A few months ago, I decided to stop uploading duplicate blog content to this account (to appease the almighty Google gods). Although was my initial launching pad into blogging, I transferred my attention to once the WordPress platform was up and running… and I didn’t have enough spare creative energy to write original posts for both sites.

However, I feel badly for abandoning the remaining subscribers of this blog… and while I encourage anyone who is interested in my work to pop over to my “Other” blog and re-subscribe (for semi-timely updates)… I have, in fact, come up with a solution for this albatross blog as well.

Taking a cue from one of my favorite bloggers, Kathleen Basi, who writes a weekly summary of her recent posts called “Sunday Snippets”…. I’ve decided to write monthly summaries for my content on 🙂

So here is a recap for October….

Regency Cat Art Prints and Greeting Cards

5 Tips From a Procrastinating Cat Artist

October 11th, 2011 – I shared some awesome news regarding a wholesale order for my Regency Cat greeting cards and prints. MuttsandFrutts of Ontario, Canada is an upscale pet boutique located in the popular tourist area of Niagara-on-the-Lake.

The owner, Lisa, contacted me about ordering a large quantity of my cards (which I print and fold individually at home)… and my work load went into overdrive.
Through the stress, excitement, and the unexpected, I learned some lessons about Being Prepared… including:

  1. Purchase More Supplies Than You’ll Need
  2. Always Have Inventory On-Hand
  3. Have Every Size, Shape, Color, and Available Option Listed

Serious lessons for a gal who always waits until she’s down to 3 sheets of paper and 1/8 of a yellow ink cartridge before re-ordering supplies.
I wouldn’t have lasted long as a Girl Scout. 😛

TaraFly with AfriCat Painting for charity

Picture of me standing under my AfriCat painting, top center.

AfriCat – An Art Auction for Charity

October 17th, 2011 – I stopped by the local art supply store, Howards’ Arts and Frames on Dual Highway, on October 1st, after seeing their announcement for the 6th annual “Art for the Animals” charity fundraiser.

Each year, they’ve asked area artists to donate artwork (which Howards’ will frame) for a silent auction to benefit animal charity organizations. The last couple of years they’ve supported the local Humane Society. This year, they chose to assist Guiding Eyes for the Blind.

I missed the deadline to enter last year, and didn’t want to miss out on this year’s opportunity to showcase my work locally (and help animals too!)…. but I was almost too late!
The original deadline for entries was Oct. 1st – the same day that I inquired, and I had nothing to offer (as they were accepting only 5″x7″ portraits on canvas panels). However, they generously extended the deadline a couple of days, and I rushed home to work on a fresh new painting… specifically for the auction.

My resulting piece was titled “AfriCat”, inspired by National Geographic photos of African tribal women wearing hundreds of brightly beaded necklaces.

[Update: The final night of bidding ended with AfriCat being sold for $40.00, and announced as 1st runner-up for People’s Choice in her category]

Art for the Animals, hosted by Howards' Arts and Frames

AfriCat Painting Video

October 24th, 2011 – With the charity auction ending on the 26th, I gave everyone a brief update on AfriCat’s bidding status (she was holding steady at $26.00 on Monday night, and sold for $40 on Wednesday).

I also edited 3 hours worth of video that I’d taped of myself in the studio, painting AfriCat… condensed it down to approximately 20 minutes, split between 2 videos which I’ve uploaded to YouTube.

AfriCat Painting Video: Part One

AfriCat Painting Video: Part Two

And there you have it! All three of my blog posts for October, in an easily digestible format.
Let me know if you found this summary helpful, okay?

But once again, if you want to catch my blog posts when they’re still alive and kicking, I encourage you to visit my “real” blog on….
Thank you for lending me your eyes! 😉

Photo of horseback rider taken by TaraFly at Bellasana Stables.

Bellasana Stables, located in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.

On Saturday, the weather was balmy and gorgeous, and we were itching to get out of the house.
Desiring a new destination rather than our usual jaunt to the local park, we piled into the car for a road trip into the mountains of West Virginia.

My friend Carolyn operates a horse farm, Bellasana Stables in Shepherdstown, where she rescues neglected and abused horses to aid in their recovery. She also takes in retired show horses, race horses, and camp trail horses, and leases space for boarders.

Bellasana Stables in Shepherdstown WV

She gives riding lessons, and “equine facilitated therapeutic lessons” for people with disabilities – for which she received her 4-year college degree.

The kids love to visit her farm… there are goats and chickens to feed, huge horses to gawk over, and children to play with…. although we don’t get an opportunity to travel in that direction as often as we’d like.

TaraFly drawing horses during field trip to farm

I took along my sketch book, and managed to capture a few rough drawings of horses carrying riders.
I needed the references for gentleman cat portraits I have in mind.
We also captured quite a bit of video while we were there… also helpful for later drawing references! Especially now that I’ve learned how to grab single frames from video! 😀

When we returned home, I edited a few clips together to create this new YouTube video.  I saved my favorite bit for the ending:
Check out the horse who untied his lead rope! ;D

Joe also brought along the camera, and we took turns photographing goats, horses, birds… and children frolicking in the grass.

making new friends at the farm

Mia, at left, was happy to make a new little friend...

This was only Jacob’s second visit to Bellasana… and he doesn’t remember his first experience as a six-month-old.

He made a couple additional appearances while still inside my womb, and fortunately survived one disastrous encounter when a horse’s hoof connected with my upper thigh, mere inches away from my very pregnant belly. :/

Artist TaraFly and her two-year-old son at horse farm.

I was standing off to his side while grooming him, and apparently picked a sensitive scab…
I didn’t realize that horses can karate chop kick sideways!

I think the surprise and fear were stronger than the pain, although I had a huge, blackish hoof shaped bruise across my thigh for weeks.

Needless to say, I’ll always prefer animals that can fit comfortably on my lap.

But I can proudly cross it off my list…
“Stung by a hornet? Check.”
“Bitten by a stray dog? Check.”
“Kicked by a horse? Check.”

“Broken any bones?”……

(Still waiting….)

Although Joe and I are both leery of these monstrous beasts, their powerful legs, and huge teeth…the children have no fear, and wanted *real* pony-rides.
Carolyn was busy teaching lessons to her regular students, though, and we had to content ourselves with being spectators.

girl horseback riding at Bellasana Stables

Her summer riding camps are starting soon, however, which means more trips to the farm are already in the works. 🙂

If you live near Shepherdstown, WV and would like to check out the farm for yourself… you can contact Carolyn using this form.
You can also catch up with Bellasana Stables on their Facebook business page.

Victorian Cat Portrait by TaraFly
While brainstorming ideas for a possible Easter portrait, I settled upon a new series of headshots, depicting cats in fancy Victorian hats.
Easter bonnets!

When I began painting my first cat of the series in acrylics, I went with a bright cheery palate of orange, pinks, and yellow.

I believe wholeheartedly in my decision to paint this beauty as a pale orange/yellow tabby with auburn hair… even though there seems to be a gross misconception that female cats cannot be orange tabbies.

It occurred to me that I might suffer some raised eyebrows, or even scathing comments… such as the remarks made concerning my digital painting of Kittney.
Well, obviously Kittney raised a few brows for other reasons, hehe… but I’m referring to the folks who questioned my sexual orientation and whether she was really a “He” dressed in drag.

I know personally that female orange cats aren’t an oddity, but I went off in search of scientific facts to prove it… spending an entire afternoon reading articles about genetics, and learning a great deal of fascinating info. 🙂

So here is the gist of what I’ve gathered about the role genes play in cat coloring….

Grey tabby mother cat and kittens including orange

Genes come in pairs of chromosomes (X-chromosomes and Y-chromosomes) … and the dominant or recessive nature of the gene is determined by variations of the alleles (which are shown using alphabetic characters: i.e. AA, Aa, and aa).

The dominant trait is represented by the capital letter, and dominant traits always manifest themselves, unless both alleles are recessive lower-case (aa) forms.

When it comes to cat coloring, the genes are found on the (X) chromosome, and are referred to as “sex based”… since females have two X’s and males only have one.

Females will have the standard AA, Aa, or aa pattern.
Males will have either A or a.

The black and brown colors are known as eumelanin pigments, and the orange color is a phaeomelanin pigment.

Sarah Jane gorgeous white long-hair cat Noelle Clearwater

The “white” color of a cat’s coat is actually a combination of genes that affect cats in a myriad of ways.

For example:
The upper and lower case C, representing the albino trait – a dominant C will result in normal cats, but having two recessive alleles (cc) will create an albino cat.

Dominic the Tuxedo Cat sticking out his tongue

The S gene determines the amount of white spotting a calico or tortoiseshell cat has, and also affects white paws, facial marks, bibs, and tummies.
My Dominic and Lily’s Sammy can thank the S gene for their handsome tuxedos. 🙂

And the W gene – called “White masking” – creates the pure white cats that we are familiar with.
The W gene actually inhibits any other coloring a cat may be predisposed to have.

A cat with recessive (ww) genes will exhibit normal colors (i.e. orange, black, brown…) but the dominant W allele will suppress any other color pigments from showing, creating a cat that is solid white.

It’s actually a nasty piece of genetic coding, which often causes deafness in white cats – due to degeneration of the inner ear.
It is also responsible for the loss of pigmentation in cats’ irises, resulting in blue eyes.
Cats with one blue eye and one green… like Noelle’s SarahJane who served as my model for Jane Bennet…may likely suffer from deafness in the ear corresponding to their blue eye.

Additionally white cats are sensitive to temperatures, and susceptible to sunburn and skin cancer.

Cream and white cat

The black gene B is pretty unique in the sense that it has two recessive mutations: bb will result in a chocolate-brown colored cat, but there is a recessive allele even MORE recessive than that… which creates a lighter cinnamon coat.

It’s labelled as blbl.

Some color variations are also determined by the color’s density gene, labelled D or dd.
The dominant D means a cat will have bold colors – i.e. black, orange, or brown.
A recessive set of alleles (dd) creates faded colors – i.e. lilac, blue/grey, cream, beige, and caramel.

Now, here’s the part regarding orange female cats…. 😉

The red phaeomelanin pigment is carried on the 0 gene. The dominant 0 gene actually suppresses any black or brown eumelanin pigments that may be present. But if the gene is recessive (oo), the cat will not be red… and any other colors will be free to express themselves.

A fluffy orange tabby cat sleeping

Since these colors are carried on the (X) chromosome, a male cat will be either 0 or o.
Red or non-red.

Aside from genetic defects, wherein a male cat might have an extra X-chromosome (XXY) and become a calico/tortie.
They are rare, occurring in roughly 1 out of 3,000 red toms.

Now female cats can have any of the follow genetic combinations: 00, 0o, or oo.
An 00 gene would result in a red tabby female. 0o would create a partially red calico or tortoiseshell.
And oo would be a non-red female.

Orange and grey tabby kittens

Apparently this is a 1:2:1 ratio… with calicos being twice as likely as red and non-red kittens.
If a red male (dominant 0) mated with a calico (0o)… the likelihood of getting a red tabby female would be 1:4 or 25%.

I wanted to find a table that listed every single genetic piece of code for our domestic house cat, but scientists haven’t completely finished identifying them all.
As of 2007, when this article was published, researchers at the University of Missouri had located over 20,000 individual cat genes… which they claim equals 95% of a cat’s entire genetic make-up.

Girl holding striped grey tabby cat

Humans are roughly the same – with approx. 20,500 genetic bits in all.

I did find this interesting table which breaks down the genetic code for common feline characteristics, including:
fur colors, patterns, fur length/texture, curled ears, bob tails, extra toes (polydactyl), and dwarfism.

Notice “patterns” refer to the tabby, swirl, and ticked markings on a cat’s coat… which are NOT to be confused with colors.
We generally think of tabbies as having “black” stripes or “brown” stripes… so I was really surprised to learn that colors and stripes were entirely separate things.

I hope this makes sense to everyone, and I did some justice to the various articles that I paraphrased. LOL

Most of all, I wanted this post to clear the air regarding female orange cats. They do in fact exist, and in greater numbers that some folks believe. *wink*

They aren’t rare by any means… rather, red females are a minority. Uncommon amongst the garden variety calicos and orange toms.

Which just makes them special. 🙂

Furry grey and cream kittens sleeping cuddling

Jane Bennet Cat Pride and Prejudice cat adaptation by TaraFly

Through this Benadryl-induced mist clouding my allergy ridden brain, I vaguely recall that I promised everyone a “Behind the Scenes” post chronicling the making of “Jane Bennet”.
She is the latest in my Pride and Prejudice cat adaptation, a digitally painted portrait of the eldest Bennet sister.

Sarah Jane gorgeous white long-hair cat Noelle Clearwater

The model for Jane was Noelle Clearwater’s gorgeous silky furred SarahJane… who sadly crossed over the bridge last October, after 19 years on this earth. I began her painting in September, and sadly didn’t get it finished before she passed.

I toyed with a few different settings, including a melancholy winter scene with Jane mourning the absence of Bingley. Looking for just the right pose, I dug through my old Regency photo shoots, and came across this image.

TaraFly artist in regency dress

It reminded me of a particular scene from the 1995’s miniseries, where Jane and Lizzy have a tête-à-tête following the Meryton ball, while picking flowers on the grounds of Longebourne.

He is just what a young man ought to be. Sensible, good-humoured, lively; and I never saw such happy manners! — so much ease, with such perfect good breeding!

Pen sketch of Jane Bennet Cat by TaraFly

So I sketched the initial design for Jane, scanned it into Photoshop; then I drew the fence and shrubbery digitally with my stylus.

Next I began laying the color foundations, using a separate layer for each object in the picture, beginning with the bottom (or farthest from our view).

    PS Layers:

  1. pale yellow for the background
  2. leafy green bushes
  3. the brown fence
  4. Jane’s pale pink dress
  5. the brown grapevine basket
  6. her white fur (head, arms, and tail)
  7. her white hair and pink roses

Working with one layer at a time allows me to keep the rest of my painting unaffected, as I tend to work without any concrete plans, and change my mind frequently.
This portrait especially challenged my newly developing skills… as multiple times I stared at the screen, suffering from artist’s block, without any clue how to achieve the desired look.

This painting would sit for weeks in my Progress folder, while my subconscious sorted out the problem.

Digitally coloring a grapevine basket

I began with the simplest project in the piece… the grapevine basket. I’ve drawn and painted baskets before, and one of my first attempts at digital paintings involved a very similar basket design. Originally I smudged all the shadows and highlights by hand (i.e. with stylus/mouse), but with Gaussian Blur it becomes 10x easier.
No, make that 50x easier!

Simply draw your shadow lines and highlighted lines, and then blur the heck out of them (using Gaussian Blur). Sometimes it needs to be done a few times, or else set the layer to multiply, in order to make the shadows dark enough for your preference.

My first obstacle involved the wood grain texture of my fence. It would be simple to choose a photographic texture for the grain, and apply it with Burn or Overlay. However, I wanted to grow and improve as a digital painter, and was determined to paint the texture myself.

Jane Bennet Cat digital painting in progress TaraFly

This screenshot of the program shows where I’ve shaded the wooden posts and was beginning to add squiggly dark grain lines, which I’d later blend in with Smudge/Blur.

(You’ll notice I had the dress and background layers turned off… I’ll do that often to focus my concentration)

Digital painting Jane bennet dress by TaraFly

Next, I painted her dress. I have a love/hate relationship with fabric. I’m not always sure where the folds are, and how the colors shift; it’s difficult to tell from a photograph. So I usually just use my imagination and paint wrinkles and folds however I want, whether it’s technically accurate or not.

This is the one instance in the painting where I did use a fabric texture to create the little rosebuds. I had planned to paint the design by hand, but grew lazy…

This is the same technique I’ve used before, and explained in detail with Mr. Bennet’s portrait.

Adding texture to a shawl. digital painting by TaraFly.

I used my tweed fabric texture on her shawl. In this shot, you can see my cursor (in Eraser mode) trimming off the excess texture where it overlapped onto her dress.

Cat face digital painting by TaraFly

Moving on to the fur layer, I painted the shadows of her face in pale purple, and using the Smudge tool in a small brush size (with heavy pressure: 50-70%) pulled out large tufts and smaller strands of fur.
Her eyes were a blend of blues, purple (for shadow), green, and yellow… I placed dabs of each color and blended with the Blur tool. I manually blended a bit as well.

Jane Bennet Cat's fluffy white tail. Digital Painting by TaraFly.

Her tail was done the same way. I colored it completely white, and added lines of purple for shading, then Smudged all the chunks of fur in various directions, with a flowing manner.
Since Jane is a long-haired cat, the Smudge pressure needed to be heavy to produce the longest strands. A short, light pressure will break early and leave shorter tufts.

It was around this point that I uploaded my first set of photos to Flickr, and gave everyone a WIP update. Noelle was enthusiastic, but mentioned that Jane’s one eye should be green.

Not a serious problem with Photoshop however, thanks to the “color replacement tool” that allows you to substitute one color for another, leaving the shading values mostly intact. The tool tries to replicate all the shadows and highlights in the new color scheme, although sometimes it is a little “off” and you’ll lose details, so touch-ups will be necessary.

But it definitely helps to discover this tool before you re-color an entire area from scratch!
Like I wound up doing 3 years ago with a mermaid’s tail, at a customer’s request.

Digitally painting Jane Bennet Cat's hair ringlets. By TaraFly.

This image shows my beginning work on Jane’s hairstyle and ringlets. I drew this style from my imagination because I didn’t have any hair references that appealed to me. Again, the shadows are getting drawn in purple.

Using the Smudge tool in Photoshop to add hair.

I began smudging with a thick brush and light pressure, just to get the rough outline of hair growth… then I went back and pulled tiny strands of hair using a heavier pressure.

Here is what her hair looks like after drawing a gazillion strands, and adding some highlights…
pure white lines and some yellow sun-kissed spots.

Jane Bennet Cat's face portrait. Digital painting by TaraFly.

Drawing and smudging hair is very time-consuming, but it’s also semi-relaxing due to the repetitive, flowing movement. You can literally sit for hours and just draw lines of hair. 😛

Painting flowers, on the other hand, is not relaxing at all. Actually, this basket full of roses was a bit nerve-wracking… Flowers are incredibly detailed, but I tried to simplify it for myself by painting them in swirls and blobs.

Filling Jane's flower basket with roses.

Have you ever decorated a cake with piped roses?
You begin by piping a blob of icing onto a metal platform called a “flower nail”… and then make a swirl around the top, and add crescent-shaped petals around the swirled center.
I approached these flowers just like that. Swirls and blobs, swirls and blobs, with blurred highlights and shadows. LOL

And those green furry blobs?? I was trying to fill up the basket with “green stuff”, so I wouldn’t need as many flowers. 😛
I also added lots of white blobs (i.e. baby’s breath) for filler.

After looking at the entire portrait, I decided that her pale purple dress wasn’t the right color… so I chose a warmer pink to complement the roses. I also began to detest the ugly brown I’d used previously for her shawl, and opted instead for lavender. Yay for the color replacement tool!

Color replacement tool in Photoshop.
You can see how nicely the color transitions as I scroll my mouse over it, keeping the shadows intact.

So here stands rosy-cheeked Jane Bennet, amongst her flower garden… and something is missing.

Jane Bennet Cat work in progress digital painting by TaraFly.

I needed to finish the leafy bushes in the background, and God help me, I did not want to paint leaves.

I procrastinated for a long while, and finally searched Deviantart for suitable photographs that I could use as a backdrop. But nothing looked quite right.
What to do….

The answer was so obvious, I’m fortunate it wasn’t a blasted snake. This is Photoshop after all, and I use the cut and paste tool only a million times per day…

One morning after eating my brain food (a.k.a. oatmeal banana pancakes), I realized that I could paint a small patch of leaves onto a transparent layer, and copy them repeatedly all over the shrubbery.

painting leaves on a transparent layer in Photoshop.

“Lightbulb”, as Gru would say (from my kids’ new favorite movie).

Don’t tell me these look like poison ivy leaves.

I filled up the background with them, and also pasted some over the fence layer, giving the illusion that leaves were poking through the slats in the fence.

Digital painting of leaves and wooden fence.

Again, do NOT mention their resemblance to poison ivy.
I’m warning ya’. 😉

To give some depth to the shrubs, I added a couple additional layers and painted large blobs of green with a “wet watercolor” brush setting. The bottom layer was blurred and lightened.

Painting leaves and shrubbery in Photoshop.

I think the overall effect looks nice and leafy.

The finishing touch was to add grass. Just a wide strip of green across the bottom of the painting, which was smudged into long blades of grass (just like cat fur).

Adding grass digital painting in Photoshop.

But I’m not quite done yet, adding a couple of roses growing in the bush, lighter shades of grass, and a few more leaves.

It’s dangerously easy to overwork a painting, and hopefully I stopped myself just in time. I have a habit of trying to add too many details…

The finished Miss Bennet, just in time for an early spring!

Jane Bennet finished digital art print by TaraFly.

Dominic the tuxedo cat looking out window at snow

Dominic was disappointed by the snowfall this morning.

Being a working artist, whether self-supporting or struggling, is a mixed bag of delight and disappointment. I can’t paint a rosy picture for you, and if I could, I’d sell it for a billion dollars because everyone wants one.

There is one thing about being an artist that totally rocks, however… and that is my social circle. I have the creme of the crop talent-wise at my fingertips, and not only do they inspire me daily with their imagination and ingenuity, but these kind-hearted creative folks are always willing to give me a few words of knowledgable advice or thoughtful encouragement.

2011 Calendar designed and illustrated by Jessica Doyle

A 2011 Calendar, designed and illustrated by Jessica Doyle

Jessica Doyle is one of the most talented artists/illustrators out there; she specializes in ink drawings, colored pencil and watercolor, although she can jump to acrylics or digital media effortlessly when the mood strikes.
If you aren’t already familiar with her work… you soon will be, but remember where you “discovered” her first. M-kay? 😉

I first found her while searching for a review on the Epson line of printers that Carrie Hawks, another awesome cat artist, recommended that I try. Carrie’s favorite model, the R2200, was discontinued … and a search for the next upgrade (the R2880) led me to Jess’s fabulous blog.
I devoured a year’s worth of posts in one afternoon, and one private goal of mine is to read the entire blog from beginning to end.

2011 calendar illustrated by Jessica Doyle

Printing and measuring the calendar

Following her on Facebook, Twitter, Etsy, WordPress, Buzz, and Flickr… eh, does that sound stalkerish? …over the last year and a half has been really meaningful for me, because she is full of insight and wisdom. And she doesn’t mind sharing it with us.

I’ve especially enjoyed watching her e-commerce baby being born… The Handmade Cloud, she calls it.
We both took the self-hosted webstore route, but her patience and dedication has paid off with a beautiful online retail shop to showcase her work, that she designed herself with some help from a coding expert.

Imagine how tickled and honored I was to be invited to test-drive a new feature! A select few lucky folks (hehe) were able to freely download a PDF copy of her very-much-in-demand 2011 calendar…

Cutting the Jessica Doyle calendar with X-acto blade

Trimming Jess' calendar with an X-acto knife

The calendar is available for purchase by everyone else here on Etsy, and on Handmade Cloud.

I didn’t yet have a calendar purchased for next year, so her gift was greatly appreciated. The other day, I organized the studio (again) and de-cluttered it, so today I enjoyed a bit of quiet time printing Jess’ calendar on – our – Epson printer… and assembling it under Merlin’s supervision.

Merlin the cat and Tara Fly in art studio

Merlin demands a chin scratch or else the printer gets it!

I guess he didn’t trust me with X-Acto knives. Funny thing, I’m scared to death of pricking myself with a sewing needle, but the real danger in slicing into one’s finger with a razor blade never occurred to me.
Did Sleeping Beauty traumatize me as a child?
I’ve ripped into hundreds upon thousands of cardboard boxes during my 12+ years working retail, that box cutters seem like a useful claw attached to my hand.

I did, however, encounter one particularly terrifying thing while printing this little calendar.

A scary nightmare alternate reality Jessica Doyle calendar

Mushrooms from my nightmares....


One of Jess’s paintings featured mushrooms… and I’ve been scared of toadstools and mushrooms since childhood.

Did I ever tell you about the evil mushrooms that hide in tall grass, waiting for young children?
They spring up and attack the innocent frolicking girls, and tear into their flesh with razor-sharp fangs… blood-thirsty toadstools can eat an entire child in a few grizzly hours.

As a five-year-old, I commanded my grandfather to hunt and kill all the toadstools in our yard before I would play in the grass. I stood fearfully on our brick patio and watched him scour the lawn, uprooting any he could find. He also fashioned a piece of twine into a lasso, as a weapon for me to use in self-defense. I practiced throwing it over their monstrous heads from a safe distance.

Yeah… don’t get too philosophical with me. I’m sure there’s a Freudian explanation buried in it somewhere. ;P

Jessica Doyle 2011 Calendar September and August artwork

Those paper mushrooms will not hurt me...

So… anyway… I might just cut August’s page in half and reuse that artwork for September. 😉

Jessica Doyle 2011 calendar with ribbon tie

Tying the pages together with a scrap of ribbon.

A bit of leftover ribbon that was too short for any other purpose was perfect to hang it from the wall, in place of my ugly, utilitarian calendar. It was still displaying the month of June…

My goal for the new year is to actually make some long-range plans, to set deadlines for myself, and to create my own calendar (and some Christmas ornaments, too) for next fall.
If the world is going to end in 2012, I can’t procrastinate too long, huh? 😛

Jessica Doyle calendar on wall with stink bugs and computer

I discovered two stink bugs while hanging her calendar...

When I took the current calendar down (hey, it was June, for crying out loud! I doubt it’ll be missed) I found two stink bugs hiding underneath it. Everyone following my updates on Facebook or Twitter knows about the obsession I had with our infestation of stink bugs this summer. (They taste like cinnamon!)

At one point, I actually followed a group of them around, documenting their every move with my camera… with the intention to write a dramatic dialogue for them. No need to worry if you don’t recall reading it, because I didn’t post it anywhere. LOL

two stink bugs on wall

A Few Days of Our Lives, starring Annie Bugstede and Taylor Stinkler

I took this romantic interlude as a good sign. I am slowly surrounding myself, and my workspace, with positive vibes from dear friends. With Jess’s artwork now hanging on the wall, and Merlin the cat cuddling with me, and the stink bug couple dreaming their dreams and building a nest…

The life of an artist is pretty fulfilling, sometimes scary, always colorful, and slightly cinnamon flavored.

cat dressed for communion with Jesus portrait

My cat Flicker all dressed for Communion ... (circa 1991)

I’ve been involved with every Protestant religion known to man or God at some point, and dabbled in a few earth-based religions as well, before deciding that the Universe and I would never agree. Not that my opinion holds much weight in the face of a Black Hole.

But for some reason, Catholicism has escaped me. Or rather, I’ve never set foot inside a Catholic church except to attend my cousin’s high school graduation.
(She went to one of those all-girls’ schools – St. Something-or-other – operated by nuns)

That isn’t to say that I haven’t done some homework on the subject however, especially with my love of ancient history and British literature. I also seemed to gravitate towards Catholic friends, unconsciously, and even married one. Although he was one of those wayward-types who doesn’t attend mass anymore.
But the mysteries and protocols surrounding their practice provide me with hours of curiosity…
And too many questions.

Take confessionals, for example. Simply put, you step into a phonebooth-style closet and discuss your sins with the priest behind the curtain, who as God’s appointed earthly emissary has been given the holy power of absolution… so he forgives you, and then requires that you repent with x-amount of prayers performed on a beaded necklace.   (My mother gave me a rosary as a child, but never taught me to use it).

What would happen if I suddenly decided to confess… would I be bound to recall every sin I’d committed in the last 25 years?  I’m almost 31 years old, but apparently the first 5 years don’t count against me. 😉
….Or is the age of reason seven years?   (I’m afraid to Google it and become sidetracked for 3 hours reading articles on Thomas Paine)

Lord, there have been so many regrets and bad decisions made in the last 10 years alone… it would be a very daunting task indeed to list them all, and just imagine, I’d probably be praying on beads for the next 30 years.

When I was studying Latin, I got a kick out of watching the Catholic TV channel. It was a fun challenge to keep pace with the sermons, and every time I could successfully translate phrases like “tertia die resurrexit a mortuis, ascendit ad caelos, sedet ad dexteram Dei Patris omnipotentis”   I would squeal with excitement.
I imagined the priest and I had our own secret language.

[Lord, the spell-check had serious issues with that phrase! Perhaps I should program my Latin dictionary into WordPress.  Or is there a widget?]

But I also remember watching the nuns reciting their “Hail Marys” – over and over and over and over – and how truly forlorn and tired they appeared.  I couldn’t help but wonder what the Once-Virgin Mary thought about all these depressing rituals… I mean, if you’re going to say “Blessed art thou amongst women!” you could try to sound joyful about it, or the point is being lost.
Isn’t it?

A former co-worker of mine was sitting in the lunch room, reading an inspirational book written for Catholics… although it’s been 10 years and I can’t remember its title or author (too many sins clogging my mind), she left it lying on the table where it sat until she left, and then I opened it to the page she’d bookmarked.

It was discussing the damnation of Protestants having forsaken “The True Religion”… now there is a phrase that would send icy chills down the spine of many Dark Age prisoners. People were beheaded for simply refusing to accept The True Religion, which makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.
If their souls were damned, why not at least let them live until a ripe old age before sentencing them to burn in Hell?
One of the biggest complaints against the Church is why everyone is so Hell-bent on damning everybody else.
You’re a Methodist, therefore you’re going to Hell.
You Mormons and Lutherans will burn too.

We are all reading the same Scriptures, except for those “lost” passages that might explain everything, and yet there are hundreds (perhaps thousands) of groups professing wildly different interpretations. But we’re willing to condemn and kill people to maintain that we are right. Right?

I wonder what cats think about religion? See, cats supposedly do not have souls at all, and therefore do not have to worry about Hell and confessing mortal sins.
It is accepted that animals don’t even commit sins… although we cat owners would beg to differ.
Spitefulness is a sin, is it not? And my cats will puke in my shoe just to spite me.

Grace Christian church day school in Bowie Maryland

My kindergarten class at Grace Baptist School (1985)

I’ve been arguing the point of animism (animals having souls) since childhood, and the clergy have been adamant against the idea. Although if you talk with ghost hunters, they’ll admit to running across animal spirits occasionally. Hmmm.
One of the reasons I studied paganism for awhile, was because it seems implausible to think that human beings are the only creatures worthy of possessing a soul. Every living thing shares energy that cannot be destroyed. If you’re tempted to quote Genesis 1:26-28, don’t bother…

In fact, I just read the first two chapters of Genesis last week, when Mia grabbed a Bible off the shelf under the assumption it was a bedtime story. Fortunately, she drifted off to sleep before I reached Chapter 4, where Cain bludgeoned his brother to death with a rock. I didn’t want to give her any nightmares… or any ideas. 😉

There are very few Old Testament stories appropriate for children, including Noah’s Art, which is a popular nursery theme…. WHY?! For Heaven’s sake… people and animals drowned due to God’s rage, but their bodies aren’t painted floating in the pastel waters underneath the pretty rainbow.

(Daniel and the Lion’s Den, David and Goliath, Shadrach and the Furnace… they are gruesome and violent enough for Hollywood to prey upon for plotlines)

But if animals do have souls, did Jesus die for them as well?
If we could translate Scripture into a language understood by our furred friends, would they accept their salvation?

For awhile now, I’ve envisioned doing a series of paintings surrounding Biblical stories recreated with cats. Even Joe read my mind recently, and suggested I paint the Birth of Christ – depicting the holy family as a mother cat with her litter.  Which one would be Jesus?  It might confuse the wise men, eh?
Perhaps all the kittens were saviours…. now that would be an interesting twist.

My grandmother was a huge proponent of Christmas celebrations.  Every year, the extended family would travel hundreds of miles to our Bowie home for the holidays.   She was the glue that held everyone together – the reason for our season – and the feasts and parties were such a large part of my childhood that one wonders why I shun them now.
I guess my holiday phobias stem partly from the degeneration of our family after her passing.

December was a flurry of UPS packages arriving daily and trunks of decorations migrating down from the attic. She was an avid collector of knickknacks, and for Christmas, her enormous collection of Nativity scenes would appear on bookcases, end tables, windowsills, and inside glass hutches.

One year, I sculpted her a gift from oven-baked clay – a feline Nativity, and she praised its creativity and placed it alongside the others, without any mention of the potential blasphemy of portraying Jesus and family as cats.


There are so many paintings that I’d love to create, but that word scares me into pushing them aside.
But why?

I’m not interested in shock-value… it’s never been my intention to create disturbing or derogatory artwork. Honestly, I’m not trying to put down anyone’s faith.

Looking back, I see that sculpture as my way of reaching out to God to make peace.   Cats and Christianity have been themes in my art for some time … Medieval Priest Cat and Church Choir Cats are two recent examples … because it reflects the conflicted position I find myself in.

Reject the religion of my childhood, or those beliefs which have always felt honest to me. And who would I be, if not part cat in a human skin?

Child playing with cat

Flicker and I caught playing with cat-toys...

Cats are fascinating because they live outside our rules and don’t abide by religious dogma (hehe, and why should they? It’s merely Dog-ma after all)… yet they seem to be fully in tune with their purpose and what life is all about. Cats attend to their basic needs, for shelter, food, procreation, and company.
They provide for their young, defend their homes, and seek out relationships with humans and other animals.

I don’t see them consulting Dead Sea Scrolls, constructing marble temples, or embarking on Holy Crusades.
They don’t question which Truth you believe. They don’t even ask you to confess.

I wonder, if you did manage to drag a cat into the booth, and he admitted that the stinky pile of poop behind the sofa was his… (and those paw prints in the pumpkin pie), would the penitence be divided by seven to accommodate his shorter lifespan?

Otherwise he might be praying on rosaries for the next 2.5 lives.

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. 😛 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 🙂

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. 🙂

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