In the house I rented before I moved here, Allegro walks on his balance beam as Fawn watches from below, considering leaping up to grab his toes. A phenomenally bad photo, but sometimes that’s how it was with film.
Last week and yesterday when I wrote about “Sunday Morning” I wanted to find the photos I’d taken that day. Not just the reference for the painting, but I knew there was something else on that roll that I’d wanted to work with, not for a painting but just a photo to share.
That area is the return at the top of the stairs to the second floor, and right across from that railing is the doorway to my bedroom where Moses was sleeping. I would have been standing near the left edge of this photo to see into the doorway and sketch her on the bed.
So of course other felines had to join me. It was then as it is now that I can’t ever be left unsupurrvised.
Allegro loved to walk along this railing. To the left of him was the stairs down to the second floor, though, and I, of course, was sure he’d fall down onto the steps and break his neck when I saw him walk here. He’s a cat, they’re good at this, but he was also the one in whose presence things fell off of shelves and spilled and all sorts of other feline magic.
So he made it safely to the other end of the railing and sat on the post at the end, showing me that he could actually live through this activity.
But in order to fully complete this experience he had to walk back to the other end of the railing, from where he’d started. He gave me this look, like, human, go away, I’m doing my thing.
I actually did think of some sketches or even a painting from these photos, though at the time I was only recording what my cats were doing. The thing that made these photos pretty bad photos—and you’re not seeing the actual prints because I worked all my Photoshop magic on these to get them this clear—is that in each one there’s a bright window in the background. I didn’t know then how to adjust a shot to compensate for the bright area and how that would darken the medium and darker areas as well as diminish the contrast. In the originals of these photos you can barely see Allegro and I went past this photo so many times seeing only the far room with the plants and the ladder is well-lit but in the original all the rest is just black but a bare whisper of Allegro. I didn’t see Fawn until I had lightened it considerably.
I’m so glad I can manipulate photos like this and bring back all these memories of a sunny Sunday morning in January 1989 with that family of felines, and the potential for a piece of artwork I’d cherish for the rest of my life, and now another person too.
NOTE: one of the photos below from previous years may look familiar, in fact it may look like one of my votive lamps!
Vintage Photos from Previous Years
Sally in the Bag, 1995
Sally’s in the bag! Just like Mimi does now, Sally is drawn into any container of any sort as if by vacuum, boxes, bags, bins, baskets, drawers, anything. She looks funny in the bag, funnier still because she’s just sitting in there.
When she was sure she had my attention, she crouched down just a little, but still kept an eye on me. I knew my Sally. She was waiting for me to walk over so she could pop out and surprise me, then run! Usually that included a wild swat, which I didn’t care to try to dodge. Sally was fast and accurate.
When I didn’t come over to take a look, she decided to look around for something interesting to hop out and surprise. Everyone else in the house knew Sally too, and when she was clearly plotting something, you just stayed away. I’m not sure when she decided to get out of the bag, and because prints from film don’t have a time stamp, I could have taken the photo below an hour later. Sally was in her own little world, and she was very happy there.
Also because prints from film don’t have a time stamp, I’m not really sure this photo is from 1995. I would often save rolls of film for months or even years before I developed them, so the developing date, if any, doesn’t mean much. But looking at the back door on the right, which I installed in 1992, and the bottom of the basement door on the left, to which I added the extension at the bottom of the door in 2004, photos just before this were from Christmas and just after, so this is likely January 2005.
Vintage Photos from Previous Years
Vintage Photo Becomes Art: Early 1984 and Sometime in 1988
I took this photo early in 1984, just a few months after I’d gotten my Pentax K-1000 and was still working in black and white. I remember seeing my roommate’s cat, Puck, sitting on the hamper in front of one of the windows in the big bay window in our apartment pretty regularly. Apparently the side yard held a lot of interest, and once I’d started taking photos and grew accustomed to visually framing things and composing I knew I wanted to capture him at the window. One afternoon in winter there he was, looking out at the snow, either falling or just being bright outside. The light made it darker inside with a lot of contrast, and I did my best to compensate, with my limited knowledge and no way of knowing until I had the film and prints developed, if I’d guessed correctly to get the details I wanted.
I did want to record the scene and knew it would be a lovely silhouette and really loved all that contrast, but I also knew the scene would make a nice piece of artwork, someday, likely pencil, so the details I wanted were also things I might need for a sketch and shot “light” to overexpose the image. And I remember, remembering this photo, and itching to do something with the idea.
In the mid 80s I began working as a typesetter for a direct mail company and was suddenly surrounded with black and white clip art, and I loved it. All the different styles imprinted on my visualizations, but I wasn’t yet drawing anything much, mostly working in more forgiving pencil and intimidated by the clear and definite ink lines that I so admired.
In the late 80s, in response to a request to design some notecards that could be used for professional correspondence by the veterinary hospital I went to then, I finally found my reason to bravely give ink drawing a try. In those days, before color printing technology became easily affordable, line art printed in one color was the way to go for an inexpensive, versatile note card. I had always admired cards that were printed on natural paper with a mild texture that resembled watercolor paper, and I knew enough about quoting printed materials then so I talked to a few of the printers I knew and got some prices and sizes. I could “shoot photostats” (who else remembers that term?) of them and set a few lines of type at my day job and provide them camera-ready to the printer.
I’d been noodling around with various pens and inks and papers and planned two cat and two dog cards, researched images, took some photos and collected photos from friends, and planned out the sketches, then got started. I used my Rapidograph pens I’d used in college along with a few fine point markers I’d found knowing those clear ink lines would reproduce well with clean edges and no “feathering”. I loved experimenting with the “dots” to create tones and shadows and shapes without shading—I’d been so accustomed to drawing in pencil—and the hard lines of a high-contrast illustration. I learned well with early sketches but most were on tracing paper because I was so insecure about my ability to stay with the sketch, I had to see the original underneath as I worked.
I remember comparing the styles in the line art I loved and paring down the photo to just the essential shapes, leaving off the detail in the top of the hamper, reducing the window frame to just a few simple narrow lines around the window itself. I worked it out in pencil first with just Puck’s shape in the window and it looked so stark—that was the look I was looking for, but it needed a little something to soften up the geometry. I introduced the spatter of leaves in the upper right to give the scene a little visual warmth in addition to the shape of the cat, just the upper plant, not the lower one, and that worked for me. Above is the original full sketch with all the extra black around it. Below is the cropped sketch.
That sympathy note card project never finalized, but I had the line drawings just waiting for something and had done well more than what was needed. I’d started offering my commissioned portraits in 1992 and set up at cat and dog shows, but with only portraits on display I felt a little left out with all the sales. I decided, in addition to my brochure and business cards, I needed a product to sell, and I’d print a set of note cards. I chose a few sketches and after trying to pursue selling or licensing my images to greeting card printers decided to print them for myself. That set of notecards is “Kitties Being Kitties”.
I didn’t use this image, or a few others, like Sally’s Pr0file, but knew the time would come when I would use these images. You may see this as a card, but I’m also visualizing a glass votive with this image, and the light just shining through the open areas. I guess we’ll see. But nearly 40 years later, those cats are still inspiring me!
And in 2021 I did create the very first glass votive using this design! I redesigned it in 2022 and it’s like it was always intended to be. I sold out of them last year and need to make more soon.
Photos From the Archives and Vintage Photos
Photos pulled “From the Archives” were taken by one or another digital camera of mine between 2002 and, well, yesterday, but usually they are older than that, and I had never had the chance to feature them. Vintage Photos are from my film archives back to 1983 when I purchased my Pentax K-1000 camera. They’re a fun way to “introduce” other members of my feline family who came and went before I began blogging, and to illustrate my feline family in general from days gone by.
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Feline Greeting Cards from Portraits of Animals!
This sketch was among my four first pastels. I remember studying the highlights on Allegro’s fur, and the light outside the window and on the wall, with the deep shadows. He was on the basement windowsill, and I’ve always love the dramatic lighting of scenes like that. I decided to use dark paper and just sketch the highlights rather than paint the entire thing in pastel. Read more, and purchase.
All images and text used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission, although links to your site are more than welcome and are shared. Please ask if you are interested in using and image or story in a print or internet publication. If you are interested in purchasing a print of an image or a product including it, check my animal and nature website Portraits of Animals 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.
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Weekly schedule of features:
Tuesday: Rescue Stories
Thursday: New Merchandise
And sometimes, I just throw my hands in the air and have fun!