Ann Garland has drawn cats from all over the world,
capturing their unique personalities
and commemorating their special lives
It has been said many times that cats helped build the internet. And no wonder. The World Wide Web is a seemingly endless resource for those who need a funny cat video fix, a tutorial on how to draw a cat, or who want to learn more about caring for their feline companions.
But, with so much cat-related content, it might seem as if it has all been done before. How can anyone possibly add anything new to the mix?
Anyone asking that question will likely be both pleasantly surprised and impressed should they come across the youtube channel, “I love to draw cats,” and the videos of professional artist Beverly Garland, each of which shows the process of creating a cat portrait and the special story of the feline being drawn.
Clicking on one of these videos for the first time, a viewer might instantly be captivated by the look behind the scenes into the life of a cat and artwork being created. In the 6-minute video of “Archie of NZ: Cat Portrait in Colored Pencil,” for example, the warm, lighthearted narration by Garland relates the story of Archie, an orange tabby from New Zealand. The time-elapsed process of transforming a photo of Archie into a charcoal pencil drawing is interlaced with additional photos as well as video of the kitty. Viewers learn about Archie, including the anecdote of his mysteriously expanding girth and his concerned owners’ attempts to find out the cause. Without giving away too much of the plot, it’s safe to say that Archie was an astoundingly clever, little fellow, not to mention a bit of a cat burglar who never met a meal he didn’t like.
Each of the videos by Garland, who has drawn cats from all over the world, similarly highlights a feline’s back story and personality.
“I’m doing this because I love cats,” Garland relates. “And to me they’re all very unique and special so I want to celebrate the cat that each person loves so much.”
Garland adds that she feels a connection with each cat she draws.
“I kind of fall in love with the cats in the process too because I know their stories,” she says.
Besides highlighting the cats, Garland is also very cognizant of the impact each animal has had on the lives of the person or people who have adopted it, noting that a big part of her work involves honoring people’s love for their animals.
“I feel like I’m privy to this wonderful little private piece of people’s lives,” she states. “I feel very honored to be allowed in to see what’s important to them and listen to their stories. It’s a very fun and rewarding part of the work that I do.”
A bevy of awards:
It’s likely this combination of creativity and passion for what she does that landed Garland a number of awards from the Cat Writer’s Association this past August.
During the CWA annual awards banquet for the yearly Communications Contest, which was held virtually this year, Garland was presented with the MUSE Medallion for the “Social Media Excellence: Humor and Entertainment” category.
In addition, her video drawing, “Jugg, the Tortie Pet Portrait” won the Kari Winters’ Rescue and Rehabilitation Award.
And, perhaps, most notably, Garland received the CWA President’s Award.
According to a press release, Deb Barnes, who served as president for the CWA through September 2020, awarded “Jugg” and Garland’s YouTube Channel this “Best of the Best” Award, because, “This entry captured my heart with its compelling use of storytelling, drawing and videography.”
Barnes also lauded Garland’s artistic talents.
“The drawings are exquisite works of art and the use of colored pencils to create the finest of details – from the delicate wisp of a whisker to the beautiful twinkle in the cat’s eye, the window to the soul of a cat – each drawing is beautifully representative of the commissioned cat, becoming a treasured, keepsake work of art,” Barnes related in the press release.
The creative process:
Garland relates that generating such realistic portraits involves a painstaking process and that she sometimes almost feels as if she’s drawing each piece of cat hair individually. Fortunately, she says, the pencil medium she uses lends itself to detail.
“I can get super realistic with things like fur,” she notes.
Once a light outline of a kitty is on the canvas, the eyes are usually the first to be enhanced and filled in. In fact, Garland says she can only recall one instance when she didn’t start with the eyes.
“I like to get the eyes right because I feel like it’s a really special feature to the cat’s humans where their personality can really come through,” she explains.
What’s the most challenging part?
Whiskers, according to Garland.
She says she creates whiskers with a colored pencil powder and paint mix. The whiskers can be kind of tricky because getting the thickness correct is important. Also, since they’re usually the last part of the image to be applied, there’s always the potential for messing up the whole time-consuming piece of work.
“When I’m doing portraits, I just want to get it really right,” Garland states.
But along with the challenges come the rewards.
“I like seeing the cat’s eyes and the face,” she says, adding that she is a cat lover and finds each feline to be unique and special. “I’m not just putting colors down on a piece of paper. I’m drawing a little being.”
Perhaps what might be most surprising to many when viewing her artwork is that Garland, who earned her master’s degree in geography and the environment, is a mostly self-taught artist, who learned about drawing with pencils from various resources, including a book.
But, the lifelike eyes, uncanny reproduction of fur markings and capture of some intangible element in their posture that makes the cats appear as if they are about to leap off the canvas and meow or beg for a cat treat, all seem to suggest years of rigorous formal artistic training.
That’s not to say that every day on the job as a cat artist isn’t rigorous training in and of itself.
She offers her portraits in three different sizes. The small, which is 9 inches by 12 inches, and the medium, which is 12 inches by 16 inches, are the most popular. The larger size, 18 inches by 24 inches, is usually for depicting multiple cats.
While the “I love to draw cats” youtube video lengths range from a little over 2 minutes to the Archie video, which, technically is 6 minutes and 19 seconds, the process of creating the video and portrait is rather time-consuming.
Garland says that it can vary and that some cats just take longer to draw than others. But, she estimates that there’s usually about a day of preparing for the drawing. At this point, she will choose a photo for the cat she is about to draw, open it in Photoshop and examine it carefully to get a sense of all of the colors involved in order to pick out the right color pencils and also determine which pencils may need to be blended for a specific hue.
“Colored pencils are rarely just the right shade you need for something as organic as a cat,” explains Garland.
She’ll next draw a very light grid on the paper and create a grid on the photo so she can ensure features of the cat will be placed correctly as she starts to draw.
It can take a day or two just to do all that.
Once she starts drawing, there’s usually about a day spent on the face and the head…a day for the body. And, then…maybe another day for finishing detail.
That is typically followed by a day of writing and editing the video script. Another 24 hours is reserved for recording the sound.
And, finally, there’s usually a final day spent editing the video portion and peppering in the candid photos.
While time-consuming, Garland’s creative process has recently been enhanced due to the purchase of a new camera and microphone, which she bought with some of the award money received from the CWA.
Garland says she was thrilled and surprised to receive the awards, especially since she was fairly new to the Cat Writer’s Association, which she joined in 2019. Last year also saw the launch of “I love to draw cats” on youtube (in January).
Have cat, will travel:
As a frequent traveler, Garland says that charcoal pencil is perfect to work with because it’s highly portable, easy to fit in a carry-on bag, there’s no cleanup involved, and, unlike with painting, no water is needed.
With roots in Illinois and Texas, she has been living and traveling with her partner, Cobra, and one of her senior cats, in a retired school bus.
“We usually cover 5,000-plus miles each year,” Garland notes. “Creating cat portraits is the perfect business to do on the road in a confined space.”
COVID has slowed down art commissions somewhat because she is currently not able to go to cat shows and PetCon, which she had been doing prior to this March. However, she remains busy with requests for portraits that were already lined up.
Also slowed down for the present time is travel, which Garland says she does largely for fun with her partner, in prior years traveling regularly to Burning Man in Nevada, and then exploring other areas by camping and hiking on the way back.
Garland credits Cobra, whom she describes as very supportive, with coming up with the idea for the cat videos and the name for the business.
“He saw that I was already making videos of my drawings just to kind of record the drawing process,” Garland says, adding that he mentioned it would be a great idea to include the story of a cat in the video of it. “I have to give him a lot of credit for doing that and for sensing how neat that would be for others, and for me too.”
The duo, and Garland’s cat, Galactica (as in the TV show “Battlestar Galactica”), are currently In Texas, about four or five minutes away from Austin.
Although the cat, named after a series about space travel, wasn’t sure about life on the road at first, Garland says Galactica quickly took to it. While they are currently in Texas, they go out for walks together, keeping the feline safe and accounted for with a radio collar transmitter and a little flashing red light on her collar.
The future and where to find her online
So, with a mastery of creating cat portraits and a growing fan base, does Garland plan to draw other animals?
Well, yes, and, no. Garland says she loves dogs, but that, depending on the dog, they can be outside of her wheelhouse. She has done one dog portrait, for a friend, but jokes that she sometimes reminds people who ask about dogs or other animals at trade shows that her business is named “I love to draw cats.”
That being said, she relates that, if she were to branch out, she would someday like to launch an “I love to draw horses,” website, a possible venture that likely would thrill horse lovers all over the world.