Nick, Slightly Unconventional
Nick was a full-bred Himalayan and also a rescue cat. His person had won a certificate I’d donated to one of the animal shelter benefits and decided she wanted to remember this long-lived Himalayan cat who was just a little out of the ordinary in several ways.
For one thing, Nick was blind, and had been most of his life. The strange thing was she had no idea how long he’d been because he apparently adapted to it without notice, and for years looked right at her with those lovely blue eyes, truly seeming to focus on her face.
His “sisters”, who were slightly younger, didn’t treat him any differently and he still followed all his habits, ate normally, drank his water, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. She had noticed he seemed a little “dreamy”, gazing around, perhaps not focusing his eyes, but never anything obvious like running into something or getting lost. One year, on an annual exam, her veterinarian mentioned his blindness because his pupils did not react, and that was how she found out. It didn’t seem recent, may have been months or even years, but he never seemed to mind.
For another he liked to go outdoors to patrol the yard and driveway, never going farther, and even once he was blind he apparently still followed the same patterns outdoors—though that included the winter as well. In fact, he loved snow, almost as much as he enjoyed stretching himself out on the asphalt driveway in the sun, the black surface absorbing heat and reflecting it back on to him and his sisters. I didn’t see this but laughed at her description of them as “looking like a bunch of dustmops out there on the driveway”.
And there are elements in the relationship with an animal that can’t be examined, but which make them special to us, and this is where I love my portaiture. To her Nick was decidedly out of the ordinary, she wanted a slightly looser style of portrait, something a little different. I love to loosen up, especially with lots of fur, and I also like to work my pastels on different surfaces in addition to the sanded drawing paper I typically use for fully detailed portraits. I’ll use a textured paper or add texture to a heavier drawing surface using gesso or marble dust, adding a bit of fine or coarse grit medium to hold the pastel. In this case I mixed gesso and marble dust in equal parts so that it was thick enough to hold brush strokes and brushed it in thin layers onto the the surface horizontally, then vertically, several times letting each layer dry in between, creating a varied cross-hatch linen-like surface (look closely in the closeups of his face, above, and paw, below, to see the texture).
So I loosened up the lines as well, in part because on that surface it’s difficult to get the level of fine photographic detail. Also, I can rub colors into the surface of the board, then gently brush another color over the texture to create depth, as you can see in the shadow above.
We used a photo I took that day and he shows obvious signs of age in his posture, how his paws are held and even the texture of his fur. It’s clear that his eyes are not focused, and might be obvious to someone with experience with a blind cat that he actually could not see.
We decided to be honest about where he was in physical posture and all he looked like at that age, but to make his eyes focus as she remembered them for most of his life, even when he’d been blind.
Not wanting any objects in the portraits, we decided a blue background to match his eyes would be attractive with him and complement his fur, making it a very subtly-colored portrait using such a limited palette.
Nick was 18 when I did this portrait and I believe he lived another two years beyond.
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10 thoughts on “Nick, Slightly Unconventional”
Bernadette, that is stunning! You seem to have captured something of his soul in that portrait. So touching!
Carolyn, thanks–for some reason he was an easy read, just a very open and happy spirit.
Goodness, I thought it was a photo at first! That is remarkable!
JaffaCat, thanks for visiting, and I hope you find more time for painting!
I love your website, I have been subscribed for so long! I tend to sketch almost all of the photos you post of your beautiful cats (some of those skethes posted on mine, as you might have seen.) You inspired me to make my own wordpress, thank you so much! You have a wonderful gift.
Hey it’s Jet here. Mom would like me to share the following:
1. The portrait is captivating.
2. The richness of your narrative makes the portrait priceless.
3. Thank you for sharing your talents with us, we learned a great deal.
Tell your mom “thanks”! I like to take some of the mystery from how “art” is created, and close the distance between people and art–and also to share others’ stories of their precious animal companions.
Shannon, I hope you have them around for several more years as well! I love to do portraits of those older ones, and I love to hear about them too.
He’s beautiful! He looks just like my Hazel, also a rescue. She came into my life after a tragic loss and filled every empty spot in my heart. Her big brother, Eli, is 16 now, and goes outside just like Nick did, even in the rain & snow. I hope to have him & Hazel around until they are each 20. I would be a very lucky girl indeed!
And I’m so glad you found Hazel to fill your heart after a loss–I know they often find us when we are in need. I clicked the link and went to read your blog as I always enjoy visiting my reader’s blogs. Love the photo of the two in the box, and I hope you weathered the move.