06 January 2011

Drawing Cats

"It is only by drawing often, drawing everything, drawing incessantly, that one fine day you discover to your surprise that you have rendered something in its true character." ~ Camille Pisarro

It is a good day when I learn something new. And sometimes I have to seek that learning out.

I never really took art classes in high school. Photography here, calligraphy there, but never any traditional art classes. I feel that I missed out on a lot.

This year I have a desire to learn to draw. So I signed up for Jeannie's Drawing Lab. (It's not too late to join in the fun.) What I think is most brilliant about this course is that we are building a community. We have all come to learn to draw but I think that we will gain much more than how to put marks on paper.

I went out and bought a sketchbook and some pencils. My sketchbook has one side with lines and the other side with blank pages. I want to write and draw in there, noting what I like about the assignment, what is challenging, what memories it triggers. Those pages, both sides, are quite daunting to me. But I know that I have nothing to fear and the support of people who are just like me. So I dove right into the first assignment. To draw cats.

Now, if you know me or you pay attention, you will know that I don't have a very favorable history with cats. Or birds. Or squirrels. But those are stories for another day. My experience with animals started with the stripey cat we picked out at the pound when I was about 5. I wanted to name her Pinnochio. My mom decided we would name her Tiger.

Tiger was a beautiful cat. And I suspect that I was like most kids in that I wasn't always gentle or careful with Tiger. I never did try to dress her up in doll clothes like my mom did with all her cats, though.

I had a basement bedroom in the house at 6609 43rd Avenue North in Crystal, MN. My parents built the wall that finished the family room from my bedroom. Except that there was no window in this room, so it really had no egress in case of disaster. That could be why I have to have it nearly pitch dark when I go to sleep to this day.

There wasn't a lot of money, and the wall that was built had little soundproofing. And in a coup of thriftiness, my father covered the entire wall with burlap. Inexpensive and textural. It was the 70s, after all.

Now that might be a nice style statement for any ranch home but for a home with a cat and her claws it was like a ride at Disneyworld. Every chair in our house was a fluffy tuft of shreds. Even the royal blue and lime green paisley couch. It was not uncommon to come into the room to see Tiger clinging to the wall in her attempt to reach the summit. She was always caught in the act and yanked from the wall and scooted out of the room.

So it should come as no surprise the night that I was attacked by Tiger. In the dark. In my room on the other side of the burlap wall, with no lights and no way out.

Tiger climbed the wall in the family room and popped the ceiling tile. Once at the top, our burly feline decided to explore the crawl space. But the foam tiles couldn't support her weight. And she came crashing down. On top of my bed on the other side of the burlap wall.

Now Tiger was pretty freaked out. I can attest that it is true that cats when falling land on their feet. She landed on her feet, but those feet had claws that immediately grabbed hold of what was beneath them. That would be me. I recall a lot of hissing and scratching and tears. Every time I tried to move, or whimper, Tiger would proceed to use me as a scratching post and protect her kill. Again, that would be me.

When I didn't come upstairs in the morning, my mother came downstairs and opened my cave door. Tiger ran out. I was frozen in bed. With a lot of scratches. But no more tears. And a lot less love for my kitty.

Eventually, we realized that the reason that I sneezed every single day all day long (dad, too) was because we were allergic to Tiger. At least that is what they told me when they took Tiger away. In a cooler. I remember crying about it that Tiger would suffocate. My dad popped the drain plug for air. That was the last I saw of my attack cat who went to live on a farm. At least that is what they told me. I can't say that I miss the fear that I felt with Tiger around after that incident. And I am still allergic to cats to this day, so that part was completely true. But I still appreciate the beauty of cats. However, I am baffled as to why when I go to someone's house and I ignore their cats they want to cuddle right into my lap, sleep on my pillow and rub all over me. I just don't get it.

Okay. So that wasn't the nicest story about a cat, but it is true and it is the roundabout reason why I found this task of drawing cats a huge challenge. I did stick drawings (cats with duck feet!) and then started focusing on the elements of the cat that struck me the most. The eyes. I love cat eyes. They freak me out. In a good way. Here is one of my drawings that I feel okay about. And it helps me recall what was beautiful about Tiger.

I think that this drawing lab will be fun.
And don't you think these little stories will be enhanced by my own artwork? :-)

What are you favorite cat stories? Did you have cats when you were growing up? Or maybe they make your eyes itch and your nose twitch? Can you appreciate their lampwork glassy eyes and their colorful coats? The way they can find any sliver of sunlight and nap all day long? Their inquisitiveness and their aloofness? Do tell!

Enjoy the day!


maryharding said...

Great cat story. I only recently began to care for cats. I love most their purring sound. I agree that their eyes are very expressive and sometimes our cats even smile.

Kokopelli said...

Oh yes, I have cat stories to tell! LOTS of them! All about my two tigered cat sisters, one furry as can be and the other one looking like the perfect European short hair. My cats are masters in hiding. They disappear in the evening somewhere in the house and appear the other day just in time for feeding. One day I looked and looked for them, just to realize that two pairs of eyes followed me all the time. They were both sitting on the bookshelf BEHIND the books, showing only ears and eyes. And I had the feeling someone was watching while searching. *lol*
Great drawing! I really love the cat head.

EB Bead and Metal Works said...

Erin thank you for that story because I have a smile on my face at 6:56 in the morning. Of course that was not fun for you as a child but it so fun to see into the childhood of people. I never had cats when I was growing up, but we did have dogs. I didn't even think about cats until mom bought two babies when she lived out in California and I had so much fun playing with them when I was able to visit her. Now years later I have five kitties and mom has four (her first two kitties are still laying around soaking up sun). I don't know what I would do without those balls of fur making me laugh. One of my cats has the most gorgeous eyes, she has three circles of blue and they are so much fun to look into, when she isn't being a bitch cat. Thank you for sharing your drawings! You have a lot of fun in your drawing classes and I can't wait to see what other projects you draw and other stories you will share!

Barbara Lewis said...

Erin, I love the story! but the drawings are great. I remember taking my first drawing course in college at the ripe old age of 39. Some people are born with a gift and others can learn a skill through lots of practice. I improved a lot over a couple of classes and then there was painting ... I was hooked. I was amazed at how my racing mind could be turned into a purring kitten! (thought you'd like that! :-) The meditative quality of art is was what stole my heart. Keep sharing ... I'll be back!

Marcie Abney said...

As far as cats....let's just say that I would prefer a drawn cat to the um...real variety! I love yours though! Thanks so much for stopping by the other day and I'm glad you liked the quote that I found. Have a great weekend, Erin!

Alice said...

I'm allergic to cats, but even without that I have never really been fond of them. Not sure why, and I don't recall any particular events that would cause this. We had a cat when I was young, and he would get a running start and slide down our hallway(it was covered in vinyl--dad loved vinyl). But it wasn't a particularly loving cat.

I'm looking forward to seeing the results of your drawing class.

JeannieK said...

That is a very tramatic experience. One that will be etched into your DNA forever.

Erin, I would like to say that your cat drawings are most excellent since you did it from memory and have no cats in your home. The cat face in your drawing is interesting because most beginners will start with the outline first and get frustrated with the details. But not you. Are you holding out on me?

It's not about the end result as much, it is about the taking part and creating ideas in art, because everyone has ideas within them and as you draw these need to be expressed through the process of art.

My Life Under the Bus said...

OMG - You poor thing! Trapped there in the dark with an attack cat all night EEK! I love animals but when I was little my grandmother had " Pumkin" a giant ornage creature that HATED me.....he stalked me like all of his prey. One day I was sitting in the drive way enjoying one of those giant rainbow lollipops. The ones that are the size of a dinner plate? Pumpkin decided to attack me from the back so I turned around and SMACK! Cat met lollipop and he ran off with the thing stuck to his side. I didn't mention this to anyone apparently. He surfaced hours later with the lollipop still nicely stuck to his side - oops!They thought he had lied down on it!

Holly said...

Oh Erin! I can't imagine the trauma you (and, honestly, poor Tiger) felt at that incident in your room! That would certainly be terrifying. I'm a huge animal person - always have been, always will be. My favorite cat though was Harry. A domestic short hair, black & white, he was named after my grandfather because their temperament was very similar. Gruff and abrupt. But that cat loved me, and I loved him. He was mine, all mine, no one questioned it, and we were friends while I was in my late teens/early 20s. It's because of him that I will always have a black & white cat. My current black & white is Cow, and he's just as much an individual as Harry was.

Awesome drawing, though! Drawing is so cathartic, I think....you'll have a blast with this class, I'm sure ;)

jamberry_song said...

Hey, there! This drawing lab sounds like a lot of fun. :) What a traumatic story, though! My sister and I have always been allergic to cats, but that just can't keep us away from them. My cat Kitty was an orange tabby and one of the sweetest cats I've ever known. He was my best friend when I was little. Seriously. We would do everything together. At night when I woke crying from a nightmare, he would curl up against me and cry, too. I love the little fur balls. :3

Of course, sometimes if you love them, they'll have nothing to do with you. And of course (as you said) when you don't want anything to do with them, they are determined to win your love. Or at least your interest! Silly kitties.


Jennifer Cameron said...

Oh. My. Gosh! That story is going to give me nightmares! I am finding the class to be a huge challenge too, because I am so drawing impaired it's pathetic. I even have a cat to look at and couldn't draw one nearly as well as you. It's going to be a bumpy, challenging, fun, learning experience.

EmandaJ said...

Hi Erin, Love your cat story and drawing. I'm allergic to cats too and you are right, they seem to know I am allergic and try to cuddle up to me. I think it is because I am aloof about them as they are (in general).


rosebud101 said...

I love your cat drawings, Erin! You did a nice job! I used to have a cat named Sam, many, many years ago. Sam did not like the fact that I had to leave the house and go to work everyday. Just as I was getting ready to go to work, Sam would jump out of a hiding spot that I never could identify, because, I sure didn't see him, and with one claw, and one claw only, grab my nylons and rip them, knowing I would have to change. He was a naughty, but loving cat, who brought me a dead bird as his gift of love.

Riki Schumacher said...

No, wait! I get this about cats! I am allergic, so the first thing they do is come to me and rub all over my legs. If I sit down, they are on my lap. I think its a dare. They are highly intelligent, can read our minds, and are a higher species. Right?? Well, it must be that, why else would they do that?? What other creature rubs their face in yours when you don't want them to? Ha ha. I have no idea, I'm a dog person. Sorry all you cat lovers! At least a dog doesn't hide their feelings. ;) Riki

Janet said...

Oh that was really nice! You sure have a way with words. Your cat lol the way she traveled etc amazing! We had so so many cats when I was growing up! I remember my cat Pussin Boots as I called him. He let me do anything and I always dressed him up in doll clothes and out him in the stroller. he just stayed there too. What a cat. Cats are so wonderful! I love your drawing because it says you who drew it!

Erin S said...

That is hilarious story. We have some things in common--I too, had a basement bedroom, but mine had a little window near the ceiling. AND, I also had a wall covered in burlap. It had cork board underneath, so I could hang posters up. My burlap was lime green. We also had an orange stripy cat. I tried to name her Isabel, but it never stuck. She (and most of the other cats my mom has had since then, were named "kitty.") yup, not too original. I never had any kitty disasters, but I never really loved cats the way my mom does. I am much more a dog person. Good luck with the drawing!
Erin S

Heather Powers said...

That's quite a story. Do you cringe at the signt of burlap? I had an attack cat named Christmas. She would wait under my bed and attack my feet when it was bedtime. I was 9 months pregnant and trying to get into bed before she could whip out her little claws. Christmas went to live with a nice couple with no kids, I can't say if she continued with her nightly ninja routine. Have fun with the drawing sessions!

Joann Mannix said...

Your drawing is fabulous! I really love it. It reminds me of this beautifully illustrated book I had as a child that my aunt had brought me from Paris. I couldn't read the words, but I loved the illustrations.

What a terrifying story! I'm not a big fan of cats. We are animal people and we've usually had a cat around, but I'm just not fond of their temperamental, rather bitchy attitude. I'll take my dogs any day.

Jenners said...

Good grief ... that cat story is enough to put anyone off cats for life. And I think I'll enjoy seeing your drawing results.


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