Pet Love and Pet Loss, and How it Gave Me My ArtPosted: January 23, 2010
Seventh and last in a series of “pet loss and grief told from personal experience”
I simply have the observation that every time I’ve lost a cat, I’ve gained something in my life. I’ve made decisions about my career, began working in a new medium and found new friends, all around the time of a loss.
Perhaps the trauma of the loss caused me to see things from a new perspective, or to break an old habit and begin reorganizing my life, or just gave me a new perspective on myself so my same old life felt new again. I really think it was a gift from them so I might be distracted from my grief.
It began with love
I have a degree in English and wanted to be a writer and go on to study linguistics and comparative arts. Life took a different turn and presented other possibilities, and where I had neglected my interest in art before I suddenly had the time to practice.
A few years out of college, at night after work, I chose to pick up a pencil and paper and put them together because I felt the need to start expressing myself in images.
At the same time, inspired by my love for Kublai who had rescued me, I had been rescuing and fostering cats and, of those I picked up from streets and midwifed into the spare bedroom, a rag tag bunch of six had come together to share my life. Because of my experience with Bootsie I was busy learning as much as I could about feline health, diets, history and allopathic and naturopathic medicine so that I could give them the best care possible and not miss a single symptom of anything.
And while they may have looked like common garden variety cats to everyone else, I thought they were the most beautiful beings to ever walk the earth. I had always loved cats because of their quiet grace and independent nature, but the opportunity to know these cats had rendered it from the general to the specific.
Images of my cats kept appearing in my thoughts as pencil drawings and paintings and I decided to draw what I was envisioning. The need to express and the subject matter came together at just the right time and I began producing images I could never have imagined I was capable of rendering, moving from pencil, the only medium in which I had any skill, to ink to pastel because I could leave them every day and return the next night without worrying about drying time or too much set up or clean up.
I worked faithfully on learning my technique and sharpening my inner vision as I spent years painting my cats. Learning each new medium, technique or style has been based on a vision of one of my household residents before I moved off to another subject, flowers or landscapes, usually. With their guidance, I’ve mastered pencil, ink, chalk pastel, oil pastel, watercolor, acrylic, oil, collage, mixed media and photography.
It continued with loss
I realized with my first loss after beginning to sketch and paint the power of a portrait, and while they had started out as expressions of love, they became also expressions of remembrance, and as I lost that original family of muses that this was the greatest gift of all, giving them a sort of immortality.
Through the years my cats have been the subjects of dozens of works, and others, seeing these works, want a similar piece with their own animal companion as a subject. I have had the pleasure of creating more than 100 commissioned portraits of cats, dogs, cats and dogs, and cats and dogs and people. They are gifts for loved ones, memorials to cherished companions who’ve gone before us, and lovely pieces of artwork featuring an animal a person loved. You can find out more about my animal portraits in the “Custom Pet Portraits” page on this blog or by visiting my website where I have a demonstration and images of cat and dog portraits.
Now Stanley watches over my studio in “After Dinner Nap,” Kublai forever rolls on the floor like a goof in “Are You Looking at Me?”, Fawn peeks out from under the dust ruffle waiting for me to walk by in “Waiting for Mom,” and there is also Moses and Sally and Sophie and Namir whose portraits I can smile and look at. I have two new portraits planned, of Allegro and Nikka that I intend to work on this spring, now that I’ve found the best reference photos.
The animal sympathy cards
But there was one other project that had been waiting in the wings all these years, and with the loss of Namir I felt as if I had finally, somehow, come full circle and arrived at the point where I could put my grief in images and design the animal sympathy cards I had always planned to do, but kept putting off until the time was right. I think I wanted to make sure that I had enough experience and perspective so I wouldn’t design something I’d turn my back on later, thinking it was incomplete or immature. Of all cats, Namir doesn’t appear here except for his pawprints in “I’ll always walk beside you”. But I wanted to make sure I memorialized Lucy, the little black kitty you see twice below, who I lost at 15 months to FIP, right after I had lost my four oldest friends.
While I am a fine artist, I have actually worked as a graphic designer for more years than I want to tell. Designing everything from letterhead to websites every day, the task of designing these cards was second nature to me. I was glad, for once, to use my commercial art skills to create something for my offering of animal art, especially since my poor neglected cats could just expire all over my desk before I took my eyes off the computer.
I’ve found, to my surprise, that these cards are sometimes purchased for the loss of a human, or even a “thinking of you” card for persons who like animals—I never considered this. Using the images of my own cats for these cards, especially ones who had passed, was a little frightening; if one of the designs was not at all popular it could feel like a rejection of that kitty, who I loved so much. I am so glad I waited until my sentiments and designs were more universal, not so personal, to create these cards. Some are more popular than others, but I have reprinted all of them so no one has been left behind.
I intentionally chose to use photos rather than paintings for most of the designs. I like the softness and little bit of fiction I can work into a painting, but somehow I felt the realism of a photo was needed when expressing deep and sincere emotions of these cards.
Each of the cats depicted here was or is one of mine and the dogs are ones I’ve come to know through friends and art customers. I am currently working on more dog images as well as images of home and nature where we remember our animal companions best. There are more cats than dogs because I live with cats and have lots of material, but more than that I am careful with the images I use, not only that they are easily recognized and accepted, but that I know the animal well enough to use its image for this purpose. They are conveying a heavy thought, and I don’t take the relationship with my subject matter lightly.
All animal sympathy cards can be found in my Marketplace under Animal Sympathy Cards.
Other images used for sympathy
And in addition to the intentionally-designed sympathy cards are the blank greeting and note cards I have available portraying a special moment of one of my cats I’ll always remember.
We have each other to thank
Animals give us so much in everyday life, but my cats have given me my career.
Pet loss and grief told from personal experience
When I was losing a pet and making decisions, and after I had lost a pet and was dealing with grief, I was most comforted by hearing stories from others about their experiences. Sitting with one of my cats in the middle of the night, trying to determine if they were suffering in any way, if they were ready to let go, struggling to make the decision about euthanasia and what to do after they died, I felt so alone and only hearing what others had experienced and what they had decided helped me put my own situation and decisions into perspective, and let me know that I was not the only person to experience the anguish I was suffering. I’ve composed this series of articles in the hopes that others find comfort in my experiences and those of the others mentioned here, and that information included about services and products may help them in their decisions.
Read the other articles in this series:
To love that well, which thou must leave ‘ere long: my first and worst lesson in pet loss
Starting with pet loss—before the loss: begin preparing yourself for loss by being proactive about care and providing palliative care yourself at home
Options for “After Care”, featuring Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation: aftercare, and a profile of a business and a person I find exceptional, and exceptionally comforting
Heal Your Heart After Pet Loss, a Remarkable CD and Guidebook: your grieving process, and a very special CD and guidebook for those times when you need a comforting voice
Turning Loss into Creativity with Ingrid King and Buckley’s Story: how grief can become the catalyst for change, turning grief into a creative effort
Pet Loss Support Information: ideas and resources for where to find comfort and support in your loss, including books about and inspired by the author’s personal experience
Pet Love and Pet Loss, and How it Gave Me My Art: my own experience turning multiple losses loss into multiple creative endeavors
About the images used in this post
All of the images used here are of my artwork, from portraits to designed cards. It’s one of the things that helps me with losing them, to know that their image goes out in the world and they are thereby, in a way, immortal. To see the art visit my website and look under “Fine Art and Portraiture” for the gallery, “My Cats“. Also look under “Photography” for the five galleries of “My Cats“. You can browse prints and notecards in my “Marketplace“.