and even before I have all the materials together I usually visualize a image of the portrait from just the communication with the person and meeting the animal if I have had the opportunity to do so.

In this case, at hearing about the pose, then seeing it on Pam’s phone (out comes the phone whenever and wherever cat lovers meet), I immediately visualized a less formal style, something loose and flowing that didn’t pin down the details of Fred and Simba but let the image represent any moment in the years they were together.

In the original photo, Simba is facing Fred, looking up into his face, a wonderful moment between the two. But we decided we wanted to capture a little more of Simba’s features in the portrait so we turned his head to look out of the portrait so you can see his wide face, big green eyes and pink nose.

Detail of tuxedo cat face
Detail of Simba’s face © B.E. Kazmarski

Pencil was my first thought, a nice loose sketch on a warm-toned slightly textured paper, but the revised view meant adding color. A charcoal sketch with touches of pastel on a medium-toned paper would capture the image I was visualizing. Charcoal is available in various densities in pencils, in vines and in powder, and it has the necessary dense pure black I had in mind, the ability to work as a line or blend to muted, softened areas, and the soft matte finish I prefer for fur. The mid-range tone would enhance both the black and white of Simba’s tuxedo coat and allow me to highlight a few other elements in the drawing to give it body and depth, but leave non-subject areas with less detail.

We don’t have to worry about garments with animals, but since Fred was relaxing after work in his undershirt, we decided to dress him a little more appropriately and chose to show him in his favorite yellow polo shirt, typical dress for the long-time high school teacher. Oh, and that little open spot in his hair on the crown of his head, well, we decided to enhance what was there. Details like that are often changed not just for modesty but because they can be distracting by drawing attention to themselves, and in a more minimal sketch like this it certainly would have. And Fred and Simba enjoyed this moment long before the hair loss.

Another angel in my gallery of animals

Painting animals is a huge pleasure because I love studying their features and then capturing those features in some medium that illustrates them best, be it pencil or ink, or pastel or watercolor. I get to know another animal in a deep and intuitive way, even if they’ve passed, and they add another angel to my lifetime of animals I love, and another story to the long list of mine and others’.

Getting to know their people, most of whom have become friends over the years, has been a second great pleasure of animal portraiture, and another group of people with whom I can share the lives, loves and losses of a very important personality in our lives.

two people with painting
Fred and me with his portrait

Vicariously participating in gift-giving

A portrait which is a gift is a level of honor I truly appreciate—the idea that another person trusts my talent enough to have me create this special gift is almost a frightening thought, but such a joy; we can never give too many gifts, and sharing in anothers’ gift is beyond compare. While I always think of my subject and the people involved while I work, I can also think about this other person who knows nothing about the special gift we’re creating, and the loving, joyous, usually highly emotional surprise they’ll have with it.

I am rarely present at the presentation, though, and that made this portrait all the more special. I couldn’t imagine this portrait any other way, and everyone was pleased with it. Carolyn presented it, and Fred suddenly understood why I’d visited Pam a few times and why I was at his retirement party, other than being a friend of his wife and sister-in-law. My last visit was to determine the mat and frame.

The unseen brother

But a sad note…one thing that makes this portrait somewhat bittersweet is that Simba had a brother, Shakespeare, another tuxedo cat. When they were a little less than two, Shakespeare, investigating something on the floor while Pam and Fred got ready for work, was startled enough to suddenly leap backward, hitting his back and neck on a door frame. After writhing in pain for a minute or two while Fred and Pam tried to look him over and decide what to do, he simply quit moving and quit breathing.

Not really knowing any options in that day, Fred, crying so hard he could barely see, dug a hole in a protected spot in their yard while Pam carefully wrapped him, and they buried Shakespeare in the garden. Simba hid while they buried him, but later Simba went to sit exactly where Shakespeare was buried, and on his supervised visits to the yard always visits the spot.

Such a shock, to say unexpected is an understatement, and I could see the shock and grief is still painful all these years later, but Shakespeare’s memory is still a part of their lives. Fred and Pam have never forgotten, but Simba was never the same without his brother, much quieter and less playful, all the rest of his life. So many stories, we all have so much to share.

Father’s Day Discounts in my Etsy Shop

And the fact that Fred happens to be a guy and Simba is a cat? Think guys aren’t cat daddies? No one even remarked on his cat guy status, it’s just the way he always was.

Use FATHERSPORTRAIT10 to receive 10% off the purchase of a portrait certificate or of the cost of a commissioned portrait (we will discuss the portrait and I will give you an estimate).

Use FATHERSDAY10 to receive 10% off the purchase of Fatherr’s Day gifts, which may include a portrait certificate or of the cost of a commissioned portrait.

Sample Commissioned Portrait Certificate

About Commissioned Portrait Gift Certificates

The certificate itself is 8.5″ x 11″ and features a collage of portrait images with the recipient’s and giver’s names, printed on parchment cover stock. The whole thing is packaged in a pocket folder and includes a brochure, a letter from me to the recipient and several business cards.The certificate package can be easily mailed or wrapped as a gift and shipped directly to your recipient.

I can also make the package into a PDF and e-mail it to you if you’re in a hurry.

Portrait certificates are a minimum of $125.00 because that is the minimum cost of a portrait.

Certificates are good for up to one year after issue.

How to purchase a gift certificate

You can purchase a $125.00 gift certificate from my Etsy shop if you are also purchasing other animal-inspired merchandise, or you can purchase it right here. For the Mother’s Day and Father’s Day discounts when purchasing from this page the discount isn’t automatically deducted, but use the discount codes MOTHERSPORTRAIT10 and FATHERSPORTRAIT10 in the notes section and I will refund the discounted amount of $12.50 to your credit card. Let me know if you need it in a hurry and I’ll put it together for you as a PDF.

Enter the recipient’s name
Enter shipping address

You only need to enter an address if it is different from the address I’ll receive through PayPal. These are often surprise gifts and need to be shipped away from the home address to make sure they are a surprise.

Take a look at other portraits and read other stories

Read articles here on The Creative Cat featuring current and past commissioned portraits.

Read about how I create commissioned portraits.

Purchase a gift certificate for a commissioned portrait.

Visit my website to see portraits of my cats, commissioned cats, commissioned dogs, people and a demonstration of how I put a portrait together from photos.

Commissioned Cat Portraits Commissioned Dog Portraits

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 purchasing one as a print, or to use in a print or internet publication.

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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 purchasing one as a print, or to use in a print or internet publication.



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