The Artist’s Life: The Splendor of Autumn

still life of wildflowers
Autumn Harvest, 12" x 10", pastel © B. E. Kazmarski

Sometimes things happen in our lives that move us along in ways that seem totally unrelated to the incident. I found this to be true in my early years of attempting to develop myself as an artist as job and schedule and relationship changes buffeted me about and I found myself turning increasingly to creating artwork to fill the void and give myself at least that in my life as a constant. I often wonder if I would have progressed apace if I hadn’t had these nudges and shoves.

Often that catalyst is a loss of some sort, the passing of a loved one or a change that leaves an open spot in our lives which eventually we must fill in order to heal. In the autumn of 1996 I lost two of my cats two weeks apart, but discovered my love for painting my familiar local landscapes en plein air and also began painting still lifes and I know in no small part their spirits led me to this.

Kublai and Allegro

sketch of woman holding a cat
Self-portrait with Kublai

I had been watching my beloved Kublai simply fade away in the grip of some undiagnosed autoimmune disease while I took a crash course in caring for a pet with a chronic illness along with learning about homeopathic and naturopathic options from flower essences to homeopathic remedies to raw feeding. He’d taught me an important lesson in communication with him and while I felt helpless that I couldn’t heal him, just having that constant thread of non-verbal communication between us made me feel very deeply connected to him each moment. He and I experienced his end stages with awareness, and this was a great comfort to me as I had approached my first feline loss with no awareness whatsoever.

But it wasn’t to turn out quite the way it seemed it would. I noticed during a meal that my orange boy, Allegro, was eager to eat but did not. My veterinarian explained a number of things it could be, most likely a tooth infection, and I felt along his jaw and found a fairly large lump but nothing in his mouth. Suspecting a possible infection in a salivary gland, she instructed me to begin antibiotics and we made an appointment for the following week if there was no improvement.

orange cat in sunshine

He began eating a little but the lump stayed. My veterinarian is a house call veterinarian and so when she arrived to see Allegro she could also see Kublai, who was at that point down from 12 pounds to about 5 and we knew he couldn’t continue like this for much longer.

So Tuesday, September 17, she came to see Allegro and diagnosed him with lymphoma so advanced there was no possible treatment except doses of prednisone given as injections along with subcutaneous fluids as I was giving them to Kublai, and that only for some degree of comfort until he was ready to go.

Cats do hide things well, but I had been so focused on Kublai I hadn’t even noticed other possible symptoms. Poor innocent Allegro, I had felt so confident that at least I was keeping Kublai comfortable, but at the cost of my orange boy it felt selfish and I felt like a failure.

Two mornings later, Thursday, September 19, I knew Kublai was in distress but he told me in that way he’d taught me to listen that I should go to work. I left and came back a few minutes later, unable to leave him. He let me know it was okay, I should go, and I left him curled on his blanket in the spare bedroom. I oddly felt my spirits lift as I drove to work. When I came home at the end of the day I immediately felt he wasn’t in the house and wondered how he might have gotten out, though he was famous for escaping. But I found him upstairs nearly where I’d left him, and apparently he had died soon after I left the house, probably when I felt the lifting of my own spirit, connected to his, as his spirit left his body behind. No wonder he had urged me to go—for some reason he didn’t want me present, and he was eager to let go and be free.

photo of daffodils
Daffodils still grow where Allegro and I planted them © B.E. Kazmarski

Trying to grieve Kublai, I turned to Allegro, and while he improved somewhat he was eating less and less and even I could feel the growths in his abdomen. He and I enjoyed warm autumn days outdoors as I planted the daffodils I still see each spring and he hunted little voles in my flower beds. Our time was compressed but entirely sweet.

Exactly two weeks later, October 3, Allegro was weak and dazed-looking when I came home from work. I called my veterinarian and explained the symptoms, and after noticing his pale gums and paw pads she said he was bleeding internally and she would get there as soon as she could, but that wouldn’t be until later. I had one last huge dose of prednisone to give him for comfort, but he failed quickly and was no longer breathing when she arrived, though his heart would not stop, sweet and loving kitty that he was.

The aftermath

Well, having a greater amount of awareness and being highly involved in their care helped immensely with my grief after their loss as a good part of it with Bootsie had been the sudden shock of it all. But now I had the task of grieving both of them, and I had been so deep into physically caring for them, especially Kublai for nearly a year, that not only had I lost them in my life, but I was still in critical care mode with no subject to treat.

And worst of all, I loved my home, but I hated coming back to it after work. Without Kublai, who had always felt like my life partner, I felt I’d lost my anchor, and the house felt so horribly empty I couldn’t stand it. That first weekend was so quiet that I went to the library and spent Saturday afternoon there, looking for more books to read and reacquainting myself with Marjorie Williams’ The Velveteen Rabbit.

A change in artwork

I had a few paintings planned, but just could not bring myself to work on the paintings of my cats I had wanted to paint.

Up to that point I had pretty much painted only my cats with a few other pieces here and there done in my studio as I worked on learning watercolor, but never worked from life at all. All the other artists I knew were painting the landscape, especially working en plein air, and I envied how they rendered the fields and hills I knew so well and which were my other refuge. I’d been wanting to find the time to work on painting from life rather than from photos and decided that the next weekend, weather depending, I’d make the plunge. If I failed, no one but me would know.

I had some places in mind along my drive to work as I took back roads just for the view. On a brilliant autumn morning decorated with small clumps of clouds and wisps along the horizon. I drove to the places I had in mind letting the mix of warm autumn colors and the varied textures of nature soothe my heart.

I set up an easel near a field I’d always loved and did a quick pastel sketch called “Hilltop Farm”, and the action was like a good meal, enjoyable, fulfilling, exciting and certainly one I wanted to repeat.

pastel painting of landscape
Hilltop Farm, 10" x 7", pastel © B. E. Kazmarski

On the way to and from work the next week I excitedly sought places I could set up again and the following Saturday drove to another spot I loved to visit generally, a long graceful slope which had been a pasture on a huge farm, high atop a ridge with lots of sunlight and sky and wind, fields of waving grasses mixed with autumn wildflowers and one narrow road. I spent the rest of the afternoon there, until the sun’s angle changed so much I couldn’t reasonably work any longer. I took a photo, packed up, stopped to pick a big bunch of asters, ironweed and goldenrod and went home.

I sailed in the door with my drawing and sang hello to Sally, Stanley and Moses, Fawn and Nikka, Cookie and Sophie, and I could tell by their reaction they knew what had transpired as they greeted me in return with their own songs, tails waving. I waded through them and set my painting on the easel in the corner as they jumped up onto the windowsill and furniture around me. I was simply so happy, and realized I was crying. Finally, I could begin to really let go.

pastel painting of autumn road
Harvest of Color, 18" x 13", pastel © B.E. Kazmarski (sorry for the quality--my photos weren't the best then!)

I found a ceramic vase I’d had since college and placed it on the picnic table on the deck where Kublai and I had spent so much time as the year progressed—we even ate meals out there together. I placed my wildflowers in the vase and looked at them shining in the warm autumn sun and somehow the cycle seemed complete.

That night I worked “Harvest of Color” just from memory, and the next day pretty much finished it, thinking over the process of en plein air painting and working on landscapes. I also kept admiring how lovely my wildflowers looked perfectly framed through the back door.

still life of wildflowers
Autumn Harvest, pastel © B. E. Kazmarski

As the day went on I had another idea, and set up my easel on the deck. I fussed around with a sketch of the flowers until finally I began to feel my visualizing begin and I realized there had been no sun shining on them before, but now it had moved around to an angle that shone in under the deck roof. I painted as much of “Autumn Harvest” as I could until the light changed too much. Later I finished it from photos I had taken while working.

The next weekend I visited a friend I worked with on her family’s farm, enjoyed my visit with her and our walk around the fields, met all the cows and carefully studied all the barn cats in case any wanted to come home with me, then settled in a spot where I’d seen one round bale left behind from the previous year. The sky had grown overcast but I like when that happens after a sunny day, kind of drawing things to a close so you can sit quietly and review the day. It was by now early November, a storm had passed through and most of the foliage was gone leaving only the burnished oak leaves clinging to the tall trees in a grove at the edge of a pasture. My pace had quickened with the experience of the previous en plein air sessions, and I painted this rather quickly.

pastel painting of farm landscape
The Last Bale, pastel © B. E. Kazmarski

A change in my studio work

Weekends weren’t good for painting outdoors until the following spring, but I had felt a change in me and in how I worked as an artist. Those outdoor sessions had quickened my own pace through the necessity of capturing the moment, loosened my strokes as I was looking at a constantly changing image instead of a still photo. These things carried over into my portraiture, forever changing how I finished them by putting away the photos near the end and simply visualizing the scene and how it would look in life and doing my best to capture that moment. The following winter into spring I painted two of what I consider my best, and turning points for me in portraiture, “After Dinner Nap” and “A Warm Bath”

pastel painting of a cat sleeping on a table
After Dinner Nap, my Stanley, pastel painting © B.E. Kazmarski
pastel painting of cat bathing
A Warm Bath, my Sally, pastel © B.E. Kazmarski

I did get back to painting cats, though I began with one that was not my own, only a nice photo from a calendar, and I worked in watercolor for this, in part because I wanted to practice it a little more and wanted to ease myself back into the familiarity of what painting had been like before my two losses. “A Few of My Favorite Things” is still one of my favorites, and though at the time many people created artwork from published photos, it’s not an acceptable practice today. I sold this painting long ago, but I will never reproduce it for sale, and will only show it as an example of  my art.

watercolor of cat
A Few of My Favorite Things, watercolor © B.E. Kazmarski

And I enjoyed listening to music, but still felt the emptiness of my house. I discovered recorded books, beginning with as many of James Herriott’s books; the listening and the stories themselves were a balm to my heart as the months passed and I adjusted to the new household.

Memories sealed in my work

Now, when I look through my artwork and see these paintings I always remember those days and the gift I was given to fill the emptiness left by my losses. These paintings will always be special for me, always connected to Kublai and Allegro and that time in my life, in ways no one would guess while they look at landscapes.

two cats
Namir and Kelly beginnings.


The following year, on October 3, Namir and Kelly arrived as fosters.

The paintings

Two of these paintings are still available as originals, “Autumn Harvest” and “The Last Bale”. I sold the other two before I had the chance to take adequate photos of them and so can’t even make prints, but I have their images forever in my portfolio, and forever in my heart.

See images of more paintings of My Cats.

See images more of my Landscape Paintings, and also visit my website to see other artwork.

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.


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.

7 thoughts on “The Artist’s Life: The Splendor of Autumn

  • September 19, 2011 at 5:02 pm

    There is so much emotional truth in this piece, Bernadette, I don’t know where to start. But you’re right — this is how art grows. For the artist/writer, certain pieces will always have a deep resonance, call to mind what gave birth to those pieces and what was happening while they were being created. And the viewer/reader will return to them time and again, not necessarily knowing why, only knowing that something rings true. I find this in many of your pieces, both painted and written. And once again, I’ll say please make a book out of all these posts/reflections — it would speak to so many people in so many different ways.

    • September 19, 2011 at 6:13 pm

      Tammy, when I say that my cats made me an artist, some people try to debate the point and say I’d probably be an artist anyway, and I might but I can’t even begin to explain things like this circumstance, where I was emotionally forced into painting a new subject, something I may never have done otherwise.

      I love knowing that people can perceive the depth of my emotions in my work. I’ve been organizing my posts into subject areas now that I see where my writing is going, and I do intend to publish them somehow once I feel firm in the subject areas. In some cases I’m still wandering, even in contemplating my life as an artist!

  • September 19, 2011 at 3:02 am

    I could feel my eyes watering up as a read about your last moments with Allegro and Kublai. I went through the same pain as I watched my Tchai pass away from a neurological condition that took hold of her and ended her life all in the course of a few days. I still cry at night, just thinking about the last flickering of life in her eyes before the moment she passed away. Those eyes were filled with such bravery, and such passive resignation. I’ll never forget them.

    • September 19, 2011 at 6:07 pm

      Heather, that sort of illness is truly a shock, not having any time to prepare yourself. A few friends have lost cats to the same unknown sort of virus or bacterial infection or even possibly a brain tumor; I lost a cat in two brief days to acute kidney failure. Cats hide things so well that when they finally can’t deal with it anymore often we can’t do anything, either.

      Someday the memory of that look will be something you remember with joy because it was a gift she gave to you, but that will be a long time.

  • September 18, 2011 at 1:01 pm

    Thank you for for telling us the story of how your paintings came about and most of all, how you filled the emptiness after you lost beloved cats.

    I’m still grieving the loss of my Orange Best Friend, Mister Purr, and still seeking something that lifts my spirits and fills that hole.

    How does one find that path?


    • September 18, 2011 at 7:30 pm

      Kimberley, he looks like my Allegro in this story! Allegro was only 10, I actually forgot to mention that.

      I began a tradition with the losses of those two, that I created a card with their photo and a poem or bit of a story or something that I felt represented them. This was in the days before e-mail, so I printed and mailed them, but it was more the process of, for Kublai, reading and reading and finally decided on Shakespeare’s 73rd Sonnet (you’ll find it here under Pet Loss in the menu), and for Allegro, going to the library, reading books, especially children’s books, and finding “The Velveteen Rabbit”.

      And then there was my artwork and my other cats, and I also rescue and foster. It took a lot of that before I felt somewhat normal, but I remember thinking that my time of life had changed, I had felt young, but I was not old but no longer felt young, it was a major change in my life. Perhaps you feel somewhat the same.

      I’ve suggested to other friends with losses to foster cats just to have them in your life, and maybe you’ll fall in love with one of them. Visit a shelter and see what cats need love from you.

      I hope you feel some healing soon.



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