I’ve been commissioned to paint a portrait of a kitty from a lovely photo. And what a coincidence, the kitty is another dilute calico kitty named Peaches! Above is my initial sketch of the portrait, what is actually the most difficult leap for me as an artist: to take what I visualize in my creative imagination and start to put it on paper, and “start” is the operative word—it’s a big leap of faith every time that I can do this! That’s not humility or self-doubt, it’s just the reality of understanding that there is never a guarantee that my intangible link with my creative self can be taken for granted.
The sketch is rough in some areas, more finished in others, but when this initial session feels good and I can see the final portrait in it, I know I’m on the right path and only need to get my pastels in order and trust my intuition.
This is a “long-distance” portrait, so I don’t have a chance to meet the subject, and it’s a gift from the commissioner to a good friend, so I don’t have the chance to talk to Peaches’ person. On top of that, my customer only had one photo of Peaches—but what a beauty! And she was able to provide me with details of Peaches and her person, which is just what I need when creating a portrait that truly reflects both the animal and its person.
I always keep the names of my customers and others involved in confidence, and because this is a gift I wouldn’t even post a thing until after the gift was given, but my customer assures me this person rarely uses the internet and is unlikely to find this—but if you know her, please keep it a secret until after the holidays!
About the subject and her person
My customer tells me: “She’s the cat of … my closest friend, and she just turned 18. … is going through a lot of stuff right now, her mother is very ill and even though we’ve been saying this for the last few years, it feels as though the end is probably not that far away. Peaches has some mild kidney issues, but is otherwise doing well for her age. When … father died, her then soul mate cat Prince died within days of her father, so even though she’s trying to not give this any energy, she sometimes has a sense that her mother’s death and Peaches’ may be happening in a similar fashion.
“And not that this has anything to do with Peaches, but it gives you an idea of what … is about: Prince was diagnosed with FIP, but lived for fifteen more years post diagnosis. … made a promise to the universe when he was diagnosed that if he beat it, she would start a pet loss support group. She’s been running three pet loss support groups for the county at no charge for the last fifteen years.
“Anyway, it’s why I thought a painting would be a wonderful Christmas gift either way – of course I’m hoping that Peaches will still be with us at Christmas, but even if, God forbid, she’s not, it will still be a perfect present for … .
“Peaches is … only cat, and they’re very connected. … comes home for lunch each day, and she sits with Peaches in her lap for half an hour or so. It’s her form of meditation. The story behind the photo is pretty amazing. For a period of several months last year, Peaches became very withdrawn, she stopped sleeping with …, and spent most of her time in a guest bedroom. At the time, we thought this was it. Then a friend of … gave her this flower (I think it’s an Amaryllis?), and Peaches became fascinated with it, and would check progress every day. As the flower started to bloom, Peaches ended her phase of withdrawing. I thought it would be a nice starting point for a painting because it will always remind … of the happy time when Peaches became herself again.”
Could there be a more touching story, or a better gift for a friend?
I told my customer, yes, that is an amaryllis, and like all plants that grow from bulbs they symbolize renewal and rebirth. We associate this with spring in flowers such as daffodils, crocuses and lilies. Amaryllises are associated with Christmas in the way poinsettias are, because they are most commonly red and can be forced to bloom at that time of year, but they are spring bloomers in their native habitat. (Just a note, as with all plants that grow from bulbs, be careful of a certain level of toxicity for cats and dogs.)
I also told her that, in all the years of creating portraits including several that were commissioned while the subject was still clinging to life, I’ve never lost a subject while working on their portrait.
And because this Peaches is a senior kitty too, how fitting to celebrate her portrait during Adopt an Older Cat Month!
I will be posting update images of this portrait over the next few days to week so you can all watch it develop. As always, I will also be discussing my technique and pointing out areas of interest in the portrait.
Read all the articles about this portrait:
My Peaches, and my mother
And on my side of things, everyone who reads this page knows about my Peaches’ struggle with chronic renal failure and her recent passing, and I might also add that I recently moved my mother from personal care to a nursing home. Sometimes there is too much synchronicity. I got all the materials ready for this portrait just before Peaches went into her final few weeks, but put it aside to care for Peaches.
Mimi enjoys the warm sunshine inside while the impatiens bloom outside in the windowbox.
I saw her in the window as I walked up to my house and snapped a few photos. The bright pink and green and the bits of blue sky reflected with Mimi’s black fur and green eyes almost look springlike, yet it was the last sunny autumn afternoon. The frost has taken the impatiens but Mimi will still enjoy her sunny windowsill. Mimi is always my little flower.
I really love the way a photo taken through a window can look like a collage with the interior objects and the exterior reflections mingling at will. Photographing into windows is tricky, especially double-pane windows caught at an angle as was this one because, even faintly, it doubles the image, and in close-up even the thickness of the glass blurs whatever is behind the window; old wavy glass is even less predictable and more interesting.
Catching the subject inside, Mimi, without her being obscured by reflections on the outside of the window, but catching the reflections on the glass around her meant creeping all around and leaning at odd angles until she appeared framed in reflections with a few bright flowers in actuality and reflected.