About My Life as an Artist

“I owe it all to my cats.”


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.

Sleeping Beauty, pencil, 1987, 18" x 16" © Bernadette E. Kazmarski

Sleeping Beauty, pencil, 1987, 18″ x 16″ © Bernadette E. Kazmarski

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.

Me in the Woods.

Me in the Woods.

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 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.

Kelly the Art Cat

Kelly the Art Cat

Back to the beginning

I don’t have a degree in art—I have a BA in English with minors in Graphics and Professional Writing. I had majored in art for a year or two, but looking at my output, decided that I was never going to “get it” while I was in college, plus I wanted to be able to get a job when I graduated, so I changed my major to my other acceptable and enjoyable subject, English. I loved my literature and language studies and intended to continue on in a Master’s degree in writing or language studies, but got tired of being a poor college student and decided to take a break after my undergraduate degree.

I switched around in several jobs in Public Relations and worked for a while as a freelance decorator for a shopping mall. I got a job as a typesetter (a job which no longer exists with desktop publishing), which entered me into the wonderful world of graphic arts. I stayed with this, starting to take a few more English classes, and ended up taking care of my parents and never returned to school.

A few years outside of college, I picked up my drawing pencils and paper and started to draw little sketches from photographs I had taken. I continued with this, taking a model study class to encourage myself to draw from life. I delved into pen and ink, charcoal, then, when I wanted to work in color, pastel—mostly because I was working irregular hours at the time and wanted to work in a medium that would allow me to work for short periods of time without setup or cleanup, and leave a piece for weeks on end.

About “After Dinner Nap”

“After Dinner Nap”, pastel on Hahnemuhle sanded watercolor paper, 1997 © Bernadette E. Kazmarski

“After Dinner Nap”, pastel on Hahnemuhle sanded watercolor paper, 1997 © Bernadette E. Kazmarski

Even though my marketplace features many subjects, anyone who knows my beginnings understands why Stanley’s portrait watches over what I do. Years ago, I was wondering what to do with the artwork I kept producing. Selling originals isn’t all that easy, but there aren’t too many other opportunities available for getting your artwork “out there” in front of people who will appreciate it.

This portrait changed my world, as an artist and in my career. The day I finished this portrait in 1997, I knew I had reached a higher level of skill as an artist and a deeper level of visualization combined with that skill that goes way beyond reproducing what I see, very far into what I feel. Stanley was a difficult soul having been abused before he was dumped outdoors, but his real personality was sweet, fun, silly and relaxed, and for all his issues I loved him completely. In this scene, the after dinner nap he enjoyed just about every day, I found that part of him, and that part of me, and got it onto the paper. It’s been magic since then, not just with my portraits and other animal artwork, but with all my artwork. I may have arrived at that point as an artist eventually, but it was my deep feeling for Stanley that delivered me to the door, which I had only to open.

And I knew I had to share this image, so decided right then that I’d use the four images I was visualizing of “my cats in the sun”, and this became my first set of notecards, and my first offering of high-quality prints of my artwork. You’ll find “My Cats in the Sun” notecards under greeting cards.

Many cats have inspired me since this portrait in 1997, which is why feline art is featured here. Painting my cats, in turn, led to painting the landscape around me, the local areas which I’ve loved since I was a small child, and still lifes and then painting wildlife.

Stanley was with me for 21 years, and considering that he was an adult when he arrived on my porch of his own accord, that meant he was nearing the quarter-century mark when he died in 2007, inspiring until the end as I was photographing and sketching him until his final month.

I hope you enjoy your visit. I have so much to share…

PHOTO AT THE TOP OF THE PAGE: Me and Cookie! Copyright © Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 2012, all rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.