January light is so beautiful, the sun still at a low angle streaming into windows and doors, the days often overcast and the brilliant warm yellow sunlight a respite, and this is what has Namir transfixed in the stream of sun that washes in the back door in winter—and probably a few birds bobbing about on the deck chasing stray bird seed.
The reference photo for this is above, one of many I took over the course of nearly three months of occasionally sunny mornings January through March 2007 when Namir would finish breakfast then go bathe, sit and nap in the sun. Namir’s posture and cattitude as well as items in the box and the box itself changed each day as it does in the course of my housekeeping; the angle of the sun changes as I took photos earlier and later and from different angles. I love them all and knew, as I had known with Peaches and Peonies, that I’d do a painting from this as well as having this series of photos.
But it wasn’t until the morning of Darling Clementines, as I call it in my own shorthand, sitting on the floor for this perfect angle with its mix of color, glass and Namir’s intent expression that my fingers got all twitchy as they do when they want to paint, and I immediately visualized a watercolor, clear and detailed, those clean edges and translucent colors carrying what I saw, better than my pastels. I pictured my palette, my fine liner brushes, applying the Prussian blue around the letters “D” and “A”, the clementine itself already painted in place, and then Namir’s profile, his rounded nose with its gray spots, his satellite-dish ears completely facing forward, the details of eyes and fur and whiskers I studied all the time. When I start watching myself paint something that’s not even begun, I know I have no choice but to paint the thing or it will be constantly in my vision like a song that won’t go away—but in this case, not an annoying one.
The desire to paint this painting and Namir was just as much for the experience of the close and careful study of everyday things, capturing the details, as it was for lovingly capturing a moment I loved about Namir. I’ve painted Namir a few times, sketched him plenty and photographed him lots, but this painting was an homage to how I loved every hair on his body, and all his wonderful habits.
Still, I knew another image I liked even more might come up since the lovely mornings continued, and rather than confuse the issue with starting one and seeing another I wanted to paint even more, I waited. And I also added things intentionally after that, baskets, other jars, jars of beans, my gardening clogs, you name it—even other cats, including Namir’s biggest admirer, not Kelly, but Lucy.
And as a part of our daily lives then, Stanley was still with us, 25 years old, enjoying what he could of each day until January 15 when he finally decided he was ready to transition to the next existence. We all surrounded ourselves with beauty for that month and afterward and I have a truly lovely series of photos infused with memories, but still, “Darling Clementines” won.
I did have the opportunity to paint it fairly soon after, which is really not typical in my usual schedule but probably saved my sanity once I got a start. I gave myself a very light pencil outline of the main objects, then some of the details like the lettering, applied a few light washes of color to give myself a sense of direction. I was really looking forward to the lettering on the containers, the patterns in the wood, Namir’s ears and that lovely white area with highlight and shadow, my humble kitchen floor. I had a good feel for how I’d paint everything but those canning jars and figured I’d work it out when I got there. After a lot of visual study of other artists, that’s generally how I learn, just get the brush to the paper.
This type of a watercolor, for me, is very time-consuming, so I planned it smaller than many of my other extremely detailed works, only 12″ wide by 9″ high. After the initial sketch and washes I plan my work sessions for at least two hours, preferably four, and try to make them at the same time each day so that I am either working with daylight or my work lights and can keep my colors consistent. I also prefer to work on consecutive days until I’m done, but even every other day is okay; it’s difficult to stay consistent when too many days go by between sessions. Each session, I choose an area or an object to work on so that I keep the colors and style consistent, working on Namir’s face, for instance, then working my way back in successive sessions.
But how do you paint glass? You see through it, so…what do you paint? It’s one of the times when you apply the lesson of “painting what you see” instead of “painting what you know”. I know what glass looks like, what it feels like and other properties of it as an object, but I had to study the glass and “see” the effect of the jars on what was behind them in order to paint what was really there. That was easy once I grew accustomed to it, but the highlights on the glass really had me confused. With pastels I paint the area with a base color then work my highlights up to their relative brightness and apply the lightest highlights as one of the last things I paint. With watercolors, you usually leave your highlights open to show the color of the paper as the lightest area, and work down from that level to the relative colors around it. Many was the time I had to stop, study, visualize and then, finally, paint what I saw. I used this lesson again the next spring when I painted the vase in “Peaches and Peonies”.
I have often received gifts bearing cat art and kept them all, and as I moved through learning to draw and paint I studied everything that was available commercially, from calendars to coffee mugs to accent rugs for style and composition. I still have my day book featuring paintings of Lesley Anne Ivory with her lovely furballs on highly decorative and patterned backgrounds, which worked their way into portraits such as “Tibbie” with its Oriental rug and leather-bound books. When I began framing I discovered Charles Wysocki through framing limited-edition prints of “Ethel the Gourmet” and “Frederick the Literate”. And years ago I studied the art of a feline artist Wendy Christensen whose images on Christmas cards I kept through the years to study (and still have), only to find years later that she is a fellow Cat Writers’ Association member and who I’ve since had the chance to meet. What a thrill to meet one of my idols and have her compliment me!
You can read more about Namir in “Who Was That Namir, Anyway?”
Where to find this painting
I donated this painting to the art exhibit at the first BlogPaws conference, so the original has been sold. I offer prints of this painting as a highest quality giclee, and archival digital prints and canvases in a wide variety of sizes.
I also offer it as a wood-mounted print, a tray and various other gift items. Click here to search Portraits of Animals for all items with Darling Clementine.
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