Originally a dog person with allergies to cats, I found myself 12 years ago sharing a home with our best friend who owns two cats. At that time it was little Rainbow, who was a Calico female with long fluffy hair and a male Prussian Blue short haired named Heineken. Yes, he is named after the beer, and that’s what happens when a cat is originally owned by a 14 year old boy. Our best friend’s little brother was going to study abroad for a year and Heineken would have been alone in the parent’s home, so our friend thought the best thing to do would be to take Heineken along to keep Rainbow company. He used to say that Heineken was Rainbow’s cat, especially when Heineken did something wrong.
Living with cats was a learning experience and I found various ways to deal with the allergies, one of which was purchasing a Dyson vacuum cleaner that helped enormously. That was well worth the money. I also kept them out of our bedroom, but despite these boundaries that I set, I still found them endearing and fascinating.
We found ourselves moving from location to location looking for better work opportunities and climates that were more like where we wanted to move. We had wanted to move to Germany someday and when it looked like such a possibility was out of our reach, we decided to move to the Pacific Northwest where the climate was similar. It was there that my husband and I adopted our first cat. He was a big sweet orange striped tabby that we called Morris. His intelligence and kind heart was too much to not fall in love with, so eventually he became as house kitty as well. We moved around a bit and at one point found ourselves in a neighborhood where many of our neighbors lost their homes due to the economy, and so did the animals. We were taking care of nine stray cats at one point.
By the time we moved to this location, our beloved Rainbow had passed on and our Morris kitty also died at this location to either old age or poison. We could not be certain. Heineken was heart broken by the loss of both of his dear friends and started to act weird. The decision was made to obtain a white kitten named Snowball to keep Heineken company. Later we brought Ester, one of our “feral” cats, inside and then we had three fuzzy friends again. Some people will say that animals have no souls, but these people have never genuinely enjoyed the kind friendship, loyalty, and love that these complex creatures feel for each other and us. Don’t be fooled. These creatures do have feelings and not just basic instinctual reactions, and I found myself often taking photographs of them trying to capture their beauty and various moods.
So while hunting for employment I started various projects to improve my painting skills and I decided to make our kitties to be the theme of a series of paintings. I have never been very good at drawing or painting animals, so I knew I needed to improve this skill. So I started with a picture of my beloved big old Morris kitty, which was a comical distance shot of him inspecting the chimneys of one of our homes. This was a good first painting since it had a strong architectural presence to it, which I felt more comfortable painting. Upon the completion of the Morris painting, I felt pretty good and wanted to try another kitty practice painting and did one of Snowball, who at the time was a kitten.
Snowball was a natural at posing for the camera and thus I got an interesting photo of her on the ottoman in the office room where our roommate did his programming. This introduced me to a different setting that included still life items as well and an unimportant human figure in the background. And this time the kitty was larger and offered the more challenging problem of the cat fur and how to paint an all white animal along with a face that required more detailed work. I also enjoyed the challenge of the fabric on the ottoman as well as the T-shirt on the human background figure. The darks and lights of shadow also played a more important role for this painting as well.
By the time I was done with the Snowball painting I started to feel guilty about not painting a picture of
our slowly aging Heineken kitty. He posed an even more difficult task of dealing with a semi monochromatic fur of silvery grey. This picture also introduced more challenging reflective surfaces such as the table top, the chair back, and the plastic translucent spray bottle. This setting turned the cat into part of a still life setting unlike the Snowball painting where it was more like a portrait. Heineken, like in the Morris Painting, is focused away from the camera and appears to be thinking about something else. While I was fairly pleased with the outcome of the painting, I do not feel that I truly captured the beauty of his silvery grey fur.
The fourth and hopefully not the last of the cat series of paintings is of the first cat that I really fell in love with and that was Rainbow, whom I often referred to as Miss Kitty. I had taken many photos of her and like Snowball, she too was also a very photogenic creature and worked well with the camera. This painting was a cross between a still life and portrait. While Rainbow is not looking at the camera, she is very much the focal point of the painting and her office man made oriented still life surroundings contrast well with her soft natural appearance and somewhat elegant character. While her surroundings did not pose too much of a difficulty except for the challenge of the glass part of the lamp, it was her long multicolored fur that concerned me. Would I be able to translate onto a canvas with paint the feeling of the long fur and would the color changes look natural? The transition would be tough to achieve. I believe this is the best of the four cat paintings that I have done. And I am often told by those that get to see these paintings in person that they like the one of Rainbow the best.
It is my desire to paint at least one more of these “practice cat paintings”, but that will depend upon our sweet little Countess Esterfuzzy being a bit more cooperative when I have the camera out.