It’s hard to know where to begin to introduce Bernadette Kazmarski. She is a multi-faceted creative spirit: artist, writer, graphic designer, painter, animal advocate, environmentalist. I met Bernadette at the Cat Writers Association conference last November, and I’ve been fascinated by her creations ever since. From commissioned pet portraits to animal inspired merchandise ranging from prints to textiles to greeting cards, looking around Bernadette’s websites are a feast for the senses. It’s my pleasure to introduce this wonderful artist to you today.
Welcome to The Conscious Cat, Bernadette!
Hello, Ingrid, and thank you for inviting me! And also thank you for visiting my website and giving me a “positive review”.
You told me that you have your cats to thank for being an artist. How did they inspire you?
At a time in my life when my artwork was ready to emerge, they were there as my muse. I studied English in college and intended to be a writer and a college professor, and someday take the time to follow my interest in art, but I never thought I had much talent. My career plans changed and I found myself with some time after work as a typesetter at the end of the day, and was moved to try drawing again on my own. I was visualizing sketches of my cats, and I’m convinced that those first sketches were successful because of how I loved my cats. If that family of cats hadn’t been there, I don’t know that I would have continued, or even made a serious start at drawing and painting.
I was first introduced to your work through the sample greeting card you enclosed with the materials at the Cat Writers Conference . My package had Cookie Looks at Me in it, and I thought it was one of the most beautiful cards I’d ever seen. Tell us a little bit about how you came to create the cards.
How wonderful that you, with your special love of tortie cats, got the card featuring my special tortie out of the dozen different samples I had brought with me!
They came from the experience of many losses. I had always had the idea in mind for general animal sympathy cards, but knew I was waiting for a “cat”alyst, inspiration from my cats, and I was also waiting for my design ideas to mature so that I had a diversity of ideas to offer to others instead of my more personal sentiments.
I had lost cats in the past, but endured the loss of most of my household in a short period of time. Between February 2006 to January 2007, I lost my four oldest cats, one to cancer, one to kidney failure, the other two just to old age. Those two, Stanley and Moses, were the last two of the ones who had been with me from those earliest days and seen me begin my career as an artist. They were also my first teachers as I worked to learn about feline health. Moses, the first loss of the four, was 19 and had been feral but was the most gentle creature I’ve ever known, and Stanley, the last loss of the four, was with me for 21 years and came to me as an adult, so he had to be 23 or older, and part of their gift in this was to give me a perspective on my feelings about living with animals through those long, complex relationships.
Then just a few months after Stanley, Lucy, the rescue kitten I’d decided to keep, was diagnosed with effusive FIP at the age of one year, and I lost her three months later, learning the lesson of loss in a relationship in the full bloom of first love.
My Namir was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and congestive heart failure just before all this began, and I lost him in July 2009 after all the others and after four years of caregiving. I had known that his time was limited, and his loss was kind of an ending point for that cycle.
Each time I’d lost a cat, I designed a card dedicated to them and sent it out to friends as a part of my grieving process—I’m an artist, and creating is how I work through everything from joy to sorrow. I also received a number of sympathy cards from friends and saw that not much was available for the loss of an animal companion. Even in their passing they are teachers, and with Namir’s loss I knew the time was right. I pulled together all the photos and some of the art I’d been visualizing, wrote the text from my heart remembering the most comforting things I had heard and thought and said to others in their losses, and put all the cards together. I could hardly work fast enough to keep up with my thoughts.
What is the creative process like for you? Do you paint from live models, memory, or photographs?
I actually work in all three ways to get there, usually a combination of the three in one work I always start from my initial “inspiration” which comes from life, something I’ve seen or experienced, even if the work is not realistic, then if it’s not possible to be able to do the work in that moment, which it usually is not, then I have memory and photographs as reference. In the end I put everything aside and simply intuit the last details that come from my deep, creative self and then I know the painting is finished. All this is true not just for paintings but also writing and photography as well.
Visualization of that finished work is not a conscious act nor is it something I can force, it’s just something that’s always been a part of my consciousness from the time I can remember.
I learned in painting my cats how important this visualization was and that it needs to exist before I can start. I need to see my goal before I start or I don’t know what to do. Not that I can always see it in all its detail, or that I always end up with that initial visualization or force myself to stay with it. I can usually see the medium I’ll use, and this even happened before I knew how to use a medium, like watercolor. All of my images of my own cats were created this way, not just the paintings and sketches but even the block prints and photographs—I saw that beautiful moment that I wanted to share and in that moment saw the finished work. Then I set about enjoying my path to that end. I then applied this to all the other work I do and I’ve found it’s how I instill a part of myself in each one.
Tell us a little about your feline family members.
Oh, my, I don’t know where to begin! I live with nine wonderful cats right now, and I’ve always lived with seven to nine in my household. I’ve rescued and fostered for almost 30 years, and my household has evolved; everyone was a member unless they were adopted out. While I actively took in cats, I’ve never really consciously adopted a cat. I let the universe decide who was to stay and share my life more permanently. You can read many stories from the past by visiting “My Cats” on my website.
Thank you for stopping by The Conscious Cat, Bernadette!