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Today, I’d like to introduce you to Laura Kicey, a graphic designer, illustrator, photographer and artist currently living in quarantine in her house in the Philadelphia suburbs with her partner and their three cats. While not all of Laura’s creative work is about cats, most of it is, “and if it isn’t, it is in the service of cats one way or another,” she says.
I had a chance to ask Laura some questions about her art, her cats, and her work.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’ve always had a cat in my life, one way or another, and have always felt very connected to them. One of my favorite things I learned about my ancestry in the past few years is that my last name, which is Americanized Ukrainian, from the original Киці or Kytsy, means “kitty” in Ukrainian. It was very common for Ukrainian surnames to be related to the natural world/animals, so I come from cat people. Cats have definitely left an impression on me in many ways.
Olive & Rye Cat Art is named after your two cats. Tell us about them.
I adopted Olive and Rye from PAWS in Philly back in 2014 to help heal my heart after losing two cats in six months. Olive, named for her unusual large olive green eyes, is the alien-looking calico who is about seven years old now. She still doesn’t know how to be a cat and enjoys life in her own special way. She is kind of a loner, but she likes napping and playing on her own, talking to herself, as well as the occasional vigorous belly rubs which I administer happily.
Rye is one of our (now two) tortoiseshell cats, and she is the owner of a very fine #peanutbutterfoot. She is about 6 years old and is the nicest, most gentle cat ever – and as we like to say at our house, “the best in the business”. Rye was named for her beautiful rust and brownish black fur that looks like a loaf of marbled rye bread. She is the peacekeeper of the house. If there is something wrong with anyone, she is the first on the scene to take care of you.
The most recent addition was tortie #2, Fig, who is most easily recognized by her voice before you ever see her, but then also by the pink/tan dot on the end of her nose. I met her in 2017 for the first time at the cat-themed event I created and orchestrated for two years, Kittydelphia, where she was a visiting kitten in foster through PAWS. Fig loves to play and chat and be the center of my attention at all times. She is such a creative, intelligent and energetic soul. Fig wants to be part of every conversation, she wants to strategize about hunting for toys and incorporating elaborate jumps to keep things interesting. She is a planner and I appreciate that about her.
When did you first realize you were an artist?
I don’t think I can point to an exact time because I’ve been creating art of some kind for as long as I can remember. I used to draw and study birds as a kid, and I was fascinated with the natural world at large, which has always been a running theme in my artwork. I always enjoyed soaking up as much information about things that interested me as much as I could. Part of learning about many of my favorite subjects was in observing and drawing and making art about those things.
Though I wanted to be an illustrator going into college, I ended up veering towards graphic design and film photography. After school I worked as a graphic designer in New York City. I didn’t have the resources to make a lot of art of any kind for a while. Once I left New York, I got my first little 3MP digital camera, which turned into a source of art-making as well as work for most of 15 years, while also working as a graphic designer.
After I lost my first cat, Maggie, who I had with me for 14 years, I adopted another cat, Hazel, who also passed away only 6 months later of cancer. My relationship with my current cats was molded by these losses. It changed the way I made art and became the focus of my photography as well. I started drawing cat portraits not long after I created an Instagram specifically for my cats in October 2014 so as not to overwhelm my friends with the deluge of photos of my recently adopted Olive and Rye. The cat account @oliveandrye and the portrait making took off side-by-side as I got to know so many humans behind the community of cat-centric accounts on Instagram. So now I live, breathe, dream and draw cats.
What inspired you to paint cats?
See above – I consider it digital drawing rather than painting because I am useless with wet media :). We could call it pixel painting.
Your style is very unique. How did you develop it?
Thank you! I think everything I make – design, videos, animation, photography, writing, and illustration- is all deeply interconnected in my brain in an organic way, and things that have no relation in the world make intriguing connections in my mind. Making art is also a great way for me to get ideas out of my head to make room for other things because I find until I make a piece of art, I will think about making it until I actually do the damn thing … LOL!
I didn’t really learn how to draw with the program I use most, Adobe Illustrator, until after I was finished with college and working as a packaging designer for a perfume and cosmetics brands. It is not quite like a traditional drawing process because it uses vectors which I have best heard described as “drawing with rubber bands,” but it is also a bit like making cut paper illustrations with digital paper. The designer in me was drawn to bright flat colors and bold simple shapes and that was reflected in my earlier cat portraits. They continued to become more complicated and dimensional-feeling as time went on as I started using more gradients and shadows to create shape and depth, more like photography and sculpture in digital space. I like a balance of a little realistic and a little whimsical and stylized, so it is kind of an idealized version of your cat. I’d love to translate portraits into paper shadowbox sculptures if I had the patience, paper, and wrist strength to cut all that!
What is your creative process like?
The research phase is really fun for me. Making associations between concepts and visuals makes my brain light up. I love being lead down strange unexpected trains of thought and reading when I start with a really simple kernel of an idea. I’ve been doing a daily drawing while in quarantine this April, and each day I love thinking about the day’s prompt word and seeing how I can build visuals around that idea that relate to cats and what is happening in my life right now, so it becomes kind of a journal and snapshot of how I feel that day and what is going on. I also have been enjoying talking to my partner about the concepts, which has lead to some really interesting ideas. I feel like living like this in quarantine has forced me to be creative in different ways, with how I interact with everything I come into contact with each day and carefully consider everything in a new light. That goes for everything including art-making down to something as simple as getting a glass of water. I am very fortunate that I have a safe place to live and the ability to continue to do something I love, while awaiting the next shift. Everything I do is an experiment and there are no failures.
You offer custom portraits. Tell us about that process.
When I am working on custom portraits, I love looking through Instagram accounts getting to know both the cat and the human as best I can through how they share their lives in images and video. Which is a little creepy possibly, but I find it inspiring and who can argue with looking at cat photos for work? I approach it kind of like a design project, where I am trying to distill the essence of a cat, their person and their relationship, and make something that feels like it is an extension of that in the most natural way possible. I like that challenge of finding what feels like the right thing for them.
For the person ordering a portrait from me, they can just send me their Instagram account or 4-8 photos of their cat. I like to know the cat’s name. I will ask if you have any specific instructions for the background as far as colors, theme, location, or style. I also like to know if they have a signature pose/behavior you would like to capture or other things you would like to highlight about your cat. Stories about your cats are highly encouraged.
What does a typical day look like for you?
My life before quarantine started has not significantly changed since it began, since I primarily worked from home before for my main graphic design job. I start every day with a shower and breakfast for myself, my partner and cats. We like to sit out on our sun room porch as much as we possibly can, because it is about as close to being outside as any of us can get safely, lately. My job hours have been greatly reduced since this began, so late morning, I will start doing my few daily hours of design work in my home office, surrounded by cats. All of whom I might add are pretty respectful of the work space.
After I finish work part one, I have been making a point of going back on the porch in the early evening so the girls can soak up the golden hour warmth and I play with whoever is interested. After playing and dinner, I move on to the cat drawing shift which usually goes late into the night and involves, sitting on the living room couch under a pile of blankets, cats, my laptop, tablet and stylus. The most major change since #stayathome started is that I used to always be “watching” something on TV while doing this (I use “watching” loosely as I mostly just listen and glance). I have been craving peace these days so the TV has been off, and now I just listen to music or snoring cats while I draw. We were already homebodies, so I feel like this pace and way of life agrees with me. It is absolutely not a bad life to be leading right now and I know how lucky I am. I wish everyone could be so lucky.
Custom portrait sale through the end of April
I am getting a little backed up with portrait orders right now as I have thankfully had quite a few come in over this last month! I am still running a sale on custom portraits through the end of April. I will just keep on fulfilling portraits as they come in. There may be some delay in my starting them in the coming weeks, but I will get to them all!
For more information about Laura’s art, please visit her Etsy Shop or website.You can also find Olive and Rye on Facebook, and follow her cats’ account on Instagram.
15% off all custom portraits on Etsy
Use code QUARANTINE15 at checkout. Sales ends April 30, 2020.
*FTC Disclosure: The Conscious Cat is a participant in Etsy’s affiliate program. This means that if you decide to purchase through any of our links, we get a small commission. We only spread the word about products and services we’ve either used or would use ourselves.