Our guest today is Northwest Cat Artist Leslie Cobb. Leslie is an amazing person whom I have the pleasure to know personally. She is part artist, part cat advocate, and part kitty angel. Her home is filled with bright colors and special needs cats. You may recognize Leslie’s artwork from the covers of my Crazy Cat Lady cozy mystery series. Her paintings are featured on the 5 published books, and will continue with the next in the series, Cosmic Cat and Cat Noel, coming out later this year.
~Leslie, when did you start your art journey? Was it something you set out to do or did the muse take you?
Leslie: In 1998, my 19-year-old one-eyed cat Esmeralda passed away. I was devastated. I had been present when she was born (my sister and I rescued her pregnant mother, who died shortly after giving birth) so she had been a huge part of my life. I had always planned to commission an artist to do a portrait of her and I was upset that I had waited too long. While going through photos of her to see if I had any that an artist could use as reference, it occurred to me that no one knew her as well as I did, and maybe I should try it. After all, if it didn’t turn out as I hoped, I could still look for someone else to paint her. I found some old brushes and mostly-dried-out paints in my storage area and gave it a try. That first effort was truly awful but it reminded me that I once loved art.
~But you didn’t stop there. What prompted you to continue painting after doing Esmeralda’s portrait?
Leslie: I enjoyed the process enough to give it another try, and I started a series of paintings showing Esmeralda as an angel, sometimes watching over my other two cats. Those paintings turned out to be the best possible grief therapy. Once I got started, I couldn’t stop! I found myself craving a lot of bright colors, which is one of the things people tend to notice about my art. Seeing how much more cheerful I felt when surrounded by color, I even completely redecorated my house, getting rid of furniture and home décor in neutral shades and replacing everything with vibrantly colored pieces. The paintings of Esmeralda are shown on my website as the Guardian Angel Series. Over time I found myself able to let go of my grief and do paintings in which she didn’t appear.
~Did you always paint cats? What is it about cats that pique your imagination?
Leslie: Yes, I only paint cats! Around the time I was born, the family cat had a litter of kittens, and I crawled around the floor with them. There hasn’t been a time since when I didn’t have at least one cat in my life. I’ve always believed that people who don’t like cats are just people who haven’t taken the time to get to know what cats are really like. Cats love unconditionally; they possess the most amazing grace and fluidity in their movements; and they’re just so much fun to have around. Years ago someone jokingly suggested that I had imprinted on cats when I was a baby the way ducklings imprint on the first creature they see after hatching. That would explain a lot!
Don’t Stop Believing
~Do you have formal art training or are you self-taught— or a bit of both?
Leslie: I had always enjoyed drawing as a child and took art classes through high school and even a few life drawing courses at a local college in my early 20s but didn’t pursue it further. I did a few crafts, such as hand-painted t-shirts and paperclay jewelry I designed and painted to sell at a few little craft fairs. But moving from those small pieces to a full canvas requiring a composition, color theme, and background was a big leap that was somewhat daunting at first.
~Are the cats in your paintings all real cats that you know?
Leslie: No. Initially, after painting Esmeralda and my own cats, I started doing paintings in which I made up cats in various situations. For a number of years, I was showing my work at an art gallery which did a new themed group show every month. To be considered, each piece had to match the theme for that month. I worked hard at making a cat painting fit the theme so I could be in every show! But that all changed in 2009.
~What happened then?
Leslie: I volunteered at Best Friends Animal Society’s sanctuary in Utah and was overwhelmed by their work in saving special needs animals. I was inspired to do an 18-painting series based on my experiences at the sanctuary. Each painting is intended to raise awareness about an important topic, such as hoarding, animal cruelty, declawing, shy or fearful cats, and cats with various health problems or special needs. Each print sold from that group of paintings, shown on my website as the Sanctuary Series, has information on the back about Best Friends and about the issue that inspired me to do that painting. I also donate $5 from the sale of each of those prints back to Best Friends. I realized then that my art could be used to help animals, so since then I’ve done paintings inspired by other groups doing important work for cats, such as Shadow Cats in Texas, Tabby’s Place in New Jersey, Cat Town in California, Little Woman Home for Animals in Texas, and others. In each case, I donate $5 from print sales to the organization caring for the cat featured in the painting. Of course I still paint my own cats!
That’s wonderful that you donate a portion of sales to cat causes! It makes your paintings even more special.
More Than Just a Pretty Face
~Can someone commission you to paint their cat? How do you decide what cats to paint?
Leslie: I don’t do any commissioned work. I paint pretty slowly and I have way too many paintings backed up in my head that I still need to get on canvas! Something about a specific cat has to inspire me, and I gravitate more toward those with special needs or a compelling story. When people tell me about their cats and want me to paint them, sometimes a cat will fit my criteria and I’ll decide to do the painting. The pet owner will get a free print and will have the opportunity to purchase the original painting but isn’t obligated to buy it.
~You mentioned you may do a painting of Lux, the Portland cat who made viral media news a few years back when he aggressively attacked his people, driving them to call 911. As you know, I fostered Lux for celebrity cat behaviorist Jackson Galaxy and was set to adopt him, but he became more violent than I could handle. Best Friends took him in and worked with him, and recently he went to a forever home. Lux certainly has a compelling story!
Leslie: He certainly does, not to mention that he’s a gorgeous cat! I took a lot of photos of him on my last visit and I do hope to paint him. I keep a mental list of cats I want to feature in a painting, and while there are several ahead of him, he’s definitely on the list.
~Besides painting cats, you are a dedicated cat advocate. Tell us about your experiences in fostering, volunteering, and adopting.
Leslie: In addition to volunteering for Best Friends, which I do every year, I briefly volunteered for Cat Town in Oakland, CA at the first cat café in the U.S., and this past year I helped with the Pretty Kitty Holiday Bazaar to benefit House of Dreams in Portland, OR. Until a year ago, I had a full time job and didn’t have much time for volunteering. I’ve tried fostering a few times but I came to the realization that I’m more comfortable just adopting so I have the authority to decide what veterinary treatment a cat in my care receives.
~You have an entire clowder of senior and special needs cats. Tell us about them.
Leslie: With nine cats I’ve got a full house for sure! Tallulah Jane has been with me the longest. She’s 15, and I’ve had her since she was 6 weeks old. Someone actually gave her to me while I was in my booth at an art festival! She was very ill and wasn’t expected to survive, but she pulled through and is the love of my life. For years she came to my art fairs and hung out in a cozy bed on a table in my booth, greeting my customers. It was a sad day when I realized she no longer enjoyed going with me. She has a weak immune system and damaged sinus passages from infections when she was a tiny kitten.
I adopted Riley as a companion for Tallulah once she recovered from her illness. I took her to an adoption event and she chose him. He has a malformed epiglottis, which makes his breathing very loud at times and puts him at greater risk of aspiration pneumonia. He’s also 15 years old.
Annabel is 14, and she has what’s known as a symblepharon; she had a severe eye infection shortly after birth before her eyes had even opened. As it healed, her third eyelid split and a portion of it adhered to her cornea with scar tissue. That eye doesn’t open all the way and looks abnormal, but she isn’t in pain and she still has some vision in it.
Genevieve, who’s 12, also has a symblepharon but not as severe as Annabel’s. A rescue group was having trouble getting her eye infections (she had 4 different infections at once) under control, so I offered to bring her home and take her to a veterinary eye specialist. Once she recovered, I decided to keep her since she got along so well with the rest of the gang.
Saffron is my youngest at 6 years old. At just 6 weeks old, she had been found trapped in an outboard motor; her tail was broken and her pelvis was fractured in two places when I adopted her the day after her rescue. Her tail still hangs limply but her pelvis healed well. She’s a bit of a brat and likes to ambush other cats at the litter box. We’re working on that.
Herman came to me in 2016; his human mom had died the same day I lost my own mother. The hospice coordinator for both women asked me about options to rehome him and I offered to take him myself. He’s 15 and has chronic kidney disease.
Nico is my oldest, estimated to be 19 or 20. He was around 18 when I saw a photo of him on Facebook. His owner was terminally ill and could no longer care for him so he had been taken to a shelter. He had a severely damaged eye that had to be removed but he recovered well and is pretty healthy overall.
Delaney is 15 and has been with me less than a year. There was an electrical fire that destroyed her home and she rescued herself by squeezing out through a mail slot. But because of the fire, her owner could no longer care for her so I agreed to take her. She was transported to me from California by volunteers with a group called The Catz Meow.
My newest kitty is Winifred, who is 14. She was at a California shelter because of her owner’s medical issues, and after two months without any adoption interest, she was in danger of euthanasia. I was planning a trip to the area for the holidays, so a friend agreed to foster her until I could bring her home when I returned from my trip. She’s mostly deaf but very sweet. She hasn’t yet been integrated into the rest of the family.
~Where can we find your artwork? Online? Shows?
Leslie: My website is www.lesliecobb.com, and my Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/Cat-Art-by-Leslie-Cobb-187037681358852/. I’m fairly new to Oregon and although I’ve applied for several shows this year, I haven’t yet been notified whether I’ll be accepted.
One upcoming show I’m very excited about is POP Cats. They started in Miami in 2017, and then in Austin for 2018. This year they’ll be holding events in both Austin and Portland! I’ve already registered for the Portland event, which will be held at the Oregon Convention Center on September 28-29. You can see more about it at https://popcats.org.
My website doesn’t have an online shopping cart, but if anyone sees something they are interested in, they can email me at email@example.com and we can make arrangements that way.
~Thanks so much, Leslie Cobb, for visiting with us today. I can’t wait to reveal the cover of my next Crazy Cat Lady cozy mystery, Cosmic Cat, which again features your beautiful artwork!