Remember when I said the CWA isn’t just for writers? Today’s guest on Who are the Cat Writers’ Association? is a perfect example. Bernadette Kazmarski is a fine and graphic artist, working in several mediums including acrylic, pastel, and watercolor. Her designs are on totes, lawn posters, votive candle holders, and many more.
Bernadette, please tell us a bit about your journey as a cat artist.
Before I was an artist, I was a writer. While I did many creative things and took a few art classes, what I really wanted to be was a writer; while most people think any degree I might have is in art, I actually have a BA in English with an emphasis on writing, and hoped to go on and study and teach composition at the college level.
But employment and a sad economy will make changes in anyone’s plans, and all those years ago I got a job as a typesetter because I could type really well after all those term papers and writing for the college newspaper, and so I entered the world of graphic design, without any intention or training, though I’d designed plenty of things I’d written by then. I’d always wanted to pursue those higher degrees or that job as a writer, but instead stayed with a job I found I could combine with my writing and editing skills into something I’ve found both fun and fulfilling as a career for 30 years. I’ve been working on a computer all that time, but I also brought in illustration and fine art in the good old fashioned way, with my hands.
I have my cats to thank for being an artist. When, as an adult, I chose to pick up a pencil and paper and put them together, it was because images of my cats kept appearing in my thoughts as pencil drawings and paintings and I decided to draw what I was envisioning. While I render many other subjects now, it all began with my cats and the hopeless affection I felt for each of them and all their moods and quirks and manners of affection toward me. This is the gift they gave to me, and I will be forever in their debt, spending a lifetime to pay it off by sharing them with others.
I have had no shortage of feline models after rescuing and fostering since the mid-1980s. Through the years, my cats have been the subjects of dozens of works, and others, seeing these works, want a similar piece with their own animal companion as a subject. I have had the pleasure of creating more than 100 commissioned portraits of cats, dogs, cats and dogs, and cats and dogs and people. They are gifts for loved ones, memorials to cherished companions who’ve gone before us, and lovely pieces of artwork featuring an animal a person loved. Animals give us so much in everyday life, but my cats have given me my career.
Because cats and dogs and animal welfare issues are a big passion of mine, I work frequently with local animal welfare organizations, both in fostering and in donating materials for their benefit auctions. I am also committed to rescuing cats in need, providing TNR for community cats, and helping cat lovers take the best care of their cats.
I also paint other subjects, my beloved local landscape I’ve been wandering and studying as since I was a child and my gardens as well as others’ just to start. I carry a sketchbook around with me to capture scenes around the house and out in the street in pencil and ink. I can store a half dozen paintings in my head from one walk in the woods, I grow flowers to paint in the garden and as still-lifes, and I don’t leave out the fruits and vegetables either.
Under the supervision of my cats, I have the joy of working at home to design books, web pages, logos and various printed materials for a variety of customers as well as creating illustrations, photographing events, writing articles, fiction and poetry, and completing commissioned animal portraits and other commissioned work.
How do cats inspire your creativity?
A musician and performer joke: How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice! I’m not going to Carnegie Hall, but nonetheless, all creative people need to practice their skills regularly, and that includes artists. Each day I have creative activities that aren’t always visual art, but engaging in visual activities “turns on the lights” for me, and that is often studying my cats, photographing them, and occasionally sketching them. As an artist I render what I see, and that happens to be a lot of cats through the past 40 years since I began rescuing. But their nature, their movements, their physical form have been inspiring me since before I made art. I can start with their activities, add any medium I want, and create something new and quickly.
In 2011 I felt I had had little time for artwork of any sort after a decade of family members’ medical needs, so I set myself up to create daily sketches of my cats from late 2011 to about 2015. The daily sketch was a simple, quick impression of an everyday occurrence, in real time. The promise was for me to do a little bit of art each day. Not trying to create a masterpiece each sketch was to take no more than 15 minutes and be done from life, not from photos, so that I had the challenge of thinking, literally, on my feet, letting myself visualize render it in the medium I visualized. I helped myself grow into new styles and new media and developed confidence with media where I felt I had little skill. Now when I approach another work, whether done from photographs or from life, I approach that with more confidence as well. And I have a huge body of images to enjoy as wall art and that I use to create my handmade goods and other gift items
Bernadette answers 3 arbitrary questions:
- What is your earliest memory of being around cats?
Well, I found a kitten in a box under the Christmas tree when I was nine years old. That’s not quite “growing up with,” but early enough. That first kitten unfortunately died of distemper two days after Christmas. My parents ran out and got me another kitten, and of course we lost that one too. But I would not be deterred, though I could tell my mother hoped I would be. I chose 12-week-old Bootsie myself at the shelter, and she was with me to age 15, inspiring me to love cats even more than I did, to rescue cats when I was away from her at college and keep one of those rescues to start my own feline family.
Seeking out cats in the neighborhood to visit back in the days when cats were always indoor-outdoor, and people rarely spayed and neutered, so, kittens.
- Tell us a true cat story.
Sooty was a full-bred Chinchilla-point Persian but didn’t come to his forever home directly from his breeder. Adopted by a newly-engaged couple as a wedding gift to the bride-to-be, the couple subsequently broke up and Sooty was homeless. Passed along from one unloving home to another, finally housed in a detached garage with the door left open in the hope that he would run into the street… a neighbor kept watch, talked to the family, and eventually convinced them to give Sooty to her. She asked her sister-in-law to foster him.
Though her sister-in-law had no pets then, she had always had a cat and a dog growing up. When her mother passed away, her father came to live with her along with his dog and cat. They lost the pets, and her father passed away soon after, and she vowed “no more pets.” She made it clear that she would have Sooty neutered, given all his shots, and shaved because he was filthy and had such large hair balls under each limb, but he was a foster. He arrived in a cage, frightened to death and would not come out. She and her husband walked away, and pretty soon Sooty left the cage. Looking everywhere, she finally found him in her father’s old room, all curled up like he belonged there. “That did it,” and he stayed.
- Do you sing to cats? If so, what songs do you sing?
I sing around the house all the time and my cats are my audience, but I do sing to them intentionally. I have always sung softly to my fosters of all ages as I socialized and interacted with them too. My deaf cat Sally loved to lie on my chest, heart to heart, as I sang, and enjoy my “purring” vibrations.
I asked Bernadette to send names and photos of her cats, but she has so many, and they are changing often due to her fostering, this is what she wrote back:
Mimi, Mewsette, Giuseppe, Mr. Sunshine, Jelly Bean, the housepanther family. I rescued Mimi when the kittens were three days old and kept them for observation because an earlier kitten had died of FIP, and they stayed. The other five cats arrived as feral fosters from my or others’ TNR activities and stayed for medical or socialization issues. Basil, medium-haired black, was on the kill list at a shelter and was diagnosed with asthma so he has stayed. Bella, shorthaired black, wasn’t quite socialized and came here for a touch up, fostering with Basil, but also has a persistent urinary tract infection so she has stayed. Hamlet, longhaired black, came here with his sister after they failed at both socialization and a barn placement. Ophelia was eventually adopted, but Hamlet has never quite reached that level, though his loves living here. Sienna, shorthaired tortie, was trapped as a feral but the following morning did all sorts of cute things to prove to us she was not. She was and is socialized but runs from everyone but me, even potential adopters, I trapped Mariposa, longhaired tabby and white, at about a year old with a colony near me that I had to move to a farm because the abandoned house would be demolished. I’m not sure how she communicated that she did not want to be a feral cat, but I got the message, and over months she socialized to me and was found to have intensely precious and manipulative tendencies that no feral cat normally learns. She was originally a foster, but I know I never had any intention of letting her go. Right now, I have two adult fosters rescued from a neighbor’s house after the owner died, Simba and Midnight Louie, longhaired and shorthaired black, who are looking for the purrfect home.
Find out more about Bernadette, her art, and her cats at: https://thecreativecat.net/welcome-to-the-creative-cat/about/