August 2010


Colored Pencil Sketch, Mr. Bennet Cat from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice

Colored Pencil Sketch of Mr. Bennet, modeled after Sammy.

When I began working on my digital painting of Mr. Bennet Cat, I made the decision to take screenshots and work-in-progress pics of the entire process. It had never occurred to me to document my projects in detail before, mainly because my personal techniques are neither unique nor remarkable. Hundreds of tutorials exist online, explaining how to draw, color, highlight, shadow, and manipulate Photoshop layers… showcasing far greater skill than my own.

In fact, if you want to see digital painting at its BEST, check out the Deviantart gallery of Tammara Markegard. Her work is so fantastic, it’s disgusting! LOL I wipe drool off my keyboard, after pouring too long over her intricate details.

Always living in the shadow of true mastery such as hers, and countless others, I fail to recognize my own accomplishments. Apparently, I’ve taken for granted that everyone understands how I create my digital art. That any explanation was unnecessary.
And apparently, I was mistaken. I’ve run across people who grossly over exaggerated my abilities, and also people who wrote off weeks’ worth of work as “She just drew a cat’s face over a photograph”.

So when I scanned in my initial sketch of Mr. Bennet, modeled after Lily’s cat Sammy, I vowed to keep an ongoing, accurate record of my work for anyone curious.

Sammy Whiskers Cat TwoStrayCats Lily Van Niekerk

Lily's Sam Man, half of TwoStrayCats

It all began with a photograph of Sammy, that Lily entered into my Pride and Prejudice Cat Contest. He was voted upon by my Facebook fans to be cast as Mr. Bennet, the patriarch of the Bennet household (Lizzy’s doting father, and proud Mr. Darcy’s future FIL).

I decided to draw him relaxing in his favorite wing back chair, reading a novel, as the character was always retreating to the sanctuary of his study to escape his obnoxious wife and silly daughters. After the sketch was made, and scanned into Photoshop, I drew over the basic lines with a small black brush.
Then I opened three new, blank layers: one for each element of the picture. The chair, the clothing, and the cat himself.

I did this because it allows me to focus on one area at a time; by clicking the eye icon, you can make the other layers invisible and temporarily inaccessible. Any mistakes or alterations made to one layer wouldn’t affect any other aspect of the image… NO “whooops-I-accidentally-erased-half-the-finished-chair-while-attempting-to-edit-his-fur” catastrophes. This decision was easily made as a result of prior trial and error… if something can go wrong, it will undoubtedly happen to me.

Digital painting Photoshop, Mr. Bennet Cat Jane Austen Pride and Prejudice

The basic colors roughed in, on three separate layers

With the line drawing serving as the Background (bottom) layer, I color each part of the image on their respective layers (which I’ve named, appropriately, “chair”, “clothes”, and “fur”). This serves as the color theme… I want a brown coat, yellow vest, blue chair, etc… and can be adjusted or changed completely if I have second thoughts.

There is no rhyme or reason with where to start, but I felt like playing with fur. So I began with his face. Having already colored the black and white areas, I choose a medium-sized brush (around 15 pixels) set to 40% strength, and begin pulling the fur using the Smudge tool. The lower strength creates soft, wide strokes of fur… and narrowing the brush to approx. 4-5 pixels and kicking the strength up to 70%, will allow me to add concentrated, fine hairs.
I tend to overdose on the Smudge tool, and my cats look like electrocuted fluffballs. ๐Ÿ˜› Sammy is long-haired, though, so I can justify a bit of fluff.

Painting cat fur in Photoshop Cat wearing glasses

Joe said Sam looks like Harry Potter here...

For his eyes and ears, I take a few complimentary colors (ears: salmon, grey, brown) (eyes: green, grey, yellow, brown) and paint daubs of these with a brush onto a new layer. Then I use the Gaussian Blur filter to blend them together, and merge the new layer into the Fur layer.
With the eyes, it takes a bit of time to get it blurred just right. I’ll re-paint areas if the yellow/gold or green faded away too much.

Anytime I work with shadows, highlights, and reflections, such as on his eyes or spectacles, I open a new temporary layer. That way, I can play around with the strength of the highlight or shadow, add to it or subtract from it, and blur it just right… before merging it with the fur layer.
I choose a highlight a few shades lighter than the base color on the palette, and a few shades darker for shadows.

Photoshop 6 Screenshot Digital Painting Cat Wearing Glasses

Adding eye reflections and highlights to his spectacles

The idea for painting better whiskers came to me from reading this Deviantart tutorial on Hair.
In the sixth step, she discusses those little fly-away strands of hair that glisten in the light… drawing them with a fine brush, and then erasing parts of each strand, with an eraser tool of varying strengths, to create a 3-dimensional effect.
I started doing that with my cats’ whiskers, and I liked how they turned out. This time, I decided to blend the edges together, because the erased pieces looked a bit choppy.

Drawing Cat Whiskers in Photoshop

Drawing his whiskers, and erasing pieces of them

Once I finished with his face and paws, I move onto what I would consider the most tedious part… the clothing layer. I started defining folds and wrinkles in the fabric using a new shadow layer and blending. Then I chose a highlight color to accent where the light might strike his clothing, and applied that color with Gaussian Blur in a new layer as well.

Creating highlights in Photoshop using Gaussian Blur

Highlighting Mr. Bennet's jacket using Gaussian Blur

One of my favorite things to do with fabric, is kind-of a cheat, although it is still time consuming. Instead of painting fabric texture from scratch, I find a swatch of fabric (either scanned from personal clothing, or as licensed stock online) and create a texture to apply. This is where Photoshop manipulation really shines!
For his coat, I used a piece of tweed wool. I removed the original color, because when I select Multiply or Overlay, it then assumes the color underneath. The swatch gets resized down to scale, and must then be distorted using the Perspective command, so that the texture will follow the curves of the coat.
Each block of texture is placed, adjusted to the correct perspective, and merged onto my painted cloth using the Overlay and Opacity settings. The blocks get “stitched” together once they’ve all been arranged, so that hopefully nobody will see where the seams were.

Applying texture to painted fabric using Photoshop

Applying a tweed texture to his coat, using Distort and Overlay

One final tool in the clothing arsenal… the Liquify filter. It allows you to create ripples, and I like to use it on my texture layer, so that the pattern will bulge and bend in accordance with my previously painted fabric wrinkles.
His pants and vest receive textures as well.

Using the Liquify Tool in Photoshop for Fabric

Creating ripples in the tweed texture using Liquify

The book that he held was included in the clothing layer. I used a faux “dry” brush in a darker brown to add leathery texture to the book cover. Then I highlighted the book pages, and painted some shadows as well. The idea for the book’s spine came from my copy of Funk & Wagnall’s Dictionary.

I always have a dictionary close at hand, because my vocabulary is composed of many words I haven’t yet learned to spell correctly… and I absolutely HATE those auto Spell Check programs (and the Firefox browser).
If you notice any spelling errors in my posts, it is because I refuse to use Spell-Check on principle. >:P

Anyway, I drew the pattern from the dictionary, loosely, with a gold brush. Opened a new layer, and shaded with dark brown.

Digital Painting Book in Photoshop

Painting the book

So here is what Mr. Bennet looked like at this point… with his fur and clothing basically finished.

For his wing back chair, I dug through my stock photos for that garish bit of orange fabric that was used for Mrs. Bennet’s dress. I really liked the floral pattern of it, and once the color was removed (again!), it worked nicely as upholstery fabric.
As with the clothing, the piece had to be scaled down and its perspective altered to match the angle of the chair.

Applying fabric texture to chair upholstery using Photoshop

Adding the fabric texture to his chair

More piecing together, block at a time. Once the chair was completely covered, I realized the color wasn’t dark enough to match the intensity of Mr. Bennet’s shading. So I duplicated the chair layer, and selected Multiply, which darkened everything… a bit too much. Scale back to 54% opacity for a subtle shift in contrast.
Then I reworked my shadows again on a new layer, making them bolder.

Mr. Bennet Cat Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice digital painting in Photoshop

Almost finished... he's just lacking a background

So here we have Mr. Bennet in his reading chair… sans a background. I seriously considered doing a wood paneling behind him… but I was afraid it would be too distracting from the details in the foreground. So I opted for a plain color instead… rusty brown invoked a quiet library feeling to me.
I used the paint can filler tool to color the entire bottom layer (right over my sketch), and then added a new layer to paint the shadows behind him on the wall.

Mr. Bennet Cat Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice digital painting by TaraFly

Mr. Bennet Cat, a.k.a. Sammy, looking sophisticated ๐Ÿ™‚

And viola! Mr. Bennet in the fur. This piece could probably have taken 4-5 days, perhaps three.. if I worked non-stop. And there are people who could complete this in a matter of hours… I bow to them. Unfortunately, it did NOT take a week… or two… or even three. It took almost two whole months. Why?
Well… LIFE, for one thing. It looks simple, but its time-consuming nonetheless, and time is worth it’s weight in DIAMONDS in this household.

I feel terrible for making promises to my fans, under the assumption that I could complete all these portraits in a matter of weeks. I wanted to launch the book by August, but September is just around the corner, and the book is not. It will come! But I’ve learned a valuable lesson over this summer about creating impossible deadlines for myself, given all the distractions and obligations that require my attention at home.

Plunging ahead anyway. Jane Bennet will be next, with Bingley quick on her heels as a hot-blooded lover should be. ๐Ÿ™‚

TaraFly featured on Regretsy.com for her sexy private school kitty cat.

Finding my artwork on Regretsy was reminiscent of high school ridicule.

Wednesday night almost proved to be a night like any other.

I wish I could say “It was dark and stormy”, but it was only slightly drizzling when I set the trashcan out for the garbage truck’s early arrival.
Feeling a bit out of touch with inspiration for my art, I decided to call upon good old Netflix, an instant movie from the “Dramas Based On Classic Literature – pre 20th Century” category, settling upon Daniel Deronda
I became so engrossed in the 4-part mini-series of George Eliot’s excellent novel, and the fine acting of Romola Garai, Hugh Dancy, and Hugh Bonneville that I didn’t stir from the couch until a quarter past midnight.

One last e-mail check before bed, I thought. Indeed.

One of the first messages I read was a convo from Lily, alerting me to the dubious honor I’d unknowingly received earlier in the day.

Regretsy.com, known for its infamous roasting of certain Etsy artists – the ones who sculpt customized vagina necklaces and crochet (“crotchet”) penis sock puppets – had finally stumbled across my humble storefront and found gross delight in my “Kittney Plays the Field” digital painting.

I should have seen it coming, and no doubt stayed hidden under the bed…. but I knew when I created Kittney that she might cause a stir.
In fact, I wrote a blog post about it, where I admitted to feeling guilty for letting down my fans.
After all, people who follow me, expecting to see Regency Cats and 1950’s housewives dressed in heels and pearls, would undoubtedly be appalled at a sex kitten coyly straddling a football field 50 yard line.
Even my husband gave me a longsuffering look when I showed my finished work to him, because he finds my perverted humor slightly disturbing.

However, I refused to silence my unique voice… I found her amusing, satirical, and a reflection of myself juggling a delicate balance of traditional values and improper thoughts. I believe my true fans will understand the piece for what it is.

Heck, if you reeeeally wanna see some sexy kitties, just check out the 1,900 submissions in Deviantart.com’s furry anthro category! http://browse.deviantart.com/anthro/?qh=&section=&q=sexy+kitty
My Kittney is quite tame in comparison.

The whole Regretsy feature is a bit ironic, though, because only a few months ago Carrie Hawks’ (aka Tigerpixie) “Cardinal Cats” was featured in Regretsy’s holiday Advent Calendar. I became offended by some scathing comments on the accompanying Facebook fanpage regarding her lack of talent.

Carrie could be considered an idol of mine, although when I first discovered her work online a few years ago, I almost gave up painting my cats altogether.
I was initially disheartened that someone else was “doing the same thing”… so I embarked on a different course with my photomanipulations.
It took me an entire year to reconcile myself to the fact that nothing in art is truly original, that we will always share our vision with other like-minded people.

The Victorian-era painter, Louis Wain, has been attributed as the first anthropomorphic cat artist, and no doubt he was the first popular one. Regarding his inspiration, he wrote:

“I take a sketch-book to a restaurant, or other public place, and draw the people in their different positions as cats, getting as near to their human characteristics as possible. This gives me doubly nature, and these studies I think [to be] my best humorous work.”

Instead of judging myself as an inferior competitor, I decided to embrace these artists (both contemporary and legendary) as my kindreds… these are people who see the world, and the cats who share it with us, in the same way I do. After feeling freakish and misunderstood, and dealing with comments such as those posted on Regretsy’s blog, on a regular basis throughout my entire life… I could finally look people in the eye and say,
“I’m not alone, there are others like me. Famous people, even.”
… And the more famous they become, the more doors will open for the rest of us.

Carrie was paving the way with her talent and appeal, and I viciously (rabidly) defended her on Regretsy’s Facebook page… to which she politely called for me to “cease and desist”, as my remarks weren’t helping her PR.
I slinked away with my tail between my legs, and with a valuable lesson learned:
Carrie took the publicity in stride, with grace and humor. She wasn’t offended in the least, and recognized that thousands of views would eventually lead
to more fans and sales of her work.
The saying goes: “all publicity is good publicity”… but I never quite understood the concept until that moment.
I still don’t understand anyone’s desire to humiliate themselves on national television, though. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Her reasoning followed that among those thousands of views and comments, many of which were condescending and rude, our work is bound to resonate with a few people. Even if they share the link merely as a sick joke, it is still “going viral” and finding new audiences across the world.

Someone sharing my sexy school girl cat artwork on Facebook

What the F*ck, indeed. I like your profile picture, by the way.

Putting a positive spin on it, we need to embrace the experience and be willing to concede that our work won’t suit everyone, but that’s okay!

When Carrie’s feature launched, I prayed fervently that Regretsy would never dig deep enough in Etsy’s bowels to find me.
There were so many paintings of masturbating bears and quilted vaginas to satisfy them, and I felt safe that my artwork wasn’t quite disturbing enough to rank among them.

Except that Kittney apparently was disturbing enough… my Etsy shop received 4,000 views on Wednesday, and over 2,000 yesterday. It was tweeted and shared on individual Facebook pages across the globe.

When I saw Lily’s e-mail, my stomach dropped onto the floor, but I swallowed it again and took a deep breath.

Carrie became my idol once again, as I called upon her strength… clicked on the link to read the awful remarks about this talentless Catholic school
slut who enjoys cat-f*cking… (it was a Protestant school, by the way, not Catholic)…. and blessedly, my evil sense of humor took control of me.

I laughed until I cried. Then I visited their Facebook page, where 55 new comments waited, and laughed some more.
I even shared my parody of Britney’s “Ooops, I Did It Again” with them, opening the door further into my world for those brave enough to enter.

“I think I did it again,
I made you believe
that I’m housebroken.
Oh baby.
It might seem like I’m spayed
But it doesn’t mean
I haven’t strayed.”

Yes, I’m a cat-obsessed freak, a bit pervy, and enjoy being petted. And you’re welcome to stay. ๐Ÿ˜‰

TaraFly's art Mr. Bennet Cat from Pride and Prejudice

My current work in progress, a digital portrait of Mr. Bennet

Chemistry was my worst subject in high school. I squeaked by with a B+… only because my lab partner was a whiz and did the majority of my work. (Thanks, Patrick!) But that grade ruined the straight A average I had been holding… not that I was in competition with anyone in particular. I wasn’t sweating every decimal point, trying to beat out the other nine people ahead of me to become the valedictorian.
I honestly didn’t care what my ranking was. Well, I did care a little teensy bit. ๐Ÿ˜‰

But I hated chemistry, because I couldn’t wrap my head around it. All the other subjects came naturally to me, with very little studying required. Usually I could open a textbook, read the chapter, and everything made perfect sense. Even Latin was easier to learn than those freaking chemical equations and that damned periodic table.
Who needs to know how many electrons and neutrons an atom of iron contains?
It didn’t help that I had a teacher who (I swear on Willow’s grave) could’ve been the Siamese twin of the economics teacher from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
That my Chem class was scheduled directly after lunch didn’t help my focus either.

Subconsciously, however, I think I loathed that class because of what it represented to me: a science driven by studying the chemicals that maintain the operations of life on this planet. We all know that our brains function by electrical impulses and chemical reactions. Every chemical we put into our bodies interacts with already present chemicals, and causes psychological and/or physical changes within us.
Scientists are brave enough to assert that our basic emotions – love, fear, and loathing – are all chemically based. Some are experimenting with artificial potions to re-create abstract things like attraction.
If taken seriously, what does that say about people? That our thoughts and feelings aren’t stemming from a spiritual core, but from a cauldron of brew that can be altered by any added ingredient?

I love cats. Looooove cats. It is who I am. But is there a chemical that could reverse that attraction, and cause me to dislike cats?
Could someone technically slip me a drugged latte that would completely alter my entire personality?
Then who would I be?

That is why I hate chemistry, and doctors who push drugs on their patients after diagnosing them with multiple disorders. So many of my character traits that I assume are simply part of me, like my flakiness or tendency to daydream, can be considered “symptoms”…
In the past, I’ve had doctors tell me that I’m depressed or suffering from anxiety. They offered drugs to alleviate my stress and mood, but I refused to accept them. I felt I could manage my own feelings if I simply changed my way of thinking. It requires a lot of effort, though, and doesn’t always work.

This morning, I logged into Facebook and was greeted with a new post by Jessica Doyle. She hadn’t written anything lately, because she’s been busy working on her new top-secret e-commerce site… which I’m anxious to see.
She always strikes me as a person who has everything together. She seems organized and focused, a total workaholic. I’ve been admiring her dedication and work ethic for a while now, but after reading today’s blog, I admire her 10x more. Why? Because she has ADHD and there is an internal battle going on to stay ahead of her game, that many of us who casually correspond with her never really see. She hides it well.

She was mentioning some of her “symptoms” and how drugs aren’t readily available to people in her area (unless you have lots of money… which self-employed artists rarely have). Some of the things she mentioned triggered little alarms in my fuzzy head… and I looked up a website for adult ADHD to learn more.

Hmmmm. Uh-huh.

If you were to ask my former co-workers, bosses, teachers, and ex-lovers to compile a list of my character traits and flaws, here are some of the things guaranteed to be mentioned:

  • she’s easily distracted
  • she ignores me when I’m talking to her
  • she can work on a project for hours and be completely oblivious to everything else
  • she couldn’t arrive on time to save her life
  • she forgot her doctor’s appointment, even after they called to remind her
  • her car is always a mess inside
  • a million projects get started and are left unfinished
  • the electric bills keep disappearing
  • she acts on impulse without thinking
  • she speaks first, and inserts feet later
  • she’s very defensive towards criticism
  • she’s insensitive towards me
  • she snaps at people when she’s irritated
  • she undervalues herself
  • she lets “the little things” upset her

This list could grow quite long, depending on the source, and many of these points were actually communicated to me (in the form of job evaluations and break-up arguments).
Scrolling down the page, the portrait of myself – as seen through the eyes of everyone around me – became shockingly clear.

I could be over-reacting, of course. I could very well just be a stressed out, absent-minded flake who is trying to juggle too many balls… marriage, parenting, web-coding, e-commerce, blogging, painting and creating stuff…
As a child and teenager, I didn’t fit the stereotype of a trouble-making delinquent. In fact, I never EVER got into trouble at school… the teachers loved me… and as previously mentioned, I carried straight A’s (except for Chemistry) and loved to study and learn new things. Occasionally, my wise-cracking curiosity would cause me to question their theories – out loud – and we would start debating in class. But many teachers enjoy a good debate, especially if they are experts in their field; they enjoy seeing the students exercising their minds and reaching a better understanding of the subject.

I would happily settle for NOT having any disorders of any kind, because I was raised to accept personal responsibility for my actions, and it seems like crying “The devil made me do it.” to pin all my faults on a chemical imbalance.
The one and only reason why I never experimented with drugs and alcohol as a teen: I didn’t want something controlling me. Everything action taken was in full-knowledge and awareness. I never needed the excuse: It wasn’t really me; it was the drugs.

I’ve seen how chemicals can alter a person. My former father-n-law went to Vietnam, and came back with Schizophrenia. Apparently, living with him was a real trip, as he was constantly hallucinating… hearing gunfire and explosions, seeing apparitions. He lost his driver’s license after an accident, where he swerved the car to avoid a group of Vietnamese villagers who were crossing the road in front of him. They didn’t actually exist.
After being placed on some kind of medication that suppressed that area of his brain, the hallucinations stopped, but he became a walking, talking vegetable with very little personality. The entire creative side of him was gone.

That is why I avoid doctors and drugs. I’m afraid to have something controlling my brain, switching things “on” and “off”, and playing with my personality. My mind may be a cesspool of boiling chemical chaos inside… but it’s my personal chaos and I’m used to it. I don’t want to trade it for an unknown pattern of behaviour.

Chemicals can make us feel happy, relaxed, and focused… they can also make us irritable, fatigued, and depressed.
My favorite example of irony in advertising are those commercials for anti-depressants, in which the side effects include suicidal thoughts. Um… happy people don’t jump off bridges, do they?

Chemicals alter how we think, feel, and respond to our environment. Everything we eat and drink, the air we breath, even the detergents we use to clean our homes and clothes, can all have an effect on our brains.
Scary stuff, huh?!

Joe thinks I’m crazy. Not because I might be anxious, depressed, hyperactive, or schizophrenic. But because I’m obsessing over the possibility. He accepts me as I am… even when I misplace our mail and arrive late to my appointments, prompting one doctor to “fire” me from his patient roster.

Being crazy isn’t a disorder, it’s being human. We can’t fix ourselves, so we must learn to manage our weaknesses and utilize our strengths. How do we do that effectively? I have no freaking idea… that’s what life is all about. Figuring this stuff out.

Wanna be my lab partner?