Artists and Their Cats

I think other cat lovers will agree that for every 10 dog-lover’s product there’s probably just 1 cat-lover’s product. I love dogs, but I love cats too, and the cat lover in me is always a little bit jealous by everything available for dog lovers.

So when I saw that Chronicle was publishing an entire book devoted to the cats of famous artists, Artists and Their Cats by Alison Nastasi, I sat up a little straighter, prouder, and pre-ordered the book to make sure I didn’t forget about it!

Artists and Their Cats by Alison Nastasi Book Review

Disclosure of Material Connection: Quick housekeeping, I’m writing this post on my own volition out of love for this book. I’m not affiliated with the publisher. I’m just a fan-girl book nut who wants to share one of my favorite books with you! However, some of the links in the post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

What a treasure trove! Of course I was looking forward to seeing my favorite artists like Frida Kahlo and Georgia O'Keeffe with their cats, but I really enjoyed discovering new artists I had never heard of before. Keep your smartphone handy while browsing because when you get to artists you’re not familiar with you’ll want to look up their work.

Do yourself a favor and don’t look at the contents page. Let yourself be surprised with every page turn!

I learned I have something in common with Gustav Klimt! We both named our cats ‘Katze’, which is German for ‘cat’.

Side note: Katze and I both relish a good ‘new book smell.’

Artists and Their Cats by Alison Nastasi Book Review

I don’t want to spoil the book for anyone in any way, so carry on and buy Artists and Their Cats here if you want to be completely surprised, and come back when you’re done reading it.

I’d love to share with you my favorite artist from the book and my favorite photo.

Nastasi did an excellent job succinctly summarizing each artist’s career and cat relationship. The artist who completely impressed me, and I also had never heard of was Suzanne Valadon on pages 98 and 99:

“Any cat lucky enough to call nineteenth-century French artist Suzanne Valadon a friend was in for an adventure. The first female painter granted acceptance to the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, Valadon began her career as a circus acrobat. She became a respected art model, posing for well-known painters such as Toulouse-Lautrec, Renoir, and Pierre-Cécile Puvis de Chavannes, and later married her own sitter, painter André Utter. With encouragement from friends, including Edgar Degas, Valadon began her own foray into the art world. She was known for her female nudes--a subject most women artists eschewed during the period. Her vibrant still lifes, portraits, and interiors often included cats. Several such companions took up residence in her studio over the years. The free-spirited artist used her finest fashions to create beds for them. Her kitties were lavished with beluga caviar on Fridays and kept company by a German sheep dog and a goat, which she fed her bad drawings to.”

Nastasi, Alison. Artists and Their Cats. Chronicle, 2015. Print.

I’m surprised no one has turned her fantastic life story into a Hollywood blockbuster. She sounds fascinating!

Now my absolute favorite photo in this photography-filled-book is on page 57, for Henri Cartier-Bresson and Martine Franck. It is one of those photos that seems lucky and genius all rolled into one. I’m unsure about sharing the image due to copyright concerns, however you can check it on slide 9 of this article/slideshow from Time: “Our cat Ulysses and Martine's shadow,” 1989. Henri Cartier-Bresson—Magnum Photos.

Small, but mighty at 6” x 8”...the book is very portable while still packing in the content. You can snuggle up with it on the couch without straining your wrists, and if your cat wants to join there’s space for both! They probably didn’t think of that when designing it, but its true. Katze proves it!

You can snuggle up with it on the couch without straining your wrists, and if your cat wants to join there’s space for both! They probably didn’t think of that when designing it, but its true. Katze proves it!

I highly recommend this book to any cat lover because it really does honor the cat-human bond in a sophisticated way, which is truly a refreshing break from the comedic treatments of cats we typically see.

Do you have any recommendations of books for cat lovers? I’m always on the hunt, so leave me a note in the comments! Or if you’re reading this post via email newsletter, reply with any suggestions <3


P.S. Here’s the official book description from the publisher Chronicle:

“Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, Frida Kahlo . . . so many great artists have shared one very special love: the companionship of cats. Gathered here for the first time are behind-the-scenes stories of more than 50 famous artists and their feline friends. From Salvador Dali's pet ocelot Babou to John Lennon and Yoko Ono's menagerie of cats, including Salt (who was black) and Pepper (who was white), Artists and Their Cats captures these endearing friendships in charming photographs and engaging text, and reveals what creative souls and the animals best known for their independent spirits have in common. In this clever compilation, art aficionados will discover a softer side of their favorite artists, and cat lovers will enjoy a whole new way to celebrate their favorite furry friends.”

#artistsandtheircats #chroniclecrush #alistasi


Classic Catnap

I don’t think I’m the only one who thinks about pets who are long gone. Marmalade is the ‘one who started it all’ for me. His memory certainly lives on in my home through my girls Katze and Jayla. What better way to honor a pet who has passed by opening up your heart and home to a new pet who needs love?

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m the keeper of my family’s photos. This photo of us together means more to me than I could ever express in words.

Photo of a baby and orange tabby cat sleeping together, Copyright Polar Bear Studio, LLC

One of the creative projects I’m currently working on is a visual exploration of my family’s long history of pet ownership and how it’s landed me where I am now. This is the first image for that project that has the working title: Forever Felines.

This photo inspired me to create a self-portrait photo shoot with Katze and Jayla that would honor Marmalade’s legacy.

Some things change, some things will never change. There’s just something timelessly wonderful about a catnap with your cat. In order to tell that story I resurrected my old passion for digital collage, which was my medium of choice for my senior thesis at Ringling College of Art & Design.

With cats, you can’t predict things. You have to assemble the image beforehand and hope they’ll react as you expect them to. However, cats love nothing more than to ‘help’ when you’re sorting through papers or photos, especially smelly old photos. 

The odds were certainly in my favor with this concept. Sorting through papers and photos is mentally exhausting work which also led to the story I wanted to tell of how my habit of cat naps with cats continues to this day. 

First, a close-up, and below it the whole composition.

Digital Collage Classic Catnap by Polar Bear Studio

I really enjoy the visual juxtaposition of the floral bed sheet in the 80’s to the modern floral sheets of today. I have the baby blankets in the shot three ways, in the original photo, underneath the photo, and in the modern interpretation, a constant visual element. A big fan of the daydreamy-movie Bedknobs and Broomsticks, I ensured a golden knob on my victorian-style trundle bed from my office shined through.

I used a tripod, remote, timer, and digitally painted the two images together with Photoshop. I’d work on the collage, let it sit for a day, and play with it more. I was content with the final image after 3 evenings of tinkering.

The Forever Felines project will be a personal project that I’ll continue to play with while also working on another project that I haven’t announced yet. It will require volunteer models again! I’m so excited about it, something totally unique and as far as I’ve googl-ed, it hasn’t been done before! I just need to update all the signup forms and finish the details before the announcement.

A New Project

I hate it when I can’t find something. I wanted to share a specific old photo with you. It is probably my first pet photo I ever took, and I’ve been digging through all my photo boxes I have for the past month looking for it

My first pet photography experience, photographing my bestie Marmalade

I was 8 or 9 years old when I was in 4-H and entered into the photography category. We had gorgeous flowers in our backyard that year, without a doubt the best flower beds of my childhood, full of various pink impatiens, red geraniums (our 4-H fundraiser) that smelled wonderful, and our mystery perennials who had resided in our yard longer than us.

It seemed obvious, at that time, that for my 4-H photography project I should take pictures of the flower beds. And I did. But some sort of creative impulse took me at the last moment, and I asked my Mom for permission to take Marmalade, my BFF (best furry friend) since I was a baby, out into the garden to take some shots of him amongst the flowers. Even though he was an indoor cat my Mom gave me permission, but warned me to be careful that he didn't run away. I had once lost a pet turtle who ran away. Think about that for a moment.

I tied a white ribbon with scalloped edges around his neck for a bit of pizzazz. The photo shoot went just as I had imagined it. Marmalade trusted me completely. I set him into the flower bed with his white ribbon, and I imagined he thought, "Meowow, this is pretty awesome." He wasn't afraid, and he didn't try to run away. It was just like a scene out of The Three Lives of Thomasina, one of my all-time favorite movies.

I got an awesome shot with my little disposable Kodak camera with real film (yes I'm dating myself a child of the 90s for sure)!

Afterwards, we put our dog Wendy, a mystery mutt with an ample amount of beagle, into my green soccer jersey. Then with my Mom as the photographer, my older brother Shawn and I posed with Marmalade and Wendy in different groupings of four or two around the back yard.

When I finally arranged my final project on white poster board, without a doubt the picture of Marmalade amongst the flowers in his white ribbon was my favorite. I did use the other flower shots, but I made sure to put Marmalade center stage of all of the shots.

With his long, orange silky-fur with the white spot at the tip of his tail, his darling ear hairs curling wildly, and bright green eyes that sometimes changed to yellow, he was a bonafide star in my mind.

I won a blue ribbon, pretty impressive for a disposable camera after I realized most of the others in my category were with 'real' cameras and some even developed in a darkroom. If those other contestants had known I had just simply had my film developed by the local pharmacy they probably would have been horrified. I was naive, and clueless. If I had known that beforehand I probably would have never entered into the photography category at all, I would have been intimidated and ashamed as if I was breaking the rules.

But to be clear, there were several blue ribbons, not just one. So I was sort of special,not the most. Regardless, it gave me a confidence boost, and I felt vindicated. This entire creative process has really stuck with me, but it has taken nearly twenty years for me to stop resisting my yearning for pet photography.

So, what does this have to do with my next project? The title of the post, but I have not mentioned yet. I’m getting to it, hang on. 

Katze Helping Me With My Family Photos

I’ve dug up so many treasured photos of Marmalade, as well as pets of my parents, Grandparents, and even Great-Grandparents. I’m the official keeper of the family photos since I whipped everyone into shape a few years back. With my Mom and maternal Grandparents moving here, everyone’s photos fell into my lap and I’ve separated them into something resembling order into archival photo boxes, with Katze's help of course.

Here are some of the earliest and cutest photos of Marmalade and I, circa 1987. I even still have the pink and yellow blankets. My girls, Katze and Jayla, love these blankets, just like Marmalade did.

And here’s the last photo of Marmalade and I, shortly before he died. I was 16.

One thing I’ve discovered is the extensive lineage of animal-loving nut cases in my family is impressive!

It’s inspired me to create a new collection of work around it. I’ll be visually exploring my family’s long history of pet ownership and how it’s landed me where I am now. It will be a mix of modern photography with antique and vintage, and very dreamy. I’ll be mixing digital collage illustration with pet photography.

To see how other families have captured their cats across the ages, I’ve been collecting images into a specific Pinterest board you can follow or check out here:  Follow Polar Bear Studio's board Antique & Vintage Cat Photos on Pinterest.

And in the meantime, I’ve been submitting my collection of Dogs of Manatee County calendar images to various contests and publications, and if I hear any good news you’ll be the first to know!

Do you have any family heirloom pet photos? Leave me a comment below if you’re on the blog page, or if you’re viewing this in the newsletter click through to the blog post and share your memories or photos if you have them! I’d love to see them!

Talk to you soon! 

Featured in New Barker Magazine

I have wonderful news!

The Dogs of Manatee County Calendar was featured in a 2-page spread in the Winter issue of The New Barker magazine! A very proud moment for me, and I hope all of the calendar volunteers feel the same!

Cover Art by John LaFree for The New Barker Magazine Winter 2014-2015

You can check out the article by clicking here, a PDF scan of the spread. It may take a few moments to load.

Have you heard of The New Barker MagazineThe New Barker is Florida’s top dog magazine, a quarterly lifestyle magazine  for dogs and their people. Each cover features an original painting by a different Florida artist, this issue (above) showcased caricature artist John LaFree!

I asked Jayla and Katze what they thought, and if they were impressed by seeing my work featured:

Jayla (above) missed the question entirely, and said the magazine was really comfy, and smelled nice. Thanks Jayla...

Jayla (above) missed the question entirely, and said the magazine was really comfy, and smelled nice

Thanks Jayla...
And after much deliberation, and pretending to read....

Katze (above) thought, nice, even though there’s no cats!

Katze (above) thought, nice, even though there’s no cats!
I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season with your loved ones!
Sebastian, Katze, Jayla, and I had a fantastic time! It was a BIG family Christmas with a house full of company, my favorite! Sebastian’s parents and sister live in Germany, and we don’t get to see them more than once or twice a year, if we’re lucky. This year we were really lucky and they were with us for both Christmas and New Year’s!

Mueller Annual Christmas Card Photo 2014 With Katze and Jayla

Here’s our 2014 Christmas Card photo, my favorite one so far, and the first one to feature Katze and Jayla. Sebastian and I love coming up with creative Christmas card photos, and have been surprising our family with them every year since 2009, the year we married.

When photographing cats, it really helps to know their routine, and use their routine to your advantage. Believe it or not this shot was a piece of cake! 

The only part that is photoshopped is Sebastian because we took turns posing. The trick was using a tripod and being careful not to move it. We set up the composition we liked first, knowing we had to build from Jayla’s favorite spot on top of the couch. 

There’s a permanent ‘Jayla-size’ indent in the top of it! Katze always wants to sit with me when I get home from work in the evening. That particular evening I made a point NOT to sit down, and like a dependable little shadow she followed me around until I did.

Sebastian posed first, while we waited for Jayla to settle in. Once Jayla saw ‘her human’ laying down, she settled into her spot for the evening catnap. Sebastian and I switch tasks, and I sit on ‘my side’ of the couch with Jayla, and Katze being so impatient practically jumped up with me before I could even get comfortable. She had her own schedule to keep!

Katze and Jayla were sleepy, so I just plopped down the little German hats on their heads and Sebastian snapped a few shots. We were done before they even knew what happened or what I’d done. The whole shoot took perhaps 15 minutes! 


Imagining I'm Really Living the Dream

Katze is looking at me as if to say, “Did you get fired? Are we poor now? Will I still get treats?”

I ignore her, let her sweat it out.

She rubs up against me. I guess she’ll still love me even though if we couldn't afford treats.

I have a four day weekend from my day job for Memorial Day weekend, and I thought it would be fun to imagine I’m finally really living the dream, and working 8-4 from home on Polar Bear Studio Pet Photography.

I got so much accomplished, it’s amazing. Finished up Melissa’s retouching, got her proof book ordered and it should be here next Wednesday or so, and got a good jump on making my first order catalog. I’ll need it by the time Melissa’s proof book arrives.

I could easily get used to this!



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