Fred and Simba, detail of two faces.

A Special Gift for the Cat Guy in Your Life

Fred and Simba, charcoal and pastel, 12" x 15", 2010 © Bernadette E. Kazmarski

Fred and Simba, charcoal and pastel, 12″ x 15″, 2010 © Bernadette E. Kazmarski

In 2010 a friend and customer Carolyn said she’d like to commission me to create a portrait of her brother-in-law and his cat as a gift for his retirement from 40 years of teaching high school biology.

The cat, Simba, was a great love of Fred, and had been for all Simba’s 17 years at that time. While Simba was generally well he was pretty arthritic and moving slower all the time. Fred’s retirement, his affection for Simba and realizing Simba’s age all came together into the idea of the portrait.

Oh, and a certain daily habit of theirs…

Fred and Simba, detail of two faces.

Fred and Simba, detail of two faces.

Pam, Carolyn’s sister and Fred’s wife, had captured a wonderful image of Fred cradling Simba on his left arm as they had done many times in those 17 years. After consideration of other poses involving only Simba, there was no question that this pose was the best image, not only as a portrait of Simba, but also as a gift for Fred to remember a special moment between the two.

Medium and style are always part of the decision in creating a portrait, finding what really suits the subject and theme, and even before I have all the materials together I usually visualize a image of the portrait from just the communication with the person and meeting the animal if I have had the opportunity to do so.

In this case, at hearing about the pose, then seeing it on Pam’s phone (out comes the phone whenever and wherever cat lovers meet), I immediately visualized a less formal style, something loose and flowing that didn’t pin down the details of Fred and Simba but let the image represent any moment in the years they were together.

In the original photo, Simba is facing Fred, looking up into his face, a wonderful moment between the two. But we decided we wanted to capture a little more of Simba’s features in the portrait so we turned his head to look out of the portrait so you can see his wide face, big green eyes and pink nose.

Fred and Simba, detail of Simba's face.

Fred and Simba, detail of Simba’s face.

Pencil was my first thought, a nice loose sketch on a warm-toned slightly textured paper, but the revised view meant adding color. A charcoal sketch with touches of pastel on a medium-toned paper would capture the image I was visualizing. Charcoal is available in various densities in pencils, in vines and in powder, and it has the necessary dense pure black I had in mind, the ability to work as a line or blend to muted, softened areas, and the soft matte finish I prefer for fur. The mid-range tone would enhance both the black and white of Simba’s tuxedo coat and allow me to highlight a few other elements in the drawing to give it body and depth, but leave non-subject areas with less detail.

We don’t have to worry about garments with animals, but since Fred was relaxing after work in his undershirt, we decided to dress him a little more appropriately and chose to show him in his favorite yellow polo shirt, typical dress for the long-time high school teacher. Oh, and that little open spot in his hair on the crown of his head, well, we decided to enhance what was there. Details like that are often changed not just for modesty but because they can be distracting by drawing attention to themselves, and in a more minimal sketch like this it certainly would have. And Fred and Simba enjoyed this moment long before the hair loss.

Another angel in my gallery of animals

Painting animals is a huge pleasure because I love studying their features and then capturing those features in some medium that illustrates them best, be it pencil or ink, or pastel or watercolor. I get to know another animal in a deep and intuitive way, even if they’ve passed, and they add another angel to my lifetime of animals I love, and another story to the long list of mine and others’.

Getting to know their people, most of whom have become friends over the years, has been a second great pleasure of animal portraiture, and another group of people with whom I can share the lives, loves and losses of a very important personality in our lives.

two people with painting

Fred and me with his portrait

Vicariously participating in gift-giving

A portrait which is a gift is a level of honor I truly appreciate—the idea that another person trusts my talent enough to have me create this special gift is almost a frightening thought, but such a joy; we can never give too many gifts, and sharing in anothers’ gift is beyond compare. While I always think of my subject and the people involved while I work, I can also think about this other person who knows nothing about the special gift we’re creating, and the loving, joyous, usually highly emotional surprise they’ll have with it.

I am rarely present at the presentation, though, and that made this portrait all the more special. I couldn’t imagine this portrait any other way, and everyone was pleased with it. Carolyn presented it, and Fred suddenly understood why I’d visited Pam a few times and why I was at his retirement party, other than being a friend of his wife and sister-in-law. My last visit was to determine the mat and frame.

The unseen brother

But a sad note…one thing that makes this portrait somewhat bittersweet is that Simba had a brother, Shakespeare, another tuxedo cat. When they were a little less than two, Shakespeare, investigating something on the floor while Pam and Fred got ready for work, was startled enough to suddenly leap backward, hitting his back and neck on a door frame. After writhing in pain for a minute or two while Fred and Pam tried to look him over and decide what to do, he simply quit moving and quit breathing.

Not really knowing any options in that day, Fred, crying so hard he could barely see, dug a hole in a protected spot in their yard while Pam carefully wrapped him, and they buried Shakespeare in the garden. Simba hid while they buried him, but later Simba went to sit exactly where Shakespeare was buried, and on his supervised visits to the yard always visited the spot.

Such a shock, to say unexpected is an understatement, and I could see the shock and grief is still painful all these years later, but Shakespeare’s memory is still a part of their lives. Fred and Pam have never forgotten, but Simba was never the same without his brother, much quieter and less playful, all the rest of his life. So many stories, we all have so much to share.

A Special Gift for a Special Man

In everyone’s life is at least one special person who shared a love of animals, and in that person’s life there is often an animal companion who is or was very special to them. Read about Shadow, Casey and Ralph and a special Mother’s Day gift from 2006.

"The Washburn Trio", pastel, a Mothers' Day gift, 1998.

“The Washburn Trio”, pastel, a Mothers’ Day gift, 1998.

Portraits take up to four weeks to complete, especially with framing and then shipping, but you can also give a certificate and invite the recipient to choose their own portrait subject and provide photos and memories.

I’m offering 25% off the purchase of a portrait certificate or a commissioned portrait that is booked between now and June 30, 2017, whether it’s for mother, father, grandparents or any of those special persons who encouraged your love of animals. Use the coupon code MOTHERSFATHERSDAY25 and purchase a certificate below.

Above, a very special Father’s Day portrait—twice! Read about the initial portrait and the update of Jay and his animals above.

watercolor still life of tulips and photo of schnauzer

Veronica’s Tulips, watercolor, 16″ x 23″, 2008 © B.E. Kazmarski

Did your parents pass on to you a love of animals? Did they decide one day you needed an animal companion of your own, starting you on a lifelong path of sharing your days with cats and dogs and birds and bunnies and ferrets and any other animal that came along?

Thank those people who gave you this gift—and I’m loosely defining mother and father because sometimes the person who shared their love of animals with you was an aunt or uncle or grandparent, or even a neighbor who rescued cats or dogs. An animal-themed gift such as a print of a piece of artwork, a keepsake box or household item, even a personalized gift such as a portrait, is a wonderful way to thank them for the gift they gave you to love animals.

And thinking a little less conventionally, consider a piece of custom art that also includes an animal. For “Veronica’s Tulips”, right, this pet mom got the painting for herself, and wanted both flowers and, after a lifetime of rescued Schnauzers also wanted a Schnauzer in her painting, though not to represent any individual she had lived with. This was the very natural solution.

portrait of two children and two cats

The Grandchildren, pastel, 1993 © B.E. Kazmarski

People and pets together

I’ve done a number of portraits of people with their pets, but many years ago I painted a very special portrait for grandparents who lived in Germany and never had the chance to see their grandchildren and grandcats. A photo was impossible to manage for the parents, so, with photos from the parents I put together a portrait of them all together in a style they requested, more sketchy than finished. I thought I’d taken a better photo of it at the time, but this sample is all I have; it was shipped off to the grandparents that year.

A review

Peg Bowman,Ordained Clergy, Computer Instructor

Friends and I chipped in together and hired Bernadette to create a memorial of a friend’s beloved cat after kitty passed away. The memorial was beautiful! We highly recommend Bernadette’s work.

See Henry.

A Mother’s Day Special, and Father’s Day too

I’m offering 25% off the purchase of a portrait certificate or a commissioned portrait that is booked between now and June 30, 2016, whether it’s for mother, father, grandparents or any of those special persons who encouraged your love of animals. Use the coupon code MOTHERSFATHERSDAY25 below or on Portraits of Animals.

Sample Commissioned Portrait Certificate

Sample Commissioned Portrait Certificate

Read More About Commissioned Animal Portraits

Read more about my commissioned portraits on my website at Portrait Demonstration, and see some finished portraits at Commissioned Cats and Commissioned Dogs.

Download a Brochure

cover of brochure

My brochure is an 8.5″ x 11″ two-page full-color PDF that half-folds when it’s all printed out. The text is basically the same as what’s above with a few updates and additions for it appearing on this site.

Purchase a Gift Certificate

Sample Commissioned Portrait Certificate

Sample Commissioned Portrait Certificate

Is there an animal lover on your list who has every cat or dog-themed t-shirt and handbag, and even their pets have every toy they can use for the rest of their natural lives? Consider a gift certificate for a commissioned portrait. Whether it’s for someone else or yourself, a custom portrait is different from a professional photograph because we can create the scene that you remember even if you never had the chance to photograph it. Your household of animal companions can be grouped in a natural setting even if their lives didn’t overlap.

I offer gift certificates for portraits in any denomination beginning at $50.00, which is the basic cost of an 8″ x 10″ black and white portrait; the recipient is responsible for any amount the portrait costs over the amount you’ve paid.

The certificate itself is 8.5″ x 11″ and features a collage of portrait images with the recipient’s and giver’s names, printed on parchment cover stock. The whole thing is packaged in a pocket folder and includes a brochure, a letter from me to the recipient and several business cards. The certificate package can be easily mailed or wrapped as a gift and shipped directly to your recipient.

I can also make it downloadable if you’re in a hurry.

Certificates are good for up to one year after issue, but I’ll usually honor them whenever they come along. It just makes my accounting easier if it’s within the same year.

Certificate Prices

I prefer to look over the work and price the portrait according to how much work will go into it, as described above, but you can either set a budget or get started by purchasing a certificate for yourself or as a gift.

How to Order

  • “Certificate A” is for a minimum-size 8 x 10 black and white or monochromatic portrait with one subject.
  • “Certificate B” is for a minimum-size 8 x 10 color portrait with one subject.
  • Choose “A” or “B” depending on whether your portrait is black and white or color.
  • If your portrait will be larger or have more subjects, add $50 or $100 or more to your certificate value with the drop-down below.


  • Size: 8 x 10
  • Subjects: One
  • Color: black and white media such as charcoal, pencil, ink, or monochromatic media such as one color of pastel, watercolor, colored pencil, etc.
  • Background or objects: none but shading or colored paper


  • Size: 8 x 10
  • Subjects: One
  • Color: full color media such as pastel, watercolor, colored pencil, etc.
  • Background or objects: none but a color or colored paper

Add to your certificate purchase

You can use the second drop down to add $50.00 or $100.00. For amounts over this I’m working out the easiest way to give options so it’s not too confusing.

[ss_product id=’ee6d37ec-349a-11e6-a43c-0cc47a075d76′ ]Commissioned Portrait Certificate[/ss_product]

Donation of Commissioned Portrait Certificates

As my way of giving to shelters, I donate a limited number of commissioned portrait certificates to shelters and rescue groups every year to sell or auction in their fundraisers. I usually donate a certificate worth $100.00, the minimum cost of a color portrait, and they typically auction for well more than that. The winner receives a presentation folder with the signed certificate, a thank you letter from me for supporting the organization, one of my brochures and the invitation to begin the process of a portrait of their design.

I have to limit the number of certificates I donate because of the amount of time I put into each portrait, but I also offer commissioned portrait certificates at a reduced cost to other shelters and rescues when my yearly quota is reached. I like to help as many organizations as I can, but the kitties need to eat too! Please contact me if you are interested.

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© 2022 | | Published by Bernadette E. Kazmarski

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 using one in a print or internet publication. If you are interested in purchasing a print of this image or a product including this image, check to see if I have it available already. If you don’t find it there, visit “purchasing” for availability and terms.

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