This is definitely one from the archives! It’s probably taken in 1983, when I first got my camera and began photographing with black and white film. Kublai, the kitty who rescued me in college and truly began my life as an animal artist, was only about two years old. It’s hard to imagine that many years ago!
I’ve always like the photo above, for Kublai, of course; I have so few photos of him because he was usually hanging on me somewhere and I rarely had the chance to photograph him. I can only remember his grace and presence, but that I do remember, and very well.
I was a new photographer then, had only had my first camera a few months and basically knew nothing about it, but this is how I learn. And as Kublai led me to the study of himself and thereby other cats as art subjects, so he led me down the path of cat photographer and I learned by doing, arriving at today’s creative efforts, and heading for tomorrow’s.
So in addition to simply him, I also appreciated his shape on the windowsill, that easily recognizable graphic outline of a cat shape that black cats often give us, and also the specifics of Kublai’s personality, the tall hips and long hind legs, waving tail, round face and bold bearing. I also photographed for the light, bright, airy feeling, of this spacious room in an apartment in a huge Victorian house, and specifics of the scene—the waterfall of the starched and ironed (by me) cotton batiste curtain across the window and falling on the sill diffusing the light, the leafy plant which is almost more of a subject than the cat, and even the fact that it has an antique appearance though it’s not old, just black and white but developed in a color machine.
I am sometimes amazed at the things I produced years ago when I was simply experimenting with things, as with this. Most of the other photos on the roll were blurs, too dark, or simply of questionable interest, then there is this.
Someday I may do the detailed pencil sketch I’ve always intended…for the past 30 years.
It’s also a dedication to a cat who changed my life.
It was something about the flowing curved shape he made as he swung around to begin washing his shoulder and hip, from his nose up over his forehead and around and over his back, and continuing around and around to the very tip of his tail. Of all the things he did I seemed to love this best, this twirling juggernaut of happy feline energy and all the other minor curves and rounded shapes in the posture, the rounded torso balanced lightly on the surface, the tail curled in a circle.
I continually sketched this shape trying to catch just that line of energy, thereby developing a minimalistic style rendered in black on white, then for a sculpture class did my best to translate that minimalism into a 3-D composition.
Many years ago a certain black kitty who rescued me while I was in college inspired me to many things aside from loving him and the practice of rescuing cats. Cats in general, and he in particular, began appearing in my creative efforts as I moved through my classes in college.
I have known many cats in my life but none as simply graceful as him perhaps because he was my awakening to feline fluidity, and I found myself then trying to describe his grace in even the simplest of movements in words and image, a short story, a poem, an animated film, and this sculpture. And like this sculpture, I also learned ways of managing lines on paper and putting words in a certain order that could efficiently describe what I was visualizing. What a number of gifts for one cat to give.
The project was to design a simple shape that could be cast using a two- or three-piece latex mold. We initially created the object in plasticine clay and used that as the basis for creating the mold, painting the latex onto it and letting it dry, then since latex was flexible we added something on the outside to help it keep its shape (sorry, after 30-odd years don’t remember what that was). The last step was to cut it into the pieces that could be easily put back together, the seams sealed shut, and something such as plaster of Paris poured into it. When the plaster was set, the mold would be taken apart, leaving the cast sculpture which would then be trimmed, sanded and polished if necessary.
I only made one and I have no idea where the latex mold ended up (I may yet find it somewhere here), but this plaster sculpture has moved with me over a dozen times, always on display not only because I was proud of my accomplishment but because it reminded me of Kublai’s grace.
I managed to catch the angle of his head as he turned, and I added some soft and some acute edges and flat areas that defined planes and that would catch the light, that described the smaller curves, and that finally helped to carry the larger curve along that minimalistic line.
I might have wanted to make a few changes to it even then, and I see the same ones now. For one, while Kublai did have a triangular face as most cats do, and as he had a fairly rounded head and face it tended to look like a wider triangle, I think it’s too heavy and too wide in this sculpture. I may have brought the curve between his ears farther down onto his forehead, and this would have enhanced the position of his ears, folded back as they do when they are bathing.
I would also have loosened up the curl of his tail, making it rounder, and even possibly made the roundness of his torso wider to accommodate the curl, and weighted a little more to the left to counterbalance the weight of his face and further enhance the curve.
This is painted with matte black designer spray paint, though you can see some of the inconsistencies in the finish. I wasn’t as patient as I could have been with sanding and polishing the plaster, and now, lest I sand off all the paint and start again, it is the way it is.
Manner of creation, or how I got from there to here, in part
Of course, all these judgments are made after the fact. I don’t plan things out in that logical way before I start working, not then or now. An idea begins to build and I visualize it to the point that I can see what would be the final version of it, then begin to work. I may make some logical decisions while I work, but for the most part I just keep that visualization fresh in mind and keep working until what I have is what I see.
Back in the day, I did most of my visual expression in more abstract terms, enjoying just the composition of a non-objective work, the interplay of shapes and colors, and I worked frequently in 3-D, but I was not visualizing entirely in the abstract. While I could and did render the abstract ideas I had, I could not render the more realistic ideas. In short, I could not draw to save my life, and I not only desperately wanted to, I also needed to show more skill than I had in order to pass those drawing and painting classes if I continued with my major in art.
Despite some successes—I did occasionally produce a sketch that looked something like the model in our drawing classes—I didn’t feel confident that I could do well enough in my classes to graduate well. I was also taking complimentary classes to earn a degree in Art Education, but didn’t feel I could teach it all that well either, feeling such a lack of confidence. I really just felt that I could do better, but I just wasn’t getting there no matter what I did.
Although I continued to take art classes, focusing them on design, I changed my major to English and focused on writing which was what I had wanted to do in the first place, though I was encouraged by my high school teachers to consider studying art and figured they knew best—and they did, it just took me a little longer to get to the place where I could develop my skills. More than a decade later, coming home from work late at night to greet my kitties, there it was.
The original sketch
And as I keep every artifact from everything I do—because I find I use these things later—here is the original sketch on a little slip of paper, drawn in water-based magic marker way, way back. It’s nearly all faded now, but long ago I had made a copy of it and converted it into the line art you see above. It’s one of many that I did and tossed until I came to this one and decided I’d finally gotten it right.
I had it taped to things around my desk for years, on my phone, on a bookshelf on the front of a drawer, and more recently on my computer monitor. It’s got coffee and water and, knowing my Stanley, probably a little cat pee on it, and a good sample of various cat hairs through the years stuck on the tape. But for all that and for its origin, I just can’t give it up, though now I keep it in an envelope in my desk drawer.
The photo from above
And just because I’ve always like the photo above, I’m featuring it as today’s daily cat photo.
And another thing
I forgot to mention that my profile image on Facebook, LinkedIn and a few other places, a sketch of me holding a cat, is called “Self-portrait with Kublai”. I sketched it when I participated in an art exhibit with the Pittsburgh Society of Illustrators and needed an image of myself to include in the catalog; most of us either had or decided to do self-portraits.
As the summer wore on in the months before Kublai died, I had a friend take a few photos of us, and as Kublai was in the final stages of some wasting illness I was shocked at what he looked like in the photos. I decided that I liked the pose, but I’d paint him in the way I had been picturing him. I never got around to the painting and unfortunately didn’t have the time when the exhibit came up, but I quickly did a little sketch of us for the show catalog.
I saw a request on the internet for people to crochet leggings for kitties born with deformed hind legs.
You don’t need to ask me twice! I crochet all the time and in addition to apparel, household stuff and merchandise I also crochet scarves for the Special Olympics, chemo caps, preemie hats, lap robes for nursing and rehab homes. Now I can crochet for kitties too, and these little leggings are done in no time!
Matching needy kitties with those who crochet
The idea behind Leggings for Life is not only to find people willing to crochet the leggings, but also to match kitties and other animals in need with the people who make them so they can communicate and ship directly.
You may have heard of Willow, a kitten born with deformed back legs in December 2010 who has gone on to internet fame by not only surviving but thriving even though she drags her hind legs. Aside from that she’s a pretty normal kitty—aside from that and that new cool kitty wheelchair she walks around with.
Kittens born with deformities like Willow’s are not rare and are documented in various places. Sometimes the legs will grow into the proper position and the kitten will gain full use but later kittenhood or adulthood. Some kitties have only one leg that’s a problem, or they have some control over the legs even with some difficulty. The dependable Sarah Hartwell has an article about just this issue on Messybeast, and you can see photos of other cats with leg deformities and explanations of related conditions, such as radial hypoplasia which Lisa mentions below in this article. PandEcats.com and ShowCatsOnline.com share a number of articles on breed kittens born with these conditions.
Willow’s legs actually turn inward and in this position she can’t use them at all. When she’s not in her chair her legs chafe and ulcerate when she’s dragging them across any surface, even softer, smoother ones. Fur and skin just aren’t meant to be dragged in that way.
The chafing and ulcerations lead to infection and often amputation, which may then mean the abdomen drags on the ground developing the same issue with ulcerations, certainly a shame if the kitty is having a normal life in every other way. (Some of these kittens have other issues in the area of the hips and lower abdomen as well, such as intestinal and bladder development and function.)
A product called Pet Flex tape, which you may have seen if your pet has ever had an IV line for a procedure or a splint where stitches aren’t required, for instance, can go a long way toward keeping the legs protected, but other problems develop when the skin is constantly covered by this impervious cover.
Lisa Krolasik, who “virtually” met Willow’s mom Wendy Michelle Matthews on Facebook, designed and crocheted a pair of leggings for Willow and sent them off to Wendy.
“Willow has almost completely healed since wearing them a couple of months now (since June),” Lisa said in an e-mail to me. “It was my idea to make them, because I hated to see her having to wear the Pet Flex tape all the time. The leggings allowed her legs to breathe, and Wendy was able to put aloe on Willow’s legs without removing the leggings,” she explained. The leggings also provide cushioning when Willow walks, sliding her legs along the floor or even climbing up onto furniture.
“Willow’s leggings are actually kind of wide, because she has polydactyl feet and they need to be able to slip over them,” Lisa continued, adding that Wendy added a second layer of stitches to make Willow’s leggings even more cushiony. “I have sent her 8 pairs, because they might get dirty and need to be changed.”
Lisa went on to explain that because Wendy is in the process of adopting a paralyzed kitty named Lifey from the Philippines, she made a couple pairs of leggings for Lifey which she put in the mail last Monday; more about Lifey a little further in this article.
She is also currently crocheting modified leggings for a cat named Starr who has radial hypoplasia. Her brother has a Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/Ody.the.Cat.
The Facebook page for Leggings for Life http://www.facebook.com/Leggingsforlife simply took off on Saturday morning. Lisa explained that it was Wendy’s idea to make the page and that more info and instructions would be added in the coming days.
“It all happened so fast!” she said. “The emails from people wanting to crochet are rolling in, but what we really need now are ‘customers’ for the leggings.” She is hoping next week to be contacted by people with animals needing leggings.
“I say ‘animals’ but it will most likely be cats, though I can see how a dog or rabbit might be able to use them,” Lisa commented. “The crocheters want to get started right away! But each animal is different, has a different condition, is a different size. I am hoping to match the crocheter with the animal using geography. If both live in the same city, they might be able to meet. Or postage might be cheaper and mailing faster if they are closer to each other,” she continued.
As of midnight on Saturday, a little over 12 hours since the page was posted, it had 275 “likes”, and Lisa had 13 crocheters and three people who wanted to donate yarn.
Please send email to LeggingsForLife@yahoo.com for more information, if you can crochet leggings or know of an animal who needs them. Please include your city and state in the email. If we can, we will match up crocheters with animals who live nearby.
Videos about Willow
“A Miracle for Willow”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gvHDKrCGbKo&feature=related
“We All Matter”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pKAu5s0hsKU
Wendy and Willow have arranged to adopt a kitty with a similar condition named Lifey who had been living on a roof, dragging her legs on concrete and developing ulcerations. But Lifey lives in the Philippines and Willow and her mommy live in the United States, and they’ve encountered a number of problems trying to transport Lifey here. At last count, the airline said it couldn’t transport a cat less than six months old. Please check this page to read about Lifey and if you have any ideas for how to get her into the United States, Wendy would love to hear.
Lifey’s Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/Loveforlifey
Lifey’s video, also on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=255024897844786&oid=180585791997638&comments