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? ­čśë

I first found her while searching for a review on the Epson┬áline 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┬á– 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┬áknives. 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. ­čśë

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? ­čśŤ

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.


Ballet Dancing Cats - a work-in-progress

I was almost finished writing a very boring blog, updating everyone on my BlueHost subscription, my new domain
(which has absolutely nothing uploaded to it yet, so don’t bother heading over there!), and my latest digital work-in-progress for my daughter Mia (pictured above).

I went online to grab a URL I planned to link to an image, and decided to check my e-mail for the fourteenth time… I discovered an alert to a new blog comment, a wonderful bit of praise by artist Jessica Doyle for my last blog, entitled Reflecting on Respect. It was one of those introspective posts that doesn’t promote a product, give an informative summary of my situation, or serve any real purpose except to unclutter my mind a bit by scattering my thoughts out into the virtual winds.
Perhaps a seed will fall and take root, and somewhere in webland, another crazy-cat-artist will emerge – stretching her claws and yawning in flames.

Aside from the obvious appreciation I felt, knowing that she read and enjoyed my blog… Jess touched upon something personal, and most likely, she did it
unknowingly. She stated: “Your humanity, sense of who you are and love for life shines through..”

I’ve been struggling with the desire to please the crowds VS living honestly for years…
The knowing of oneself, translated into Latin as “Nosce┬áTe Ipsum”, has been a proverb since the early civilizations of mankind… apparently everyone suffers from a lack of self-integrity at one point or another. ­čśŤ

It wasn’t always an issue for me. In fact, as a child I had a profound sense of self and a disdain for conformity. My earliest childhood acquaintances, who have
recently crossed paths with me again on Facebook, have made comments to the effect “Geez, Tara, you haven’t changed a bit since 8th grade”.
They aren’t referring to my impressive ability to age slowly.. hehe … rather, my profile picture displaying Dominic, the fire-breathing cat. That Cat-Connection is
“the Tara” everyone remembers.

As a kid, I developed an affinity with my family’s pet cats.. my father’s calico, Hedy, was already a member of the household when I was born. She became a mentor for an imaginative┬á4-year-old, teaching me to stalk bugs, to sleep curled in the sun, to lick milk from a bowl, to climb trees and scratch furniture. Anthropomorphic┬ácartoons like “The Thundercats” and “The Secret of NIMH” might’ve contributed slightly to my belief that humans and animals could share similar spirits… but I think being an only child, spending many hours playing alone, my obsession with being feline came primarily from enjoying a cat’s companionship.
Pretending to be an animal in human clothing, or having cat-blood, eventually became more than just a game to amuse myself. I convinced myself that it was a truth, and my willingness to defend the belief in animal spirits put me at a disadvantage in my Christian environment. In my soul, I was connected to each cat I’d known and loved. No Scripture could dissuade me to think otherwise; they were simply unaware of the possibility. An oversight Jesus failed to mention. ­čśŤ

Not one to practice my beliefs in secret, I informed anyone and everyone that I was, in fact, a cat.
I behaved like a cat in public.
I hissed at my enemies and made scratching movements with my hind leg to essentially “bury them” like stinky feces. You can imagine what these antics did to my reputation! ­čśë
I had a few friends who were a bit quirky in their own right, but the majority of my classmates and neighbors thought I was simply an odd-ball, and kids can be
merciless towards peers. I was the scapegoat… if someone felt insecure, they could start poking fun at ME, and the whole class would laugh along with them. Perhaps friendships developed in the locker room over witty jokes, of which I was the unfortunate subject… it gives me warm fuzzy feelings to think I might’ve set a standard, “Well, at least I’m not THAT weird!”

My 3rd grade teacher tried to give helpful advice –
“You know, honey, if you stopped acting like a cat, they wouldn’t tease you. You’d have many more friends.”
I told her bluntly that any friend worth having, should accept me as I am. Pretty self-confidant for an 8-year-old, huh.

A few years later, when puberty rocked our worlds, and girls started noticing boys and wearing make-up and V-neck sweaters… I was developing as a young lady who devoured fantasy novels and the notion of other planets inhabited by anthropomorphic creatures. The more I read books and watched movies, I realized that other people shared my point of view.. and I wasn’t quite so strange afterall.
It fueled my confidence to reject a male classmate’s suggestion that I would be more likely to score a date if I stopped acting like a cat. My words to him echoed
my earlier rebuttal of the teacher:
“If a guy really liked me, he wouldn’t ask me to change. I’m not going to waste my time with anyone who doesn’t accept me.”

… I walked this earth for a time, wrapped in a cocoon of reclusive independence, neither seeking popularity nor acknowledging my influence over others.
Until my family moved to a different state, forcing me to attend a new school and reestablish my identity to a whole new group of strangers. I made the decision to tone down the “cat thing” in public, and probably came across as an average teenager, albeit a bit odd in other ways…

I was drawn towards the geeks and rejects who made the effort to dig deep enough into me and not judge what they found.
These weren’t the “Goths”, or the “Punks”, or the popular “anti-conformity” groups who thought that by emulating Marilyn Manson and Johnny Depp, they were “unique”.
Nor were they the “Retro-Hippies” who smoked pot and preached acceptance, or the abstract “Artist” types who took themselves too seriously.
I was intellectual, but not a member of the “Rich Preppy” circle that hosted alcohol parties when their trusting parents left them alone for the weekend.
The kids I hung out with could actually be considered misfits, because we didn’t really belong in any group, although many were band members and thespians.

I couldn’t call myself popular, but as more people began to accept and acknowledge me, I felt what can only be described as an addiction to gain more admirers and “fans”. I actively sought opportunities to display my talents, exercise my wit, flaunt my charms, and find validation.

In and of itself, being sought after and appreciated isn’t a bad thing. Every artist who promotes him or herself through galleries, concerts, fairs, Facebook, Twitter, etc. is trying to connect with an audience of approving people willing to buy into their image.
However, I began to lose sight of what made me, well… me. The more I suppressed the less favorable aspects of my personality, the more dissatisfied I felt with my life, my friendships, and the pressures of living up to expectations.

I’ve spent the last 4 years attempting to unravel the mess I’ve made, judging each facet individually to separate the real self from the perceived self. I’ve endured many moments where my faith and beliefs were put under scrutiny, forced to answer my own doubts and grow stronger as a result. I recently decided that I’d finally come to that point of self-acceptance once again, after having stepped out of the limelight to spent some quality time surrounded by a few close friends and new babies, who are blessedly non-judgemental. LOL

Unfortunately, with my fledgling art business and a new fan base growing, I’ve put myself in the position once again where I find myself constantly wondering “What do my followers want?”:
Will they enjoy reading this blog? Were they expecting a new painting for Valentine’s Day, or activity in my Etsy shop? Will they be disappointed if I create a religious parody – like a Madonna cat holding a bird in swaddling clothes? How many people did I offend with my portrait of Kittney?

This is who I am… one minute, I’m illustrating portraits of Victorian gentlemen… the next moment, I’m fantasizing about cats wearing Vegas show-girl costumes and nipple tassels. ­čśŤ

I honestly know that I wouldn’t last 10 minutes as a super-famous celebrity, before throwing in the towel, changing my name, and moving to a cabin in the woods. Sometimes the fear of disappointing or offending a potential fan is paralyzing. I’m not quite sure what The Image is that I’ve established or where the boundaries are, but I’m dying to tear them down and scream “Let me BE who I am!”
Let my artwork be honest, served from an inspired place in my soul, and not merely fast-food-in-a-greasy-bag for the masses.

I’ll sign off with this flashback to the 1990’s…click to view…because I’m feeling a bit bitchy tonight. ­čśë

“I’m a bitch, I’m a lover, I’m a child, I’m a mother, I’m a sinner and a saint, I do not feel ashamed…” – Meredith Brooks.