When you read an illustrated book, do you ever study the illustrations and wonder about decisions the artist makes about medium, technique, style and even subject? And what about the book’s physical size and shape, the whole little visual package in addition to the story that’s in it?
Often some or all of these decisions are assigned by an editor or art director working for a publisher who may have chosen an illustrator for their particular style or familiarity with the book’s subject matter. But when you are the writer, illustrator, editor, art director, publisher—and marketing department, shipping department, receptionist and all else that goes into making a book—all those decisions are made, or at least begun, with one person.
And so it is with Chris Davis, who began with a story and a vision, and ended up with a small publishing company to create, print and distribute her stories just the way she wanted them. While many people self-publish today, Chris began her venture in 1997. And while Chris said she’d written and managed many and various things while in “corporate America”, she’d never attempted artwork of any sort, but now she has to her credit five illustrated books featuring cats, dogs and other animals.
A little background
Chris describes herself as a “stubborn New Yorker” who is used to “doing things her way”. As a fellow artist I understand this to mean that she has a clear vision of what she wants and of the best way to accomplish that, in this case to tell her story, and she will achieve that vision by whatever method it takes.
She actually began her working career while still in New York and “bounced back and forth” between gigs as a singer, either solo with her piano or with a band, and working temp jobs that required a very organized and detail-oriented problem-solver.
While Christine grew up in New York, she has lived in Portland, OR for the past 35 years after following her muse across the country to such varied places as Tucson, AZ and Denver, CO to see where to best to live out her dream of living in and working with nature and all the creatures there; since 1991 in a house built on a quarter-acre wooded hillside. Her studio is in her dining room, and her cats enjoy a unique and attractive outdoor enclosure built just for them.
And while I associate her with cats after having initially read about the four sibling cats she lived with, Chris actually lived most of her life with dogs and began her career as a storyteller through a story inspired by her dog, Martha.
Gifts from her animal companions, and then some
Of course, her entire career as a published author and artist was inspired by her animal companions, and Chris reached for spiritual guidance as well. Chris relates that her forever dog, Martha, who’d traveled out to Portland with her, suddenly had what appeared to be a stroke, living two weeks in confusion and decline. Chris was determined to heal her but did not succeed.
She’d been working with a Native American healer and drumming regularly and turned to her drumming for solace. She was given the title For Every Dog an Angel in this way and “told that people were looking for this book” though she was not given the story; that had to come from within her.
Once she’d published this book people asked her for a feline-oriented book in the same theme, but Chris didn’t have cats then or know them very well at all. However, the universe provided them for her to learn about—that was when Jake discovered the four abandoned neo-natal kittens under the deck who they rescued and raised, and after getting to know them Chris could write For Every Cat an Angel with confidence.
After sharing stories with Chris in e-mails and seeing her books I e-mailed her, telling her that I’d like to write about her experience and about the technicalities of how she creates her art and her books, to which she agreed. I sent her my list of typical questions including what medium(s) she used, how she determined what images would illustrate her story and how she actually painted them, and we planned to talk. In just a few days, though, Chris had written up her answers to these questions as an essay and sent it back to me—an example of her quick and organized methods.
Forever Paws, by Christine Davis
While I’ve been writing all my life, I’ve never studied art and never knew I’d be illustrating my books. The closest I’d come to creating art was doing the company picnic posters back when I worked in corporate America. It was a big day when I added a red magic marker to my usual black marker and really jazzed up the poster!
When I wrote the first edition of For Every Dog An Angel in 1997 I met with some local artists, wondering if I could hire someone to paint the illustrations for me. Everything I saw seemed too majestic, and felt like it would overpower the simple words. So I grabbed a makeup brush and a $.99 tray of watercolors and did some quick drawings, hoping to show others what I had in mind. This unexpectedly led to my doing the artwork for all my books.
My beloved dog, Jake, was the inspiration for my books Old Dog & the Christmas Wish and The Shelter Dog. The Christmas book is very special to me, because it was the last book I wrote with Jake still by my side. There are several sketches of Jake that were used in the book.
Until I wrote Forever Paws my main medium was always watercolor. I’m deeply connected to water, so when I paint with watercolor I use a lot of water, which helps to get the “flowy” effect in the art.
I’d been playing around with acrylic and began to see the fun of using that medium, so
Forever Paws was painted with watercolor and acrylic – plus a liberal sprinkling of fur (just can’t seem to get that out of the artwork!).
It was the loss of my dear sibling kitties, Dickens and Pippen, that led to the writing of Forever Paws. Losing them to cancer, within a few months of each other, left me brokenhearted. I knew that Dickens, Pippen and Jake were together again, but I missed them terribly.
Then I began getting these colorful images of the fabulous time they were having up in the stars. I saw flying dogs and cats, glowing paws, a river of tears…even a dragon! The message from Pippen was clear – there was another book to be written.
I wrote the story fairly quickly, then began the task of bringing to life all the visions I had seen. One page in particular was quite challenging – the page with the woman holding out her arms and her critters touching her heart.
When I first sketched that page it was a completely different picture. After I painted it I could tell it wasn’t quite right. I drew the same picture a second time, but painted it with new colors. It was still wrong.
For a third time I drew the exact same picture, but I simply couldn’t bring myself to paint it. I realized I wasn’t moved by the art, and changing the colors wouldn’t solve the problem.
I sat at my table, closed my eyes, and held out my arms, asking the universe to please show me what I was supposed to paint.
And then I heard two words.
I knew what that meant – paint this moment, with my outstretched hands, open to all possibilities.
So I picked up my pencil and drew the picture that appears in the book. It came effortlessly. I looked at the woman’s face and saw so much love and beauty there. I am particularly drawn to the spiral shape, and drew spirals all around the woman. Suddenly both the picture and I were at peace.
It was several days before I painted the illustration, but when I did I knew I had found what had been missing from the first piece of art.
This page is really what Forever Paws is all about!
I really love the story of the illustration “Open Arms”. While I’m sure all illustrators have their own way of visualizing what they’ll do and then creating their visualization in their medium, it isn’t always a straightforward creation, even when you are working for yourself. “Open Arms” helps to explain how even what you had thought was a good illustration can turn out to be the wrong one, and how visualization sometimes needs to be creative in itself in order to get to the right place.
And like most illustrators I know, she gives each of them a title as she is working so she has a convenient way to refer to them to herself or to others.
In addition to what Chris answered above, I had always noted her strong palette of colors: blues, greens, purples, natural choices for as much as Chris loves water and its imagery and said her entire house is done in these colors (and I will note that even in her essay each of the book titles was in a different shade of blue, purple or green). Another artist had mentioned to Chris the idea of using complementary colors like blue and orange and purple and yellow which are sort of “opposites” and which enhance the qualities of each other when used together. I had noticed a good bit of various shades of orange in Forever Paws and Chris said the use of orange was “a new thing” for her.
The book itself
Often the size, shape and binding of the book are determined by the publisher or by a convenient template or materials available at various printers, but in this case Chris decided that as well. She had the idea of a gift book and visited bookstores, looking at, holding and reading gift books until she found one that was “just right” and patterned her book after that.
In addition, where certain pages or parts of a book are often left blank, she decided to add at least minimal color or artwork to pages that don’t often have anything, such as the end papers with the starry violet pattern, and a few violet stars here and there on front matter pages that are usually only text.
Promotional and complementary products
Chris also carries the same themes, styles, colors and even artwork through all of her promotional materials as well, and while she sells her books from her website much of her sales are wholesale to veterinarians.
She has also developed a line of complementary products such as her Rainbow Bridge Wristband, and a line of pawprint and dog- and cat-themed tissue packages, seed packages, scented candles available together or packaged in a pawprint gift box.
Molly and Star
Today Chris’s animal companions are Molly and Star, but she is certain that the universe will bring her another animal companion or companions, feline or canine or other, whenever the time is appropriate. And likely there will also be more books as Chris’s life with her animal companions continues to unfold. Visit her Lighthearted Press website to look at all of Chris’s books, read about her cats, stories of all her animal companions and remember her work when you or a friend unfortunately lose an animal companion.
Also read my review of Forever Paws.
Read other articles in my Creating With Cats series.
All images in this article were provided by Christine Davis and Lighthearted Press.
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.
For anyone who’s felt the empty, aching void left in their heart by the loss of a beloved animal companion that no tears or words can seem to fill, Christine Davis’s beautifully-illustrated gift book, Forever Paws, will tenderly help to fill and heal it with loving and beautiful thoughts and images.
The comforting rich turquoise book cover and the calming violet end papers lead into a colorful world of starry backgrounds and pastoral pictures where polka-dot dogs and stripedy cats along with whimsical horses, bunnies, mice and birds all proudly display their glowing, magical paws, hooves, feet and claws as they wait in the hereafter for their human companions to join them.
And those human companions, with the impressions of those paws prominently impressed on their hearts, watch and wait and wander until their time comes to leave their tired old bodies and, led by the light of those Forever Paws, find their way to the bridge in the stars to meet again and spend eternity with all the animal companions whose paws have touched their hearts.
This story and its detailed illustrations as well as Christine’s other illustrated books are not simply the fanciful imaginings of an animal lover but the real stories of her own experiences with animals she has loved and lost turned into art. Years ago Christine’s forever dog, Martha, inspired her first illustrated book For Every Dog an Angel and launched an unexpected career in creating illustrated story books, and from there the cats and dogs who have shared her life inspired a series of similarly lovely and deeply touching gift books: For Every Cat an Angel, Old Dog & the Christmas Wish and The Shelter Dog.
“Remember what you are feeling, there’s another book to be written.”
Years ago Christine’s forever dog Jake found a litter of abandoned kittens under the deck, and Christine took them in, bottle-fed them and raised and kept all four. At the end of 2010 one of those cats, Dickens, was unexpectedly diagnosed with cancer so advanced Christine had to let him go just hours after the diagnosis, then she discovered Dickens’ sister, her forever cat Pippin, also had cancer and lost her just a few months after Dickens.
Losing two cats that close together can leave an animal lover of any depth reeling and complicate grieving—how can you do justice to two loving souls who’ve shared your life, at the same time? And then consider the relationship of the four siblings, now parted, the depth of saving their lives, bottle-feeding and raising them to happy healthy cats, and even the long-ago bond with Jake, who had found them. A tender heart might never mend.
In a note from the author in the beginning of the book, Christine remarks that although she thought she’d “said everything I was meant to say about loss in my books…”, someone mentioned she’d never written a book about coping with the loss of an animal companion. After the loss of Dickens and Pippen, her “world fell apart”, and she heard the words, “Remember what you are feeling—there’s another book to be written.”
Forever Paws is that book, “a loving gift from my precious feline friends…”, Christine’s own exploration of her grief turned into the universal story of our relationship with our animal companions: we meet, our lives lovingly intertwine, and though they must leave they take a little piece of our hearts with them and leave their pawprints in its place, then enjoy a peaceful and happy existence with other beloved animal companions, drinking from the river of tears and dancing among the stars until we go to join them. And even though they are not physically with us, they are always available to us, watching over us. Oh, that Purgatory could be so sweet.
I like books, and despite the fact that more often than not I enjoy audiobooks to save my eyesight for my art and illustration, I still like to hold a book, illustrated or straight text, read from its pages and let it carry me off through my imagination to another world. I can take a book off into the woods and not worry about devices or batteries or jostling the thing while I’m climbing down a steep path to my favorite reading spot along the trail. A book is always ready for me.
When I lost Peaches in October 2010, Christine sent me a gift copy of For Every Cat an Angel, and while I’d been corresponding with her and studying her style on her website and blog, I finally had a chance to study one of her books. What a pleasure to see not only her illustrations combined with her story and to experience the story as she intended us to see it, but also to admire the details of the book itself, the quality dust jacket and its sturdy bound cover, the book’s size and shape, just right for carrying along for comfort and holding to study each page and enjoy its message without being overwhelmed with details of content and images.
Christine published Forever Paws in late 2011 and sent me a review copy and a note that told me she’d taken the liberty of hiding the names of some special animal companions in the artwork, and had placed a bookmark in the page where I’d find Peaches’ name. I’m so proud that Peaches is forever remembered in this book that will touch the hearts of so many.
Christine also didn’t know that this book had reached me at an auspicious time for another reason. I wanted to immediately share this book with everyone, but I also knew the extent of Cookie’s illness and every time I sat down to begin my review I could not focus and knew I’d have to wait. Cookie’s paws have been burnished in my heart for years, and now she waits for me and I can think of her among the stars and the green grass with the other loving animal companions in Forever Paws.
About Christine’s career as an artist and writer
Because I love to study the work of other artists and discuss style and technique I’ve been planning a profile of Christine for my feature Creating With Cats. As a follow-up to this book review I’ve published that article, another story of someone who had didn’t start out as an artist but ended up that way, inspired by her cats and other animals in her life.
Please read more about Forever Paws on Christine’s website, Lighthearted Press and also take some time to read about her other books and the special gifts she offers for those grieving the loss of an animal companion.
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.
I first posted this article a year ago as I summed up the loss of little Peaches and how her process had clearly prepared me for the loss of my mother, and how my cats often guide me through many important life events.
It is especially touching as I now work with Cookie.
A slightly edited version of this article in the Cat Writers’ Association newsletter Meow won a Muse Medallion as an “Opinion Piece, Essay, or Editorial” in the 2011 Cat Writers’ Association annual Communications Contest.
January 30, 2010—I know I risk losing a lot of readers with a title like that, but this is really not a sad article unless you are working with current loss of your own.
I’ve been remembering my Peaches in a very strong way lately, feeling her little spirit walk across my desk and help awaken me in the morning. I had planned an article about remembrance in the aftermath of loss, but somehow it just wouldn’t come together, though I knew in the back of my mind both why I was remembering her so strongly and why I couldn’t focus on writing.
I recently lost my mother at age 85 after so many levels of illness in her life: decades of chronic conditions and surgeries, the lung cancer ten years ago that weakened and eventually put her in personal care, the beginnings of dementia two years ago, the move to skilled nursing a year ago, the weight loss and greater need for care all leading to the last few months of decline.
I would not compare the loss of my Peaches or any of my cats to the loss of my mother because the relationship is entirely different, but I can say that Peaches’ recent progress toward death and her quiet passing, and that of many before her, were what prepared me for understanding and accepting the progress of my mother’s passing, and this is the reason I write this on The Creative Cat.
I have been lucky not to have lost too many people in my adult life. My parents were older and their parents older yet, so I lost my grandparents when I was really too young to have had a relationship with or remember them. My father died 20 years ago in the same nursing home as my mother after a recurrence of cancer and the effects of Parkinson’s Disease. I have lost a few dear aunts and uncles, but I was not part of their everyday life.
When I lost my father I was barely aware of the process of death. Twenty years later I have learned so much more, all in the daily ebb and flow of life with my cats, and I was prepared, not only for my mother’s loss but for the months-long process that led to it, and I’m anticipating the aftermath.
In any living being, living is an act of will, because without it a being does not thrive and eventually dies. But death is not the lack of that will to live, rather it is part of the same will as a being accepts that this physical body can no longer sustain and the body and spirit must part, but living does not necessarily end there. I make no conjectures about what happens after the body and spirit part, but for those of us who’ve felt the touch of a loved one no longer present, however brief or peripheral, I find it hard to believe that living is only accomplished in a physical body.
Especially in age and chronic or terminal illness, the process of death is the same in any being; at some point the person or animal realizes that the body has lost its potential for renewal, for self-support and will eventually stop functioning. Referencing Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ Five Stages of Grief, each individual goes through the same process though with different means and at different rates, but eventually arrives at acceptance.
Even though animals can’t speak in human words, the depth of our relationship understands communication beyond, or perhaps even before, the use of spoken language, and we perceive and understand many things sometimes without consciously realizing.
From late last summer I’ve been having an increasingly difficult time staying organized, focusing on anything for as long as I am accustomed, also feeling restless and distracted, sometimes fearful or angry, without any obvious reason for it. I may have a reputation as being a scattered and abstracted creative person, but I’m actually organized and efficient or I’d never be able to run my business and take care of my home and cats and affairs for my mother and brother, so this wandering lack of focus was not at all like me, and it was also very distressing because I really need to stay focused to support myself and make sure all is done correctly for two disabled people.
Years ago when I was walking my 25-year-old Stanley through his final months I experienced this same distracted period, these flashes of fear and helplessness that didn’t seem to originate with me, and I realized I was actually perceiving what he was feeling as he accepted his own passing in addition to my own process—and no doubt he was sharing my process. I remember looking into his big green eyes as we both understood this and felt relieved that we weren’t experiencing it alone anymore, and though the distractedness continued, I understood. I have experienced this same wandering focus, periods of fear or anger with each of my losses since—and likely before as well—but now I am prepared and understand that, when this begins, they understand they are in the final part of their process and their passing won’t be long in coming.
I knew that a part of what I was feeling this past autumn was my process with Peaches as she gracefully accepted the slow deterioration of her body’s functions through renal failure and simply age. As September passed she needed her sub-cutaneous fluids more often and supplements in addition to her food as her appetite began to wane. One Saturday in mid-October she refused food and supplements and told me she wasn’t going to eat anymore, and she was okay with that. I gave her fluids and little sips of milk and bits of supplements, but she let her body follow its will and gently went into her end stages the following Tuesday night. I sat with her all night long as she slowly faded until morning when she showed some signs of pain and I called my veterinarian (read “Knowing When, and Saying Goodbye”).
After Peaches passed, though, I still felt the pull of another loved one, the distractedness and restlessness. In November our quarterly meeting at the nursing home discussed my mother’s lack of appetite, weight loss and increasing frailty and difficulty swallowing and feeding herself, though she was not withdrawn. After a hospital stay in November we decided to implant a feeding tube in case the issue was that she just didn’t like her pureed food and thickened drinks (she really hated them) and just couldn’t nourish herself enough, hoping she’d gain weight and strength. In the same case at home, I might have tried a few force-feedings of one of my cats just in case they simply weren’t strong enough to eat and sustain themselves, hoping their appetite would take over, but stopping the feedings if it didn’t.
By December there was no difference in my mother, and I knew that nothing we did would change her now. My mother was accepting her end, in the same way Peaches had looked at me and let me know she wasn’t going to eat anymore, and it was what was meant to be. I have no doubt that Peaches showed me her process in preparation for what would come with my mother; I took daily care of Peaches and was intimately aware of what was happening with her, but my mother’s care was in others’ hands and it was a little more difficult to determine what was happening even through visiting.
If I was distracted and restless before, I was about as non-functional as I’ve ever been in January, sleeping odd hours, sitting and looking out the window for minutes at a time without realizing, nearly incapable of visualizing a complete design idea along with more and more odd behavior, and every time the phone would ring I jumped and grabbed it. I let this continue, knowing there wasn’t much I could do. The nursing home called early January 20 saying my mother needed to go to the hospital, and while she seemed to be stabilizing she had a crisis Monday morning and we decided on comfort measures rather than life support because she would not have survived the condition, remaining on life support indefinitely. My sister, brother, two great-granddaughters and I took turns sitting in her room for her last two days.
Even though I knew that Peaches and my other cats had gone into some painful distress in their last few hours even after gently fading, I had no means of alleviating that distress or any other pain other than calling my veterinarian for a painless euthanasia. Humans, though, have a morphine drip and any other means the hospital can provide to assure the end is as painless as possible so I wouldn’t have to fear helplessly watching a painful end with my mother.
And now after the processes of planning, meeting, greeting and thanking, I am remembering my mother, still accepting her passing as I will be for some time to come. I am grateful for the gentle guidance of the felines who’ve entered my life to teach me life lessons in addition to living their own agendas. I understood my own months of inner turmoil as normal and I was more prepared for her passing than I would have been otherwise. I won’t fuss and fret when I encounter a photo or a passing memory of my mother months from now and have a little cry, I’ll know that’s a natural part of my process of accepting her passing.
And I think little Peaches has been wandering about to comfort me in a way she could not have in life with our concern and treatment in her geriatric condition, and also to bring me quiet comfort in the way no other being could. After all, she lost her first human mom before she came to me, so she had an extra special lesson to teach me.
Here are the four of us about ten years ago, my mother, my sister, me and my brother. This photo was from my film camera, and I just couldn’t get to the box of prints to scan it again; I scanned it from a print I had made, which is rather faded, but it still gets the point across.
I hosted a poetry reading last week, just two days after my mother died. I decided to go through with it since all my immediate family could be there and it was a wonderful opportunity to share my mother with other people. I wrote a poem the night she died, and I’ve also posted that on “Today”.
I will write soon about Peaches, and many other things, now that I can focus and time is not so compressed.
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.