Three Black and White Cats, watercolor, 12 x 12 © Bernadette E. Kazmarski

Three Black and White Cats, Watercolor

This is a print of my painting, Three Black and White Cats, Watercolor, 12″ x 12″, 1992 © Bernadette E. Kazmarski.



About the artwork

Three Black and White Cats, watercolor, 12 x 12 © Bernadette E. Kazmarski

Three Black and White Cats, watercolor, 12 x 12, 1`992 © Bernadette E. Kazmarski

“These three were littermates, and were rarely seen far from each other. My customer had commissioned it as a gift for her parents—she had given them the cats as kittens, and they lived to their teens. The positioning is a little odd, but this was a gift, and this was the only photo available, and it ended up making a very interesting portrait.”

That’s what I had to say back in 1992 when I painted this portrait and began to set up my artwork portfolios. But I didn’t tell the whole story of the genesis of this portrait, and the lesson I learned about composition and working with photos when I worked on this portrait, lessons I’ve used with every portrait since.

It’s one of the rare portraits where I started painting and decided it wouldn’t work, abandoned that initial effort and started over, and so I have two portraits of these three black and white cats.

I decided to frame and sell that original watercolor as well as prints and greeting cards and who knows what else. When I took it out this time I added a little shading around the cats so their white parts didn’t fade into the peach background, and cropped it to 12″ x 12″.

Learning a lesson with working from photos

One of the things I remembered one of my art teachers telling us somewhere along in school was that there are no mistakes, you should always try to make your work “work”. It’s a lesson in flexibility, learning to change your vision and reimagining a work. When I recommitted myself to working as an artist in the mid-80s I had two rules that I felt would help me be successful:

  • Don’t abandon a work and start over.
  • Don’t abandon a work and never return to it.

In the first case, you can decide you don’t like something in your work and start over a dozen times because there will always be something you don’t like. In the second it’s difficult to take a work seriously if you don’t commit to finishing it, and sometimes it means you don’t take yourself seriously. In both cases you learn far more about your skills and what skills you need to develop by “working it out”, and you develop your own self-esteem and pride in your work by finishing everything you start. The lesson for me was to take the time to really understand what I wanted to say with a work, to explore it thoroughly in my mind, whether it was a commission or not, and found that also helped me build my skills because I didn’t start wandering mid-composition, and I would be forced to experiment as I was painting. I still observe both of these today, and they made me successful in both my commercial design career as well as my fine art career.

And in summary, “perfect” is a myth. Your work will never be perfect because each of us sees things differently, and even we see things differently moment to moment. Give it up, it is what it is. Go and work on another.

About this portrait

I’ve always loved this portrait from way back at my beginnings, the simple attentiveness of three tuxedo siblings to their human. I’ve come to love that position of animals looking up because it’s so familiar, it’s what we see all the time. This was one of the first, though, and most portraits have the subjects more or less at eye level, looking at them front-on, not from above, and in fact I remember it being discouraged somewhere I’d read in my study of portraiture.

Also, most other animal portrait artists I’d seen used the photo exactly as it was given to them, and I didn’t always care for the result. So what did you do when you received a photo that didn’t fit those parameters? I didn’t know what to do, in part because I didn’t want to change an image they obviously treasured, and to date I’d always worked with references that were exactly what I needed. Even if I’d had to take a ton of photos myself or stacks of photos from the animals’ people (in fact, I asked for all the photos my customers had) I could always piece together an acceptable view. But this was the only photo they had, and spotted cats’ spots are very specific. I couldn’t just make it up, and I wasn’t skilled enough yet to do what I do now and turn them facing front.

Part of my working through this conundrum is seen in my first attempt at this portrait, and that’s the part I’ve never shared, unintentionally. I loved the clear black and white on a simple colored background, which reminded me of some of my ink sketches of black and white cats. I was new to watercolor, but the commissioned size was too big for ink for my comfort and I decided I could paint it as a watercolor instead of a pastel.

I set it up as a 12 x 16 using the exact photo, lightly drew the cats onto my favorite heavy watercolor board, and painted them in, adding the peach background at the request of my customer. When I got to this point I taped it up to the wall to get a perspective. How did I not realize it would look as if the middle cat was hanging upside down?! How could I make a mistake like that? It was one of the first times I realized that some things work in photos, and some things don’t. Today, I would find this perfectly acceptable, but at the beginning of my career, and with a lot of compositional guidelines on what portraits, especially pet portraits, should look like, this just would not do.

I traced out the cats in the photo, cut them out and laid them out individually on paper, changing the angle of the center cat until it looked more natural for a painting hanging on a wall. I liked it, and decided to go with it. But I couldn’t change the watercolor I’d started and knew I’d have to start over. I didn’t have another sheet of the watercolor paper I preferred and I knew I couldn’t get one in time to get this portrait done and frame it for Christmas, so I decided to go back to my most familiar medium, pastel, and produced this portrait.

Three Black and White Cats, pastel, 16 x 22, 1992 © Bernadette E. Kazmarski

Three Black and White Cats, pastel, 16 x 22, 1992 © Bernadette E. Kazmarski

Purchasing prints

SHIPPING

Shipping within the US is included in all the prices listed. All shipping is via Priority Mail. Prints are shipped flat in a rigid envelope. Canvases are shipped in a box to fit with padding. Since this original is small it is also shipped in a box with extra padding.

GICLEE PRINTS

The giclees are printed on acid-free hot press art paper for a smooth matte finish using archival inks. Giclee is the highest quality print available because the technique uses a dozen or more ink ports to capture all the nuances of the original painting, including details of the texture, far more sensitive than any other printing medium. Sometimes my giclees look so much like my originals that even I have a difficult time telling them apart when they are in frames. The giclees have 2″ of white around the outside edges.

I don’t keep giclee prints in stock for most of my works. Usually I have giclees printed as they are ordered unless I have an exhibit where I’ll be selling a particular print so there is a wait of up to two weeks before receipt of your print to allow for time to print and ship.

DIGITAL PRINTS

Digital prints are made on acid-free matte-finish natural white 100# cover using archival digital inks. While digital prints are not the quality of a giclee in capturing every nuance and detail of color, texture and shading, I am still very pleased with the outcome and usually only I, as the artist, could tell where detail and color were not as sharp as the original.

CANVAS PRINTS

I have canvases printed as they are ordered so I rarely have any on hand. Smaller canvases are a 3/4″ in depth, canvases 12 x 16 and larger are 1-1/2″ in depth. I set them up so the image runs from edge to edge, then the sides are black or white or sometimes I slip in a color that coordinates with the painting.

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