Making sausage. I mean ART.

I was walking through the small town of Azay le Rideau in the Loire Valley in France early one morning and I stopped to look in the window of a souvenir shop. You can see why: there was a CAT in the window, studiously ignoring me, waiting for the shop owner to come to work and feed him his petit dejeuner.

I called “Yoo Hoo! Kitty! Bonjour! Ca Va? Kitty!” but I never got even a glance in my direction. So of course, I was smitten. I waited an hour, and came back to the shop and looked for the cat but couldn’t find him anywhere. So I bought a small souvenir (a refrigerator magnet) and while I was paying for it I told the shop owner that I’d seen her cat in the window; any chance I could say hello to him?

Bien sur, she said, “He’s sleeping right there.” And she pointed to a low shelf that I’d overlooked, and in a basket of ribbons there he was. Curled up in a ball, his mittens wrapped around his head, snoozing audibly. “What’s his name?” I asked, stroking him lightly (I dare not interupt his dreams). The owner shrugged. “Cat”, she said, in English, and told me how he showed up one day, and she fed him, and he kept showing up and made himself at home, so she called him “Cat”: “Les Anglais aiment les chats,” she said (she gets a lot of English tourists and Monsieur Cat is good for business).

So this is how I work from photographs: from the photo above, I drew a small picture of Mr. Cat from Azay le Rideau.

You can see that I’ve made changes: because it’s a small drawing, I have to edit out a lot of detail from the photo, and choose a few specific pieces of merchandise to illustrate. Then I painted it.

I painted this on plain white bond (printer) paper, so it had to be painted rather flat (without shading). I like to paint on printer paper for my little pictures because it lets me paint quickly, and it’s fun. And again, you can see that I had to make a few changes. The picture is very small (1 1/2 inches x  4 inches) so I decided to make Mr. Cat a more graphic kitty — a  tuxedo cat instead of a tabby — because I need him to pop out of  the picture. And I don’t think I’m being untruthful about the cat in the souvenir shop in Azay le Rideau by making him black instead of striped, do you?

Plus, I think I got Mr. Cat’s expression of total boredom with me PERFECTLY.

P.S. I hope you all know that, for what I do,  I use the term “art” loosely.

And, from popular request:

Thank you, Chinese Take Out Restaurant With Sushi Bar on Exit 37 on the Long Island Expressway. I’ve never thought about it before, but now I wonder. How do they get soy sauce in those little packets?

(I’m thinking of teaching an art journaling class this Summer, and I’m thinking of calling it Art for Writers, Writing for Artists. I’m working on a new program for improving the Information Quotient of art journals — a formula that I’m borrowing from Game Theory. I’ll tell you about it on Wednesday.)

10 comments to Making sausage. I mean ART.

  • Mary

    When my sister read your book, she said,” artists are rarely writers; writers are rarely artists. To find both as one, is extremely rare.”

    I hope writers and artists can find encouragement from your excellent blog. I do.
    And, I’ve never had anything published. You’ll show me how.

  • August

    If you do not photograph the painting beside some variety of snack food, I do not believe it exists. Have you no Graham crackers?

  • Marina

    Thanks for explaining how you turned this very complicated scene into a painting.
    If you do set up a class ( which is a great idea) please could you consider making an online version of it as well? I am in the UK and don’t want to miss out :-)

  • Anonymous

    I love the story of the CAT in the window-so very like a cat!

  • ‘August’ has a point – where are the tea bags!? This is such an interesting post – I love to see how you make your art.

  • Janet

    I second the nomination for an online version of your potential art journal class. I really enjoy the behind the scenes look at how you do what you do — thanks for letting us in on your process.

  • Oh, my goodness–if you teach an online class in art journaling I’ll be the first to sign up! Cats are always bored, aren’t they? Unless the cat food cupboard door is cracked . . .

  • I love the image of the ribbon basket. And as for portraying the true colors of “Cat”–I was told in a poetry workshop once, that you start writing a poem about your grandfather, but of course, it ends up not being about your grandfather, or even mentioning your grandfather. Not sure if it is different in painting, rendering what you see.

    Have you seen “Synedoche New York?” I watched it on Sunday night on IFC. I had successfully avoided it until then. Not my thang. I loved “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” but not this one. Anyway, the miniature portraits made me think of you. They use magnified glasses to see Catherine Keener’s teeny, tiny paintings. Kinda like 3D glasses. That was the best part. Here he is making a gigantic movie, and she is creating microscopic portraits. That, and the message in the last ten minutes, to be alive when you are living.

  • I can’t believe it another “relatedness”. I’ve never met anyone else whose been to Azay le Rideau. I’ll tell you about it someday when I have a few hours to spare.
    Sign me up for that journaling class. I know lots of other prospective students. It should be a huge success. I’m sure the San Diego Sketchcrawlers would all be interested.

  • I wish there was a way to correct my mistakes in these comments ! I meant- “I can’t believe it.(period) Another..

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