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 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 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.


Meet Miko and Sasha

portrait of two Himalayan cats

Miko and Sasha, pastel © B.E. Kazmarski

Meet Miko and Sasha, half-sisters but full-bred Himalayan kitties, and the center of life for their cat daddy for all of their years together. Miko came first, and she was such a joy that when she was still young he decided to adopt another kitty and a friend for Miko.

I had a wonderful time researching the Himalayan breed and meeting Himalayan cats at cat shows for background information (twist my arm, make me read about cats and go to cat shows), and it did offer me specific information on colors of fur and eyes and on body shape. Even if I don’t get to meet the subjects, it’s always helpful to see and feel and hold an animal of a similar breed before I start to work. But while Sasha had the same parents, though born in a later litter, even with the same parents and bloodlines the difference between the two girls was surprising and endearing.  Miko was decidedly the older sister, and Sasha the little wild child even to the differences in their fur—Miko was about as smooth as a Himalayan can be, poised, crossing her paws, while Sasha’s fur was always a little wild and she was ready for action.

face of himalayan cat

Miko with her crossed paws and neat hair © B.E. Kazmarski

Their masks were different shapes, their ears were set just a little differently, partly by attitude, and the color and texture of their fur, while actually the same, looked quite different because it laid just a little differently to reflect the individual personalities.

With a stack of photos we determined what the portrait would look like, showing their faces, of course, but also their paws and tails as fondly-remembered features. In several photos they are sitting by the door you see looking outside, and because they loved that door to the outside so much we decided to use that as the backdrop, but to turn them around to face us which would accommodate all the features we wanted to see.

face of himalayan cat

Sasha with her wild eyes and wild hair © B.E. Kazmarski

I met Miko and Sasha’s parents some time after the two girls had passed, so I never had a chance to meet them, and I thank Deb Chebatoris of Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation for the referral.

A little background

I’ve completed a few portraits in the past few years that I have not featured here because of the timing of the portraits. In the case of Miko and Sasha, I met with their people, unintentionally, of course, the night before Peaches died in October 2010. Normally I start on portraits right away but I really can’t work with much focus after a loss, especially if my subject is feline, so I got a later start than I had intended in assembling photos and getting my basic image done before I even got to paper. Then my mother was gravely ill and passed away, and it was March, 2011 before I had any significant work done. By that time I had forgotten details of our conversations and needed a refresher as I discovered I had gotten the two girls confused in their initial rendering.

I worked my way through more details, remodeled my studio and got new pastels which helped immensely, then discovered that my customers were not getting my e-mail updates at all. We did finally connect and I carefully passed along more updates, but it wasn’t until just before Christmas 2011 that they finally got their portrait! I am grateful for their patience, though I know it wore thin.


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.

Georgie’s Portrait: Final

portrait of maine coon cat

Georgie, final version, pastel © B.E. Kazmarski

Catching up on portraits I completed late last year, here is Georgie with her big tail and long, long whiskers, on her chair and all of her favorite toys around her. Below is a view of just her lovely face.

maine coon cat face

Close up of Georgie.

After all the color changes with Georgie’s portrait I am very pleased with her final image: her eyes are the right shade of soft seafoam green, no tan in her ruff, no patina on her curly belly, and her paws crossed in the right way. I have to thank Georgie’s mom for her patience and for sending more photos as I was working.

In Georgie’s portrait I also had the chance to work a style that focuses on the subject and leaves the background loose and undetailed, more impressionistic and colorful. For some reason, I think it was the finish on the drawing paper I used, I couldn’t get the level of photographic detail I usually want with a portrait, one of the things that really slowed me down. But at a point it was either to start over or live with it, and though she wasn’t as “smooth” as I wanted I still loved the way she looked at me.

I’ve written so much about Georgie’s portrait as I was working there isn’t much left to say here, as is always the case when a portrait is finished, but at the end of this post I’ve included a slideshow of all the images I posted of Georgie’s portrait so you can see the development (if the slideshow presents them in my numerical order…sometimes this depends on your browser), and links to the other three articles about her portrait so you can read about Georgie, the 20-year-old Maine Coon cat adopted from a shelter.


I’m sad to report that Georgie died just before Christmas, 2011, unexpected since she was not suffering from any condition, but at 20 we know how quickly that can change. She is missed not only by her person but by the entire family; I remember hearing frequently how her father bought Georgie toys and visited her and took care of her when her person was away. She had always described Georgie as being very innocent and gentle, something we tried to capture in her eyes. Her person said of Georgie:

She touched so many lives in such a gentle and loving way—and had such an impact with my family, me and so many others because she had such a big heart, in addition to her big eyes and tail.  We all learned a lot from her gentle soul.  That’s why it was so difficult to lose her—everyone wanted to take care of her and be generous with her in kind.

I was honored to be able to in some small way prepare for Georgie’s passing, and to refer her to the comforting services of Deb Chebatoris of Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation.

And because it had made me feel that my cats will always be remembered when I use their images on greeting cards or tote bags or some other merchandise bearing their portraits, I asked if we could share Georgie that way too. She agreed, so we will have Georgie’s big, gentle presence in the portfolio of felines sending greetings to your friends or becoming a gift for someone special.

Read the articles about Georgie.

Georgie’s Portrait and Another: Color Corrections

Update on Georgie’s Portrait

Meet Georgie

And enjoy the slideshow!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


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.

Georgie’s Portrait and Another: Color Corrections

detail of portrait

The latest on Georgie.

Here is the latest view of Georgie’s lovely face. Since the last update I posted I’ve been working on the detailed areas, tightening up the patterns on her face especially, and working out the rest of her shape.

full portrait

Latest full version of portrait.

I actually sent an interim version of updates to the customer as I was working out the details in her face, and she pointed out something I had missed, and something that’s a common hazard of working from photos—even when you get to meet the subject.

Read the rest of this entry »

Update on Georgie’s Portrait

detail of portrait

Detail of "Georgie"

detail of portrait

Portrait of Georgie, detail of her face.

I’ve been working on tightening up the details in Georgie’s portrait, especially around her face, which will be the most detailed area of the finished portrait. I’ve included the first update at right for reference for where I left off the last time.

We’re planning this portrait to focus on her face and then the rest of her, but for the toys and the background not to be as detailed as her. I will continue to work her face in greater detail, even from this point.

Several things were obvious the last time, most notably her eye color. I like to underlay areas of portraits with either complimentary colors or more vivid shades of the native color to give more depth and dimension to a portrait. However, I’m not accustomed to the intensity of these new pastels and while I loved the color I had layered too much in place and had a dickens of a time using it as an underlay. Each time I added the cooler softer greens to her eyes I’d be pleased with what I saw, walk away to refresh my perceptions, come back and find they were still too bright! It just took a little longer to get them to resemble Georgie’s soft sea-green color, though, and the little bits of actual Nile green you can see add to the dimensional quality of her eyes while what’s under the top layer of color helps to brighten it.

I also tightened up the details of her ears to finalize the shape and larger areas of color and shadow, though much of the ear detail with come at the end because she has such deluxe ear hair.

I’m building the fur on her face, the short fur around the eyes and nose with no underfur where the agouti is most apparent in layers of color areas, then working in the details of individual areas. She has a very distinctive “M” on her forehead which needed to be made more clear. From there it’s working in the transition between the short fur on her face and the areas where it begins to grow longer but still doesn’t have too much of an undercoat as there is on her torso, around her muzzle and chin, the sides of her face below her ears, and the top of her head. I picture running my fingers through that fur, remembering what it feels like, and it helps me to work the texture correctly.

update on portrait

The full portrait.

I’ve also worked in the rest of her torso, adding the stripes in her side and on her tail that are mixed in with her long fur. I plumed out her tail a little more, though I still don’t think it’s quite long enough. Seeing her in person it looks a little shorter, but that’s only because it’s a little thinner with her age. I have photos from younger years for the full effect of her big tail.

Her big ruff is still a little too colorful, but I want to work the rest of her torso before I finalize the color and mix of highlight and shadow in that area.

Those pink and red toys are working in okay and look balanced now that the rest of her is more detailed. Sometimes it just works out that way.

But in the process of all this I undid her paws—well, that’s for the next round.

See the first draft of the portrait and read about Georgie.

Meet Georgie


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.


Meet Georgie

pastel portrait of cat

Portrait of Georgie, first proof

One of my newest portraits is Georgie, decidedly the princess of her household!

This is the result of my first session, and I just love the energy of these early portraits with loose details and big strokes; it’s also my first session with my new Sennelier pastels and I largely attribute my satisfaction with this proof compared to past portraits at this point to the colors, texture and quality of my new pastels—more on those in another article.

detail of portrait

Portrait of Georgie, detail of her face.

But at this point I can tell if the portrait is on its way if I can see the finished work my customer and I discussed and, more importantly, feel the subject in it at this early stage, and I definitely feel Georgie here. So did her mom when she saw this proof. I have a number of things to adjust, like her eye color, details in her face and the rest of her fur, and ultimately add the all-important whiskers and ear hair, but I’ll work those out as I go along.

portrait on easel

Georgie on the Easel, ready for her closeup.

Georgie is 19 years old, and though she was adopted from a shelter all those years ago she is apparently either fully or predominantly of Maine Coon cat breed with those extra large features and lush tabby fur.

And her personality is just as big with lots of conversation and direction for her human, and very particular requirements for her toys.

Read the rest of this entry »

“You Are the Most Beautiful, Precious Girl…”

portrait of orange and white cat on towel

Christie, 2007, pastel, 14" x 23" © B.E. Kazmarski

Would you choose to adopt a kitty who was known to have, ahem, litterbox issues?

And after hearing many warnings and so much failure in this area, do you think you’d be the one to find the magic solution?

Christie was brought to a veterinarian for treatment, but her owners never returned; apparently Christie wasn’t using the litter pan and they didn’t want to take her back. The veterinarian obtained ownership and put her up for adoption, and as the news spread that a kitty needed a home the story eventually reached her adoptive people. They met the charming and quiet girl, impressed by her affectionate nature, and were willing to take a chance with the litter pan issues. Her forever family discovered that Christie needed to be told frequently, at least once each day, that she was the most beautiful and precious girl and to have her lovely long orange fur massaged or she would become visibly depressed. Apparently she is no longer wanting for praise and affection, and a neatly folded towel still warm from the dryer and carefully placed on the kitchen counter doesn’t hurt, either.

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

About Christie’s adoption

Apparently in Christie’s case, love was the solution, and her people apparently knew it the moment they saw her.

“We knew that was an issue when we met her,” Christie’s mom said, “but we just liked her so much we thought we’d give her a chance.”

cat using scratching post

Scruffy demonstrating scratching post.

Living with breed Persians for many years this couple was smitten with a rescue cat, Felix, after they lost their tabby Persian, Scout. Now they find rescue cats, always adults, to fill their home, usually two at a time, and they also care for a number of outdoor cats in style. At right is Scruffy, Christie’s current house mate, using the scratching post right next to the window so he can pretend he’s in the outdoors.

The idea that they would be willing to bring a cat who had known litter box issues into their rather new and elegant home, and to work with the cat until the issue was resolved by simply finding the cat’s own needs is a testament to their belief in rescue and their skill with and sensitivity to animals.

“She did have a few accidents at first,” Christie’s mom continued. “We gave her lots of attention when she was new so she’d know we loved her and she belonged here and she’d get used to the place. After all, she’d been abandoned.” The occasional errant litterbox non-use disappeared.

orange and white cat with love

Christie gets her love session.

“I just discovered that she needs to be held and petted and massaged and told every day, more than once if possible, that she is the most wonderful, beautiful, precious, lovely girl, and we love her very much,” she said as she demonstrated the process of love with Christie on her lap, massaging her fingers through Christy’s thick fur as Christie flexed her front toes and slowly blinked her eyes, knowing that this sort of treatment was her divine right.

Eventually, people have to go to work or away on a vacation or just out somewhere for long days, such as during the holidays. “When she doesn’t get her quota of love, she will ‘miss’ the box,” her mom said, “so we give Christie her love every day, but we understand if she misses.” Even the pet sitter indulges Christie when they are away.

But avoiding Christie’s issues isn’t the reason for lots of love, and trying to resolve her issues wasn’t a reason for adoption; rather, it was the other way around. They simply knew when they met her that they loved her and they felt Christie would love them too. Finding the solution—frequent demonstrative love sessions—was a happy by-product of how much they loved her, and she loved them.

detail of portrait

Detail of Christie's face.

About the portrait

I’ve done several portraits for this couple, as you can see in Felix’s article, Big Kitty Love, and Christie was the most recent. By this time I no longer needed to review with them the process of considering the scene and posture they’d like in order to remember their kitty forever on their wall. When they called me, they knew exactly what they wanted, because nearly every day, they warmed a towel in the dryer, folded it neatly and, while still warm, placed it on the counter dividing the kitchen and dining area where they frequently sat after dinner. They had taken a number of photos in preparation and I took a number of close-ups of Christie as well, and happily got to their portrait.

Some people react to this portrait in an interesting way, saying she looks sad, but it’s only because she’s lying down and her expression is relaxed, her eyes aren’t as round and alert as usual—and that’s where the portrait posture is personal to the humans of the cat. Her people know she’s extremely happy and see nothing else.

Here is Christie’s page in Great Rescues:

page in great rescues calendar

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

The Portrait That Started it All

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


Milan and Felix

Learn more about Great Rescues Calendar and Gift Book

Visit the Great Rescues website

I’ll Be Seeing You

pastel painting of black and white cat

Cooper, 1996, pastel, 22” x 17” © B. E. Kazmarski

Seeing Mimi settling down near Peaches’ portrait reminded me of another instance of a cat communicating with one of my portraits.

I usually keep in touch with the family for whom I’ve created a portrait. We’ve often done quite a bit of work determining the exact posture and scene for a portrait, gathering images and sometimes I paint purely from visualizing what my customer is describing. Also, nearly half my portraits have been memorials, created either after the animal has passed or around the time of its passing, and working out the details of the portrait include working through a certain portion of the family’s grief.

Besides that, we came together to do their portrait because we love animals, and that’s a natural friendship. I often hear news of the household, the arrivals of new animal companions and the passing of others, and stories of the household in general.

In the months after I finished Cooper’s portrait, I received a call from his family to tell me the sad news that they had lost Patches to complications from polyps she had developed in one ear.

Patches and Cooper had been best buddies. Cooper had passed about a year before I painted his portrait, and when it was finished and we hung it over the couch, I met Patches and the other kitties they had rescued and adopted, inspired by their love of Cooper.

Soon after, Patches showed signs of illness, but it took a number of tests to find the polyps. They were inoperable, and while her family eagerly tried a number of standard medical treatments as well as naturopathic treatments, all too soon she was losing her battle.

closeup of cat face in portrait

Detail of Cooper's face.

They told me that just days before Patches died, even though she was weak and declining quickly, one evening she climbed up on the back of the couch, sat up and gently touched the glass over Cooper’s face in the portrait, looked at him for a short while, then carefully got down.

“Was she saying, ‘There you are,’ or ‘I’m coming, I’ll see you soon,’ we don’t know,” they commented. “After that, she seemed to accept what was happening to her.”

Anyone who has lived with animals knows that they communicate with us as well as with each other, and that they experience the same range of emotions as we do, including love and grief.

When I create a piece of artwork, any subject, I not only work with the images I have and the medium I’ve chosen, but I also instill what I would be sensing if I was standing in that spot, and what I’m feeling about the subject, all as if I was experiencing it in that moment.

When the subject is one of my animal portraits I also consider the relationship between the animal or animals and their family while I’m working, either through observation or from what they’ve related to me.

In the case of Cooper’s portrait, I had received a call from someone saying he had one photo of his girlfriend’s cat who had passed the previous year and he’d like to give her a portrait of him for the anniversary of his passing and her birthday, which were close—and also a little over a month away. It was possible to paint and finish, mat and frame a portrait in that time, but as I still worked a day job with a lot of variables I usually wouldn’t risk it, except that he had given the same photo to another artist who had not gotten the portrait done and still felt strongly that the portrait was what she needed to have.

This could be tricky—not only would I not be able to meet Cooper, nor would I be able to meet his person or see the household or have any other connection with my subject other than this one photo, and the portrait was fairly large, 22″ x 17″. But though he only had the one photo, he was generous with stories about Cooper and the household, and very much emotionally invested in the project himself.

We did meet the deadline, and in that concentrated period I spent a good bit of time considering what he’d told me about Cooper and the household.

I know that depth was invested in the portrait itself, showing in a physical manner—I always say that I paint until my subjects look back at me—and perhaps in a spiritual manner as well, recognizable by both humans and animals. My families will tell me that, though I’ve often thought it was the confused musings of someone who stayed up too late and spent too much time alone with my painting.

Cooper’s story is this:

page from book

Cooper's page in Great Rescues

Cooper had literally been born in a barn but was adopted to a friend of the farm owner who cared deeply for his barn cats including the occasional drop-offs and strays. Cooper lived happily with his mom for three years as she moved from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia and became engaged to a man who was dangerously allergic to cats. Though they tried treatments his reaction was life-threatening and she carefully began the process of finding a home for her precious Cooper. The same farmer put her in contact with Cooper’s eventual mom, who had recently divorced and bought a house but resisted the idea of a pet. On a trip to Philly for a conference she met Cooper, enjoyed the visit, but said no. After a week alone in her house, she called the woman back and said she needed Cooper’s company. Cooper was chauffeured back across the state to his new forever home.

Cooper’s portrait and rescue story are featured in Great Rescues Calendar and Gift Book.

cat with three legs

Simon Says...

Each family for whom I have created a portrait also has a continuing story and so much to tell, like this story of Patches and Cooper. This family has continued to rescue other cats, including Simon, and I’ll have more stories to tell about their family of cats ranging from those comfortably indoors to those who visit the feeding stations outdoors and use the carefully constructed shelters in the winter.

Also, read about my commissioned portraits and visit my website to see samples of cat portraits, dog portraits and more.