Kitties and Curtains and Watercolors

painting of two cats on windowsill with sheer curtain

Buster and Kitty, watercolor, 4" x 5", 1995 © B.E. Kazmarski

Back when I was just beginning in animal portraiture a friend and fellow cat rescuer showed me photos of her cats, Buster and Kitty, and offered me prints in case I’d ever like to create paintings from any of them. Though I have difficulty just keeping up with my own household I won’t turn down photos of any cats, especially those in her lovely Victorian-themed apartment.

“Cats looking out windows” has always been a favorite theme of mine. Add the delicacy of sheer ruffled curtains and I’m totally hooked. It’s the whole scene I love, the moment, even the silly one of just seeing butts and tails on the windowsill and shadowed silhouettes through the curtain. Those memories are special, and even if we’re looking at others’ cats they still call to mind our own cats at the same moments.

I knew her cats and her apartment as she knew my cats and my home. We worked together and were also cat sitters for each other, and while my visit to her house was fairly simple with her two and then three cats, I had nine cats for her to feed and pet and entertain in my house.

She and her husband purchased a home and as I pondered what would be an appropriate housewarming gift for a friend I remembered the photos, especially those two of the kitties on the windowsills. I’d do a portrait! I remembered how she had loved the traditional features of that apartment, the oak parquet floors, big rooms and high ceilings, that wide traditional molding on the windows darkened with age. And of course she loved her cats, so the combination of the two was sure to be a winner.

But which photo? The photo with both cats didn’t show their faces, and while I do like unconventional poses and scenes for portraits I didn’t feel that was enough. The other was a typical posture for Buster with his legs stretched out and “looking at his toes”, and while I pondered how to fit Kitty in there from other photos I decided I’d rather not.

I’d do them both. Just two little paintings. That solved it.

painting of black and white cat on windowsill

Buster Lookin' at His Toes, watercolor, 4" x 5", 1995 © B.E. Kazmarski

I loved the sheer curtain and the traditional wooden windowsill, but rather than my usual pastel, I had been visualizing them in watercolor all along. I was pretty new to watercolor then, just about two years into it and not too many paintings yet, but I’d been studying quite a bit of other artists’ work. I could picture how I’d render the harder shadows and highlights on the wood, and knew it would carry the gauzy shadows on the curtain. The soft shadows on the walls would be a challenge, but the cats would be a joy—meeting my favorite subject in a different medium for once, like sharing a new experience with a friend.

They are matted and framed individually, but with the same mats and frames. Unlike most other portraits I feature, you are seeing these at about the actual size they were painted.

About the kitties

Kitty was a rather large and imperious long-haired black kitty they’d adopted from a shelter, and oh how I wanted a long-haired black kitty after meeting him! My black kitty Kublai was the love of my life, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t have a crush on another, even with Kitty’s, well, cattitude. He was okay, he never swatted me—but then I’d been well-trained by Sally, my white long-haired kitty, in the fine art of knowing when “happy happy purr purr” turned into “I’m totally done with this right now.”

Buster was but one kitten from many litters born to a cat in a trailer park who simply was never spayed. The fact that a neighbor was setting out antifreeze for them to drink neither inspired the cat’s owner to get the cat fixed nor to keep them all indoors and safe. Buster’s mom and dad had recently lost a kitten they’d adopted to feline leukemia, and Buster’s dad, wanting to save at least one kitten from death by antifreeze and help ease the grief of the loss, chose one tiny black and white kitten to take home. At first, he was ordered to take the kitten back, the loss was too soon, but within hours, reconsidering the possible fate of the little guy, Buster’s mom told him to go back and get him.

And Buster is also the January kitty in my Great Rescues Calendar and Gift Book. I hadn’t seen his mom for years when I began the book and wanted to use his portrait, then realized my photos from that era weren’t up to print quality and I’d have to rephotograph it. I had the chance to look her up and visit again (and, yes, I do have that photo of Buster and Ginger, they are on the list!).

Take a look at other portraits and read other stories

Read articles here on The Creative Cat featuring current and past commissioned portraits.

Read about how I create commissioned portraits.

Purchase a gift certificate for a commissioned portrait.

Visit my website to see portraits of my cats, commissioned cats, commissioned dogs, people and a demonstration of how I put a portrait together from photos.

Commissioned Cat Portraits

portrait of black cat in wicker chair

Commissioned Dog Portraits

pastel portrait of dogs

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.


In Good Company: Cat Writers’ Association Communication Contest Awards

I couldn’t be in White Plains, NY, with all my fellow members of the Cat Writers’ Association (CWA) this Friday and Saturday, but I was there as much as possible in spirit, obsessively checking e-mail and Facebook to read news of what was happening in the workshops and social gatherings, and at the awards banquet on Saturday night. Most of all I truly missed the opportunity to socialize face to face with all these e-friends!

I am also very proud to have won four Muse Medallions, the highest honor awarded by the Cat Writers’ Association, these chosen from the awarded Certificates of Excellence announced last month. When the awards list is published, I’ll post a link so you can explore all the winners.

the creative cat

You'll recognize this one.

Read the rest of this entry »


Mail Call

painting of cat

Warm Winter Sun, oil pastel © B.E. Kazmarski

Well, The Creative Cat has won a Certificate of Excellence in the Cat Writers Association (CWA) Communications Contest!Thank you, Namir, for inspiring me to do this!

And so has Great Rescues as a gift book, as well as the illustrations and the notebook paper, “22 Cats” in the back of the book!

two black cats looking out window

Mimi and Mr. Sunshine keep an eye on the birds.

In addition, and article, a photo and an illustration have won, “On Dying and Death, and Remembrance” in an edited version and “Birdwatching“, both published in Meow, the newsletter for the Cat Writers’ Association, and “Peaches“, the portrait I painted last year for Ingrid King and then published as one of my set of Feline Art Cards.

painting of dilute calico with amaryllis

Peaches

The award letter reads that “the standards for winning a Certificate of Excellence are very high and this award is a recognition of your outstanding work.” Also, winners of the coveted CWA Muse(TM) Medallion are chosen from among the Certificate of Excellence winners, all of which will be announced at the annual conference in November.

What a wonderful ending to a somewhat frustrating week! It’s like a reward, and all the thanks go to my family of cats, yesterday’s, today’s and tomorrow’s.

Read more about the Cat Writers’ Association and their annual Communications Contest. If you are a writer, illustrator, videographer, artist or in any way create public communications about cats, please read up on the organization and consider becoming a member!

Congratulations to all the other winners as well, since we’ll probably all get our packages at about the same time!

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All images and text used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used in any way 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.


Simon Says…

cat with three legs

Simon Says...

One day after mom had been gone all day she came home with pictures and stories about a kitty who looked like Namir but who didn’t have a leg! We weren’t so sure about that at first because we are all so perfect, but after we saw the photos and she explained that he’s really over the fact that he is missing a hind leg, we thought we’d like to meet him. He’s a hero cat! And his people hardly notice it anymore either. Anyone who would think that a cat missing a limb might take too much care or might not live as long or any other reason there might be to not adopt really needs to read about Simon and his people. ~the Fantastic Four 

What are you looking at?

Simon is another incredible rescue I’ve met recently. He lives with the family of Cooper, one of the portrait subjects featured in Great Rescues, who have been rescuing cats for years.

cat with three legs

Simon waves his tail.

Animals are amazingly adaptive when it comes to changes in their bodies. Simon was a stray being fed outside by this couple who live in a rural area next to a farm as they tried to determine if he belonged to someone. Unfortunately he came back one day dragging a trap on his leg.

“We were actually away at the time,” said Simon’s dad. “Our neighbor found him and ran him to our vet, figuring that’s what we’d want—he was right—but he would have done that for any animal, and we’re so glad he did.”

Simon spent a month in the veterinary hospital while the veterinarian valiantly tried to save the leg, but it just kept breaking again and again.

“Simon was in so much pain, though he never acted mean in any way, but we could tell, the last time the leg broke again, he was done with it,” his people agreed. “The veterinarian removed his leg the next day and Simon was awake and alert, eating and social just hours afterward. We could tell he was thanking us!”

He came home the day after the amputation surgery and walked around as if nothing had happened except that he now had a slightly altered gait. He also had no problem being an indoor cat after that experience.

“We don’t know where Simon came from,” his mom said. “He just showed up and was eating with the outdoor cats. We were trying to track down an owner if there was one before we decided we’d get him neutered, then this happened. I think he was meant to be ours anyway.”

No one knows where Simon came from, and it’s sad to think what would have happened to him had he not felt comfortable enough with the couple giving him food and shelter outdoors to drag himself back. But he’s got a loving home now and a long life ahead of him.

For Simon, missing a leg does not mean missing a heart—he is still loving and playful and even has a snit now and then while you’re petting him, just like any other cat. If you see a kitty in a shelter who’s had a little accident, don’t pass them by.

All images and text used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used in any way 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.


“You Are the Most Beautiful, Precious Girl…”

portrait of orange and white cat on towel

Christie, 2007, pastel, 14" x 23" © B.E. Kazmarski

Would you choose to adopt a kitty who was known to have, ahem, litterbox issues?

And after hearing many warnings and so much failure in this area, do you think you’d be the one to find the magic solution?

Christie was brought to a veterinarian for treatment, but her owners never returned; apparently Christie wasn’t using the litter pan and they didn’t want to take her back. The veterinarian obtained ownership and put her up for adoption, and as the news spread that a kitty needed a home the story eventually reached her adoptive people. They met the charming and quiet girl, impressed by her affectionate nature, and were willing to take a chance with the litter pan issues. Her forever family discovered that Christie needed to be told frequently, at least once each day, that she was the most beautiful and precious girl and to have her lovely long orange fur massaged or she would become visibly depressed. Apparently she is no longer wanting for praise and affection, and a neatly folded towel still warm from the dryer and carefully placed on the kitchen counter doesn’t hurt, either.

This is Christie’s story in Great Rescues Calendar and Gift Book

About Christie’s adoption

Apparently in Christie’s case, love was the solution, and her people apparently knew it the moment they saw her.

“We knew that was an issue when we met her,” Christie’s mom said, “but we just liked her so much we thought we’d give her a chance.”

cat using scratching post

Scruffy demonstrating scratching post.

Living with breed Persians for many years this couple was smitten with a rescue cat, Felix, after they lost their tabby Persian, Scout. Now they find rescue cats, always adults, to fill their home, usually two at a time, and they also care for a number of outdoor cats in style. At right is Scruffy, Christie’s current house mate, using the scratching post right next to the window so he can pretend he’s in the outdoors.

The idea that they would be willing to bring a cat who had known litter box issues into their rather new and elegant home, and to work with the cat until the issue was resolved by simply finding the cat’s own needs is a testament to their belief in rescue and their skill with and sensitivity to animals.

“She did have a few accidents at first,” Christie’s mom continued. “We gave her lots of attention when she was new so she’d know we loved her and she belonged here and she’d get used to the place. After all, she’d been abandoned.” The occasional errant litterbox non-use disappeared.

orange and white cat with love

Christie gets her love session.

“I just discovered that she needs to be held and petted and massaged and told every day, more than once if possible, that she is the most wonderful, beautiful, precious, lovely girl, and we love her very much,” she said as she demonstrated the process of love with Christie on her lap, massaging her fingers through Christy’s thick fur as Christie flexed her front toes and slowly blinked her eyes, knowing that this sort of treatment was her divine right.

Eventually, people have to go to work or away on a vacation or just out somewhere for long days, such as during the holidays. “When she doesn’t get her quota of love, she will ‘miss’ the box,” her mom said, “so we give Christie her love every day, but we understand if she misses.” Even the pet sitter indulges Christie when they are away.

But avoiding Christie’s issues isn’t the reason for lots of love, and trying to resolve her issues wasn’t a reason for adoption; rather, it was the other way around. They simply knew when they met her that they loved her and they felt Christie would love them too. Finding the solution—frequent demonstrative love sessions—was a happy by-product of how much they loved her, and she loved them.

detail of portrait

Detail of Christie's face.

About the portrait

I’ve done several portraits for this couple, as you can see in Felix’s article, Big Kitty Love, and Christie was the most recent. By this time I no longer needed to review with them the process of considering the scene and posture they’d like in order to remember their kitty forever on their wall. When they called me, they knew exactly what they wanted, because nearly every day, they warmed a towel in the dryer, folded it neatly and, while still warm, placed it on the counter dividing the kitchen and dining area where they frequently sat after dinner. They had taken a number of photos in preparation and I took a number of close-ups of Christie as well, and happily got to their portrait.

Some people react to this portrait in an interesting way, saying she looks sad, but it’s only because she’s lying down and her expression is relaxed, her eyes aren’t as round and alert as usual—and that’s where the portrait posture is personal to the humans of the cat. Her people know she’s extremely happy and see nothing else.

Here is Christie’s page in Great Rescues:

page in great rescues calendar

Read other stories about cats and their rescuers from Great Rescues.

The Portrait That Started it All

Big Kitty Love

There Was Just No Other Kitty After Samantha

The Cat of a Lifetime

A Bridge Between the Ages

I’ll Be Seeing You

Simon Says…

Irina and Isis, Saved from the Flood

Four Ferals

Riley

Milan and Felix

Learn more about Great Rescues Calendar and Gift Book

Visit the Great Rescues website


Big Kitty Love

portrait of Maine Coon cat named Felix

Felix, pastel, 2004, 16" x 23" © B.E. Kazmarski

This magnificent cat was rescued and originally placed with someone who unfortunately not only let him out, but literally kicked him out, causing a permanent injury. Felix found himself back with his original rescuers who kept a registered rescue for cats in their home.

His forever family had recently lost one of their three Persian cats, long-haired of course, and with tabby markings. Waiting a respectful time after the loss, a friend at work told the story of Felix, the big, gentle long-haired tabby who truly resembled a Maine Coon cat; one day soon after there was a photo of him left on the desk. The gentle hints were well-timed and effective and soon they traveled to meet him, won over the skeptical rescuer, and brought him home.

This is Felix’s story in Great Rescues Calendar and Gift Book

About Felix’s mom and dad, serial adopters and rescuers

portrait of gray persian cat

Flint, pastel © B.E. Kazmarski

Both Felix’s mom and dad had grown up with pets but those animals had always gone outdoors and as a young married couple living in an apartment they were sure a pet wouldn’t be happy. A friend had Persian cats and in visits they were so impressed with the cats’ looks and personality that they adopted, over time, three of them.

painting of white persian cat

Cameo, pastel, © B.E. Kazmarski

I first met them years later after they had lost that first Persian kitty, Flint, and he became one of the first portraits I painted the year I began this business in 1993. I also met Scout and Cameo and painted their portraits in time as well; Scout is the tabby Persian kitty mentioned in Felix’s story, above.

painting of tabby persian cat

Scout, pastel © B. E. Kazmarski

Felix was their first mixed-breed rescue cat. They had been so impressed by the Persian cats they met and lived with, and while they moved from an apartment to a home and didn’t need to be concerned about space, they also each worked long hours and traveled frequently. The Persian cats they adopted from their breeder fit well into their lifestyle and they weren’t sure about taking on a shelter or rescued cat whose needs they might not be able to meet. Until Felix, that is.

four cats outdoors

Liam, Ceili, Julia and Amy

Since Felix they’ve adopted several rescued cats in about the same way as Felix—photos passed around the office, or a flyer, or an e-mail with a story. In addition, they’ve rescued a few of their own from the outdoors, taking them in, getting veterinary care and finding homes for them, and also feeding, spaying and neutering a parade of outdoor cats.

When I visited there were two rescues lounging indoors and four cats who they fed outside the door on the patio who had been spayed and neutered through the Homeless Cat Management Team, a TNR program based in Pittsburgh. I was not surprised to see there was even a water bowl that could be heated for winter use. After a recent visit to them I wrote about their little outdoor family.

closeup of cat's face

Felix, detail of his face.

About Felix

Felix was a natural model, a big, confident cat who knew just how to pose. I took a number of reference photos when I visited to be used for details, but this portrait was modeled after one shot I particularly liked for the lighting and the minimal details in the background.

It is not unheard of to find a breed cat living on the streets, but most often the ones who appear to be a breed simply have a majority of breed traits pulled up from their genetic history. Maine Coon cats are very popular for their mellow personality, and aside from being very large they don’t look exotic as many other breed cats do. I’ve seen people call nearly any long-haired tabby cat, or just a big tabby cat, a Maine Coon cat. Yet he did have many features and the demeanor of a Maine Coon cat, and I believe a friend of his peoples’ who was a breeder looked him over and said he certainly looked like one. There’s no way to tell without genetics, but when I met him, I certainly sensed the traits I associated with Maine Coon cats—not just a big cat, but a big presence, and even with the gentle demeanor, a sense of the wild in them. I loved watching Felix walk on those huge feet padded with so much fur.

Unfortunately, Felix didn’t live too long past the portrait, and they only had six years to enjoy his company, but after his horrible beginnings—no one knew how such a nice and handsome cat ended up on the streets—at least he spent his last few years with two of the best people any cat could hope to find.

Here is Felix’s page in Great Rescues:

page in great rescues calendar and gift book

Read other stories about cats and their rescuers from Great Rescues.

There Was Just No Other Kitty After Samantha

The Cat of a Lifetime

A Bridge Between the Ages

I’ll Be Seeing You

Simon Says…

Irina and Isis, Saved from the Flood

Four Ferals

Riley

Milan and Felix

Learn more about Great Rescues Calendar and Gift Book

Visit the Great Rescues website


There Was Just No Other Kitty After Samantha

portrait of black cat in wicker chair

Samantha, pastel © B. E. Kazmarski

There has not been another kitty since Samantha. Sometimes a memory is too dear, and time must pass before the heart is ready for another love.

The Story

In Samantha’s mom’s case a dramatic change in schedule just didn’t allow for another adoption for quite a few years after she lost Samantha. Her employer began reorganizing the company nationwide, and she was given an opportunity that required her to travel frequently and for several days, even weeks, at a time. In a way, it was an antidote to the suddenly empty home.

But the heart is sensitive in other ways after caring for a loved one through a sustained or chronic illness as well, less likely to take risks in many ways.

While many kitties were presented and could have done well with her travel schedule, the memory of Samantha’s long decline into kidney failure and the final months of administering subcutaneous fluids herself at home made her consider what she would do if a feline illness presented itself while she was traveling. Risky; best not take the chance, at least until the traveling is over. Sometimes that is the best decision, especially as the months turned into years.

Another portrait at the same time

Though there has not been another kitty since Samantha, there were several kitties before. In fact, when I painted Samantha’s portrait, I also painted another of three cats she had known before and who were, in part, the ones who led her to Samantha.

portrait of three cats

Honey, Tommy and Andy, pastel © B. E. Kazmarski

Honey, Tommy and Andy were mom, son and daughter and while Honey had other kittens this little family of three was a perfect combination: Honey, though petite, was decidedly the boss; Tommy, big and rangy was as sweet as candy; and Andy playful and affectionate.

Honey, in the front, was the mother, and Tommy on the left and Andy on the right were two of her kittens. “Honey was tiny, but she was the boss, definitely the leader,” Samantha’s mom said, remembering the three cats. “Tommy was big but as gentle as a kitten—Honey used to boss him around—and Andy was sweet and playful. We were definitely a family,” she continued. Honey lived into her late teens, outliving both her children, and after that the home was without cats for a while, and then…

Samantha’s Rescue Story

During a visit to a friend who had cats, Samantha’s mom realized she needed the love and affection a cat provides. At a local Humane Society she saw this tiny kitten alone in a cage. Her large yellow eyes begged her mom to save her. The kitten was very small and delicate, her coloring totally black with very fine silky fur; asking the attendant, she learned the kitten was a Burmese and was the runt of a litter. She picked up the kitten who immediately cuddled on her shoulder and she was in love! Then she thought it would be nice for the kitten to have a playmate and selected another kitten, holding both in her arms. The Burmese would have none of this and hissed at the other kitten, possibly due to her bad experiences being bullied by her litter mates. Deciding the kitten needed her as much as she needed the kitten, she took the kitten home, named her Samantha, and had 19 wonderful years with her. (From Great Rescues Calendar and Gift Book)

Planning the portraits

When we planned the two portraits, Honey, Tommy and Andy would be “in heaven”, so they look as if they are in the clouds.

When we ultimately chose Samantha’s pose, that one perfect photo of her awakening from a nap on her little wicker chair, nestled among pillows in the sun, she was looking upward at just the right angle that when we hung the portraits on the landing in her home she was indeed looking up at them, and thanking them for leading the way for her mom to find her.

And Samantha’s mom remembers taking the photo, just capturing that moment when Samantha awoke and gazed around sleepily, relaxed and content.

I can attest that it’s difficult to photograph black cats and used my own black cat, Kublai, as a model for the highlights on her face, paw and body. I remember, initially thinking Samantha was a fairly large kitty, comparing her to the chair and thinking it was a papasan-style or one of those grand wicker chairs I used to see at Pier One and other places, with a deep seat so the pillows were off in the background, but it turned out to be a petite little chair, just right for a petite little kitty.

And not only does the heart hold the memory dear, but also the things attached to the memories. Samantha’s mom still has the little wicker chair, knowing it’s just an object, just a part of all the things Samantha touched in her home, she’ll always keep it as part of the memory of Samantha.

Creating the portrait

I never met Samantha for all the times I visited this person’s home, though she was still around but in her late teens when I painted the portrait, and not feeling well. After the portrait was completed her mom told me that Samantha had developed renal failure, and she was giving her subcutaneous fluids on a regular basis.

I’ve done this plenty of times since then, but at that time I had not and was greatly intimidated when my black cat, Kublai, needed them a few years later. I remembered Samantha and her mom, and that gave me the reassurance if they could get through it, I could do it too. I’ve learned so much from both the cats I’ve known and the persons who’ve loved them.

closeup of portrait

Closeup of Samantha's face

This portrait was a turning point for me. With each portrait I’d done I had experimented with colors and techniques and been able to start visualizing the way I’d work certain areas as I studied my reference photos, determining the colors, the way I’d apply and blend them so the decisions didn’t even seem conscious.

I remember finishing work on Samantha’s eyes, leaving to take a break, and looking later to see things I didn’t even remember doing, colors applied, blends and clarified edges I hadn’t consciously decided to create, the clarity of her eye in front of her pupil and the shadows and highlights within her eye, highlights on her face and paw, I didn’t know how I’d done this. I knew I’d reached a new level of skill and observation, and with it the confidence that I was on the right path. For many years, Samantha was the signature of my my business, on my business card and brochure until the portrait of Stanley, which is my signature portrait now.

Choosing Samantha as the cover kitty

great rescues cover

Samantha as the cover kitty.

I had visualized this project, cover and all, for over a decade, and in a corner of my mind I had always pictured Samantha on the cover, possibly because she had also been on my brochure and her portrait meant so much to me as an artist. I knew I wanted to use a warm, rich color for the cover, dark enough to support the foil stamped text I had in mind. I had initially used the portrait of Bandit because of the red in his portrait and how I love that portrait as well, but my heart went for the little black kitty and the portrait that had changed my outlook on my career as an artist.

Samantha’s mom agreed for Samantha to be on the cover; it’s one thing to be in the book, quite another to be on the cover and therefore see your kitty’s portrait all over the place as I promote the book. I knew how she felt about Samantha still, after all these years, and that might be painful. In the end, it’s a joy for her to have a copy forever on her coffee table so she can not only look at her portraits on the wall, but her copy of the calendar in her living room.

Here is Samantha’s page in Great Rescues:


Read other stories about cats and their rescuers from Great Rescues.

The Cat of a Lifetime

A Bridge Between the Ages

I’ll Be Seeing You

Simon Says…

Irina and Isis, Saved from the Flood

Four Ferals

Riley

Milan and Felix

Learn more about Great Rescues Calendar and Gift Book

Visit the Great Rescues website