The Artist’s Life: Still Inspiring

Cookie, "The Goddess" block print © B.E. Kazmarski

In the last two months Cookie was with me I suddenly had orders for the t-shirt and print with this image, both directly to me and from wholesale customers, even customized versions of them. I will always think of this as a great sendoff for her, this favorite image immortalizing her and traveling out all over the world. And, of course, came the stories of the favorite torties who had led people to Cookie’s image.

The interesting part was that I didn’t actually have any prints or tees for sale at the time—none listed on Etsy or even on my website, though I had the image displayed as I always do. These people made special requests, checking to see if I had any or when I would have tees or prints. So I got busy and made up more of them to fill all the orders, and then made up more again, happily spending time with this image that is a favorite of mine, and in all that printing and painting it helped me have happy and positive thoughts about Cookie.

So in this article I have stories of Cookie and her inspiration, of the tortie lovers inspired by The Goddess including lovely photos of them, and I explain how I developed the hand-painted print including a little bit about block printing and testing fabric swatches, plus the new things I’m designing around my tortie girls as they continue to inspire.

In the studio

cat sleeping in rag basket

Cookie in her favorite bed, my rag basket in the studio, from October 2011.

Cookie always loved to be near me when I worked and she loved the “new” studio, heading there every day in her last few months for her long daily nap in the rag basket as you see in this photo; this was also a sketch in the months before I began posting them and a plan for a painting. I just loved to see her there.

The night Cookie died we were all in my studio and I painted new t-shirts for a while in an effort not to be too upset around her; me working on something and her watching me work was a lifelong activity we shared, and in her last few hours was likely a great comfort to her. For me, any creative work in my studio was relaxing and fulfilling and helped me to accept what was happening, and I’ve no doubt it was timed perfectly for me to be done and to catch that last truly conscious moment with her, when she looked into my eyes and put her paw comfortingly on my hand.

Cookie’s portrait

pastel painting of cat looking out sunny door

The Little Sunflower, pastel © B.E. Kazmarski

Because I paint commissioned portraits, people look for the portraits of my own cats. I will admit that I don’t have portraits of all the cats who’ve lived with me, though I have the missing ones planned.

But Cookie, my studio cat? Well, I painted one of her many years ago called “The Little Sunflower” (you’ll need to scroll down on this link). To anyone else, this may not be recognizable as Cookie, but because I adored this moment when Cookie had a sunbath every sunny morning, I loved her shape and her shadow, and the feeling of joy emanating from her when she quietly sat there, teaching me a lesson in yoga I’d yet to learn, it is the Cookie I took with me every day. In time, this led to her joining me outdoors, and anyone can see what a joy that was for both of us.

But I also have this block print, and while I exaggerated her shape for greater humor—Cookie was well-rounded but she was never that fat—her face, her expression and her markings are all the best portrait of Cookie I could ever have created; farther into this article I have a comparison between my reference photo and the print. After all these years, I still laugh when I look at her, the way a portrait should touch you.

Recent stories

Here are a few of the recent stories from people who contacted me about prints and tees in the past two months and who I thought about as I worked in my studio (authors have given me permission to print).

Rosie from the UK

tortie cat in the grass

Rosie from the United Kingdom

“I found your print of “The Goddess” and think she looks like my cat, Rosie…I live in the UK and was wondering if it was possible to get a print without the frame… If they’re not coloured, would it be possible to get one coloured like Rosie if I sent you a photo? I’m assuming not but thought I’d ask! (Of course I could, and the finished print is below.)

“We got Rosie when I was 11. My dad told me we were going to mum’s boss’s house to pick something up and asked if I wanted to go with him, and as Annie, the boss, had two ginger cats my sisters and I loved to play with I went. When I got there I saw a tiny purring little bundle of fluff and claws and played with her for about an hour. Then dad came in and told me to pick her up, we were going home!

“15 years later, and we’ve moved to another city. Rosie is still going strong, mum had a terrifying moment a few years ago when she felt a lump in Rosie’s belly and [went] to the vets with the instructions to not allow her to be in pain….The vet sent her back with a packet of diet cat food. She’s a wonderful purry old thing, with a beautiful temperament—she had to have one to grow up in a house of 3 little girls and all the neighbourhood kids!

tortoiseshell cat print

Polly as The Goddess

“Whilst we got Rosie as a kitten, Polly is the tortie who holds my heart. She was much more than a cat and was my constant companion for the two years we had her. I adored her, she adored me. Then one night she escaped, and my housemate forgot about her and didn’t let her in. I returned home to find her missing and we spent 4 days looking for her, I was distraught and couldn’t cope without her, but then we got a phone call from the vets, Polly was found by a lovely lady (who was also owned by a tortie – Mitzy) who realised how sick she was and took her to the vets. She lasted 2 days before dying of anti-freeze poisoning.”

Kitty

“This cat on the tee looks so much like my cat “Kitty”. She was a rescue cat..she just showed up at my door, and I took her in. I loved her..she slept with me..back to back, lol. But because of my allergy I needed to give her to a good home. I miss her so much..but it was something I needed to do.”

Kitty’s mom ordered a tee to remember Kitty.

tortoiseshell cat

SadieCat relaxing among the library books.

SadieCat

SadieCat’s mom bought a hand-colored print for herself as a birthday gift.

“…I especially love the pictures of the tortie cats. When I saw the block print of “The Goddess” my heart stopped. Three years ago I rescued a starving little kitten who soon became the love of my life. I couldn’t help myself from attaching a couple of pictures of SadieCat (seen here). Someplace I have a photo where she looks exactly like your print, but I couldn’t find it.

tortoiseshell cat face

Now there's a face!

“[Sadiecat] will only consent to being held when she’s in the mood and she’ll bite if you’re late with her dinner, but I love her and wouldn’t have her any other way. (Well, I could probably do without the biting). And thanks for…putting Sadie out there, I’m too shy. 🙂  She’s shy too, but what she doesn’t know won’t hurt her.”

Visit the original post, The Goddess Truly Inspires, to read more stories and to add your own.

About creating “The Goddess”

I looked at Cookie on the kitchen floor, on her back with her toes curled, a defiant look on her face, and it happened—that moment of visualization. I could see a linoleum block print in black ink on white rice paper, hand-tinted with oranges and yellows for the patches in Cookie’s tortoiseshell fur and green for her eyes and pink for her nose. I would call the print “The Goddess” for the many women depicted with generous figures in sculpture and painting through the millennia.

Compare the photo and the print:

tortie cat on back

Reference photo for "The Goddess"

Cookie, "The Goddess" block print © B.E. Kazmarski

From the time I first described it to someone, who chuckled at the idea of the image, I knew Cookie was a winner. And through the years she has continued to bring people and stories to my display no matter where I am—everyone knows a cat who looks like Cookie!

cut linoleum block

The full block, of course it's in reverse.

Cookie inspired not only a design, but a particular style and technique and a new element to my creative life and my merchandise. With an inspiration that strong, I probably would have done it anyway, but I had other reasons as well. In the late 1990s having my sketches and paintings reproduced was still expensive and not always successful and I wanted artwork that I could reproduce easily and inexpensively myself so that I could have something more affordable than original artwork to sell in my displays.

closeup of linoleum block

Closeup of Cookie's face in linoleum block; the light areas are the smooth surface that holds the ink.

I’d worked with small linoleum block prints for years and always enjoyed the medium, but this time I decided I wanted something larger and I might actually create a series—which led to “The Roundest Eyes” depicting my other tortie, Kelly, a few months later. Between the two, Cookie gets more notice and stories, but Kelly sells more t-shirts and prints…we just never let Cookie know that.

Capturing all Cookie’s freckles and spots and stripes was indeed a challenge, especially when I went to actually cut them out of the surface of the linoleum block.

printed fabrics

I have a lot of painting to do.

New items

colors on fabric

Success! The washed strip of muslin with thinned fabric paints passes the wash and dry test.

Why does this scrap of muslin stained with orange and yellow make me so happy? Because I’ve finally found the new coloring for my Tortie Girls prints!

Because I hand-paint the color into these prints I print them in oil-base ink, even on paper, because water-base ink is totally water soluble, like tempera paint. On paper I can use watercolor, but on the tees and other textiles I have to use a permanent dye of some sort. I want the wearer to be able to wash these without too much fuss, but in order to be able to create and sell them I don’t want to have to wash the fabric to set the dye, then iron the items for presentation, in part because of the oil-base ink and also because washing and ironing is very time-consuming. In creating merchandise for sale I need to strike a balance between my time and materials and what I charge for a product.

Years ago I found a cold-set dye that I could paint on just like my watercolors. I mixed it up about ten years ago and kept it in an airtight glass jar in the dark, but I’m nearly out of it. I created the tees mentioned above because tees are popular, but I’m not a t-shirt person so I’ve also printed a slew of other textiles through the years. Last year I printed the placemats, table coverings and even pillowcovers and appliques for bags you see above, but did not have enough dye to paint them so they have sat, waiting, since last May.

color swatches on cloth

First color test with drawing ink.

swatches of color

Letting it air dry.

washed cloth

Fail!

After several tries with drawing ink, above—which stains everything it touches and won’t wash out when you want it to, but washed right out when I tested it—various fabric dye substances including full-strength from the bottle and a strong mix of powder in various brands, and various paints and markers, none could both look like washy watercolors and stand up to the wash test.

color swatches on fabric

Second color test.

fabrics

Second color test air drying.

faded colors on fabric

Second fail! Not as bad as the first.

Until now, using Jacquard fabric paint and screen-print ink. And now I can follow through with all the new products I’d planned last year featuring The Goddess and the little girl with The Roundest Eyes—you’ll see them soon.

two black cats with art materials

As always, Feline Inspection and Quality Control; Mewsette and Jelly Bean have to approve as well.

Above are square muslin tablecloths to be painted and either hemmed or with a decorative stitch added around the edge and fringed, canvas placemats to be painted and possibly stitched, and simply printed squares of muslin ready to be painting and stitched onto bags, pillows, even clothing.

I love to know that I’m sharing Cookie forever with the block print of her, and while some day I’ll do the painting I’m visualizing as well as other paintings of her with other cats, this block print will always be the image I remember.

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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.


The Goddess Truly Inspires

Cookie, "The Goddess" block print © B.E. Kazmarski

I looked at Cookie on the kitchen floor, on her back with her toes curled, a defiant look on her face, and it happened—that moment of visualization. I could see a linoleum block print in black ink on white rice paper, hand-tinted with oranges and yellows for the patches in Cookie’s tortoiseshell fur and green for her eyes and pink for her nose. I would call the print “The Goddess” for the many women depicted with generous figures in sculpture and painting through the millennia.

From the time I first described it to someone, who chuckled at the idea of the image, I knew Cookie was a winner (scroll to the bottom to read more about creating the print and also “The Roundest Eyes”). And through the years she has continued to bring people and stories to my display no matter where I am—everyone knows a cat who looks like Cookie! I’ve decided I finally have a place to share those stories, here in this blog post. I’m starting with a few from the Artisan Market, and I’ll just keep adding to the top after this; not all are tortie cats, but all are beloved kitties. If you have a story, add it to the comments!

_________________________________________________________________

BETHANY

On Friday at Carnegie Arts & Heritage, a friend stopped by who I’d worked with at an art store years before and then who turned up at the framer I worked with for years and framed several of my largest paintings, and who also happened to be a cat person, along with her husband and mother. Somewhat into our chitchat her mother nodded at the t-shirt bearing Cookie’s image and said, “Doesn’t that look like Bethany?”

It turns out Bethany also has a half and half face, is a little plump and lies on her back all the time! She was found as a kitten by her other daughter in an alley behind a bar in Bethany, WV where her daughter attended Bethany College. The woman had lost her 21-year-old cat and determined not to get another “at her age”. “Mom, I know you don’t want another cat, but I found this kitten and I can’t keep her and I can’t just let her go, let me bring her home and see what you think,” she said.

Despite a kitten who nips at fingers and ankles in the middle of play, Bethany quickly won over her new human’s heart and is two years into her new position of becoming her human’s next long-lived kitty.

BERRY

Thursday night at Carnegie Arts & Heritage a young man hurrying through the artist’s tent stopped and looked open-mouthed, pointing at the print of Cookie, quickly whipped out his cell phone, tap, tap, tap, held it up to show me a photo of his tortie cat, then ran on to whatever he’d been doing in the first place.

KISSA

A mother and her three daughters headed straight for the print of The Goddess at my booth, laughing and pointing at the kitty who looks just like their Kissa—who lies on the floor “just like that!” Kissa was one of two stray kittens, the other a tabby, rescued in their neighborhood by a neighbor; this family adopted Kissa from them. She is playful but can be unpredictable, though not enough to scare off three little girls! “Kissa” is “cat” in Finnish.

Any tortie living and playing with three little girls is one special tortie!

BABY

It must be a habit of tortie cats to lie on their backs! Baby was another stray kitten (I see another trend there, too) who now rules the house and lies on her back just like Cookie. “She’s a real queen!” said her owner.

Queen, Goddess, they really carry through!

PRINCESS

Princess is a tortie who was rescued during the Rodney King riots in LA at about age 11. She’d been living in a closet of an apartment with a paraplegic drug dealer and a few itinerant roommates, but the building was in danger so everyone was moved out, but no one could take the cat who was taken in by her current owner. She is now 22, “pees wherever she wants to”, and is still the grande dame of the household.

Real tortitude to get through all that!

TABBY and CHARLIE

Tabby was one of two kitten stowaways found in her owner’s vehicle during a hurricane in Florida. There had been a stray mother cat around with kittens and they tried to find her before they evacuated, no luck. When they arrived at their destination they unpacked the kittens and could only guess that the mother cat stowed them in the vehicle to save their lives, then ran to hide. They never saw her again, and found another home for the other kitten.

These same people took in Charlie–or rather when their son stepped out the door one afternoon to talk on his cell phone, Charlie walked in as if he already lived there, right past the 150-lb. Rottweiler. They decided that kind of cojones deserved a home, so they kept him.

TURKEY HOWARD

(They came for a closer look at The Goddess, then saw the tote bag with Mr. Sunshine in the sink.) Turkey Howard has spent most of his life in the sink, and he still enjoys it at age 13 but needs a lift from a human!

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With an inspiration that strong, I probably would have done it anyway, but I had other reasons as well. In the late 1990s having my sketches and paintings reproduced was still expensive and not always successful and I wanted artwork that I could reproduce easily and inexpensively myself so that I could have something more affordable than original artwork to sell in my displays.

I’d worked with small linoleum block prints for years and always enjoyed the medium, but this time I decided I wanted something larger and I might actually create a series—which led to “The Roundest Eyes” depicting my other tortie, Kelly, a few months later. Between the two, Cookie gets more notice and stories, but Kelly sells more t-shirts and prints…we just don’t let Cookie know that.

Capturing all Cookie’s freckles and spots and stripes was indeed a challenge, especially when I went to actually cut them out of the surface of the linoleum block. Below, compare the reference photo and the print.

tortie cat on back

Reference photo for "The Goddess"

Cookie, "The Goddess" block print © B.E. Kazmarski