Tortie Girls Block Print Tee Shirts

The Goddess block-printed t-shirtCookie, “The Goddess” block print © B.E. Kazmarski
detail of "the goddess" face

Detail of "The Goddess"

I’ve had several requests about my tortie girls t-shirts lately, so I thought I’d add the ones I have back to my Etsy site. While I am low on sizes I had put them all aside until I could print more and have all sizes available. But considering I print these in oil-based ink and clean up with turpentine I usually wait until I can have the windows open or I can print outdoors, which is March at the earliest. So for now, they are either very large or very small.

As you know, I am unendingly inspired by my houseful of felines, especially my Tortie Girls. I initially designed these in 2001 because I wanted something I could print myself on a variety of things to offer inexpensively for sale and for donation; at the time high quality home printers and inexpensive digital printing were a few years in the future and all I had to offer was original art and expensive giclees.

How the designs came to be

I looked at Cookie on the kitchen floor, on her back with her toes curled, a defiant look on her face, and it happened—that moment of visualization. I could see a linoleum block print in black ink on white rice paper, hand-tinted with oranges and yellows for the patches in Cookie’s tortoiseshell fur and green for her eyes and pink for her nose. I would call the print “The Goddess” for the many women depicted with generous figures in sculpture and painting through the millennia.

With an inspiration that strong, I probably would have done it anyway. I’d worked with small linoleum block prints for years and always enjoyed the medium, but this time I decided I wanted something larger and I might actually create a series—which led to “The Roundest Eyes” depicting my other tortie, Kelly, a few months later.

Capturing all Cookie’s freckles and spots and stripes was indeed a challenge, especially when I went to actually cut them out of the surface of the linoleum block. Below, compare the reference photo and the print.

tortie cat on back

Reference photo for "The Goddess"

Cookie, "The Goddess" block print © B.E. Kazmarski

“The Goddess”
Well, everyone knows a fat cat who knows she’s beautiful, and Cookie would tell you that a woman with a round shape was once most desirable and an object of worship. That’s why I call her “The Goddess”.

From the time I first described it to someone, who chuckled at the idea of the image, I knew Cookie was a winner. And through the years she has continued to bring people and stories to my display no matter where I am—everyone knows a cat who looks like Cookie!

block print of tortoiseshell cat

The Roundest Eyes, linoleum block print © B.E. Kazmarski

“The Roundest Eyes”
Sometimes when I look at Kelly the only feature I can distinguish in all those tortie markings is her extremely round eyes.

detail of the roundest eyes block print

Detail of "The Roundest Eyes"

In designing the set, I didn’t have a signature photo of Kelly as I did Cookie lying on the floor, but I did know how I thought of Kelly—sitting at attention, paws and tail neatly placed, a little uncertain and with very round eyes. When I pictured her, this was what I saw.

I began with a few photos of Kelly sitting in this position—in the days before digitals so I had to wait for film to be developed—sketched it out, then filled in the details by observation. It was a real trick since Kelly never sits still for too long. And I actually wanted two different orientations so Cookie was the horizontal image and Kelly the vertical one.

The design of “The Roundest Eyes” doesn’t have a long and detailed story as does “The Goddess”, but between the two, while Cookie gets more notice and stories, Kelly sells more t-shirts and prints…we just don’t let Cookie know that.

Where to find the tees

I have all the tees available in my Etsy shop under T-shirts and Apparel.

About Block Printing

I really enjoy working in this medium and I can free myself from the traditional media and a greater realism in rendering. Linoleum block printing is a technique wherein the artist carves the surface of a piece of artist’s linoleum, leaving raised areas which will become the image. Ink is rolled onto these raised areas, then a piece of paper is pressed against the block and when it’s lifted away the ink remains, leaving the image on the paper.

The resulting work isn’t a one-time thing, but meant to be printed multiple times–and I do, on just about anything I can think of. They all start out on paper, but they’ve been printed on t-shirts and dresses and aprons and curtains, to name a few things. I nearly always add color to The Tortie Girls with watercolor or dyes since that was part of the original design, and I’ll often add color to other designs to give them extra interest. I do like the look of The Tortie Girls just in black on white paper, though, and I’ll be printing up a few of those soon. The resulting work, even though they are all printed from the same block, is a unique print, still handmade by the artist.

Because of the nature of the medium, each print is unique and ink coverage is not always perfect. Most artists consider this random activity to be part of the process of creating an individualized print, and along with the hand-painting makes a unique work of art.

The designs without color

See what you think about what these designs look like without the color added. I love the simplicity of black on white, it’s what I love about a block print. I have a few shirts without the color as well, and they look really sharp matted and framed with a rich red mat (sorry for the wrinkles in the wrap, below) and a black frame.

block print of cat

The Goddess, linoleum block print © B.E. Kazmarski

matted block print of cat

The Roundest Eyes, linoleum block print without color © B.E. Kazmarski

Matted and framed

framed block print of tortoiseshell cat

The Goddess

framed block print of tortoiseshell cat

The Roundest Eyes

Each image is 8″ x 12″, with mat and frame outside dimensions 14″ x 18″, horizontal or vertical as shown in the photo.

They are double matted with a warm cream on top and 1/4″ pumpkin orange as a liner.

The frame is 1″ wide, solid matte black; these vary as the moulding is available, but it is always wood and always has a matte black finish.

Find the girls in my Etsy shop under “Prints”.

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