Category Archives: new designs

Holiday Cards: Winter Beauty, My Favorite Season for Painting

painting on card

Solstice, pastel © B.E. Kazmarski

Winter is my favorite season for painting. These paintings were inspired by winter in pastel, watercolor and pen and ink from the trails to my backyard, completed en plein air and indoors—often standing on my deck or sitting in the front seat of the car—illuminated by the stark light of winter. Many of them were just small sketches while others were large, detailed studio paintings in an attempt to capture the essence of a winter scene.

Inside, all cards say, “Wishing you warm thoughts and happy memories in this holiday season, and an astonishingly beautiful new year to come.” With a minimum order of four dozen they can also be customized with your message or logo (please convo on Etsy).

These 5″ x 7″ cards are printed on 14 pt. gloss card stock and include a matching envelope, 1 each of the eight designs shown, packed in a clear-top white cardboard greeting card box.

ABOUT THE ARTWORK

dusk in the woods

Dusk in the Woods, pastel © B.E. Kazmarski

Dusk in the Woods
Pastel • 2006
The last moment of true daylight when the eye can still perceive color; “that blue time”, lasting only moments, but full of the magic of the reality of day and the spirits of night.
A spot near Robinson Run in Collier Township, PA

 

winter pastel painting

After the Snow Squall, pastel © B.E. Kazmarski

After the Snow Squall
Pastel • 2003
A fresh snowfall, just as the clouds part and the sun appears.

 

pastel painting of winter

Morning Snow 1, pastel © B.E. Kazmarski

Morning Snow I
Pastel • 1998
We only get heavy snows every few winters here in Western Pennsylvania, so being able to revel in the sparkling beauty of a winter morning after a heavy snowfall provided much inspiration. This scene and Morning Snow II are actually in my suburban backyard. I was fascinated at the multitude of colors in the early morning sunlight as it reflected on the snow, and in the colors in the shadows.

 

pastel painting of winter

Morning Snow 2, pastel © B.E. Kazmarski

Morning Snow II
Pastel • 1998
We only get heavy snows every few winters here in Western Pennsylvania, so being able to revel in the sparkling beauty of a winter morning after a heavy snowfall provided much inspiration. This scene and Morning SnowII are actually in my suburban backyard. I was fascinated at the multitude of colors in the early morning sunlight as it reflected on the snow, and in the colors in the shadows.

ink and watercolor painting of winter

Sticks and Slopes, pastel © B.E. Kazmarski

Sticks and Slopes
Ink and Watercolor • 2006
One of our many hillsides reduced to lines and shadows by the afternoon sun.

pastel painting of winter

Tracks in the Snow, pastel © B.E. Kazmarski

Tracks in the Snow
Pastel • 2004
Someone sheltered under my spruce in the storm.

pastel painting of winter

Solstice, pastel © B.E. Kazmarski

Solstice
Pastel • 2003
The moment when the sun stands still, as it seemed to at this frigid, snow-covered winter dusk,
spruces standing dignified sentinel to the moment of transition. (This is another of those beautiful places that isn’t there anymore.)

pastel painting of winter

Winter, pastel © B.E. Kazmarski

Winter
Pastel • 1996
A cold and snowy winter sunset on a friend’s farm.

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Holiday Cards: Nature’s Peaceful Beauty

crabapples on a branch

Little Apples, photo © B.E. Kazmarski

Walking in the quiet of a winter day I see some of the most beautiful scenes, from my own back yard, to my neighborhood, town, trails and woods. My joy is to bring not just the scene but the entire milieu back to my studio in an image—a tall order for a photograph or painting, but now and then I manage to capture the essence.

These two sets of four designs based on photography are more “seasonal” than “holiday”, and evoke the two concepts I pursue with my nature photography.

Unexpected Berries

“Unexpected Berries” is a careful study of surprising details others may not notice, the splash of color in the muted landscape of winter that holds my gaze for as long as my tired eyes will enjoy its gift as “nature provides a respite for the weary eye.

Above is “Little Apples”, small wild apples hang like brightly-colored ornaments on wild trees whipped bare from winter winds, decorating the gray branches on an overcast day.

Below is “Icy Berries” decorating one of the trees on Main Street in Carnegie, iced over by a winter storm, their brilliant, rich color preserved.

small red crabapples on icy branches

"Icy Berries", photo © B.E. Kazmarski

And one of my long-time favorites, “Crabapples” decorate bare branches in a cluster of trees growing by railroad tracks; who would think to look here for such beauty?

crabapples on branches

Crabapples, photo © B.E. Kazmarski

From my own backyard is “Unexpected Berries”, found on Christmas morning after a heavy snow, the bright red hulls clinging to my burning bush while the seeds withing long gone to my avian visitors.

red berries in snow

Unexpected Berries, photo © B.E. Kazmarski

Outside they advise “nature provides a respite for the weary eye”. Inside the cards reads, “Wishing you color on the coldest day of winter, and an astonishingly beautiful new year.” All cards are 5″ x 7″ and come with a matching envelope, three each of the four designs in a clear-top stationery box. You can find this set in my Etsy shop.

Winter Walks

card design with snowy scene

Homeward Bound, photo © B.E. Kazmarski

Of all the inspiring scenes I’ve found on my “Winter Walks”, these are the ones that stayed with me afterward as I remembered one of my favorite quotes from Henry David Thoreau: “Take long walks in stormy weather or through deep snows in the fields and woods, if you would keep your spirits up. ~Henry David Thoreau, naturalist and author”.

Above is “Homeward Bound”, found after a major ice storm in Settler’s Cabin Park in Collier Township, PA.

Below is “Arching Branches”, a scene along Chartiers Creek near Bridgeville, PA.

branches arching over creek

Arching Branches, photo © B.E. Kazmarski

Walking through the local woods after a snow I found a wonderful “Snowy Abstract”.

branches with snow

Snowy Abstract, photo © B.E. Kazmarski

And visiting the Panhandle Trail near Oakdale, PA I found these delicate branches “Encased in Ice”.

icy branches

Encased in Ice, photo © B.E. Kazmarski

And on the inside, “May your spirits be lifted by the beauty of nature this holiday season and in the new year.” You can find this set in my Etsy shop.

See also:
Holiday Cards: Greetings From Our Backyard Birds
Feline-themed Holiday Cards


Holiday Cards: Greetings From Our Backyard Birds

pastel painting of blue jays in tree

Jammin Jay Blues, pastel © B.E. Kazmarski

“That would make a great card!”

That’s usually how I decide which of my paintings or photos will end up as a greeting card or note card, following the advice of someone’s suggestion.

When it comes to my birds, many of the paintings and photos are from winter, when the birds are simply easier to see, but also one of my favorite seasons for painting and photography. So this year, I decided to make up two sets of cards for the holidays—and possibly beyond—from the paintings and photos that received the most comments.

Backyard Birds

I truly love winter paintings because the light is wonderful without the shadows from trees, the reflections from the snow illuminating shadowed areas with soft purples and blues, and the patterns made by bare branches are mesmerizing. This set of four paintings of birds are ones I’d done “from life”, actually standing at a window inside or at my back door rather than en plein air, but I wanted to catch that moment of light and color.

Above is “Jammin’ Jay Blues”, my impression of a bunch of noisy blue jays making a racket in the bare branches of the mulberry. In the winter light, their blue feathers have an extra glow that I don’t notice in summer, and between the color and the sound they occasionally fill my backyard with what feels like a celebratory parade, when all they are celebrating is the sliced apples I’ve stuck on twigs in the tree.

Below is “Snowbird”, the common name for a dark-eyed junco, as it clings to along branch of the forsythia in heavy snowfall, apparently living up to its name. They appear in my backyard each year in October and stay until April, and I love their simple little silhouettes, tiny rounded bodies, short beaks and tails, and that white spot on their bellies that looks as if they’d been dipped in white paint before they left the factory.

pastel painting of junco

Snowbird, pastel © B.E. Kazmarski

This is “Birds in Snow”, inspired by the sparrows and doves that feed on the ground under the feeder outside my front door. To one side of the feeder is a huge spruce, providing cover and safety for many, many birds, and watching them twittering on the branches, then dropping down for seeds one by one and pecking around in the snow in a big crowd, then suddenly all of them flapping back up into the spruce as if signaled by something only to begin the process again is like watching waves on the beach.

pastel painting of birds in snow

Birds in Snow, pastel © B.E. Kazmarski

And here is “Accent”, a single cardinal in the branches and brambles touched with snow at the end of the yard. This is the “safe spot” for birds and small animals as I’ve let the wild grapevines, rapberries and blackberries and Roses of Sharon grow into a dense tangled mass which is excellent protection from predators. A heavy snowfall with layer each branch with white and the play of light and shadow in the mass of branches creates one of nature’s lovely patterns. Where most of my drawing surfaces have some texture, for this one I added marble dust and grit and gave the surface a rough brushed appearance which turned out to be perfect for capturing the feeling of branches and snow.

pastel painting of cardinal in branches

Accent, pastel © B.E. Kazmarski

Inside, all cards say, “Wishing you warm thoughts and happy memories in this holiday season, and an astonishingly beautiful new year to come.” While I’m offering these for the holidays, they are wonderful all-purpose greeting cards as well and I’ll keep them available through spring in my Etsy shop.

Cardinals Brighten Up a Snowy Day

Of all the birds that visit my backyard, the male American Cardinal is the showiest, and my photos of these have had the most comments—especially, “That would make a great Christmas card!” One of these days I’ll get a few of the girls in the snow—though they aren’t as showy they are still colorful and very dignified, but don’t position themselves in the same way as the guys. So, here we are, a set of cards designed with a little red and green flair that makes it look like a Christmas card as well. Inside they all say, “May your holiday season be merry and bright!”

I think this guy was posing because he sat there for the longest time in the same position. Okay, I get it, I’ll take your picture!

photo of cardinal in forsythia

Cardinal in Forsythia, photo © B.E. Kazmarski

I had wanted a photo that had a significant amount of green along with the red of the cardinal and the snow, and this cardinal obliged.

photo of cardinal in snow

Cardinal in Yew, photo © B.E. Kazmarski

Just the cardinal’s red color against an overcast sky and very little else.

photo of cardinal on branch

Cardinal on a Branch, photo © B.E. Kazmarski

Five male cardinals were flitting all over the yard during the snowfall. I only managed to catch three in one shot, but it was a favorite.

photo of cardinals in snow bush

Three Cardinals, photo © B.E. Kazmarski

Since I added the red and green decorations, these are pretty much limited to the holiday season.

You can find all of these in my Etsy shop.

See also:
Holiday Cards: Nature’s Peaceful Beauty
Feline-themed Holiday Cards


Halloween Cards Featuring the Fantastic Four

halloween card

Madame Mewsette will tell your For-tuna

As an artist I turn to my surroundings for creative output, and what better to do with a family of five black cats during the festive Halloween season? I posted many of these photos on my blog, The Creative Cat, for my daily photos during 2010. Each of the cats depicted here is one of this wonderful family except the calico who belongs to my neighbor–and I just had to use that photo! My cats have no choice, especially “if they like to eat” as I always tell them when they roll their eyes about being my models.

I will remark that I don’t like to associate black cats with Halloween for various reasons, but I didn’t pose a single one—when I got out the pumpkins they obligingly posed! But it’s never a bad thing to have cats of any color or pattern on a greeting card for any holiday!

I sell them as individuals and as a set of six.

Madame Mewsette Will Tell Your For-tuna

This card, “Madame Mewsette Will Tell Your For-tuna” features Miss Mewsette.

This is what Mewsette is dressed up as to celebrate this evening’s events. And she didn’t even have to put on one embarrassing garment or accessory.

When I attended Catholic grade school, we were to dress up as our patron saint for All Hallow’s Eve, and dressing up as St. Bernadette was pretty easy for me as I already tended to wear peasant-style clothing and St. Bernadette didn’t suffer any dire injuries or horrible torture like some of the other saints, she just lived to be very old, despite Lourdes.

Well, I think Mewsette is dressed up as one of her patron kitties—she is quiet and introspective, unlike her brothers, and I can just see her in the role of a familiar or a gypsy fortune-teller!

halloween card

Enter: Three WITCHES

Enter: Three WITCHES

This card, “Enter: Three WITCHES” features Miss Mewsette, her mom Mimi and her brother Giuseppe.

Guess the kids have been getting into my literature textbooks again. I thought my Riverside Shakespeare was too heavy for them, but there is no getting in the way of a determined reader. Now that they’ve mastered Act 1, Scene 1 of MacBeth, I can’t wait to see how they interpret Scene 2.

Maybe reading to them as kittens really did work.

Actually, Mimi, Mewsette and Giuseppe were gathered around the lamp “to keep warm” as they said, because the temperature was all of about 65 degrees. Time to get out the cozy beds!

halloween greeting card

Boo!

Boo!

This card, “Boo!” features Lucy from a few years ago. Sadly, I lost Lucy to FIP when she was 15 months old so she never had the chance to develop her career as all my other cats have, so I love to use her image in a creative endeavor whenever possible.

halloween card

I Dare You!

I Dare You

This card, “I Dare You” features my next-door neighbor’s calico cat, who could have a bit of an attitude as you can see by her expression, but I enjoyed her visits for the brief time they let her outside. She had unique markings—her face, legs and tail are calico including white paws, but her torso is tortoiseshell.

halloween card

Silhouettes

Silhouettes

This card features the Harvest Moon just photographed in September 2011, and the silhouettes of two of my five black cats in a wordless design. I wanted to incorporate this year’s Harvest Moon in at least one design, and kept it simple with the solid black background and just the silhouettes of two of my black cats but in the pale orange of the moon, light against dark instead of dark against light.

halloween cards

We Three Pumpkins

We Three Pumpkins

This card, “We 3 Pumpkins” features my photos of jack-o-lanterns. The Rennerdale Youth Group carves more than 100 pumpkins donated by Beccaris Farm Market, and the Collier Girl Scouts set out and light the jack-o-lanterns along a half-mile stretch of the Panhandle Trail from the bridge near the Walkers Mill trailhead to the Sunnyside entrance.

I photograph the pumpkins every year, and enjoy seeking out the feline-themed pumpkins.

They are all on Etsy

These 5″ x 7″ cards are printed on 14 pt. gloss card stock and include a matching envelope, packed in a clear-top white cardboard greeting card box. Cards are blank inside but can be customized with your message (please convo on Etsy). I sell them as individuals and as a set of six.


Just a Few Aprons Left!

two ladies wearing aprons with cats

The Tortie Girls aprons make their debut, modeled by Maggie and Diane!

When it comes to the handmade goods you see on the internet and at shows and festivals, did you ever wonder how the artist developed that item from an idea into a product you can purchase? The path is often less than direct, but most people who make things have the incentive of sharing what they’ve made with people who would enjoy it.

block print curtain

Detail of The Goddess curtain

I won’t go all the way back to the genesis of these block prints. I designed them and cut the blocks about 12 years ago, beginning with prints on paper but always intending to move out to other products, like the t-shirts I recently sold to benefit Japan in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami; I’ve also printed them on curtains, tablecloths, place mats, scarves and other textiles to pleasing success with each—and I can’t wait for this summer’s printing sessions, now that the weather is good.

printed aprons on hangers

Cookie aprons drying out on the deck.

But I always wanted to print on an apron! A nice full apron with ties around the back of the neck. I don’t know why, but it may have been the popularity of the other kitchen items with the girls on them that encouraged me, or it may have been the cat-themed aprons I received as gifts.

Sometimes I’ll make my own products to print on, as I did with the place mats and table cloths and a few curtains, but those were unique sizes and shapes. The apron, well, I’ve made aprons in the past, and I knew I really didn’t want to make a dozen aprons for this project.

printed aprons drying on hangers

Kelly gets her turn.

So that left me to shop the market for blank aprons. I considered looking for one or two in local stores, but retail items are prepared for display and sale and always have a little—or a lot—bit of sizing in them which is difficult to print on and impossible to paint on with cold-set fabric paints, as I discovered when I purchased a package of tees and tried to print on them. I had to over-ink the block, and the dye rolled right off. This also happened with most tablecloths and curtains. I could wash it, but then I’d have to press it out completely to look like new, and while I actually enjoy ironing, that was a little more time than I wanted to spend on a t-shirt, in part because I also noticed they weren’t as heavy or as well-made as the blanks I usually purchased. I considered it a disaster and decided I wouldn’t waste my time again.

tortoiseshell cat image on apron

The Goddess on an apron!

But there are companies that sell blank items for just this purpose; my favorite is Dharma Trading Company. I always look for fair trade items made from organic materials by someone who was paid a living wage to make the thing; I don’t mind paying for that and generally my customers don’t mind paying for it, either, and we all support each other. Dharma always has these fair-trade options, but the aprons were always a little more than I wanted to pay and I decided I’d wait until they came down in price.

tortoiseshell cat image on an apron

Kelly already watches everything I do in the kitchen.

Just in the past year, the aprons came down in price, and a customer going out of business handed me a half dozen blank aprons that were more than acceptable saying, “I’ll bet you can do something with these!”

Indeed! The white cotton duck aprons were pretty close to what I would have chosen, and you can’t beat “free”! The only thing was to wait for good weather since I still need to use my oil-based ink on textiles, and the smell of the ink (smells like an oil spill) and turpentine (even the “safe” stuff smells) is not something I want to fill my basement with, not to mention it’s flammable. So for safety’s sake, I wait for a day that’s at least 50 degrees and sunny, and print as much as I can.

We had one of those days in March, and I had everything ready as the temperature began to rise; I also had to print a few Tortie Girls t-shirts people had ordered in sizes I thought I had but did not, and I was nearly out of prints on paper which I also need to print in oil-based ink to resist the watercolor I paint into them.

ghosted printed image

Detail of the ghosted image.

So I started with the old familiar rice paper and got the block all warmed up with those, then went to the tees and got the block ready for the fabric. I knew the cotton duck was a little stiffer than fabrics I usually used, and if I washed it to soften it I’d again have to press it out and make sure it looked like new, so I took the chance to print on the fabric as it was.

painted tortie cat image

Coverage not dark enough, and it takes too much ink!

Block printing is a technique wherein the artist carves the surface of a piece of linoleum, leaving raised areas which will become the image. Ink is rolled onto these raised areas, then a piece of paper or other surface is pressed against the block by hand or by a press—in my case it’s by hand, and I use a “baren” and my fingers to press the surface against the block, rubbing gently against each of the details of the block and can sometimes even see the ink soaking into the fabric.

Still, I don’t know if it’s all evenly inked until I lift the surface from the block. When it’s lifted away the ink remains, leaving the image on the surface. Because of the nature of the medium, each print is unique and ink coverage varies by the surface. 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 wearable work of art. Even with this, I want even coverage with no filling of the tiny details and no doubling or ghosting of the image.

fabric dye spreading

Cookie aglow. That won't work!

I had three aprons for each of the two Tortie Girls. Even with the best of preparation, there is still the chance for difficulty, and it took me two of the aprons to get the amount of ink correct, and the pressure to print until I got one good impression. With each of them, one print wasn’t inked enough, and the next print ghosted, or produced a slightly doubled image because the fabric shifted after I had impressed it on the block. Oh, well.

tortie cat on apron

Kelly's edges are spreading too.

Then came the painting of the aprons, and seeing the tight weave of the fabric I decided first to use fabric markers since I could press the marker against the fabric and the pigment wouldn’t chance rolling off. It really didn’t cover the fabric well, just the surface, unless I really pushed, and I’d have to purchase a new fabric marker for each apron at this rate.

Then I tried dampening the fabric to see if the fabric marker settled in a little better. Usually, when I paint the tees and other lighter-weight products, the ink has settled into the fibers of the fabric and acts as a barrier to the water or paint; not so with the aprons, as you can see by Cookie’s and Kelly’s “glow”.

So I went back to the cold-set fabric dyes and carefully painted a priming layer of dye that lightly soaked into the fabric but dampened it enough that the next pass of the brush colored the fabric just about right with a minimum of runaway dye, producing two “good” aprons.

I secretly showed them to the tortie group when I went to the book-signing in Washington. They seemed to pass muster.

That leaves just a few for me to use or pass along to friends to product test in the kitchen and in the laundry. But I got one good print out of each of them, and I have those for sale on Etsy.

women clinking glasses wearing aprons

I think they enjoy modeling as much as I enjoy printing! Perhaps it's the glasses of wine...

They are also modeled here by Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall Executive Director Maggie Forbes and Library Director Diane Klinefelter. Thanks for taking the time to model for me!

I think after this little experiment I’ll get a few of the softer natural-colored canvas aprons I had seen at Dharma Trading, and now that the weather is consistently warmer I won’t have to wait for the two hours in an afternoon to print.


Developing a New Product: Aprons

two ladies wearing aprons with cats

The Tortie Girls aprons make their debut, modeled by Maggie and Diane!

When it comes to the handmade goods you see on the internet and at shows and festivals, did you ever wonder how the artist developed that item from an idea into a product you can purchase? The path is often less than direct, but most people who make things have the incentive of sharing what they’ve made with people who would enjoy it.

block print curtain

Detail of The Goddess curtain

I won’t go all the way back to the genesis of these block prints. I designed them and cut the blocks about 12 years ago, beginning with prints on paper but always intending to move out to other products, like the t-shirts I recently sold to benefit Japan in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami; I’ve also printed them on curtains, tablecloths, place mats, scarves and other textiles to pleasing success with each—and I can’t wait for this summer’s printing sessions, now that the weather is good.

printed aprons on hangers

Cookie aprons drying out on the deck.

But I always wanted to print on an apron! A nice full apron with ties around the back of the neck. I don’t know why, but it may have been the popularity of the other kitchen items with the girls on them that encouraged me, or it may have been the cat-themed aprons I received as gifts.

Sometimes I’ll make my own products to print on, as I did with the place mats and table cloths and a few curtains, but those were unique sizes and shapes. The apron, well, I’ve made aprons in the past, and I knew I really didn’t want to make a dozen aprons for this project.

printed aprons drying on hangers

Kelly gets her turn.

So that left me to shop the market for blank aprons. I considered looking for one or two in local stores, but retail items are prepared for display and sale and always have a little—or a lot—bit of sizing in them which is difficult to print on and impossible to paint on with cold-set fabric paints, as I discovered when I purchased a package of tees and tried to print on them. I had to over-ink the block, and the dye rolled right off. This also happened with most tablecloths and curtains. I could wash it, but then I’d have to press it out completely to look like new, and while I actually enjoy ironing, that was a little more time than I wanted to spend on a t-shirt, in part because I also noticed they weren’t as heavy or as well-made as the blanks I usually purchased. I considered it a disaster and decided I wouldn’t waste my time again.

tortoiseshell cat image on apron

The Goddess on an apron!

But there are companies that sell blank items for just this purpose; my favorite is Dharma Trading Company. I always look for fair trade items made from organic materials by someone who was paid a living wage to make the thing; I don’t mind paying for that and generally my customers don’t mind paying for it, either, and we all support each other. Dharma always has these fair-trade options, but the aprons were always a little more than I wanted to pay and I decided I’d wait until they came down in price.

tortoiseshell cat image on an apron

Kelly already watches everything I do in the kitchen.

Just in the past year, the aprons came down in price, and a customer going out of business handed me a half dozen blank aprons that were more than acceptable saying, “I’ll bet you can do something with these!”

Indeed! The white cotton duck aprons were pretty close to what I would have chosen, and you can’t beat “free”! The only thing was to wait for good weather since I still need to use my oil-based ink on textiles, and the smell of the ink (smells like an oil spill) and turpentine (even the “safe” stuff smells) is not something I want to fill my basement with, not to mention it’s flammable. So for safety’s sake, I wait for a day that’s at least 50 degrees and sunny, and print as much as I can.

We had one of those days in March, and I had everything ready as the temperature began to rise; I also had to print a few Tortie Girls t-shirts people had ordered in sizes I thought I had but did not, and I was nearly out of prints on paper which I also need to print in oil-based ink to resist the watercolor I paint into them.

ghosted printed image

Detail of the ghosted image.

So I started with the old familiar rice paper and got the block all warmed up with those, then went to the tees and got the block ready for the fabric. I knew the cotton duck was a little stiffer than fabrics I usually used, and if I washed it to soften it I’d again have to press it out and make sure it looked like new, so I took the chance to print on the fabric as it was.

painted tortie cat image

Coverage not dark enough, and it takes too much ink!

Block printing is a technique wherein the artist carves the surface of a piece of linoleum, leaving raised areas which will become the image. Ink is rolled onto these raised areas, then a piece of paper or other surface is pressed against the block by hand or by a press—in my case it’s by hand, and I use a “baren” and my fingers to press the surface against the block, rubbing gently against each of the details of the block and can sometimes even see the ink soaking into the fabric.

Still, I don’t know if it’s all evenly inked until I lift the surface from the block. When it’s lifted away the ink remains, leaving the image on the surface. Because of the nature of the medium, each print is unique and ink coverage varies by the surface. 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 wearable work of art. Even with this, I want even coverage with no filling of the tiny details and no doubling or ghosting of the image.

fabric dye spreading

Cookie aglow. That won't work!

I had three aprons for each of the two Tortie Girls. Even with the best of preparation, there is still the chance for difficulty, and it took me two of the aprons to get the amount of ink correct, and the pressure to print until I got one good impression. With each of them, one print wasn’t inked enough, and the next print ghosted, or produced a slightly doubled image because the fabric shifted after I had impressed it on the block. Oh, well.

tortie cat on apron

Kelly's edges are spreading too.

Then came the painting of the aprons, and seeing the tight weave of the fabric I decided first to use fabric markers since I could press the marker against the fabric and the pigment wouldn’t chance rolling off. It really didn’t cover the fabric well, just the surface, unless I really pushed, and I’d have to purchase a new fabric marker for each apron at this rate.

Then I tried dampening the fabric to see if the fabric marker settled in a little better. Usually, when I paint the tees and other lighter-weight products, the ink has settled into the fibers of the fabric and acts as a barrier to the water or paint; not so with the aprons, as you can see by Cookie’s and Kelly’s “glow”.

So I went back to the cold-set fabric dyes and carefully painted a priming layer of dye that lightly soaked into the fabric but dampened it enough that the next pass of the brush colored the fabric just about right with a minimum of runaway dye, producing two “good” aprons.

I secretly showed them to the tortie group when I went to the book-signing in Washington. They seemed to pass muster.

That leaves four for me to use or pass along to friends to product test in the kitchen and in the laundry. But I got one good print out of each of them, and I have those for sale on Etsy.

women clinking glasses wearing aprons

I think they enjoy modeling as much as I enjoy printing! Perhaps it's the glasses of wine...

They are also modeled here by Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall Executive Director Maggie Forbes and Library Director Diane Klinefelter. Thanks for taking the time to model for me!

I think after this little experiment I’ll get a few of the softer natural-colored canvas aprons I had seen at Dharma Trading, and now that the weather is consistently warmer I won’t have to wait for the two hours in an afternoon to print.


A New Feline Art Card, “A Wonderful Gift”

image of portrait greeting card

"A Wonderful Gift" greeting card.

Some of you may remember the progress of this commissioned portrait last fall as I prepared it for my customer to give to a good friend for Christmas.

“Oh, it’s so pretty!” people said as I worked on it, and indeed it was—when I received the image I’d be working with I was thrilled at how lovely the scene was I’d be depicting. As I worked on it, both in and around my studio and as I displayed the progress on The Creative Cat, several people asked if I would also offer it as a greeting card, so I asked my customer to ask her friend if that would be okay.

And it was! That person just had a birthday and received the first dozen printed cards with her kitty’s portrait image as a gift, and now I can offer them to the public.

Here is the story that appears on the back of the card:

This image was a commissioned portrait, a gift from one friend to another, of a dilute calico kitty named Peaches. Here is the beautiful story of Peaches and her amaryllis.

“For a period of several months in her 17th year, Peaches became very withdrawn, she stopped sleeping with her person, and spent most of her time in a guest bedroom. At the time, we thought this was it. Then a friend gave her this flower, and Peaches became fascinated with it, and would check progress every day. As the flower started to bloom, Peaches ended her phase of withdrawing. It will always remind us of the happy time when Peaches became herself again.”

The gift is both the portrait and Peaches’ recovery.

In addition to this portion of the story, you can read about the portrait as I painted it just before Christmas 2010 in three posts on The Creative Cat beginning with “A New Portrait”.

Thank you to both my customer and to Peaches’ person for sharing Peaches!

Where to find the cards

These cards are available in the Marketplace on my website for $2.50 per card or $20.00 per dozen. Visit the Cats page of my Notecards section to see the new card and view the whole selection.


And finally, the e-newsletter!

black tote bag with five cats

"The Whole Family Gets Together"

It took a little longer than I had thought, but we finally got it done.

My quarterly e-newsletter encompasses not only what happens in my art studio and Portraits of Animals store, but also in my work as a graphic designer and web designer, a photographer and writer and other disciplines that utilize design, writing and promotion. It’s handy for people to know all the different things I do, and while I blog about it on a regular basis, there is really no better way to get the word out than to package everything together.

So please enjoy reading about not only the new animal-inspired merchandise, but also the environmental projects I’ve worked with, the performers I’ve had the pleasure of photographing and the newsletters I’ve designed.

And it’s good for me to stop once in a while and take a look at where I’ve been!

Now will you quit playing with that computer and play with us?!

I guess I’ve been a little bit preoccupied…

Read it here: http://hosted-p0.vresp.com/713503/c9fe8e1499/ARCHIVE


New Merchandise, Wow Am I Excited!

Gift Bag Display

Block-printed Gift Bag Display

I finishing up my latest e-newsletter, just as I’ve worked up the design and production of several new products. I recently featured cotton tote bags here, and I’ve expanded on that idea, and I’ve also designed a series of crocheted washcloths in addition to the pawprints.

close up of gift bags

A close-up of a few bags.

As you see above, I’ve also been working on ideas for gift bags. These are my “experiments” with block printing on bags, some of which worked fine, some of which did not. I purchased various styles of bags in various colors, then mixed various inks and paints to print. It was so much fun I had to stop myself before I had no more space to set them out to dry.

Studio with Cookie

Studio with Cookie.

The tricky part of it was finding a water-based ink or printing medium that would actually adhere to most bags without running when it got wet; normally I have to use oil-based ink for this, and that’s based on—guess what?—petroleum! YUK! We’ve all seen enough of that lately, it smells like tar balls and I have to use turpentine to clean it up. I don’t want me or my kitties to breathe that stuff any more.  So here’s my first venture into going petroleum-free in my studio. More on that later.

Cassie and Tyler Tote Bag--yes, dogs too!

Cassie and Tyler Tote Bag--yes, dogs too!

The cotton tote bags I featured last month were indeed pretty, but when put to the test by myself and others the lightweight cotton muslin just wasn’t strong enough; I usually load my bags, but I found myself being too careful about what I put in mine, which would result in not using it. I want you to have a product that you will use and will last for years, for your sake and for the sake that my kitties’ images are on them! I’ve been working with several canvas bags, and while I haven’t come up with the final bag I decided it was time to get the designs out there.

god i'm cute tote bag

"God, I'm Cute", one of the series of my black cats featured on black bags.

Really, part of designing products to sell is working out the materials and methods part of the idea, but the other part is audience response. I like these images, but I need to know what you think. While the gift bags and the tote bags are “not my final answer”, I’d love feedback on the designs. I always start out with images people have responded to generally, then find a product with which they are appropriate. Sometimes, though, I end up using things myself, so I value your opinion.

Flower Garden Wash Cloths

Flower Garden Wash Cloths, handmade from my own designs.

I’m creating my e-newsletter in Vertical Response this time; I’m trying out each one of the e-newsletter companies to see which one has the best deal for my usage level and design needs. I prefer to use these companies rather than setting up my own e-newsletter because they are a “safe send”, meaning your identity and contact information is kept in a database at Vertical Response and isn’t retrievable from the e-mail so it doesn’t lead any spam to you, plus I’m not using my own e-mail account and won’t be considered a spammer for sending too many messages. If you’d like to receive my e-newsletter, please e-mail me privately at bernadette@bernadette-k.com. I’ll enter it in the database for this first newsletter. You can opt out later if you decide you don’t want to receive it.

crocheted pawprint washcloths

Crocheted Pawprints, the "Brights" set.

My quarterly e-newsletter includes information about all of my work here in my studio, including my commercial art—graphic design, web design, illustration, writing, photography, etc., etc. It’s a way to let people who know me for one discipline learn about what I do in another and see all the influences in my life.

Thanks for looking at my new stuff! I’ll be back later…


Cotton Tote Bags!

photo of printed tote bag

"Interior with Cat" tote bag

I’ve had a few ideas keeping me awake at night, and now that I have both my shop and Etsy for display in addition to the shows and festivals, I’ve decided to go ahead and play!

The first issue with these projects is that I want to make only one or two items, so I have to make them myself, and materials can be expensive.

I’ve been working out ideas to print gift bags and tote bags by directly printing my block prints directly onto the bags. But I’ve also long wanted to use my paintings, sketches and photographs on these items and decided to give iron-on transfers a consideration. I’d had some bad experiences with them several years ago, but with more people creating handmade goods there are simply more products to choose from at a better quality.

detail of interior with cat tote bag

Detail of design

Often, I’ll actually make the item to be printed—for instance, when I began printing clothing I made the skirts and dresses I printed rather than trying to find a garment in the fabric and style I want to use out of various types of fabric. I had purchased a bolt of unbleached cotton muslin and some remnants to make the first placemats, tablecloths and curtains.

My sewing machine, an older console model, is still inconveniently placed so even though I can dig it out and use it, the process takes so long that I decided I’d see what I could purchase.

So when I found well-made 12″ x 15″ x 3.5″ fair-trade eco-cotton tote bags for a good price, I decided it was time to get a start!

peaches and peonies tote bag

"Peaches and Peonies" tote bag

Because I’m still waiting for the weather to be right for printing my block prints outdoors, and because I pretty much know what to expect from block printing, I thought I’d start with the iron-ons and the related embellishments like puff paint and newer fabric markers I’m not as familiar with.

I always have paper shopping bags, but I purchased a few in different colors just to have on hand for experiments.

detail of tote bag

Detail of design.

I’d been reading up on iron-on transfers and puff paint and fabric markers and even bought myself a new iron—brand new, right out of the box, not a yard-sale special so I’d be sure it could heat up and safely stay at the required temperature for iron-ons. I even purchased a nice extra printer from craigslist to use just for these projects so that I could get better quality prints.

I knew which designs I wanted to begin with so I used my graphics programs to prepare the artwork, created PDF files and went to work. I wanted a mix of more formal fine art and fun, colorful things, and a mix of the two most popular subjects for these things, cats and flowers. I also intended to customize and embellish each product, not just print on it so that it would be truly unique, so the images suggested the embellishments.

after dinner nap tote bag

"After Dinner Nap" tote bag

Because Stanley watches over my business in “After Dinner Nap”, his image is used for just about everything new, he simply deserves it. And because “Peaches and Peonies” is so popular I decided to use her too. In addition, I used “Interior with Cat”, a colorful and loose watercolor showing mostly flowers and an interior, and just a little Sophie in the distance; those two images combined both cats AND flowers. The last image of flowers only was one of my favorite oil pastel sketches of pink and red geraniums in a turquoise pitcher, “January Geraniums 1”.

tote bag detail

Detail of bag

I began with the paper gift bags, which I haven’t pictured here because the iron-ons just didn’t work as I had hoped. Back to the drawing board on those, though I had an earlier idea that worked a little better but still not well enough, so I’ll be revisiting those sometime soon.

On to the cotton tote bags. The time has come to see how well I’ve planned things out on this one!

cookie on the drawing table

Cookie has her own creative ideas.

The biggest challenge isn’t taking care and time with materials and processes, it’s keeping curious paws and floating cat hair out of my work!

I’m very pleased with the results, sans a few extra cat hairs. The image is printed on both sides of each bag, and while working on these prototypes I’ve only embellished one side. When that is dry I’ll flip it over and embellish some more to try out other ideas.

One characteristic of my work is the highlight areas, and the unbleached cotton muslin dulled these a little, but the colors came through on all of the works, and that was the idea of these bags, color, simple composition. Tote bags are never clearly printed, and I just have to learn to live with it.

january geraniums tote bag

"January Geraniums 1" tote bag

From there came the embellishments—for now just iridiscent puff paints, matte puff paints, paint markers and fabric markers. In addition to drawing all over these things I’d like to add a color border at the top of each bag that coordinates with the design just to make it look more finished, but I’m not sure what would be the best way to accomplish that. For now I’ve just painted on it or colored it in with a marker to get the idea down, but it may be a strip of fabric or ribbon, though anything added to that top edge needs to be durable so if I can’t find something easy to apply and durable, I may hold off on this.

detail of bag

detail of design

So here are the first four prototypes of bags I’ll be making. They’re not the final designs since there are things I can see that just didn’t work, I need to get some other colors of puff paints, and I may get the iron-ons with a white background to see if they turn out a little more clear on the natural fabric. I’ve also no doubt that my embellishments will metamorphose over time! Please let me know what you think!

I also have other paintings in mind to use, and may create some collages of artwork as well. If there is a particular painting you’d like to see on a tote bag, please let me know.

And I’m not sure I want to print on both sides. Looking at the tote bags I have, only one is printed on both sides, so maybe that’s not necessary. What do you think?

black cat looking in mirror

Mirror, Mirror

Now, after these art tote bags are figured out, I have several photos I plan on using. Picture some of the photos of the black cats printed on bags that are dyed black! I can’t wait.

the goddess block print

"The Goddess" block print

But one thing these bags will be absolutely perfect for will be my Tortie Girls, “The Goddess” and “The Roundest Eyes”!

So until the next time…send your ideas!


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