Sally looks out over a blooming yard to a deep spring landscape of Western Pennsylvania. “Spring” is the first of a quartet of paintings I was commissioned to paint to fit into a handmade frame featuring each of the four seasons. My customer loved white cats, and wanted to feature a white cat in there somewhere, not an easy task considering that cats can be difficult to find in a landscape, and most were a little wilder than this. I wasn’t sure how it would work, but I grew to love this painting.
About the commission
Years ago a patron of a gallery in Carnegie where I hung my artwork asked me to paint four images for a very special frame she had.
It had been designed and handmade in wood by her father-in-law, long and narrow, and had four openings, each 12″ high by 24″ wide. Each opening had its own piece of glass, and between each opening was a 1/2″ slat of wood as a divider. The outside border of the frame was 2″ wide and flat with hand carved figures which I believe were leaves, like a vine. Overall it had a warm and rustic appearance.
The frame came apart in the center so that there were two panels in each half, and art and glass slid in and out through this opening. The area for the artwork was barely deep enough for a piece of drawing paper, so he must have intended it for photos when he designed it. The frame locked together in the back so that the two halves held together and hung on the wall without sagging.
She was interested in pastel drawings on paper, which were a good choice for this since even flat painting panels would not have fit.
As soon as she described the frame to me I thought of painting the four seasons, in part because of the four sections of the frame, and it’s also a theme I enjoy here in Western Pennsylvania. The customer would enjoy it too, because I’d been to her house and large picture windows were placed to enjoy the landscape from all angles, and the view of the countryside was something she always mentioned.
So I collected reference photos from my rambles for each of the seasons, thinking purely of landscapes. But she loved white cats and had actually purchased my painting “A Warm Bath” featuring my Angora cat Sally in a bath in morning sun at my side window, and asked me to add a white cat in somewhere since she’d given that painting as a gift.
I really considered the best way to show this. The scenes of the landscapes were typical of landscape paintings, showing the middle and far distance, where a cat would be hard to spot. But I remembered one of her picture windows and a countertop that extended partway in front of it and decided what I’d do.
I had taken several reference photos of Sally having a good bath in front of that window for “A Warm Bath”, and chose the pose I actually painted because you could still see Sally’s face, though she was looking down. Photographing a cat in the process of a bath, white or black or striped or spotted, was no easier then than it is now except that I didn’t know what I hadn’t caught until I had the photos developed. Most of the photos were when Sally had her back turned, but in this case, in the more upright posture, she appeared to be looking out the window, also typical of her and other cats positioned on such a shelf in front of a picture window. The cat looking out the window in the first painting would also lend the idea that you were looking out the window at all the landscapes.
To add to the interior I decided to use another detail from another favorite cat photo, the draped lace curtain from the window on the second floor landing of my house. In part I chose it for its own pattern and the natural appearance of a lace curtain next to a window, and also to balance the detail and pattern in the landscape outside the window.
I was glad to draw Sally’s dreamy white fur again as well as the sun and shadow on the wall inside the window, and looked forward to the lace curtain because I’d not painted one before and had been looking for a reason to add one to a painting, determining how much detail I’d actually include and how I’d do it in pastel.
For the landscape itself I remembered the layout of her yard and acreage, and collected some of my favorite photos of spring blooming gardens; in the end I toned down the rhododendrons and daffodils. But skies are one of my favorite daily studies, no matter the season; I could watch skies forever, the clouds moving, the changing light. Choosing the right moment of sky to paint into a landscape is a very serious choice for me, as you’ll see in looking at all four paintings in this series. In this painting of spring I chose a misty moment in early morning, it’s rained overnight, all is covered with raindrops and the mist is still rising, the clouds parting.
Here are the other three seasons in order, “Summer”, “Autumn” and “Winter”, and I’ll also point out a few correlations to the overall composition of the set a little later.
While “Spring” is based on the customer’s property, the other three are not only treasured landscapes but also have emotional ties to the cats in my life. “Summer” is an abandoned farm field on a high ridge which I passed regularly on the way to work each morning for six years, seen right after an early morning storm. I remember in the last few months Kublai was with me I hated to leave him every day and I would reach this portion of my drive and pause to look at this field with the morning unfolding above it, different each day, take a deep breath, and go on. The site was developed a few years later, but I still remember that each time I pass by it, even now.
“Autumn” is a hay field with a rambling little stream and scrubby trees as autumn rain clouds roll in which I saw along a road and went to explore during that October after I’d lost both boys.
And “Winter” is a winter view of the friend’s family farm that I visited during that November to paint and find peace in the quiet of the empty fields and big open sky, the sound of the wind.
If you let your eye run from one to the next you’ll notice that the horizon line is consistent from one to the next, and the time of day is actually progressive with “Spring” being very early morning, “Summer” about noon, “Autumn” mid afternoon, and “Winter” at sunset. I had first considered actually having the seasons and times of day blend into one another, but decided the frame really wouldn’t accommodate that convincingly, instead letting the viewer’s eye fill in the connections. One of these days she and I will get together so I can take good updated photographs of all four seasons.
This woman is also the one I’d painted the two portraits of the borzois, and while I have the one original of the one on the left and have taken a good clear photograph of it, I’d love to get the details of the other one as well.
Purchase a print of “Spring”
“Spring” is available as various prints on paper and canvas, and even framed. Because the original is 12″ x 24″, it doesn’t fit any standard frame sizes, so I’ve offered sizes that do which means the painting is cropped to fit.
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