My Award, Your Win, “Allegro Moderato”

Allegro Moderato, pastel, 14 x 20 © Bernadette E. Kazmarski

Allegro Moderato, pastel, 14 x 20 © Bernadette E. Kazmarski

Awards were announced in the Cat Writers’ Association 2018 Communications Contest on Saturday, May 18, during the three-day conference in St. Louis. I didn’t get to go to the conference and missed not only the awards banquet but also the speakers and seminars, networking, meeting with editors and seeing all the other cat writers and creatives I correspond with on social media. I did get to watch the awards presentation live online, though, and that was pretty exciting. Among other awards I won for my art and writing featuring cats, I won a special award for this painting.

The Kuykendall Image Award is sponsored by the CWA and “presented for the outstanding ‘image’ entry featuring cats – whether photography, illustration, or graphic art. This may be a single piece or series entry, including, but not limited to, photos/artwork published in a magazine, newspaper, newsletter, book, pamphlet, calendar, poster, greeting card, or commercial online publication.”

Since this category is so general—images can come from anywhere and appear for any reason, from an illustration to an image on social media to a painting done by choice—there are many entries. This painting with its memory of Allegro and associations with T.S. Eliot and his poetry and cat imagery, and finally painting this very real moment after 30 years, is very special to me on many levels, and it fills a special spot in my heart that it was chosen for this award. (You can read about the other awards here on The Creative Cat.)

My Award, Your Win

From now until the end of May 2019, get 25% off any item with this image.

Right now it’s just the original and prints, but also right now, I’m making new gift items for upcoming shows and vendor events, and this art will be on tiles and plaques and a few other things.

Use coupon code: ALLEGROMODERATO25

About the painting

Some paintings wait decades to be painted, and when they have their chance they press on until they are fully realized. This was one of those paintings, one that monopolized four days of my life in October 2018. I am not complaining in the least.

One afternoon in 1988, I walked into my living room and immediately saw Allegro stretched out napping on the piano bench. I’d gotten up from playing to do something, intending to come back since my music was still out and the light was on. You know how cats are. I loved him for what he’d done, and for the inspiration of that moment, and ran to get my camera. The lighting, the deep shadows that I so love to fill with colors, I loved to play the piano, and sharing that with the cat who had a musical name was so perfect I knew I had to paint it. Here is a detail of the special part.

My orange boy Allegro came to me in 1986 and left in 1996. I probably took the reference photos of Allegro napping on my piano bench in winter 1988 and intended to paint it right away, as I had painted Fawn in “Waiting for Mom” and Moses in “Sunday Morning” in 1988 from recent photos. Once I’d started painting cats, I wanted to paint cats all the time, and thought I should always have a sketch or painting in the works to keep myself learning and progressing in my skills. In fact, I know I’d planned some sort of painting of each of the cats in my life at that time, and from that concept I’ve built my own personal collection of portraits of my cats, mostly large, usually detailed and scenic, capturing a moment, including “Are You Looking At Me?”, “Peaches and Peonies” and “Sleeping Beauty”, and smaller paintings like “After Dinner Nap”, “Darling Clementine” and “A Warm Bath”.

But in 1989 I learned I had to move from my rented house and after looking for other rentals I decided my best deal was to buy a house instead, and so I moved here, which occupied my time for almost a year. Everything was packed up, including my photos which were not unpacked until years later. I began painting again, but using newer photos. And I sold my piano because this house was so small, an act I regretted even before the piano was sold.

But I never forgot this image. About a decade ago when I pulled out all my older photos and organized recent and older I found the reference photos and vowed I would paint Allegro.

Allegro Moderato, detail.

Allegro Moderato, detail.

I named him Allegro because, as a kitten, he was. As an adult he moderated a bit, so he became Allegro Moderato. Also, while he was tall, rangy and muscular, he could be amused for hours by a speck on the wall or a short line I drew on a piece of paper in marker, and he really couldn’t figure out the first cat track toys available, so other parts of him moved a little more slowly as well. He had no idea of his size, and no concept of personal space for me or other cats, and was often soundly chastened by cats much smaller than he was. But there was never a nicer cat than Allegro.

I created a composite from the photos, and determined that I would paint this painting. Allegro is an October cat because he is orange and I lost him in October, and because of the feline imagery of the yellow fog which T.S. Eliot, a favorite poet and author of Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, which was also adapted into the musical Cats, had written into his poem The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock:

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

But one October after another has come and gone, and I’ve painted other paintings, but not Allegro. Each year I decide I’m going to paint this painting, October comes, and I run out of time and decide not to rush it. “I have a whole year to do it for next October.”

I did that this year too. Last year I ended up painting a small painting of Allegro for the September painting challenge and decided that would suffice for last year. This year my September was too complicated for the painting challenge, but I decided I would spend the month on this painting. I did not. I wanted to use it for my monthly featured artwork and desktop calendar, but told myself I’d have to choose something else, and I could do it for next year.

But this year something indicated to me that I wasn’t going to pass it by once again. The last days of September came and I decided, yes, I not only should do this painting, I needed to. I create so many other images and portraits but I really needed to do a painting for me, just for me to enjoy the act of creating, and enjoy having the memory, revisiting and building the image of a precious moment with one of my cats, done by my hand. I couldn’t choose another piece of artwork. I would do this painting.

So that was September 29. I might not get it done because these paintings typically take me weeks of small work periods among other things, but this one wasn’t going to happen that way. I was apparently going to put everything aside and work on this painting. I’ve never done that. I looked forward to it.

But the biggest hurdle, taking more time than the painting itself, was deciding on which image to paint. I had always remembered the vertical image, but at some point in the past I had created a horizontal image, a little more intimate with Allegro and the piano. Which one did I like better? Allegro and the piano and the light? Or the whole scene that had inspired me in the first place?

For the next three days, I kept looking at one and then the other, deciding on one and then the other, and letting it take the time it needed. I know better than to start on a painting when there is the least little bit of indecisiveness in me, because if I’m not fully committed I will remain indecisive and regret it. At one point I had the horizontal image ready to go, then changed my mind again. In the end, the image that kept coming to mind whenever I thought of painting this painting was the one you see here.

And actually painting it was very different too. My typical style of painting is to work out the entire thing at once, to possibly sketch out the scene, then start filling in with areas of color and value, or just to start blocking it in, no matter the medium. I then work my way over it in layers of detail so I keep it consistent all across the image. And I rarely work more than four hours on a painting—that seems to be about as much as my back, eyes, hands and shoulders can take, and also my creative intellect and color sense. I have to go off and recharge.

Allegro was so determined not to be left out once again that I sketched out the scene, then started at the top of the painting and worked my way down to the bottom in full detail in one sweep, eight hours the first day, four hours the second.

I began to add the figures on the sheet music after determining that I would add legible text, and thought how years ago I had thought I’d compose a little piece of music to accompany the painting. Maybe someday I will.

Allegro, detail of music.

Allegro, detail of music.

Just as I began adding the text to the music book that afternoon a storm came up and before I could close my windows it sprayed the painting with little dots of water leaving dark spots in the dry pastel, which needed to dry completely before I could go on. After an hour and the storm just about over, I brushed out the little dark dots and repaired any areas that needed to be repaired, and finally, it was done.

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