A little over fifteen years ago, I purchased a damaged vintage Chemistry and Physics Handbook at a garage sale in Austin for 25 cents. It was destined to become part of one of the assemblage art pieces I was keen to create at the time. Shortly after, life took a challenging direction, and my artistic expression went dormant for the next fifteen years.
You see, having been a professionally employed artist my whole adult life, I’d never created art that wasn’t for someone else’s purposes. I just never gave myself permission.
Sometimes it takes that long for life to come full circle, but after a lot of powerful self-discovery and limitations-shedding via my work with the Avatar Course, here I was again in 2014. My artist identity had resurfaced, more joyful, more creative, and more empowered. I brushed the dust off of many possible projects–an animation project possibly involving e-cards, hand-painted furniture, and a children’s book featuring my cats (The Adventure Cats), .
Still, every art project requires a period of overcoming fear of not knowing–not knowing if what you’re picturing in your mind can be achieved with the skills or materials you have at hand–especially if it’s a new and unexplored subject or medium.
For one thing, I didn’t know how to draw cats well by my own standards, and I’ve never been trained in traditional illustration techniques.
In the back of my mind, I was driven by wanting to do some heartfelt work that would honor people’s connection to cats in a deep way. This was a desire I had come to discover while integrating the tragic loss of my friends’ beloved cat Rufus at the beginning of the year. And art was the ideal avenue for me to take in this regard.
After overcoming some powerful discouragement (the kind that stops you from even trying) regarding being weak at illustrating cats, I vowed to do some small act of creative practice that would get me where I needed to go.
Sometimes the most powerful thing you can do as a perfectionist is to decide to just let go and do a crappy job of it.
I reached for the old dusty book and tore out a random page. I quickly drew a stylized cat outline with indistinct features, inked it in solid black, painted its eyes light green, and outlined it in colored pencils. I stepped back to examine what I’d done. Against the browned paper and old typeface, it had a un-self-conscious, heartfelt charm. Just like a cat that plops itself down where it pleases, it was utterly out-of-place, completely unconcerned with its context, and quite satisfied with itself.
I shared it on the wall of a 9000-member Facebook group of fellow cat lovers. The response was extremely positive, and someone even requested to purchase it. Chemistry Cats had come into being! In the next two weeks, I sold a few more original pieces on Etsy, and then branched into portrait commissions in November. That became the sweet way to honor people’s connection with their animals that I was looking for.
Chemistry Cats is dedicated to the memory of Milo, a.k.a, Milagro, May 5, 1999–December 1, 2014. His lifespan happens to coincide closely with the period that I wasn’t honoring or sharing my gifts as an artist. Perhaps he was here to carry me through it, in a way.
I also dedicate it to Rufus, whose impact on so many pushed me onto the path of this artistic offering.