Portrait “In the Sink”: Why Not?

portrait of cat in sink

Madison in the Sink, pastel © B.E. Kazmarski

Yes, he’s really in the sink! I’m so pleased with this pose.

When I work with a customer for a portrait, I ask them what comes to mind when they think about their animal companion. I advise them to choose a pose and setting as close to that visual as we can devise, using my own portraits as examples. It’s nice to have a formal setting where we can see every stripe and spot and whisker and sometimes this is entirely appropriate depending on the subject’s personality, but if they had a cute or quirky habit that can be illustrated into a portrait, we should do it!

Madison’s person is the person I grew up next door to, but haven’t seen in years after she moved away for employment and then my mother moved out of her house and I sold it. We reconnected and managed to get our mothers  together for one last visit before each fell too deep into dementia to travel around.

She had also told me she would bring photos of Madison and that she’s like to have me do his portrait. How wonderful to find out she’s just as much an “animal person” as me.

I always let my customer make the decisions for the portrait, but if I see a good photo I’ll put in my vote without hesitation. He looked so natural in the sink and I loved his expression. “Oh, he was always in that sink!” she remarked. So here he is.

She lost Madison, who was her first cat, to diabetes at only eight years old. She didn’t have too many photos, but this pose was definitely a winner! Not just because he’s cute in the sink, although he is, but also because it will make her laugh when she looks at it, and what better healing for the grief of loss than to remember with a smile. I’m so glad to know that another person, a special friend, has a portrait that shows their animal companion as they want to remember them.

close-up of Madison

Close-up of Madison

Animal fur is different from human skin, and because of texture and pattern it looks different in every photo you’ll see. In each of Madison’s photos, the details of his face were lighter or darker, the area on his chest had a collar and tag in one photo and not in another. These are common things to work around, and from both experience and real life I can fill in the details. It just so happens that I am fostering a big tabby cat who looks so much like Madison and has been a great model, and who came in just as I was finishing, that it must have been meant to be!

What I always do in building a subject, especially one I never met, is to work from the photos until I feel that I know my subject and the photos start to get in the way. Then I put them away and work with nothing but what I see with my creative eye. That’s when the essence of the personality is instilled in the portrait, and every time I’m amazed at what’s taken life on the paper. And I know by the reaction of the person who’s come to look at the work.

I never delude myself to think that a portrait can take the place of a real live animal, but it can certainly help with grief. Through the years, many customers have contacted me to let me know how much it means to have the portrait in their home, that they greet the portrait or talk to it, or visit it when they are feeling overwhelmed with loss, even that other cats have reacted to it.

The portraits work for me. I have several of my own to visit.

But on a lighter note, here is a detail shot of the faucet. All that illustration experience really paid off.

detail of faucet

Detail of faucet, why not?

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.

Commissioned Cat Portraitsportrait of black cat in wicker chair Commissioned Dog Portraitspastel portrait of dogs

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.

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.


Feline Faith and Understanding

Peaches knows the door will open if she looks at the doorknob long enough.

This was one of my very first posts on The Creative Cat a little over three years ago—wow, here is little Peaches just being herself, the Fantastic Four were 18 months old, I know Cookie was right there with me because I have more photos from this particular morning, as was Namir, who was actually the inspiration for this blog and whose image is in the header.

Sometimes persistence is a very physical thing, sometimes it’s more cerebral.

Cats dislike closed doors, and will have you come and open the door just so they can look inside and see if there may have been anything that might at some time have been of interest to them. After even only a quick cursory glance, they may see that there was nothing of interest in there after all, and will simply walk away without apology. After all, you exist to fulfill their needs, and their needs aren’t all that great—what does it take to open a door, or put out some food, or move over in bed, or toss the toy, or pet them for the 32 seconds or two hours they want? Oh, and there are several other things that should be done, but we can leave these for another posting.

My house is very small, and without very many doors. The ones that exist are rarely closed, except those to the outside.

In this case, however, the door in question is the entry to what may be seen as “the good life” by the feline members of my household. This is the Spare Kitty Room, as I have no need for a spare bedroom, and often it actually contains a spare kitty, a rescue of some stripe or other, or a foster.

Peaches continues to look at the doorknob.

Peaches continues to look at the doorknob.

It can also contain a sick kitty, one who is actively ill with some acute or chronic illness as rescues or very rarely a regular resident may be, or one of the very seniors who needs a little extra care. Often, the room is only used as an observation area to isolate which kitty has been leaving the really awful stuff in the box, or to see if if someone can pee.

Now, why would they associate a room with “the good life” which I associate with illness and recovery? For the same reason I was always envious of my accident-prone brother—he got all the attention, the extra gifts, the time out of school, lots of special treatment I never got! Both humans and felines can easily forget or ignore the side effects of illness when there is some treat involved.

In this case, the room is warm and cozy with the best bed, one’s own litterbox, usually special food and sometimes it’s available all day, not this ungenerous twice-daily dash for the dishes before it’s taken away again. A nice window with a bird feeder directly outside provides entertainment, and, because the Spare Kitty Room sometimes doubles as my art studio where I perform non-computer-related activities, they get special time with mom, and having mom’s lap to one’s self in a house with multiple cats is apparently worth more than food.

Right now, Kelly is in there because she was the one found to be emitting the nasty stuff in the box. She is very upset by the existence of Mimi’s Children, so she’s in the room having quiet time and getting special attention.

Peaches is still looking at the doorknob.

Peaches is still looking at the doorknob.

So Peaches will patiently sit and look up at the doorknob, sometimes dozing off. Peaches is very sweet and I love her to pieces but I don’t think Peaches is the type of cat who reflects—in fact, I think her mind is most often nearly empty with only one thought at a time taking up a small portion, and that usually having to do with food or mylap. She is 18 years old and her age may have something to do with this, but I don’t think Peaches was ever the introspective sort, just quiet and consistent, pretty straightforward.* I’m not sure she’s even considering why she’s looking at the doorknob, only that if she does it long enough, she will get some sort of reward. Her focus can stay entirely on the doorknob, and when the door opens it can move to what is waiting inside.

I know she’s up there right now, waiting.

*Underneath that understated exterior, Peaches is a very creative thinker as I discovered when she considered becoming a photographer—read “Area Senior Cat Finds Muse in Photography” in the writing area of my website.

Read more about Peaches, the kitty I adopted at age 15 and who lived to be 20, It’s Peaches 100th Birthday!

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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.


A Nice, Nice Kitty

photo of a black cat looking out a window

Mimi at the Window

“Here,” she said, “she’s in here with the kittens.” My neighbor handed me a medium-sized box with the flaps closed.

I gingerly took the box, supporting the bottom, thinking of the little black cat and her kittens inside and afraid that if I jostled the box the wrong way she’d step on a newborn kitten. This was Sunday; the kittens had been born on Thursday.

Carefully carrying the box upstairs, I could feel little movements inside, whispers of paws on cardboard, but no cat noises.

Her name was then Maia, and we never did get along well. She lived across the street but I was constantly finding her in my garden and backyard, so full of life and little critters. She never came to me when I called her or acted in any way friendly. Later, when I caught her hunting and waved my arms and said, “Go!”, she cringed and disappeared under the squashes along the fence and was gone.

She was Lucy’s mom, though, the 15-month-old kitten I lost to FIP. I’ll tell the story of Lucy some time as I study and write about FIP, but I was bereft after losing such a young kitten, and to that disease in particular.

The day after I lost Lucy, I saw Maia in my garden but felt a sudden rush of fondness—Lucy had resembled her mom in so many ways I couldn’t tell her to leave.

It was one of those wonderful hot July mornings I’ve always loved in my garden, moist with dew made into diamonds by the sun just coming over the trees. Maia was expecting again and near due, her tiny body distorted by the kittens she carried. I watched her from the basement, waddling awkwardly across the brick patio outside the basement door to the little water bowl I always kept outside for Cookie and Namir. She had a little drink, a little face wash, then walked down one of the brick paths to observe wildlife.

photo of garden with black cat

Garden With Maia

And I knew, as I stood in the spot where Lucy had spent so much time, that I needed to take Maia and her babies into my household. I quickly debated the pros and cons. I knew it was right to get Maia off the street and get her spayed, and raise and find homes for her kittens, in the meantime learning more about the FIP Lucy had died from. I had no idea where Lucy had encountered the FIP and I understood how it spread, but really didn’t understand how contagious it was. Maia and her kittens could be carrying it, but then the remaining cats in my household had already been exposed. Still, getting Maia and her kittens out of the population of other cats could only help stop spreading it if they were carriers.

But the real reason was to heal my own heart. I had lost my four oldest cats in one year and tried not to adopt any kitten in the years they were growing older. Lucy and her siblings had come along in the middle of those losses, and while I found homes for the others, Lucy stayed on and I didn’t try to hard to find a home for her. Once I lost Stanley and grieved his passing, I turned all my love into raising Lucy, then 9 months. At one year I had her spayed, and immediately afterward she showed symptoms, then was diagnosed with, FIP. I lost her three months later.

Worst of all, I had begun to look at my other cats, all in their teens, as walking time bombs for hurting me with their illness and passing. I’d use the analogy of getting right back on the horse after you’ve fallen, and fill my house with new life lest I begin to fear and avoid my cats. I checked with my veterinarian to discuss the risks and see what she thought, and to my surprise, she hesitated, then agreed. Perhaps she understood my emotional predicament.

And heal my heart they did. I knew I’d love the kittens, but didn’t realize how wonderful little Maia was.

I had the room all ready and set the box on the table next to the cage where they’d live. Still no noise, no scuffling. I knew momcats could be fierce, though, and she could be ready to launch as I opened the box. I slowly pulled the flaps apart and looked inside from an angle…

I saw one round green eye glowing in the darkness. Round is good, round is curious, and round is encouraging. I opened the flaps a little more, and Maia poked her head up like a periscope and surveyed the room, then relaxed. Oh, I could imagine her thinking, I finally made it into the house. Our former relationship forgotten, she looked up at me as if to say, can you help me unpack these kittens? I felt such a strong sense of Lucy in the room I turned around to look at her; of course she was not walking into the room, but of course she was there.

photo of black cat nursing kittens

Maia With Her Babies

This was Sunday, and they had been born on Thursday so they had barely any features to distinguish them. She laid down and nursed them once we got them in the cage and we proceeded to get to know each other.

I renamed her Mimi for the lead female in the opera La Boheme, the embroiderer Mimi living the Bohemian life in Paris in the late nineteenth century. All the kittens began with names from the opera as well.

photo of black cat on drawing table

Mimi (formerly Maia) on Drawing Table, with Lucy's Rainbows (more on that another time)

Mimi was only a few years old and is very tiny, yet she had had several litters of kittens. I think she sensed this was her last and that I would share the nurturing because she spent quality time with them, but she was really tired of kittens, and physically tired as well. She began migrating downstairs to my office, sleeping by the door and even curling up on my desk, fitting quietly in with the other cats as if she’d always been there and falling into our routine.

And so she continued, always settling on my desk; in the time I have written this she has walked in front of me four times. I added a shelf over the phone and adding machine on one side so she could keep watch on the neighborhood as I worked, and that is where she sits, looking out into the night. I write all the time about her kittens, the Fantastic Four, Mimi’s Children, but she doesn’t get the notice she deserves.

Even though she’d always been an outdoor cat, she had no interest in going out. Once she looked intently out as I came in, so I held the door open and she looked more intently, then looked up at me, Why are you holding the door open? Aren’t you coming in?

But even though she hangs near me, she is a little distant. Sometimes when I reach to pet her because she’s walking right in front of me, she draws back and gives me a horrified look, Who the hell are you, and why are you trying to touch me? She can modify her shape so that my hand glides just one-quarter inch above her fur, then she moves away gracefully.

But not always. Tonight as I was sorting end-of-year stuff in my office, she was all over me, mewing in her squeaky little mew, rubbing her little face all over my hands and my legs, trotting after me and purring so nicely and looking at me with her round eyes, then walking on the two piles I was sorting, biting the edges of the papers I was holding. She thanks me for saving her all the time in her quiet little ways and her sudden bursts of enthusiastic affection and I’d have to be a fool not to recognize it.

I had had a home for her that didn’t work out, and I’m glad. I think she and I will be friends for a very long time. Every home needs a sweet little black cat.

Mimi has had quite a bit to say since I’ve been blogging:

May 11, 2010: Mimi Introduces Giuseppe, Mr. Sunshine, Jelly Bean and Mewsette

May 9, 2010: Mimi’s 2006 Children: Lucy, Charlotte, Angus and Donal

May 9, 2010: Mimi, on “Mother’s Day”
February 23, 2010: Mimi says, “Trust me, it’s better being spayed.”
October 16, 2009 Help to Avoid Feline Breast Cancer by Spaying Early

Meet Lucy!

illustration of black cat on colored background

Meet Lucy!

The most exceptional kitten the world has ever known!

No, I haven’t added a kitten to my household of nine adults! But there is definitely a story, in more ways than one, behind this illustration.

Those stories contain both intense joy and overwhelming sorrow; they contain an unexpected loss of a kitten after the loss of many others, which led to the welcoming of Mimi and the Fantastic Four, and a promise to that kitten that I’d honor her brief existence with joy and love.

Lucy With Rug 1

Lucy with Rug

This illustration is one of many I’m planning for a little illustrated book of the life of a kitten, featuring Lucy, who will always be the most exceptional kitten! As I watched her grow, even before I knew she’d stay with me, at least for a while, I began intensely visualizing the slender little black kitten with the tail that curled in a perfect circle going about her busy kitten day of throwing throw rugs, tossing toss pillows and unrolling her favorite ball of purple yarn all over the house, all in front of colorful patterned backgrounds.

I created this sketch intending to continue with others, but the time just wasn’t right until now.

How Lucy, Mimi and the Fantastic Four are related

photo of garden with black cat

Garden With Maia

July 10 was the third anniversary of Lucy’s passing from effects of effusive FIP, so I spent the day thinking about her, writing about her, and working on this illustration.

Mimi is Lucy’s mom, but then belonged to a neighbor and was about to give birth again that July. I decided right then that Mimi and her new babies had to come to my house; I know this was suggested by Lucy, in her transition. I checked on the possible dangers to my household of further transmission of FIP—they’d already been exposed—and asked Mimi’s owner if she would just give me the mom instead of only the kittens. They were born on July 25 and arrived here July 28, 2007. (Yes, at the end of the month we’ll be celebrating a massive four-cat birthday!)

No one else has developed FIP, Mimi and the kids are still here providing love and inspiration, and it’s time I followed through with my promise to Lucy.

So this week, beginning with this article, I’ll be writing about the book I’d planned and the illustrations, about Lucy as my beloved kitten, about her mom Mimi and half-siblings the Fabulous Four, and about FIP and the study we are participating in.

Just the beginning: how Lucy came to me

photo of two cats

Stanley and Moses, old friends

In 2006, I had a house full of senior cats—my youngest was Kelly, who was then about 13, and I hadn’t had a kitten in the house for any length of time for several years. But because my four oldest seniors were requiring more care and attention I decided to even forgo the occasional rescue or foster to make sure I had the emotional and financial means to care for my old friends. Raising a kitten was out of the question.

Then the neighbor across the street said her cat Maia had had another litter of kittens, and could I help her find homes (again, third litter in two years…). I made her promise to get Maia, a petite and quiet solid black cat with pale yellow eyes who roamed my backyard wildlife habitat, spayed and consider keeping her indoors. We made arrangements for the procedure, and I e-mailed descriptions of the kittens to friends.

Very young Charlotte, Angus and Donal.

Three of the kittens were claimed right away, while the fourth kitten had no takers. I really didn’t feel I had the time or space to spend on an eight-week-old kitten, but it was June and all the shelters were full, plus the kitten was black and black kittens and cats have such a difficult time being adopted…well, if I couldn’t raise a little kitten after over 20 years of rescuing and fostering cats, I might as well just retire completely.

I was NOT going to keep this kitten, but in the back of my mind I kept remembering my guilty thoughts at what cats might come to me after I lost my seniors; never considering that I’d simply reduce my household, I knew the universe would continue bringing me cats.

Are You Looking at Me? pastel painting of Kublai Khan © B.E. Kazmarski

I had had a beloved black cat years before, and I wanted to share my space with one again… I really wanted a little black cat who I’d name Lucy. And here she was. I tried plenty of other names on her, then just blurting out nonsense syllables to see what sounds she responded to. When I said “Lucy” in the middle of a string of rhyming syllables, she looked at me, surprised.

The rest of the household

I had lost cats in the past, but endured the loss of most of my household in a short period of time. Between February 2006 to January 2007, I lost my four oldest cats, one to cancer, one to kidney failure, the other two just to old age. Stanley and Moses were the last two of the ones who had been with me from those earliest days and seen me begin my career as an artist; Moses at 19 was the first loss of the four in February 2006, and Stanley, the last loss of the four in January, 2007, was with me for 21 years and came to me as an adult, so he had to be 23 or older. Cream, Peaches’ sister, succumbed to kidney failure in March, 2006, and Sophie’s vocal problems turned out to be cancer after all, and I lost her in November, 2006.

It was right in the middle of these losses that the tiny, energetic feline diva arrived in mid-May, 2006.

In the next installment I’ll describe Lucy’s first year—my joy at having a cat from kittenhood, a rarity for me—and all the silly things she did that inspired the story.

This is the first installment of my story about Lucy, the Most Exceptional Kitten the World has Ever Known, including Meet Lucy, Lucy Inspires a Book. and Lucy and I Fought the Good Fight.


Madison’s Portrait

Madison

Madison

I began a portrait of Madison way back in the summer, but between the festival and a few foster cats moving in and out of my spare cat room/studio it’s been difficult to work consistently. But Madison is finally done, and his person came to pick up his portrait this weekend.

She lost Madison, her first cat, last year, to diabetes at only eight years old. She didn’t have too many photos, but this pose was definitely a winner! Not just because he’s cute in the sink, although he is, but also because it will make her laugh when she looks at it, and what better healing for the grief of loss than to remember with a smile. I’m so glad to know that another person, a special friend, has a portrait that shows their animal companion as they want to remember them.

Madison, detail of face

Madison, detail of face

Animal fur is different from human skin, and because of texture and pattern it looks different in every photo you’ll see. In each of Madison’s photos, the details of his face were lighter or darker, the area on his chest had a collar and tag in one photo and not in another. These are common things to work around, and from both experience and real life I can fill in the details. It just so happens that I am fostering a big tabby cat who looks so much like Madison and has been a great model, and who came in just as I was finishing, that it must have been meant to be!

What I always do in building a subject, especially one I never met, is to work from the photos until I feel that I know my subject and the photos start to get in the way. Then I put them away and work with nothing but what I see with my creative eye. That’s when the essence of the personality is instilled in the portrait, and every time I’m amazed at what’s taken life on the paper. And I know by the reaction of the person who’s come to look at the work.

I never delude myself to think that a portrait can take the place of a real live animal, but it can certainly help with grief. Through the years, many customers have contacted me to let me know how much it means to have the portrait in their home, that they greet the portrait or talk to it, or visit it when they are feeling overwhelmed with loss, even that other cats have reacted to it.

The portraits work for me. I have several of my own to visit.


Feline Faith and Understanding

Peaches knows that the door will open if she stares at the doorknob long enough.

Peaches knows that the door will open if she stares at the doorknob long enough.

Sometimes persistence is a very physical thing, sometimes it’s more cerebral.

Cats dislike closed doors, and will have you come and open the door just so they can look inside and see if there may have been anything that might at some time have been of interest to them. After even only a quick cursory glance, they may see that there was nothing of interest in there after all, and will simply walk away without apology. After all, you exist to fulfill their needs, and their needs aren’t all that great—what does it take to open a door, or put out some food, or move over in bed, or toss the toy, or pet them for the 32 seconds or two hours they want? Oh, and there are several other things that should be done, but we can leave these for another posting.

My house is very small, and without very many doors. The ones that exist are rarely closed, except those to the outside.

In this case, however, the door in question is the entry to what may be seen as “the good life” by the feline members of my household. This is the Spare Kitty Room, as I have no need for a spare bedroom, and often it actually contains a spare kitty, a rescue of some stripe or other, or a foster.

Peaches continues to look at the doorknob.

Peaches continues to look at the doorknob.

It can also contain a sick kitty, one who is actively ill with some acute or chronic illness as rescues or very rarely a regular resident may be, or one of the very seniors who needs a little extra care. Often, the room is only used as an observation area to isolate which kitty has been leaving the really awful stuff in the box, or to see if I can determine why so-and-so is eating with less enthusuiasm.

Now, why would they associate a room with “the good life” which I associate with illness and recovery? For the same reason I was always envious of my accident-prone brother—he got all the attention, the extra gifts, the time out of school, lots of special treatment I never got! Both humans and felines can easily forget or ignore the side effects of illness when there is some treat involved.

In this case, the room is warm and cozy with the best bed, one’s own litterbox, usually special food and sometimes it’s available all day, not this ungenerous twice-daily dash for the dishes before it’s taken away again. A nice window with a bird feeder directly outside provides entertainment, and, because the Spare Kitty Room doubles as my art studio where I perform non-computer-related activities, they get special time with mom, and having mom’s lap to one’s self in a house with multiple cats is apparently worth more than food.

Right now, Kelly is in there because she was the one found to be emitting the nasty stuff in the box. She is very upset by the dominance of Mimi’s Children, so she’s in the room having quiet time and getting special attention.

Peaches is still looking at the doorknob.

Peaches is still looking at the doorknob.

So Peaches will patiently sit and look up at the doorknob, sometimes dozing off. I don’t think Peaches is the type of cat who reflects—in fact, I think her mind is most often nearly empty with only one thought at a time taking up a small portion. She is about 18 years old and her age may have something to do with this, but I don’t think Peaches was ever the introspective sort, just quiet and consistent, pretty straightforward.* I’m not sure she’s even considering why she’s looking at the doorknob, only that if she does it long enough, she will get some sort of reward. Her focus can stay entirely on the doorknob, and when the door opens it can move to what is waiting inside.

I know she’s up there right now, waiting.

*As a footnote, Peaches did show some innovation at one point in her time here when she considered becoming a photographer. Read “Area Senior Cat Finds Muse in Photography” in the writing area of my website. I caught her in action, trying to use my camera.