The Balloon

cat peeking out from under bed

Waiting for Mom, pastel © B.E. Kazmarski

For the days prior to the Feast of All Hallowed, Samhain, the Day of the Dead and other celebrations of the dimming of the veil between this world and the next, I am sharing a few stories of visitations, the mysterious returns of my cats after they’d transitioned. None are scary, unless you’re afraid of something that isn’t physically there, but all include elements I can’t explain and only accept…and am glad to have experienced.

torbie cat

Fawn

One night in early April, 1988, still with patches of snow on the frozen earth, a very small, very pregnant cat politely but confidently asked me if she could come into my home to give birth to her kittens. Of course I said yes, and I witnessed the entrance to this life of four independent and individualistic progeny. The last one born stayed with me after the others were adopted; the “runt of the litter”, the little cat with the big attitude, a torbie, my Fawn.

Ten years later, a friend sent balloons to my workplace for my birthday. The whole bunch was too big to take home, so I took one home and tied it to a lamp in my studio.

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The Portrait That Started it All

cat peeking out from under bed

Waiting for Mom, pastel © B.E. Kazmarski

One night in early April, 1988, still with patches of snow on the frozen earth, a very small, very pregnant cat sang a little song to me out in the alley, politely but confidently asking if she could come into my home to give birth to her kittens. Of course, I said “yes”, and ten days later I witnessed the entrance to life of four independent and individualistic progeny. The last one born stayed with me after the others were adopted; the “runt of the litter”, the little cat with the big attitude, a torbie who loved only me, my Fawn.

This was my first full-color portrait of one of my cats, and she led the way to all the other commissioned portraits of animal companions I’ve done in the past 20 years.

This is Fawn’s story in Great Rescues Calendar and Gift Book

Creating the portrait, this first one just for me

And so it was, though I had no idea at the time that I was launching a new career. And looking at this painting even today, I have no idea how I did it then. I didn’t have the skill, insight, ability to visualize or any of the ephemeral abilities I have now, but I managed to see the essential details and put them on paper.

But I didn’t set out to create a portrait—that was all in the future—and, for this last time, with the knowledge that I never needed to show it to anyone, ever, if I didn’t think it was acceptable.

I painted this in 1989, just about three years after I began seriously working my way through learning to draw simply by drawing all the time, after work at night and on the weekend. It is painted in pastel, but when I began I hadn’t even purchased real pastels yet, I was still working largely in colored chalk. I purchased an inexpensive student set of pastels and continued working with the new colors, then purchased individual pastels and pastel pencils, then just got a part time job at the art store because everything was so darned expensive and I was hooked.

cat under bed

The reference photo for "Waiting for Mom"

I remember looking at the photo I’d taken the year before when Fawn was a kitten and thinking “that would make a nice painting”—so funny to think of now as I look at other photos every day and think the same thing, 23 years later, and then I’d hardly even call myself a beginner. The nerve of me! Of course, I adored Fawn being excessively cute when she ran under the bed and peeked out, waiting for me to walk by so she could pop out and grab my ankle, and my inspiration was just as much to share her and her antics as it was to produce a good painting. Really, that hasn’t changed in all these years.

But I was also intrigued by the “white” dust ruffle, seeing for perhaps the first time all the colors that make up a true white object in a painting. I really, really wanted to paint this, fairly large, and in color. I wasn’t visualizing it as realistic as it is, more impressionistic was the style I had in mind. I can see the influence of Mimi Vang Olsen, and Lowell Herrero, two artists whose feline images were very popular then, appearing on many gift items I received, and I was influenced by the flattening of some angles and simplification of pattern.

At that time I found it difficult to loosen up my style. I had worked on my skills just in basic drawing to the point where I felt I had a good bit of control over what my hands were doing, but the image I produced no longer looked stiff or forced, at least most of the time. But I loved the Impressionists, and I wanted to paint like that!

Detail of "Waiting for Mom"

It wasn’t to be for this painting, and in many ways I’m glad. This painting took me months, in part because I was intent on matching the shade of yellow in the gingham bedspread and also quibbling with myself about all the details that weren’t “perfect”, such as the nicks and scratches on the bedpost, the wrinkle in the rug, and, of course, the wrinkles in the dust ruffle and bedspread. I was embarrassed at my housekeeping, but an artist friend of mine convinced me that those were the things that added interest and character to the painting. I learned so much more in the art of painting what I actually visualize rather than what I know, and adding what I feel.

After all the time spent on other details, Fawn the kitten was sketched in there in probably just a few hours! And while I do like the simplicity of her face I sometimes wish I had made Fawn’s eye as round as it actually is because it adds that essence of excitement to her look that truly makes it a cute kitten, and Fawn.

In the end, this was the painting I looked at and said to myself, “I think I can really do this,” and the painting others looked at and asked, “Can you paint my cat too?” The rest is all in my portfolio, and for this reason, Fawn’s portrait is the first portrait in my first Great Rescues calendar, a tribute to the kitten who led me to that part of myself that could find the essence of my animal portrait subject and bring my portraits to life.

torbie cat

Fawn

About Fawn

Fawn was a real live wire as a kitten—always swinging from something and talking about it—and was very attached to me; I had known her from her first moment of life and I was always honored at being the the only living being in the world Fawn liked.

And even though, years later, we’d moved and changed the bedspread and dust ruffle, at least once a day when I went upstairs Fawn still dove under the bed and peeked out, waiting for me to walk past so that she could leap out and grab my foot. Little did I know when I chose to paint this when Fawn was about one year old that this moment would be one I would seriously want to remember.

block print of a curled tabby cat

Fawnball, my Fawn, linoleum block print © B.E. Kazmarski

And especially so, when a mere ten years later I lost her to lymphoma, though through the pain of my grief she sent me a wonderful sign that she accepted what had happened; read The Balloon.

And Fawn has inspired other works, most notably “Fawnball” and the series of block prints entitled “Tabbies“.

I will always be thankful to Fawn for giving me this gift. She is one of the family of cats in the dedication to this calendar:

Thank you, Kublai, Sally, Stanley, Allegro, Moses and Fawn,
my first feline family, for patiently showing me the way;
only gone from this mortal life, you are immortal in everything I create.

Here is Fawn’s page in Great Rescues:

Read other stories about cats and their rescuers from Great Rescues.

Big Kitty Love

There Was Just No Other Kitty After Samantha

The Cat of a Lifetime

A Bridge Between the Ages

I’ll Be Seeing You

Simon Says…

Irina and Isis, Saved from the Flood

Four Ferals

Riley

Milan and Felix

Learn more about Great Rescues Calendar and Gift Book

Visit the Great Rescues website


The Balloon

cat peeking out from under bed

Waiting for Mom, pastel © B.E. Kazmarski

For the days prior to the Feast of All Hallowed, Samhain, the Day of the Dead and other celebrations of the dimming of the veil between this world and the next, I am sharing a few stories of visitations, the mysterious returns of my cats after they’d transitioned. None are scary, unless you’re afraid of something that isn’t physically there, but all include elements I can’t explain and only accept…and am glad to have experienced.

torbie cat

Fawn

One night in early April, 1988, still with patches of snow on the frozen earth, a very small, very pregnant cat politely but confidently asked me if she could come into my home to give birth to her kittens. Of course I said yes, and I witnessed the entrance to this life of four independent and individualistic progeny. The last one born stayed with me after the others were adopted; the “runt of the litter”, the little cat with the big attitude, a torbie, my Fawn.

Ten years later, a friend sent balloons to my workplace for my birthday. The whole bunch was too big to take home, so I took one home and tied it to a lamp in my studio.

My birthday was also, sadly, the day an exam definitively diagnosed that Fawn’s cancer had come out of remission, and the chances of it responding to treatment a second time were slim.

On the morning I had Fawn put to sleep at home, my veterinarian brought her one-year-old daughter, not having day care accommodations that early in the day, and a friend agreed to babysit the little girl down in the studio while my veterinarian and I were upstairs. They untied the balloon from the lamp and played with it all during that time, then let it float freely around the studio. My other cats didn’t respond to the balloon aside from a few swats at the string, and it came to rest in a corner of the room.

Eight days later, I awoke once again with the daily dread of remembering that my little girl was gone and had not let go very easily, but I didn’t feel the deep sadness which had been with me all that time, especially upon waking. By habit looking over at the jewelry box on top of the chest of drawers where Fawn had spent many sleeping hours during our time in this house, and most of her last few weeks, I noticed the balloon hovering over that spot. Either it had been carried upstairs by one of the other cats or it had made quite a circuitous journey on its own because it was roughly exactly above where it had been hovering on the first floor.

This meant it traveled about ten feet along a wall to the foot of the steps, dipped down a foot to get through the archway, made a u-turn into the stairway and floated up the steps, made a right turn and moved about a foot in that direction while not floating up to the full ten-foot ceiling height so that it could make a jog through my bedroom doorway, turned left and floated about three feet to a spot where there was nothing to hold it in place.

My heart was in my throat, and a little tingle of joy in my heart. I had a sense of what it meant but was not fully awakened to its meaning.

balloon and photographs

The balloon over Fawn's photo

When I came home that day the balloon was still in its spot. I replaced a photograph of Fawn, which I had been carrying back and forth to work, on the sewing machine across the room where I kept photos of family and all the cats I’d lost. Instead of the sadness I had felt in that room I felt a capricious and happy spirit; that had been Fawn’s room since the day we had moved here, and my “yittle girl” always waited for me under the bed, pouncing out when she thought I least expected it and prancing around the room, playing hard to get.

I returned to the room later that evening to find that the balloon had moved across the room and was hovering over Fawn’s picture with the ribbon touching it, where it stayed, on its own, for two weeks until it was completely out of air, lasting much longer than all the others in the original bunch. None of the other cats ever touched the ribbon or the balloon, though they’d normally grab it and run.

pencil sketch of kitty on chair

Fawn wants the ceiling fan.

When Fawn discovered “up” as a kitten, she got “up” on everything as often as possible—narrow shelves on the wall, inside open transoms, on the top edge of an open door, she even had her eye on the ceiling fans. Balancing in place she would call for me to come and see her and gaze down smugly as I praised her, even if she needed my help in getting down.

Fawn was not ready to leave, and I wasn’t ready for her to go. For those eight days I felt her unsettled unhappiness and my own grief would not ease. Fawn chose to return to me as a symbol of cheerful celebration, an object which freely floats as high up in its space as it can, and I can only be reassured that the bond we had when she was here carried on to the next existence, that she loved me enough to let me know she had finally accepted and was enjoying the same antics she always had while here. How else would I be sure it was her, silly human that I am?

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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.