July 2010


Gypsy Belly Dancing Calico Cat Twirling

My Gypsy Dancing Cat was inspired by celebrating freedom and life.

The Snow lies deceptively.
Its reflective purity covering the soil beneath.
But Judicial Sun shines truth upon the fragile web.
Deceit retreats in tears.

– TaraFly, circa 1996

I wrote this little poem in my junior year of high school, for a creative writing assignment. I had completely forgotten these four lines until recently, when I began mulling over the direction I’ve taken in my creative career.

It was originally written about a boy I knew; a cunning liar who fooled everyone with his charms and honest face.

Today, it speaks to me about personal integrity, and the importance of being authentic and true to your vision. Otherwise, the false pretenses will melt away under the intense scrutiny of friends and strangers alike.

When your life is an open Facebook, you cannot sustain a lie very long.

I wanted to blog about “embracing your inner odd-ball” and turning off those pompous voices who demand that you surrender to trends and fads.
I’ve rewritten this post 3 times already, and the first one was pretty humorous, but it took the entire day to write and didn’t quite come together.
I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such trouble putting my thoughts into words – perhaps because it’s a tough subject to tackle with confidence.

I’m still battling these demons who tempt me.. wanting me to imitate the style of my competitors, under-price my efforts in order to “sell more”, and get caught up in the whole marketing game.

I’ve lost sight of what inspired me initially – to share my humorous cat-obsessed view of the world with others who would appreciate it….
I’ve transformed my love of painting into a chore – “I must paint something new this week”
I’ve pushed myself too hard in order to keep up with my peers – many of whom don’t have young children to raise, and their 14-16 hour workdays are providing their only source of household income.

The melancholy I’ve felt these past few weeks is the burden of self-deception… a fragile blanket spread over my life that was suffocating my creative spirit.

I need to be honest with myself, and honest with my friends, fans, and fellow competitors…
I need to remind myself every day, “If the shoe doesn’t fit, don’t wear it.”

I will walk barefoot instead, at a slower pace, and I will take the time to be inspired by the world around me, and to appreciate what I’m actually working towards.

Because in the end, the only gift worth giving the world is our true selves – our unique vision. So reach our your hand, and let someone accept it.
Speak from your heart, and someone will listen.

“We are each of an unsocial, taciturn disposition, unwilling to speak, unless we expect to say something that will amaze the whole room,”
– Elizabeth Bennet, Pride and Prejudice, Chap. 18

Portrait of Mrs. Bennet from P&P as a Cat

Mrs. Bennet daydreams about Jane's marriage to Bingley.

Last week, I signed up for a Skype account in order to take advantage of the awesome FREE web consultation of Catherine Caine begin_of_the_skype_highlighting     end_of_the_skype_highlighting, from “Be Awesome Online”… how could I resist?
I’ve been working on my site for ages, but my To-Do list never ends, and I really needed a fresh perspective with experienced criticism and suggestions.

When I was setting up the session, which I figured would take place via IM or some private chatroom, I tripped over the sentence that mentioned “Skype to Skype” as the modus operandi. I actually had to Google “Skype” because I’m that far behind the curve. Apparently, it’s voice chatting over the internet.
Immediately I broke out into hives. (….just kidding, sorta)

I sweated this virtual phone call… Actually, 10 minutes before the call, I was taking Pepto-Bismol to settle my nervous stomach, because I suffer from “telephobia” or whatever it’s called… in addition to my fear of holidays. Yeah, I’m really screwed up.

Although I’ve worked in customer service for years, and phone service was a huge part of my job, it was rarely personal. The awkwardness comes into play when I’m forced to chat candidly about myself, my thoughts and feelings… I designed this blog, in part, to share those things comfortably.

Nobody is chaining your ankles to this blog post.

You aren’t obligated to read past this line.

Or this incomplete sentence.

Ironically, I experienced a series of “technical problems” – I couldn’t get any volume on the Skype chat, but the computer played iTunes music and YouTube videos with sound. Then Catherine offered to call me on a landline phone. We actually don’t have a landline; Joe purchased a crazy MagicJack that uses the internet … and it normally works (I received a call earlier today, and Mom regularly leaves 15 minute multi-message voice mails). But it wasn’t connecting us on Thursday. The phone rang, and I answered… to dreaded silence.

So, we wound up using the instant messaging system afterall. All that bile-swallowing and nausea for naught.

Was it worth the heart palpitations and abdominal cramps? Absolutely!

Within 5 seconds, she had zeroed in on my banner and tagline….
“TaraFlyArt – For Cats At Heart”.
I thought it was cute and clever.
And she agreed… it’s clever alright, but not clear enough for visitors to understand the point.

I needed the tagline to explain What I do, and Who I’m doing it for. It needed to mention “cat art” or “cat portraits”…

A furiously fast brainstorming session began, in which she threw out suggestions like:
“Quirky Regency Cat Portraits for Cats Who Read Austen”
… shortened to “Literary Portraits for Cats Who Read”

When she finally abbreviated it to: “Literate Portraits for Literate Cats” I laughed out loud! And typed, “LOL”…
It definitely smacked of T.S. Eliott’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” – with his famous “Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats”.

She admitted that it needed some work… so after a few more minutes of frantic typing and a couple additional pointers, I left the session, inspired, and grabbed a notebook;
A few of the potential taglines that tickled my whiskers…

TaraFlyArt – Portrait of A Well-Dressed Cat

Portraits for Well-Dressed Cats

Portraits for the Distinguished Cat

Proper Portraits for Well-Mannered Cats

Fine Art for Fancy Cats

Fine Portraits for Well-Bred Cats

Cat Art with Good Breeding

TaraFlyArt – The Regency Cat’s Companion

Handsome Portraits To Tempt Fastidious Cats

Portraits handsome enough to tempt ill-humored cats

Handsome Portraits of Humorous Cats

The list could go on indefinitely… it’s just a matter of choosing just ONE that will go the distance. I might put it to a Vote on Facebook. 🙂

By this time, I had picked up my copy of The Complete Novels, and flipped to the opening sequence of Pride and Prejudice for additional inspiration….
Instead, I found myself reading the dialogue between Mr. and Mrs. Bennet with a fresh eye. They were discussing the fortunes of Mr. Bingley, and how she hoped he would fall in love with one of their daughters, thus making the whole family richer by association.

With a mind still mulling over business slogans, and Catherine’s advice to focus on “My Right People” – the folks who “get” what I do, I couldn’t resist having some fun with the Bennet’s banter:

“Why, my dear Sir Dominic, you much know, Mrs. Longtail says that TaraFlyArt.com has been visited by a young man of large fortune from the north.
He visited on Monday via a Google link to see the site,
and was so much delighted with it that he agreed with Mr. Morris immediately;
he is to return before Christmas, and some of his relatives are to come by the end of next week.”

“What is his name?”

“Bingley.”

“Is he a cat-person or a dog-person?”

“Oh! A Cat person, my dear, to be sure!
A cat person of large fortune, four or five thousand a year.
What a fine thing for my art!”

“How so? How can it affect your art?”

“My dear Sir Dominic,” replied TaraFly, “how can you be so tiresome!
You must know that I am thinking of his buying one of them.”

“Is that his design in settling here?”

“Design! Nonsense, how can you talk so!
But it is very likely that he may fall in love with one of them,
and therefore you must contact him immediately.”

“I see no occasion for that. You and your art may go,
or you may send the pieces by themselves, which perhaps will be still better;
for, as you are as handsome as any of them,
Mr. Bingley might like you best of the collection.”

….

“Ah! You do not know what I suffer.”

“But I hope you will get over it, and live to see many young men of four thousand a year come to your website.”

“It will be no use to us if twenty such should come, since you will not call them.”

“Depend upon it, my dear, that when there are twenty, I will instant message them all.”

I drew my Cat Plant in honor of my mother… partly as a sarcastic joke, and partly to remind myself of how mysteriously our genetics work.
Everyone has limitless potential to grow into a unique character – there are oddballs in every family – and yet we are essentially connected.

Green Leaf Plant Growing from Cat

Colored Pencil drawing of a "Cat Plant" for my mother.

History repeats itself in many ways, even in our personal lives, where individual human nature causes us to seek out familiar situations and like-minded people.

As a child who was obsessed with cats, fancying myself as a human vessel for a cat spirit, it seemed only natural for me to detect the sub-human wavelength that signified another cat person was present. Ages ago, I was told that boys would find me more attractive if I stopped behaving like a cat, and yet boys who grew up with cat-obsessed mothers were drawn to me like …well, like cats to a bowl of cereal. LOL

Both my husband Joe and my ex-husband #1 (Lydia’s dad) were raised by “crazy cat ladies”… in households shared with fifteen cats at one time.

I didn’t realize Joe was a cat person when we started courting, but it became obvious when his cat eavesdropped on our phone calls… and purrred her approval into the receiver.

I’ve started wondering whether people have a genetic pre-disposition for cat-obsession… if it’s an addiction or disorder of some kind.

My oldest daughter likes cats, but isn’t obsessed with them by any means. She loves animals in general, has owned rabbits and fish, and has inquired many times whether she can adopt a puppy “when the cats die”. 😛
Our 15-month-old son treats our animals like toys to chase and carry around. He thinks cats run on 4-AA Energizer batteries.

However,  2-year-old Mia didn’t fall far from her family tree… in fact, she fell with grace and landed on all four paws. She developed a full-blown cat obsession; she loves all-things-cat. She even pretends to be a cat just like her mother once did.

She walks like a cat, talks in “mrrrrws” and “purrrs”, she licks and scratches herself, and curls up in our laps. It has been adorable to watch, except that she occasionally takes it a bit too far. Joe has become annoyed with her less sanitary behaviour… the determination to eat her dinner from the floor, to “drink” from the cats’ water bowls, and even to bathe their fur…. yes, with her tongue.

Whenever we are forced to reprimand her, he growls,
“Mia, you are NOT a cat! Act like a human being.”
…and my residual childhood rebellion kicks in and replies,
“She can act like any animal she wants. There is nothing wrong with having a lively imagination.”

…except where germs and bacteria are concerned.

I always joke that she’s inherited it honestly…. but I do feel a slight apprehension for her, if it continues for too long.
She’ll wind up being teased and humiliated by her future classmates, and if she is anything like her stubborn mother, she won’t care a cat’s lick.
Although I’d love to see my kids grow up to be well-liked and sociable, I suppose that I’ll be in a good position to give advice and consolation to a young kindred spirit, who feels lost in this cold-hearted world of realism.

My own family valued creativity and imagination, and they never pressured me to change (although I’m sure they secretly hoped I’d outgrow the novelty of scratching and meowing)… but I always felt like an oddity, even at home. Like an exotic pet that amused them.

I’m not sure from whence my own behaviour originated, however, as none of my relatives hoarded animals or acted strangely. I grew up in the city suburbs, with a strict 2-pet maximum law (and they had to be restrained on leashes outdoors – even cats!)… but I doubt my grandparents would’ve owned 20 cats regardless.

Lady in the kitchen feeding fourteen 14 cats.

My late mother-in-law and her cats... circa 1980.

In fact, we moved to the countryside when I entered high school, and gained 5 acres of land. But no additional cats. Once the two family cats passed away, the house became vacant of furriness… as I had moved out, my grandfather’s health was failing, and Dad had remarried a lady with cat allergies.

My own mother was arguably the strangest person in my immediate family.
I recognize a few of her characteristics in myself, despite not having had much direct influence from her, after she relinquished custody of me at an early age.
However, she was never much of an animal person. Pets required too much maintainance. She didn’t want an animal that needed to be cleaned, walked, fed, or groomed. Nothing that shed hair on clothing and furniture, caused property damage with teeth and claws, or needed a scooper or litter.

She did own a hamster once …that survived for over 2 years somehow, trapped inside his poor little cage.

She likes cats in theory, but not in practice. She finds them attractive, provided they remain a decorative accessory. Something to brighten up a windowsill, that will sleep quietly all day and soak up sunlight, and require infrequent watering…

Orange cat with green plant leaves

…like a plant.

P.S. I’m sending this drawing to my mother, who won’t grasp its sarcasm. She doesn’t get online much or read my blog, so it’ll be our little secret joke… *wink*

“And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.”
— Gibran Khalil Gibran 

Artist TaraFly rests her feet on car dashboard

Coming home from the park... as a passenger, of course.

 

There are two things that put me in a different corner from most of the women I know. I loathe chatting on the phone and shopping for shoes. 

Summertime gives me an excuse to exercise my rights… to walk around town barefoot. 

I can’t put my finger on it, or my foot in it, but something about the endless aisles of white, gold, red, navy, silver, and cotton contraptions waiting to be slipped onto bare (or stocking) feet and “tested” by walking a few steps, ranks right up there with Dentist Appointments and Filing Taxes. 

One of the few times I can recall being punished as a child, was a temper tantrum I threw inside a shoe store, when I refused to try on yet another pair of shiny Mary-Janes. My grandfather publically spanked my butt… and yes, twenty-five years ago that was a perfectly acceptable thing to do. 

I have a pair of brown sandals that I’ve owned for six years, and absolutely love, except that my rough feet have worn them completely through – leaving a gaping hole in the bottom of each sole. I’ve been postponing the dreaded replacement shopping trip, but I fear that this summer it cannot be avoided any longer. 

I just want a pair of sandals, without a strap between the toes (ala flip-flops), because those are annoying. They could be denim or brown… I shy away from anything white, and I already own 5 pairs of black shoes that I’ve collected over the last decade. Thank God that our feet don’t fluctuate up and down a few sizes like clothing can! lol 

But there are simply too many choices in most shoe stores. Do I need a wide width? Something that slips on, or comes with straps? Extra padding? Those gel insoles that felt cushy during the practice test, suddenly aren’t so cushy when you wear them at home. 

Of course, I go barefoot at home (both indoors and outside)… as do my kids. Yes, I’m one of those negligent parents who allow their children to run in the backyard without protective footwear. Kids have tough feet.
When I was younger, I ran down gravel roads barefoot. Once I stepped on a thumb-tack, while rummaging through my supply closet, and didn’t even notice… until I crossed the kitchen floor and heard a “click, click, click” sound coming from my left heel. 😛 

I do reluctantly force my beasts to wear shoes elsewhere, even at the grassy park, because they aren’t old enough to take responsibility for their barefooted injuries. 

When society dictates mandatory foot gear, I reach for my favorite sandals.
I have such fond memories of these old friends. I wore them throughout the wintertime (with socks!) and I’ve worn them in the rain. They’ve stepped in snowdrifts and puddles. I’ve even waded in streams while wearing them. 

Former co-workers once took pity upon me, and offered to donate to a “shoe fund”, and one gifted me her old snow boots. They apparently believed that my decision to wear sandals was due to poverty. Um…. last time I checked, I could buy a pair of sneakers for less than $20 at a discount store. I think I can manage that much, but I did feel a slight appreciation for their concern. At least they cared enough about me, right?
I was just stubbornly clinging onto the perfect pair of footwear, because they were broken in just right and felt completely weightless. Almost like being barefoot. 

Perhaps it is merely the feeling of be constricted.. I like my clothing in general to be as light and flowing as possible, although occasionally I’ll cave and try to suck myself into tight jeans. Only for appearance’s sake. If I could get away with working naked at home, I would. But PJs are the next best thing. 🙂
I swear, one day I will be the Crazy Cat Lady living in a mountain cabin, completely nude and utterly nuts. 

I hate sock seams, shoe tongues, and shirt tags, because they are constant irritating reminders that I am wearing something. I cut the tags, turn socks wrong-side-out, and avoid shoes with tongues (and toe bits). 

I only own a couple of pairs of socks, ever since weeding out the holey and mismatched ones… I wear socks less often than I wear shoes… 

I also dislike heavy coats, especially the hooded ones… and yes, my preference to wear light jackets in December led to a volunteer coat-giving event (aimed at me).
But that is a whole blog unto itself. 😛

Regency Cat Art in a Frame

"Gossip Gurrls" 8x10 framed print on display

I finished Kitty and Lydia’s portrait for The “Pride and Prejudice” cat adaptation, and was setting up my makeshift photo stage for the umpteenth time, when it dawned on me… I’ve never shared my shooting process with anyone.

Now granted, I don’t have those Wow-and-Dazzle skills that you’d find inside a glossy magazine… and there are some fabulous product photographers on Etsy as well. But since I took you on a virtual tour of my messy home, and I’ve given you a glimpse into my studio, I figured this part of the business might interest someone.

Props for my product photo shoot

Setting the stage for my artwork...

Because many of my pieces represent historical or literary characters in feline fersona, I want my listing images to reflect a cozy bookshelf or reading nook, so I use worn novels, curtain fabric, and greenery (real or artificial) in my staging.

Staging props for the photo shoot

Playing around with the props...

One day, I hope to rearrange the studio to utilize my only window more efficiently. I want a permanent photography corner that can be left in place, ready to shoot new products, which takes advantage of the natural lighting that is also shared by my drawing table.

Filing cabinet dressed as stage for photo shoot

My filing cabinet gets a make-over...

But right now, I’m using my filing cabinet as a stage. Once I clear off the office junk from its surface, a large cardboard box serves as the backdrop. I think it was actually the bottom of my unassembled art table’s packaging.

Cardboard box backdrop with curtains

Behind the scenes - cardboard and curtains

It gets draped with one or two of the many extra curtain panels we keep tucked in closets. (A couple of years ago, we lived in a corner-unit apartment with an overabundance of windows – I miss them! lol)

I don’t use a tripod for these shoots, because I enjoy the challenge of finding the best angle. I rearrange my props all the time, then crouch on the floor or hover over my prints, snapping as many pictures as I need (50+ is average).

TaraFly taking pictures of her artwork

This 20+ year old Nikon camera is just another prop now...

I often find myself perched under the art table to get an eye-level shot… which does allow me to brace my arm against the wall, hehe, but it’s one reason why I want to rearrange my space.

View more from this session on Flickr….

Photographing my prints and paintings for listings is a huge part of selling online. Because potential customers can’t actually see my work in person, the pictures are key to convincing someone to purchase my work.

5x7 archival print of regency cats gossiping

A 5x7 archival reproduction of "Gossip Gurrls"

I cringe when scrolling through some of my earliest attempts, where I just laid the piece on a throw blanket, or even worse – a clean, white trash bag (hey, at least it was clean!).

Either the sun was glaring across my glossy reproductions, or the shadows and flash lighting completely obliterated the colors. Sometimes, even Dominic wanted to get a piece of the action:

Yawning Cat sitting on chair with greeting card

How is THIS for a greeting card listing?? (one of my originals)

I do realize that my current photos are nowhere near the level of professionalism that they should be. I have a long road ahead, but fortunately, it’s always a fun experiment. 🙂