Wednesday, May 29, 2024
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The Artist’s Life: Animal Events, Animal People and Sympathy Cards

display of cat-themed merchandise
A section of my display.

When I choose to attend an animal-oriented event as a vendor, I know outdoor pet events usually become the province of dogs, though I’ve attended a few pet parades and costume events with feline contestants. But what could be a better day for a dog than to get together in a park or on a street where there are tons of other dogs to talk to, every human wants to pet you, you’re surrounded by all sorts of things dogs would want to smell, play with, sleep on—and eat, in fact, there’s often free food, just because you’re there!

Cats, not so much, although if it was all set up a little differently and we had enough time to let them acclimate their senses to all the smells and sounds I’ve no doubt we’d have cats everywhere too.

The humans who attend fall somewhere in between—one group methodically visits every single vendor, introduces themselves, remarks on what they see and either purchases or moves on, and the other group positions themselves in one spot and carefully scans the area, deciding what, if anything, is interesting enough to visit.

animal sympathy card.
“Tika, Therapy Dog” animal sympathy card.

And even in these days of electronic communications, it’s always amusing to me to see the human attraction to a greeting card rack. I learned with my first investment in a tall 24-card spinner to put it slightly outside my tent where it could be seen through the crowd from any vantage point. Still, I have over 60 different cards with all sorts of feline artwork on them for all occasions and for no occasions at all, and people would still stop, spin and move on, often with no conversation all, but for one of the themes—my animal sympathy cards. At yesterday’s event, “Sewickley Unleashed”, the effect was no different.

animal sympathy card.
“Cookie Looks at Me” animal sympathy card.

“Oh my, this just made me cry,” I heard someone say from outside my tent. She was looking at the card with Cookie’s lovely tortie face, “Cookie Looks at Me”.

animal sympathy card.
“Lucy Helps to Make the Bed” animal sympathy card.

“I have a friend whose cat isn’t doing well, I think I’ll get a card now because I know it won’t be long,” said another after spinning the rack several times to look at all the cards, choosing “Lucy Helps to Make the Bed”.

I also explain that I have one card featuring a dog, “Tika, Therapy Dog”, and two “non-denominational” cards that don’t have an animal’s photo at all, “I Will Always Walk With You” and “They Leave The Mark On Us, Don’t They?”

I began with a set of twelve and this past year added Lakota and Emeraude. People have asked me when I’ll add more cards for dogs or when I’ll design more in general, and I always answer that I take using an animal’s image seriously when I design something, and especially these sympathy cards. I need to know the animal well enough to feel they’d want to be pictured in this way. Perhaps I need to get to know a few dogs a little better, and attending more events I just may, but for now I pretty much stay with my own felines.

animal sympathy card.
“Non-denominational” animal sympathy cards.
animal sympathy card.
“Tea With Peaches” animal sympathy card.

“This is really nice because it’s not sad, ‘Remember the beautiful moments’,” another person said. Looking at “Tea With Peaches”.

animal sympathy card.
“Kelly Twice” animal sympathy card.

“Yeah, those quiet moments…,” said a woman looking at “Kelly Twice”.

For all the other things I have in my display that are meaningful to me, the sympathy cards obviously carry the most emotion. I don’t like to make people cry, but that’s often my reaction to anything that touches my emotions, sad or happy, and I know this is true of many people, and it still happens to me when I look at my own cards. And it’s not a desire for a sale or greater profits that brings me satisfaction when I see someone else’s reaction to my sympathy cards. It’s simply the gratification that the project I’d immersed myself into after losing Namir, and a half dozen other cats in the years immediately previous, carried the feelings I’d endured at those times to others, not the sadness but the memories, and they really did work for other people as well as me. I can share a moment with a total stranger that I’d never otherwise meet, and each of those still helps resolve the bits of grief I carry at my losses, and no doubt does the same for the person I’ve met. I don’t care if they buy the card. The message has been effective, and that was my intent.

Other observations at pet events

art display
My display at the very first cat show I attended.

I’ve been setting up as a vendor at pet events since 1992 when I attended my first cat show. All I had then was my own collection of early pastels and pencil and ink sketches and small photos of the few portraits I’d done to that point. In 1993 I printed a few note black and white note cards, “Kitties Being Kitties”, to sell as sets, and in 1997, in the days before digital printing, I printed “My Cats in the Sun” to sell as sets as well, then began with framed block prints and early color copy prints of my paintings.

The magazine I work with, Pittsburgh Pet Connections, was a sponsor for “Sewickley Unleashed” and Carla, the publisher, and I shared a tent, easy for me since I didn’t have my full display, and Carla could visit other vendors and hand out magazines while I handled my merchandise and the magazine’s representation as well.

Historically, unless I’ve set up with my portraiture as a focus, I typically pass on benefit dog walks and barks in the park. I don’t like to take original artwork to outdoor events for the danger of damage from weather. I debated about yesterday and at the last minute decided not to take my samples “Buckwheat” (below), “Borzois” and “Peaches and Peonies”, though they were packed and I knew this event would be hugely attended regardless of the weather and the community was a good audience for commissioned portraits. This is May in Western Pennsylvania and we had sun and dark clouds, high winds where we practically sat on everything in the tent, dropping temperatures and three rain storms where I brought the card rack inside the tent, all ending in a hail storm as we were packing up.

pastel portrait of dog
“Buckwheat”, pastel, 22″ x 16″, 2001 © Bernadette E. Kazmarski

Though I have enlarged prints of my portraits—and my giclées can fool even me sometimes—there’s nothing like at least one live portrait on hand to convince someone they need a portrait of their historic pet family, a pet who is now old but was grand in middle age, creating the photo you never got, or a gift for someone.

And where, a decade ago, I was often ignored at canine-centric events the tables have now turned where things for cats and their people are sought out. Two people walked up to our tent and one person said to the other, “Here’s the cat stuff.” The visitor was smiling broadly to find the one place specifically featuring cats. But she wasn’t the only one.

Many people who have dogs also have cats and are now more likely to buy things for the cat and things for themselves with cats on them. Where years ago most of my sales were to cat owners purchasing things for themselves or for friends who also had cats, more people now buy things for their friends with cats even if they don’t have cats themselves.

Can you tell I hear a lot of stories? I tell a lot of stories too! From the animal sympathy cards to “The Goddess” and “The Roundest Eyes” and the keepsake boxes and garden flags, everything has a story. That’s one of the best things about going to one of these events, sharing our love of the animals in our lives.

You can see some photos of my display from yesterday in “Other Fine Felines: Lyonus and a Pile of Adoptable Cats”.

Read other stories in the category The Artist’s Life.

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Browse some rescued cats and kittens!


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 | | 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!




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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