cat art

Book review and giveaway: I am Tama, Lucky Cat

I am Tama, Lucky Cat

I am Tama, Lucky Cat by Wendy Henrichs, with illustrations by Yoshiko Jaeggi, is based on one of the versions of the Japanese legend of Maneki Neko, which literally translated means Beckoning Cat. Maneki Neko is also known as Lucky Cat, Welcoming Cat, or Fortune Cat. 

From the publisher:

Under the shadows of the white-capped mountains of Japan, a white cat with unusual markings arrives at the door of a rundown temple. With little more than a few grains of rice to share, a kind and gentle monk take him in and names him Tama, after the river of the monk’s boyhood memories. As Tama gets accustomed to life in the temple, he promises he will bring good fortune to his new master and the worshippers who come to pray. One afternoon, a mighty spring storm gives Tama the chance to do just that, and he earns the nickname “Lucky Cat.”

Heinrich’s almost lyrical style of telling the story, combined with Jaeggi’s absolutely charming illustrations, create a special magic. I found myself pausing at each page, absorbing the words, and losing myself in the pictures. The drawings of the cat capture feline body language and emotion purrfectly and make you feel like you want to reach out and touch Tama.  

In addition to telling Tama’s story, the book also provides a glimpse into Japanese culture and the teachings of the Buddha. When Tama first arrives at the temple, he realizes that his monk “never considered his own hunger, but looked with compassion upon the hollow cheeks of his people…It was for me and the temple worshippers that he wanted more food…more warmth…more comfort.”

This beautiful book is aimed at children ages 4-8, but I think adults will enjoy it equally as much.

I’m giving away one copy of this book. To enter the giveaway, please leave a comment and let me know why you’d like to win the book. For an additional chance to win, share this giveaway on Twitter or Facebook and share the link in a separate comment. This giveaway ends Friday, August 5.

July 26 update: Wendy Heinrichs generously offered a second copy for this giveaway, and she’ll even personalize and autograph it for the lucky winner!

This book was sent to me by the publisher.

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An interview with Susan Faye, artist, designer and cat lover

Susan Faye loves to create whimsical portraits of cats and their humans.   She lives in the Great Pacific Northwest on the banks of Willamina Creek with a cat or two and a room full of really great art supplies. She has been a professional artist for most of her adult life, and in addition to painting cat ladies, she enjoys painting traditional watercolors and nature studies, and designing hand-crafted giftware and jewelry. She also enjoys gardening, hiking, birdwatching, and photography.

Welcome to The Conscious Cat, Susan.

Thanks Ingrid, I am delighted to be here (in that mysterious and magical cyberspace sort of way!)

How do your cats inspire your art?

I’ve always been enchanted by cats — I love their shiny bright eyes, their beautiful markings and soft fur, their quirky personalities and their apparent ongoing inner battle between devotion and detachment. I’ve always had at least one cat in my life since about the age of 7, so there has been quite a LONG parade of personalities that have inspired me. I must say, however, that I am an equal-opportunity pet lover and have just as much affection for the dogs, guinea pigs, gold fish, parakeets, and the one Bearded Dragon lizard who have shared my home over the years!

While cats are featured prominently in your artwork, you also paint other subjects. What is more challenging – capturing cats, or capturing other images?

On custom portraits, the cats are pretty easy as long as I have a good photo of their markings– the real challenge is to capture the cat lady or feline fella. Unlike photography, which always seems to add 20 lbs, I tend to eliminate about 20 lbs on my subjects when I draw them. The funny thing is, I’ve had at least three different cat ladies ask for me to “fluff them up” a bit to be more representative of their beautiful curves!

I do love drawing and painting cats and cat ladies in an illustrative, whimsical illustration style, but my other true love is painting more traditional watercolor paintings of nature, including birds and botanicals. These paintings are definitely more challenging for me– the ultimate goal is to “capture light” in the painting and maintain a translucence in the color, always a new challenge with each painting!

What is the creative process like for you?

An over-abundance of creative energy seems to always be surging through my veins (almost to the point of obsession, and to the detriment of any reasonable attempt at housekeeping!) which probably came from growing up in a household where building, making, sewing, and decorating things was always going on. My best ideas seem to pop into my head out of nowhere, and I’ve found that the trick is to learn how to “empty out” the analytical, linear, practical left side of your brain so that the creative, intuitive, spatial right side of your brain can just fill up.  If you TRY to fill it up, it won’t happen. If you just “let go”, it will fill up to the point of spilling over.

Once I have an idea, I’ll work on pencil sketches and small studies to work out composition and colors, then transfer the design to watercolor paper with light pencil lines. Then I start filling in sections, layering, and blending with color. It’s a lot like a construction process–you have to think about your foundation and then building up different layers in a certain order. That’s where the analytical side of my brain gets to have some input and feel really useful!

Tell us a little about your feline family members.

I currently have one indoor cat, Buttonwillow, and two semi-feral cuties who live in my carport: Sweet Pea and Mr. Smokey. Buttonwillow was born to Sweet Pea under my house soon after I moved in, but renounced her feral status when she got a taste of the good life indoors. All have since been spayed and neutered. You can find out more about Buttonwillow on my blog– recently she put together a great physical fitness routine for couch potatoes.

You can find more information about Susan’s art on her website, and you can also find many of her wonderful creations on her Etsy page. Susan also hosts a wonderful blog titled 365 Cat Ladies, where she showcases her wonderful creations, including stories about the cat ladies and other animal lovers that she‘s had the pleasure of painting.

Susan is offering a giveaway of one of her beautiful pendants – the winner gets to choose which one.  To enter the giveaway, please leave a comment on this post.  Share the giveaway on Facebook or Twitter and leave the link in a separate comment for another chance to win.  This giveaway ends December 22.

Book Review: Travels with George: Paris by David Stone and Deborah Julian

Most cat parents can relate to this dilemma:  you’re about to go on the vacation of your dreams, and you’re excited – but, you also hate leaving your cats behind.  No matter how well you know they’ll be taken care of in your absence by pet sitters, neighbors or friends, you know you’ll miss them every single day.  But what if you cats could come on vacation with you?  And what if you didn’t even know that they tagged along?

In Travels with George:  Paris:  A Cat’s Eye Adventure, George, a much-loved indoor cat living in a New York City high-rise, and a bit restless in his restricted, secure environment, craves adventure.  When his humans prepare to go on a trip to Paris, he seizes the opportunity and hides himself  in their luggage.  When he next sees the light of day, he finds himself in a Paris hotel room.  Much to his surprise (not to mention his humans’ surprise!), his younger cat friend Billy has stowed away, too.

After the initial surprise wears off for the cats’ humans, and basic needs such as litter box, food and water have been satisfied, the two humans decide that, rather than leaving the two cats in their hotel room all day while they’re off sightseeing, they’ll include them in touring Paris.  The reader follows along as George and Billy discover the beautiful city on the Seine while either being comfortably carried (well, comfortable for the cats, at any rate!) in two secure bags, or walking on harness and leash.  They encounter such sights as the Eiffel Tower, the Champs-Elysee, and the Jardin du Luxembourg (a particular favorite with both cats).  They even get to take a boat ride down the river Seine.

Through the eyes of George, the reader follows along as the two cats and their humans explore the city and gets to experience Paris from a cat’s point of view.  George gets to know aspects of the outside world that he’s only been able to see from his window in the past.  Charmingly told by Stone, and beautifully illustrated with Deborah Julian’s whimsical full-color prints, this book is a delightful fantasy, travelogue and cat story all rolled into one thoroughly enjoyable package.

David Stone is the author of two other works of fiction, The Garden of What Was and Was Not, a counterculture classic, its sequel, Traveling Without A Passport, and of the nonfiction title: A Million Different Things: Meditations of The Worlds Happiest Man.

Deborah Julian is a photographer, innovative artist and art gallery director whose favorite subjects are cats, New York City, and travel.  

An Interview with Deborah Julian, Photographer, Artist and Cat Lover

A Champion Sleeper by Deborah Julian
I came across Deborah Julian’s cat art through an interesting “coincidence” that is a testament to how the internet and social media can lead to some really wonderful connections.  A Google search sent me to an article by Deborah’s husband, writer David Stone.  The article resonated with me deeply, so I clicked on various links throughout the article and realized that David was also a cat lover.  His article on Happy Cats sent me to Deborah’s website, and I took one look at her beautiful art and knew I wanted to introduce her to my Conscious Cat readers.  What I didn’t realize when I contacted Deborah was that not only was she a longtime reader and fan of the Conscious Cat, but she and David has just been talking about getting in touch with me to ask me to review their upcoming book, Travels with George:  Paris, a story about two cats and their adventures.  It is my pleasure to introduce this wonderful artist to you today.

Deborah has lived and worked in New York City for over twenty years, working as a photographer, innovative artist and art gallery director. She began her career in Buffalo, her original hometown, and earned her first degree in Photography at Villa Maria College, where her work was first shown in public. She graduated from Marymount Manhattan College with honors and a degree in Art History. For the last ten years, she has been the director of a fine arts gallery in Manhattan and has continued to sell and exhibit her photgraphs.  

Art and photography were Deborah’s primary passions for many years—until her heart was captured by a smart, funny cat named George. It was love at first sight from the moment they saw each other at the Humane Society of New York. She has since adopted two other terrific cats, Billy and Sammy. Her cats have become part of her art work as she creates colorful, whimsical images and more sober appreciations.

Deborah’s other favorite subjects are New York City, especially the amazing skies she captures as clouds skim the buildings, and travel. Many of her museum quality pictures were captured during trips to Europe and, nearby, while enjoying the views from her own windows. 

Welcome to The Conscious Cat, Deborah. 

How do cats inspire your art?

As a photographer I am an instinctive observer. I enjoy watching our cats and truly admire their spirit and endless curiosity about their world. I love to document their creativity, genuine sense of fun, and enjoyment of life. I’ve come to realize that it’s a reciprocal relationship-they are as interested in our lives are we are in theirs. 

While cats are featured prominently in your artwork, you also photograph other subjects.  What is more challenging – capturing cats, or capturing other images?

Both are challenging. My shooting style begins with observation. Whether it’s a cat image or a street photograph, I try to capture the essence of what I am seeing. My street photographs are created spontaneously. Sometimes I’m attracted to the mood of the moment. When photographing people on the street, I am usually drawn to a pose or expression that seems to tell a story. While shooting on the street I prefer to photograph my subjects while they are unaware of my presence and perhaps lost in thought or activity.

Everything Tastes Better With Cat Hair by Deborah Julian

My cat images are usually inspired by something I have seen my cats do. I delight in watching them play and explore. I often joke that our apartment is basically Disneyland for cats as my husband and I frequently set up boxes, impromptu tunnels and tents and anything else we can think of to engage them.  I’m not sure who enjoys this more—the cats as they explore these things or my husband and I as we watch them.   I try to keep my camera nearby at all times so I can photograph them when they are cute or funny- but that doesn’t always work out. I often try to get them to do something again so I can photograph it.  It can be a challenge to photograph them in the poses I want but it’s also part of the fun. The photo sessions are part of our play time and they have become very used to my camera.

 What is the creative process like for you?

City Cats by Deborah Julian

The cat images are created on my computer.  Often one image is composed of many photographs. I think my images are very painterly as I love to work with color and texture.  It takes a while to get the cat images just right as I want them to be colorful and interesting designs but also to portray realistic cat behavior. The cats enjoy our photo sessions but they do not like the time I spend working on my images on the computer as they are very much aware that I am not paying attention to them. Sammy will often walk across the keyboard while I am working and has been known to ad or subtract a few things from my designs. 

With my street photographs I think I instantly know when I have shot something really interesting. I shoot digitally and will make changes in color saturation and exposure in Photoshop.

Tell us a little about your feline family members.

All three of our cats were adopted from rescue shelters. George was 2 ½ years old when I met him at the Humane Society of NY. His first family gave him up when a child developed allergies to cats. My good fortune, as Georgie has been the perfect cat for me and will undoubtedly be the cat of my life. We’ve developed a very special bond.  When I adopted George I was going through a transitional period. I had some health problems and was dealing with a career change. George definitely helped me with his zest for life and gregarious nature.

Can I Jump That High by Deborah Julian

George has always had an incredible desire for adventure. Dave recognized this from the start and began taking him for supervised walks in the long corridor of our New York City apartment building. I was fairly shy but could not turn George down when he begged for walks when the two of us were home alone together. The first time George and I walked in our hall, neighbors I did not know came out of their apartments and said “Hi George” and smiled at me. George, always one to push the boundaries, discovered he could enter a neighbor’s apartment if their door was left open for more than a second.  Fortunately our neighbors have always been cat lovers who welcomed these visits. One night George, Billy and I were in the hallway together. We were near a neighbor’s door but it appeared to be closed. However, George noticed that the door was not quite shut tight. Not one to let an opportunity pass by, he stood on his back legs, pushed the door open with his front paws and bolted into the apartment while the door slammed shut behind him.  I remember Billy and I looking at each other with the same sense of shock, both of us undoubtedly thinking “Oh no! What did he do?”   Happily, the man who answered the door was laughing at Georgie’s antics. With George’s help I came to know all of our nejghbors, some of whom have become very good friends.

We adopted Billy as a kitten. He had been abandoned and needed a lot of reassurance. He has blossomed into a wonderful, confident cat. Billy has a very sweet disposition and thrives on attention. He is our most vocal cat and has a wide range of sounds, depending on the situation. When we travel our cat sitter tells us he talks to her and she tries to figure out what he is saying. Most likely he is saying that he likes his breakfast a bit earlier and that Sammy’s pouncing is driving him crazy. 

Sammy was adopted three years ago from a terrific group called Zani’s Furry Friends. They rescue animals from New York City’s animal shelters where sadly, they are at risk from euthanasia due to overcrowding. He was skin and bones when he was picked up by the city but extremely friendly. The woman who rescued him called him Stretch because he loves to flop down and stretch out on the floor when he greets people. He is our sweetest cat, in spite of all the trouble he had in his early years. He is affectionate and playful and seems to really appreciate having a family who loves him.   

Thanks for  joining us on The Conscious Cat, Deborah – it sounds like you won’t run out of inspiration anytime soon!

To see more of Deborah’s art, and to purchase prints, notecards and more, please visit her website and her Etsy Shop.