Quote reads: “‘Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.’–Anatole France. Dedicated to my prince and princess and all those since who’ve awakened their part of my soul.
Because they opened my heart and awakened my soul, I have a special piece of artwork on Valentine’s Day.
“Awakening” is a linoleum block print, 16″ in diameter, printed in water-based ink on handmade white rice paper. For Valentine’s Day I’m offering a print matted with a rich red mat to encircle your feline loves.
ABOUT THE CATS
“Awakening” was inspired by my close companions Kublai and Sally who ran the household together for about 12 years and who actually slept curled like this. I enjoyed following the inspiration to combine the image of the two cats with the decorative border simply made of shapes and patterns that were both attractive and easy to cut in a block print.
I had seen the quote in a number of different places, and of all the quotes about how animals fill our souls this one, the concept of awakening, I found most moving. These two cats, especially Kublai, the “original” black cat, were a major part of my awakening not only to animals but to love in general.
Aside from the fact that they were both loving, friendly and social, they were complete opposites in the way they expressed this love and were as different in temperament as they were in color and texture as the loose reference to yin and yang illustrates.
In their own ways they nurtured about 30 foster cats of widely differing ages and social abilities, just as they nurtured me in the years they shared my life.
“Kublai” is somehow derived from the word for “prince” in Sanskrit, and “Sally” is derived from the word for “princess”—Sarah—in Hebrew.
Block printing is a technique wherein the artist carves the surface of a piece of linoleum, leaving raised areas which will become the image. Ink is rolled onto these raised areas, then a piece of paper is pressed against the block and when it’s lifted away the ink remains, leaving the image on the paper.
I also print this image on textiles, such as t-shirts, curtains, tablecloths, shawls and tote bags! Please check my apparel and housewares categories to see what’s currently available.
Because of the nature of the medium, each print is unique and ink coverage is not always perfect. Most artists consider this random activity to be part of the process of creating an individualized print, and along with the hand-painting makes a unique work of art. ”
ABOUT THE PRINT
Mat is an acid-free rich red, my favorite shade to coordinate with plain black and white block prints; not too bright, not too dull. I cut the circular mat myself in my studio; the narrowest portion of the mat is 1.5″. The frame is a 1″ wide plain black matte-finish wood. The final framed size is 21″ x 21″.
I have two matted and framed prints available in my Etsy shop.
All images and text used in this article 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.
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 had the pleasure of hand-coloring one of my favorite block prints, honoring my prince and princess, Kublai and Sally. Please read my article about the print and about my styles and variations of hand-coloring it on Portraits of Animals Marketplace.
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“.