Cheryl Kirsch has been interested in art and the creative process since early childhood. As a preschooler, she rejected coloring books in order to create and color her own drawings. She has spent years studying a wide variety of media including oil painting, watercolors, acrylics, fiber arts, Chinese Brush painting, and painting on silk. Presently she works primarily with watercolors, acrylics, and torn paper collage, combining techniques from all the styles. Cheryl specializes in painting cats, animals, still lives, and spiritual landscapes.
It is my pleasure to introduce you to this prolific artist today.
When did you first begin painting cats?
I first began painting cats about fifteen years ago when I began studying watercolors. About that time I also became Mom to my first Maine Coon cat. I have great love for cats; now my work almost always includes them. My studio is full of light, color, and cats, as are my paintings. When I look around my home, I see my four wonderful Maine Coon cats. They are my muses, often lying at my feet or napping on the table where I am working. I prefer to do expressionistic interpretations of them, rather than realistic portraits. I also like to show the spirit of Cat in fresh and whimsical ways.
After learning how to paint on silk, I began painting cats on silk scarves and accessories – wearable art. My Silks collection includes many different styles of scarves and many different breeds. I also paint ‘generic cat’ scarves with large faces, whimsical designs, or exaggerated distinctive features.
What is the creative process like for you?
I find much happiness in the creative effort and process. My work reflects my love for my subjects and my desire to create. I don’t fit into a mold; I am an experimental artist, always curious about new styles, trying new techniques, learning how materials work, and creating something new. I take risks, welcome unexpected results, and try things that may not work. I am known for creative use of materials and my paintings are often very textural. I work with a variety of media including watercolor, acrylic, ink, and collage. I work with interesting textures, fibers and silks, strings and yarn, different glues, and a variety of papers to express ideas. I love patterns – natural patterns in the world around me, geometric patterns, calligraphy, embellishments, symbols, and COLOR. I use all of these to interpret the beauty around me and to enhance what I want people to see in my paintings. When I am “in the flow,” totally immersed in what I am doing, my work seems to create itself.
While cats are featured prominently in your artwork, you also paint other subjects. What is more challenging – cats or other subjects?
The more I paint cats, the easier it becomes. But there are so many different breeds, it has become a challenge to accurately portray all the different kinds. After painting big, fluffy Maine Coon cats, who model for me every day, it was a real challenge to capture the structural Cornish Rex, or the large distinctive ears of a Siamese, or the folds in an (almost) hairless Sphynx. I try to think of how many different ways I can portray Cat. I bring that creativity to other subjects like landscapes, still lives, and animals. I love collage and “painting” with papers – using small torn pieces of paper to create scenes. This process brings a myriad of colors into the work and ends up looking impressionistic.
I love challenges. When beginning any artwork, my mantra is “There are no mistakes/accidents.” Secondly, I know that the art surface is just a piece of paper or canvas. I am not thinking at that point about creating a ‘masterpiece.’ I have learned to get out of the way and just channel the creative force. Of course, in the final evaluation, I have to see which mistakes are good and what to keep. The rest get torn up, and may appear later in collages. The process of creating, not just the end product, is very important to me.
Where does your inspiration come from?
I don’t ever have to look for inspiration. It comes to me incessantly. I have more ideas than I have time to develop. Of course, my cats are my muses. They inspire me daily with their beauty, grace, and loving energy. I wish to communicate that loving energy and beauty to others. I am also inspired by nature, experiences, dreams, and imagination.
Tell us about your own cats, and how they inspire your work.
I am now eleven cats old, having had my first red tabby female at the age of nine. Presently, my four cats are all Maine Coons. Jasper Sebastian is my retired Grand Champion, and he is now almost fifteen years old. He is extremely intelligent, very friendly, and the ‘babysitter’ of the kitty clan. Harrison Steinlen is a huge (30+ lbs) red classic tabby with white. He is sociable and affectionate and has a luxurious coat and well-tufted ears. He is large and very impressive; visitors ask me if he is a domesticated wild cat. Harrison is the most patient and photogenic – a true gentle giant. Tenley Rose, my tenth cat, is a solid red classic tabby. She is only a year and a half old. She is a talker, has fabulous lynx ear tips, and a long plumy tail. Our most recent addition to the clan is Bailey Brae, an adorable mackerel brown tabby. She’s only 7 months old. She’s strong and agile and has an amazing raccoon-like tail. She has boundless curiosity and energy, getting into everything. She is active and adorable and more curious than any other kitten I have been privileged to share my life with.
My lovable cats continually inspire me with their amusing everyday antics. I always have a camera ready to photograph that “cuteness factor” moment, remarkable pose, or interesting situation they have gotten themselves into. We also have planned photo sessions. I draw or paint background scenes on large poster board, then have my cats pose with props like a sled, skis, coffee mugs, sweaters, sunglasses or hats. I take photos of my cats “in the snow,” “in the coffee shop,” or “at birthday parties.” These are later made into greeting cards and note cards for personal use and for sale. With cat photography, it’s all about luck and timing. At least I can count on Harrison when the rest of the cats want to sleep or play!