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Cats and Poetry… How Quaint!

Since the beginning of my art journey, I have wanted to illustrate feline adaptations of classic works of literature.

Starting with my first portrait of Dominic dressed as Mr Darcy from “Pride and Prejudice”. I envisioned a retelling of Jane Austen’s tale from a cat’s perspective, and set about working on a series of portraits in 2009-2010, which became known as my “Regency Cats Collection”.

While attempting to brand myself as a “Regency Cat Artist”, in late 2009, I encountered a fellow Austen enthusiast and cat-lover who had created a website called “Pride and Prejudice and Kitties”. Pamela Jane, a published children’s author, had been working on a similar idea: an adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice” using cat photos and quotes…. in the quirky style of LOLCats.

I contacted her and we shared a few e-mails, discussing the possibility of collaborating together on a “Pride and Prejudice”/Cats book, with her witty text and my illustrations of cats dressed in period costumes. She approached her publisher, but they believed her original plan to use cat photos would be more marketable. They weren’t interested in me.

They were right, of course! LOLCats and “I Can Haz Cheeseburger” were (and still are!) extremely popular…. whereas I was an unknown, and very inexperienced, fledgling artist just stumbling from the nest, believing I could fly!

Heck, I am still unknown and inexperienced! ;)

Watching her project eventually become published, earning its spot within the increasingly-saturated Jane Austen market, it occurred to me that travelling down that same path with my own cat adaptation would seem redundant.

So it was back to the drawing board, literally, to find inspiration elsewhere.

I explored literary and historical themes in my artwork over the next several years, and my list of potential storybook ideas expanded to include: The History of the World (as told by cats), the Cat Kings and Queens of England, a Compilation of Myths (featuring cat gods and goddesses), and Feline Fairy Tales.

All of these sounded fantastic! My only trouble was deciding which theme to focus on for the next two or three years. After all, an average “art book” consisting of 60-120 pages would require at least thirty to sixty illustrations! I paint twenty portraits per year on average. Such a time-intensive project would need to resonate on a personal level in order to keep me motivated.

Suggestions from well-meaning friends that I write the entire book myself, in addition to creating the artwork, just made my head swim! I write very slowly and deal with near-constant distractions ~ this blog will likely take all afternoon to finish. [Post Edit: Actually, it took 2 days!]

My chances of completing a book?! Ha! Maybe in the next 20 years! LOL

The timing didn’t feel right. None of my ideas provoked that passionate drive necessary to devote myself to a long-term project. I put the idea of a book on hold indefinitely, and worked on random pieces for 78Tarot, the Rabbit Hole Collective, gallery exhibits, Art For the Animals auctions, private commissions, and my Literary Cats calendar.

It was while planning my upcoming AFTA submissions this year, and waffling between two themes ~ Edgar Allan Poe and Shakespeare, that I asked myself,
“Why not do both? In fact, I could do an entire series of illustrations based on classic poems!”

It was, in that decision, that I had my “Eureka!” moment.

My book would feature selections from my favorite 19th century poets, including William Butler Yeats, William Blake, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, John Keats, and others, to be accompanied by my cat paintings. (Their works published prior to 1923 *should* be in public domain, but I will research each poem I intend to use.)

This idea wasn’t arbitrarily decided upon. In fact, it was the only idea that made sense.

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”
~ T.S. Eliot

I was raised (from the age of four) by my paternal grandparents. My grandmother was a published poet. She was arguably the most influential person in my early life.

A mother of three, grandmother of six, a childhood survivor of polio, who had previously worked as an insurance agent, secretary, and newspaper editor before becoming a housewife, she maintained a passion for the arts, and was a devout believer in following one’s calling.

She was an active member of the D.C. branch of the American Pen Women Society (NLAPW). I recall visiting the Pen Arts Building, their national headquarters, as her young guest. She also belonged to the Maryland State Poetry Society, serving as its Vice-President in the early 1970s.

One bedroom in our Colonial-style house was converted into her office, and she spent hours typing out drafts of poetry and prose, writing newsletters, and networking with her contemporaries ~ the old fashioned way, via letters in the mail.

Our house was filled to the eaves with art, music, and literature. She held a monthly poetry group, where her friends met to discuss and critique their writing, and they self-published an anthology of poems they hoped would someday reach a wider audience.

This was before the Age of the Internet. It is a poignant realization that she might have achieved some level of renown had she been able to utilize the social media and marketing tools we take for granted.

It is unquestionably the example of her life’s work, and the encouragement of her social circle, which directly influenced my decision to follow an artistic path. It seems fitting, actually imperative, to dedicate my first art book to her in some way. Ideally, I would love to be able to include a few of her own poems alongside the work of her literary idols.

I am envisioning a double-page spread for each piece: one page will feature the poem itself (possibly handwritten), and the opposite page will showcase the artwork. It would be really neat if I could get the book bound in leather, like a Moleskin journal… but that might be asking for too much. Haha!

I think a collection of Romanticist poetry inspired paintings would make a great gallery exhibit, perhaps in conjunction with the book’s release. It is something I will explore, once I get farther along in the project, and have a nice sampling to show prospective gallery owners.

Now that I have a resolute goal in mind, I can begin the exciting albeit daunting task of researching and selecting poems for inclusion in this project.
Wish me luck! ;)

Tara Fly

About Tara Fly

A Crazy Cat Lady ... who divides her time between painting portraits of cats dressed in period costumes, watching BBC mini-series, growing weeds and wildflowers, and baking pumpkin pies seasoned with cat hair. Would you like some fur-flavoured coffee?

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