People often ask me if it’s difficult to give up my paintings and sketches of my cats, especially after I’ve lost them. I always jokingly say I look for loving homes for my artwork just as I’ve always looked for loving homes for my rescued cats. I feel my paintings and creations of them gives them a level of immortality, and knowing their image is out there on others’ walls and purses and shirts and the cards they exchange and bringing pleasure to other people is very comforting. The cats I lived with and loved are being enjoyed and remembered by others, perhaps being an inspiration to provide a home to another cat or a comfort at a time of loss, bringing a smile, or being an inspiration to another artist to paint their cats too.
Years ago when I started painting my cats, I only thought of it as just that—painting my cats. But I don’t create my art for myself. I want to share that moment that inspired me, and while I offer prints of paintings and also create a number of other products with my art on them these things are not the same as the original painting. I knew from the beginning that letting go of the original painting, and that moment in time, that connection with that cat, would be part of the cost of painting my own cats. And beyond what’s obvious to the viewer is what’s also personal to me, such as an artistic goal or ability I felt I achieved with a particular painting, or the circumstances of my life at the time.
Having the painting near me is important while I resolve whatever circumstances may have come about; though it’s not a painting of one of my cats, I painted “Dusk in the Woods” during Moses’ last month, working late nights with her at my feet knowing what would come. It may not come across here, but at a larger or full size most people sense a feeling of transition and light despite the dusk, which I credit to Moses and that time between us. And though I had taken the reference photo nearly exactly a year before, in January 2005, I also realized this was one of the places I had been the day in 2006 when I wrote “Things I Found in the Woods” about Moses, and actually one of the places I stopped to write down a few notes for what would become the poem as I wandered the woods that day.
I felt very tied to this painting on so many levels. Initially it was not for sale, then I priced it way above what I knew it would ever sell for to make sure either no one would want to buy it, or the purchaser was truly serious about it. When the couple who did purchase it eventually approached me, I told them it was a “fake price” and we were all very happy.
Other times I want to ensure the aesthetic goal or lesson is reinforced for me.“After Dinner Nap” was truly a turning point for me as an artist and I can’t explain why except that I finally managed to capture the essence of the scene and of Stanley while I was painting. I wasn’t using logical judgements as I had been, “I need to do this or that or use this color”, but while I began with these internal statements I remember wandering way beyond them and coming out the other side looking at a painting I hadn’t “decided” to do, but I knew it was perfect. Many viewers say it looks like a photograph but the actual reference photo is quite different, though I will say it captured a lot of universal feelings in what ended up on the drawing paper. I had no idea how this had happened, but every time I looked at the painting I remembered slipping into that netherworld from which that deepest part of me goes to create. I kept this painting above my easel for over a decade so that I could look at it while I was working, each time reinforcing that lesson. The poor woman who wanted to buy it had to wait several years because Stanley was in kidney failure by that time and then I had to wait afterward.
So I don’t offer the originals for sale until I’m ready to let them go under nearly any conditions, though sometimes I want to hold onto artwork because the subject is ill or I’ve recently lost them, but there are many reasons I don’t want to keep them.
The enjoyment of art comes with many gifts of its own well beyond the simple pleasure of looking at it. Appreciating beauty inspires love for the subject, and by extension an affection for other like things, and even things simply related to that subject. I always think the greater work we animal artists do in creating images of cats in our own individual styles is to reinforce and spread the love of cats and all other animals, one glance at a time.
Two Recent Sales, Images of Kelly
This is what actually precipitated this article, saying goodbye to a painting I’d done a decade ago but which always symbolized Kelly for me and which was my first move to a more abstract style, and a daily sketch I did just a few months ago, but at a time when I knew something serious was beginning to develop with her.
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.
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.
Ten years later, and with her recent loss, it’s very sweet to revisit this painting, still hanging here in my office where I look at it frequently. 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. But she expressed how much she loved the painting and that it was calm and soothing, and shared photos and stories of her three rescued black cats, in the middle a feral mama she rescued, her son and another rescued kitty who was probably related. She also trapped and spay/neutered the mama’s kittens from two other litters. She has rescued many other cats and also lives with “one token dog”. I know my painting is going to a good home.
“Kelly was very special and inspired many pieces of artwork and photos…. I’m okay to let Winter Window go now…it takes Kelly out in the world where you and others can appreciate my impression of her, and that’s very special too,” I told her. “Just like I can’t hold on to my precious kitties forever, I can’t hold on to my art forever.” But I will always remember that moment of inspiration.
I also sold a print of this painting at about the same time from my Fine Art America site.
Kelly has been having really good naps on the bed lately, ever since she rediscovered just how nice the bed is. I drew this in watercolor pencil then brushed water over it, then experimented with wetting the brush and brushing it on the pencil to pick up the pigment, worked well. The paper is an older watercolor paper that is heavily textured, and it didn’t quite all fit on my scanner bed at one time (disappointing) so there are some shadows around the edge but I kind of like the effect.
In any case, Kelly certainly enjoyed her nap!
I will note that this sketch was from June 30, just days after Kelly had her mysterious heat stroke incident and the day I lost her in the basement and began to take notes and check on her frequently. I checked on her this particular afternoon and found her looking as sweet as ever on my bed having a really good Kelly bath, and considered the recent events. I also noted that she’d always shared my bed with her other feline friends, I’d never seen her there alone, but for the first time in a long time, especially since we’d lost Cookie, she looked relaxed and happy, and had been acting more relaxed for perhaps the previous month. I had to record this moment and ran to get my watercolor pad, brushes and paints and watched her bathe and settle down, letting my thoughts ramble through my head as my pencils and brushes did across the paper.
Back in March a regular reader and customer from Winnipeg, Manitoba who had been following my series “A Little Bit About Kelly” purchased a photo of Kelly, “Kelly Birdwatching”, and told me then, “Bernadette, it seems I can’t get enough of your stories and photos of little Kelly! At least now, I will be able to just look up at my wall and see a beautiful photo of a beautiful torti.”
She has several rescued cats and dogs already but the need is great where she lives. In May she sent a message on Facebook at one of my images of Kelly that she had found a tortie she’d like to adopt at a local shelter. When she arrived that tortie had already been adopted, but she’d met Rue in the process. Within days, Rue had become Lucy and gone home with her.
Then in June she expressed an interest in the daily sketch, “Kelly’s Nap” the day I posted it. “Bernadette, this is a stunning sketch of Kelly! Absolutely beautiful!!!
“I just can’t get enough of your sweet little girl…I would LOVE to see it hanging in my new home when I move next month (hint, hint) ”
Near the end of August she let me know she had moved and was looking for the sketch, and even though I felt a deep bond with this sketch for the circumstances and Kelly’s recent loss, I love the idea that Kelly is going out into the world of people who knew and loved her, though only virtually. We made arrangements for me to frame it and ship to her—somewhat of a challenge since she lives in Winnipeg!
At the same time she sent a message about a collie she’d found named Laddie with a very sad story, abandoned and living outdoors in that harsh climate for over a year, matted and dirty and covered with injuries from the other more aggressive dogs also living outdoors. When I let her know about the frame I’d chosen she let me know, “My new Laddie has settled in quite well with only minor bumps in the road – with Laddie and my other recent rescue, my home is now at capacity (4 kitties and 3 dogs) and I couldn’t be happier – love them all.” Could I ask for a more loving home for my art?
I am glad to know these images of Kelly will be in such loving homes, loving not just of art but of animals in general and Kelly in particular. I’ll go back to what I said at the beginning, that prints and cards and other merchandise do distribute the image far and wide and with it some of the love and depth of the work, but the original is special, and always seems to draw people who will really appreciate it. I still have the bonds with those moments I created the work and bonded ever more deeply with Kelly, and it’s not right to keep her to myself, but to share that moment with another.
Selling these two originals at this point in time has to do with Kelly. Her final thanks? I have always found amazing animal-related opportunities offered to me after a loss, and I’ve always felt that they were in part thanks for the life I shared with the kitty. After Cookie there was very little but my own reserve to move forward with plans to promote my artwork, which was a gift in itself and has been gaining momentum to where I’ve always wanted it to be, but I also had the feeling that the process wasn’t finished yet, not until Kelly. It was one of the reasons I maintained a high level of concern for her even when she seemed well.
And even from the loss of Kublai, and even back to Bootsie, my first loss, I also had the feeling they needed to leave me for this to happen, in part spiritually, and in part practically because I could have never taken advantage of these opportunities with the time and effort they needed for care. They walked me to the gate—a gate, not a door, for the fact that it does not close off the visual connection—then bid me best wishes and watched me leave. It’s an image I’ve always had.
Read other articles in this series, The Artist’s Life.
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.