Chester, my cat, is the world's most awesome feline. He's so gentle and affectionate--he purrs if you rub his furry belly. However, Chester is still a cat and therefore an agent of chaos. He gnaws my sable hair watercolor brushes. He knocks colored pencils on the floor. (He knows I will leap out of deepest sleep at the sound of a color pencil core shattering.) He scatters my drawing subjects. He drapes himself across my hands while I am actively drawing with my Wacom tablet. He tears apart tracing paper. And then there is the fur. Fur everywhere. Fur in my paint. Fur in my mouth right now.
These problems can fall into four cat-egories (heh):
- Distraction - Incessant meowing for attention. Putting their fuzzy butts in your face.
- Destruction - Knocking things over. Gnawing on artwork. General mayhem.
- Debris - FUR
- Disaster - Not humorous. Drinking wash water containing paint. Licking pastels off their paws.
Pets exist to remind us that our stuff is not as important as we think. However, we also need to work to pay for cat food and other things.
It's important to establish firm boundaries with your pet. Bahawaha! Chester stares at me with his big green eyes and I melt. I'll feed him and cuddle him. Actually, looks a lot like comic to the right. Don't do it! This only reinforces annoying behavior. I asked the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators member how they work around cats. Here are their answers:
Frankie Giessen, "Gently blow in his face."
Karen Ackoff, "I keep a can of compressed air at hand. My cats hate the hissing noise it makes and will leave me alone."
Holly Butlett, "I hang a plastic bag on my chair. I shake it out and the plastic rattling scares them and keeps them at bay."
Julie Himes, "I got him his own padded stool and set it next to me. He quickly learned that this is his piece of furniture."
Anne Brogdon, put down something soft in front of a open screen window. "My cat will choose sunlight and outside smells over what I'm working on."
Maia Sanders, before she moved the operation behind closed doors. "I used the hot lamp/soft bed approach for one cat and the exciting windowsill with open window for the other."
Some members suggested a decoy...
When not caving to his wiles of feline persuasion, there are two ways I handle Chester. I keep nail clippers by my desk, so if he gets in my face I gently clip his claws until he saunters off in disgust. OR I'll gather an assortment of cat toys on my computer desk. If Chester is being a pain I'll toss them at him. Or I'll toss one out of the room, close the door behind him and put on sound canceling ear phones.
Designate your work space as no cats zones. You need to be sneaky to enforce this because you want the cat to associate the negative experience with the area and not you. Some people use tin foil, bubble wrap, or double sided tape but the best device I've seen is SSSCAT, a motion activated non-toxic spray. Even if you are asleep or not home the cat will learn to avoid your work area.
Also, keep your work area tidy. Put way your materials. Or if you want them on hand, put the tools in something hard to move or out of reach. Close your paint box. Cover your art work. I use a sheet of tracing paper, cardboard and hefty book because Chester loves to chew on anything crinkly like plastic or tracing paper.
Everything near a cat will be covered in cat fur. It's a fact. I keep a large chip brush on my drafting table and sweep right before I work. Constant vacuuming helps too. But seriously, if you are framing something just borrow a catless friends house because there will always be a least one cat hair trapped under the glass. You will feel like the world is laughing at you. But that would be crazy...
Always keep paints and powders out of the reach of pets (or children). I keep my wash water is in an old yogurt cup with a tight fitting lid, so even if it gets knocked over Chester can't lap up its contents. If you use a media that has high dust like pastels it's probably best to have a separate art space. You don't want your pet to breath in particulates or lick toxic powders off their fur.
If all else fails maybe you need to enrich your cat's environment. Indoor cats are especially at risk of becoming bored and stir crazy. It could be that your cat needs a buddy to play with. Or if you are able to invest in a catio. Unfortunately, no indoor environment will be as stimulating as the outdoors, but as New Yorker I don't have that option. However, there are new innovative toys invented everyday such as puzzle treat balls and refillable catnip animals.
Lastly, you have cat for a reason. Take a five minute break and spend time with your pet. It will be good for both of you. Maybe your cat will even fall asleep after you wear it out.
Post Script: GNSI member Natalya Zahn recommended PawSense, a PC app that block the random text of a cat walking on a keyboard. Too bad there is not a mac version.