Lassie

portrait of collie in park

Lassie, pastel, 23" x 16" © B.E. Kazmarski

I was working on Lassie’s portrait when I initiated The Creative Cat, so she was the very first I featured just about three years ago today.

detail of collie portrait

Detail of Lassie's face.

Lassie was with her mom for 15 years and had just passed when her mom first called me. She was in nursing school and would graduate in the spring, and would like Lassie’s portrait for her graduation when family would be in town. A very special collie I could see by her photos, the two of them side by side into the college years and a new city.

Details like Lassie’s head tilt were very important. This face is the expressive, intelligent face her mom always remembered, when Lassie knew just what she was thinking. I just wish I’d had a slightly better digital camera then to show more of the detail here.

Lassie’s mom decided she wanted to remember Lassie in the outdoors so the portrait would have a scenic background, and its final shape would be determined by the scene. She didn’t have a photo of a favorite place, but they  both enjoyed visiting parks and trails, and I have plenty of photos of places like that I began designing with autumn backgrounds; colorful and familiar, they are very popular in canine portraits and I’ve added my autumn scenes to several other dog portraits.

idea for portrait

One of the autumn ideas.

However, Lassie kept blending into the background colors because her fur is primarily amber to brown, the same as the leaves we see, so I chose a late summer background of a rocky little stream and a row of trees in the background. The deep green of late summer grass shows off her fur to perfection and the glow of evening sun warms the scene. There was originally a tree in the near background, but I needed to get a little more detail on Lassie before I could find the best placement for the it so it won’t be distracting, and in the end we decided to leave it out.

Painting portraits of animals is plenty fulfilling and enjoyable, but I also love to paint my local landscapes so here was a painting that would be exciting in both respects, a landscape, and an animal. Not only have I worked for years to learn my palette and techniques for fur and wet noses, but also for landscapes. Here is a detail of the strip of woods from the top of the painting.

detail of portrait

Detail of edge of woods.

I thought I’d include a progress photo where the background is half done, moving from left to right, and Lassie will need her last details done, but that will be after the background is completed. Working in pastel, the colors dust over each other, especially with heavy coverage like this background and the contrasting colors.

Lassie's portrait, second proof

detail of painting

The rocks in the stream on the left.

In addition, here are two detail areas that I particularly like, the rocks on the left, and the rocks and grass on the right.

While the original portrait may look completely detailed in Lassie and in the landscape, a close-up look shows that many of the details are literally sketchy, just soft indications of light and shadow that when viewed together appear as they should.

Again, I wish I’d had a better digital camera then! I like to show these details not only for your enjoyment, but for those who have told me you are learning from these portraits as well.

detail of portrait

Detail of rocks and grass at right.

Reading things like this, in books and magazines in my day, and I still have many, was largely how I learned to do some of the things I do. I’m glad to pass it along.

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.


Nick, Slightly Unconventional

full portrait of himalayan cat

Nick, pastel, 10" x 12", 2003 © B.E. Kazmarski

Nick was a full-bred Himalayan and also a rescue cat. His person had won a certificate I’d donated to one of the animal shelter benefits and decided she wanted to remember this long-lived Himalayan cat who was just a little out of the ordinary in several ways.

For one thing, Nick was blind, and had been most of his life. The strange thing was she had no idea how long he’d been because he apparently adapted to it without notice, and for years looked right at her with those lovely blue eyes, truly seeming to focus on her face.

closeup of portrait of himalayan cat

Closeup of Nick's face.

His “sisters”, who were slightly younger, didn’t treat him any differently and he still followed all his habits, ate normally, drank his water, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. She had noticed he seemed a little “dreamy”, gazing around, perhaps not focusing his eyes, but never anything obvious like running into something or getting lost. One year, on an annual exam, her veterinarian mentioned his blindness because his pupils did not react, and that was how she found out. It didn’t seem recent, may have been months or even years, but he never seemed to mind.

For another he liked to go outdoors to patrol the yard and driveway, never going farther, and even once he was blind he apparently still followed the same patterns outdoors—though that included the winter as well. In fact, he loved snow, almost as much as he enjoyed stretching himself out on the asphalt driveway in the sun, the black surface absorbing heat and reflecting it back on to him and his sisters. I didn’t see this but laughed at her description of them as “looking like a bunch of dustmops out there on the driveway”.

And there are elements in the relationship with an animal that can’t be examined, but which make them special to us, and this is where I love my portaiture. To her Nick was decidedly out of the ordinary, she wanted a slightly looser style of portrait, something a little different. I love to loosen up, especially with lots of fur, and I also like to work my pastels on different surfaces in addition to the sanded drawing paper I typically use for fully detailed portraits. I’ll use a textured paper or add texture to a heavier drawing surface using gesso or marble dust, adding a bit of fine or coarse grit medium to hold the pastel. In this case I mixed gesso and marble dust in equal parts so that it was thick enough to hold brush strokes and brushed it in thin layers onto the the surface horizontally, then vertically, several times letting each layer dry in between, creating a varied cross-hatch linen-like surface (look closely in the closeups of his face, above, and paw, below, to see the texture).

closeup of paw

Nick's paw.

So I loosened up the lines as well, in part because on that surface it’s difficult to get the level of fine photographic detail. Also, I can rub colors into the surface of the board, then gently brush another color over the texture to create depth, as you can see in the shadow above.

photo of himalayan cat

Nick's photo.

We used a photo I took that day and he shows obvious signs of age in his posture, how his paws are held and even the texture of his fur. It’s clear that his eyes are not focused, and might be obvious to someone with experience with a blind cat that he actually could not see.

We decided to be honest about where he was in physical posture and all he looked like at that age, but to make his eyes focus as she remembered them for most of his life, even when he’d been blind.

Not wanting any objects in the portraits, we decided a blue background to match his eyes would be attractive with him and complement his fur, making it a very subtly-colored portrait using such a limited palette.

Nick was 18 when I did this portrait and I believe he lived another two years beyond.

 

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.


Creating a Portrait From Photos, Ideas and Memories

sketch on easel

A good start on this portrait.

I’m preparing to start two portraits right now, and until I get a little bit of work done on either one I’d like to give a demonstration of how I’ve put different portraits together, in this case one of multiple cats who I had the chance to meet and observe and photograph, and also to get to know the customer and her house. I created this portrait in the late 90s and you’ll see still photos, my old workspace and computer and so on, but the process is still the same.

Your animal companion as fine art

They may be prizewinners or bedraggled street survivors, but no matter—each is precious and fills our lives with joy. And our animal companions were meant to be shared; we can spend hours recounting memorable moments to fellow pet companions.

pastel painting of black cat

Made up mostly from memory..."Are You Looking at Me?" pastel © B.E. Kazmarski

And creating a lasting portrait of your animal companion should reflect all those moments in what usually ends up as a composite image of years of photos and memories. I began to create portraits with my own cats, combining not just my reference photos but my ideas, creating the pose and composition I always envisioned when I thought of them, and so I approach everyone’s portraits in the same way. This is the memory you want to cherish, and it’s a piece of lasting fine art for your wall.

For every portrait I create a composite image from many photos, both digital and film as many of our animal companions’ lives go way back before digital photos, often choosing each of the subject’s characteristics from a different photo—ears from this one, paws from another.

I like to be able to meet them as well though this isn’t always possible since many of my portraits are memorials after a pet has passed, or it may be a surprise gift for another person, and large group portraits may include animals from both past and present.

cat peeking out from under bed

She did this every day of her life..."Waiting for Mom", pastel © B.E. Kazmarski

In creating the initial composite image I can remove a background from a scene and add another, include toys or even group animals together in a way they’d never pose, and you’ll see this in the two portraits I’ve used as demonstrations, below. And the best portrait isn’t necessarily a face forward shot of a classic pose but a typical event in your pet’s daily routine, or one of those singular moments you love to tell everyone about. The more interesting, the better it describes your best friend, and the more I enjoy creating it. Working from your photographs, your custom portrait can include one or more pets and even family members (I do people, too), in pastel, pencil, pen and ink, watercolor or colored pencil.

Portraits can be any size or shape (within limitations, of course), and I like to discuss where it will hang in the home as well as framing even before we start so that it fits both physically and stylistically where it will be enjoyed.

Ripley, Murphy, O.G., Veda and Missy Kitty

pastel portrait of five cats

"Ripley, Murphy, O.G., Veda and Missy Kitty", pastel © B.E. Kazmarski

The process is different for each portrait depending on what’s needed. This portrait needed just about all the tricks I have in my little bag! I had the opportunity to visit their home and meet each one of them, and so spent about two hours talking to their mom about each one of them and following them around, photographing them in their habitat and with their habits even though their mom also had plenty of photos.

photos for portrait

Organizing the photos.

Being able to photograph them myself gives me the best visual information—after all, would you photograph just your cat’s tail anticipating that someday you might need that photograph? I can do that if I feel I need it.

Their mom adopted each of them individually either from shelters or from rescues, so each had a story that added to what I gathered about their personalities. We talked about where the portrait might be hung to help determine size and certain elements of the design, but she left the details up to me.

Depending on the complexity of the portrait and how many photographs I have to combine to get the scene, I may simply begin the drawing with no preliminaries or will create a pencil sketch to size. However, it’s a rarity that I don’t combine fewer than three pictures, and for this one I lost count of the number of pictures I combined. I used to have to sketch it out, even enlarging and cutting and pasting on a copier but now I use PhotoShop, scan the photos or use the digitals provided and combine them into a final finished composite.

composite for portrait

Composite created from individual images and even bits and pieces of images.

This, of course, means I have to make up shadows and highlights and the lay of the fur when I get down to the final drawing and when designing the posture and setting, I try to place the subjects against a background area which will complement their looks. But it’s not all about their looks—in combining multiples like this, I try to pair together animals which are friendly with each other and keep the “enemies” far apart.

three cats in portrait

O.G. loved everyone while Veda was a little skittish and Miss Kitty kept to herself.

For this portrait, I created two composites which I liked equally, and so did my client, but in the end the spot over the fireplace made the decision for the long narrow format. Each of the subjects is a composite of at least two photographs for face, paws, tail, eyes, ears, etc. I had an idea to use the bay window with windowseat for them all because the light was so beautiful and each of them visited this spot regularly, plus I enjoy painting architectural details.

I then combined each of the individual composites, added the window in the background, and sent it off to my client for approval. When I began work, I enlarged the composite to the actual size of the finished drawing, printed it out, covered the back with a dark shade of pastel, and transferred it onto my drawing paper, which is an archival quality, 600-grit sanded paper.

After generally filling in the actual colors in the drawing and checking to make sure that everything was in proportion and in proper perspective, I was ready to work the actual drawing at my easel, with all the reference photos near. I usually work the background first, then work one subject at a time, keeping the whole work at about the same level of detail. I may go over a portrait three or four times this way, each time working more color and detail into the work. In this case, because the window is a large portion of the work, I wanted to make certain all the structure and detail of it wouldn’t compete with the subjects, so I left it with less detail and color than the subjects and the surface they’re resting on.

two cats

Ripley and Murphy were buddies.

The final pass adds the highlights in the fur, the whiskers and the sparkles in the eyes. When they look back at me from the drawing, I know it’s done. But it’s not really done until my client reviews it to make sure I’ve gotten everything right—after all, they are your companions, and I’d be just as fussy about mine. In this case, Veda was just not right—she’s a very tiny, slender cat, but shy, and the only clear picture I had gotten of her was of her hunched up a little scared under a table. Even though the image was accurate, it just wasn’t Veda, so my client sent me a few more photos of just her and I reworked that area. Since I had to slim her down and make her a little taller, and Veda is primarily black against a pale background, I had to actually lift quite a bit of pastel off of the paper and start over in some areas. If you compare the finished portrait at the beginning of this article with the sketch directly above, you’ll see the difference in Veda’s image.

A few stories of how other portraits came together

I’ll tell these in greater detail someday, perhaps when I can track down the customer and photograph the portrait again, but here are two portraits that too a little extra ingenuity to compose. Both are fairly large, image size about 20″W x 15″H.

portrait of calico cat

Gypsy, pastel © B.E. Kazmarski

Gypsy

Gypsy was just about to turn 21 when I met her, and the challenge was for her human to choose one position out of all those years of companionship by which to represent her. She had no pictures of this position, and of course Gypsy did not cooperate by posing, so we pieced it together with other pictures of Gypsy plus a picture of a pillow placed in this spot behind the curtains. After she lost Gypsy to a brain tumor, her companion told me that she had hung the portrait by the door and every morning she said goodbye to the portrait and greeted it every day when she came home. I was glad to know that something I had done had brought comfort to someone in time of need.

portrait of doberman

Greta, pastel © B.E. Kazmarski

Greta

Greta was a gift from a woman to her long-time boyfriend, a portrait of the dog who had been his companion for nearly fifteen years, and she had known and loved Greta as well. He was still grieving Greta a year or more later when the woman asked me about a portrait, but said she had no good photos of Greta, at least not ones she could take away for a while. She gave me a few small snaps, a magazine page of a Doberman who was marked like Greta, and described how she posed herself, crossed paws and all. I visited my neighbor who had three rescued Dobermans and took a few reference photos and did a sketch. Even though I was uncertain about it all along the portrait was a success; the man who’d loved Greta called me some time after he received it, in tears, and simply thanked me.

Take a look at other portraits and read other stories

Commissioned Cat Portraits

portrait of black cat in wicker chair
Commissioned Dog Portraits

pastel portrait of dogs

______________________________

Read about other recent commissioned portraits here on The Creative Cat.
Read about how I create commissioned portraits.
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.

 


Creating With Cats: Author and Artist Christine Davis

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.

christine davis

Author and illustrator Christine Davis

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.

artist's studio with cat

Chris's studio with Molly.

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.

for every dog an angel

"For Every Dog an Angel" by Christine Davis

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!

illustration from for every cat an angel

Sample of Chris's illustration style.

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.

illustration from forever paws

"At the River" from Forever Paws.

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. 

“Paint this.”

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!

illustration from forever paws

"Open Arms" from "Forever Paws"

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.

Color Palette

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.

illustration from forever paws

"Woman with Cat and Dog" from "Forever Paws", an orange background with the blues and purples.

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.

selection of cat themed gifts

Cat Lover Comfort Gift Box from Lighthearted Press.

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.

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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.


Book Review: Forever Paws by Christine Davis

Cover of book forever paws

"Forever Paws" by Christine Davis, from the author's website.

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.

page from forever paws

"Many Paw Prints" from "Forever Paws", provided by the author.

“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.”

black cat reading forever paws

Mewsette studies all the animals drinking from the "River of Tears".

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.

two black cats reading forever paws

Mewsette comforts Jelly Bean as they remember Peaches.

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.

illustration from forever paws

"At the River" from "Forever Paws", provided by the author.

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.

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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.


My Creative Process on “Buckley’s Story” by Ingrid King

As both an animal artist and photographer and a commercial artist and designer, my cats are my muse, even if they aren’t the subject of my creative endeavor.

ingrid king and amber

Ingrid and Amber

Ingrid King, author of Buckley’s Story, has featured me again on Buckley’s Story in “The Creative Process” as I get to offer my understanding of how I create a piece of artwork, writing or a poem, and how my cats have been my muse and encouragement all along, even in commercial art.

While you are there, take the time to read about Buckley’s Story: Lessons from a Feline Master Teacher and about Ingrid’s holistic approach to animal wellness, and make sure you visit The Conscious Cat as well.

I met Ingrid King at the Cat Writer’s Association annual conference in November 2009 and heard her speak about her book. From her loss of Buckley, a joyful and affectionate tortoiseshell cat who was diagnosed with heart disease after only two years, came an entire book, written immediately after Buckley’s passing. Since then it has received glowing reviews in the pet and pet loss industries.

image of book cover

Buckley's Story

I featured Ingrid and Buckley’s Story in my series Pet Loss in the First Person in the article entitled “Turning Loss into Creativity with Ingrid King and Buckley’s Story”. Ingrid tells how her career wandered around, forming into a helping, healing profession until Buckley joined, then left her life. She began writing in the midst of her grief, with a goal of having the book available to others by the first anniversary of Buckley’s passing, like a promise kept.