Dora Hathazi MendesEDITORS NOTE: Dora did say that I could edit this as I normally do, but her words are so beautifully written, and show her wonderful accent, that I have left them alone.
I am a real crazy cat lady, or better to say a cat artist, sometimes I think probably I am a reincarnation of a spoiled domestic kitty. My husband simply calls me Cat Woman because around 10 years ago I started to paint some colourful cats and I just cannot stop painting them, and Pet Woman because I have an ability to entertain myself at home with my art and other things, and sometimes just forget for days or weeks that outside word exist. Wherever we have been living, I loved to discover the world around us, but on the other hand I never had problem to stay at home for longer periods without talking to anybody in person, except to him or to my children, communicating only online with my friends from different countries. I am perfectly happy at home in my own world painting cats and other subjects after each other.
Music chosen by Dora
What’s your background?
I was born in Hungary, and although we didn’t have a professional artist in my family before, there were several members from my ancestors, who had “artistic veins” or talent, but as to be an artist was not considered as a real profession, mine was the first generation, when two of us were lucky to allowed to pursue our dreams, and they let us to study art. One of my grandmother who was a housewife was making beautiful embroideries, and she was a kind of Pet Woman too, as somehow after 40 years old, she refused to leave home. Her son, my father sometimes made awesome drawings as a hobby and some carvings from wood. He had a camera and a dark room to develop his photographs, which fascinated me as a child. He was an architect and had a huge drawing table and made the plans of houses on paper by hand. My mother was a geography and biology teacher before she got retired, so my love for animals should came from her. In fact, I haven’t seen much art at home, we never visited exhibitions, but I saw plenty of papers and drawings of houses from my father, and I was very lucky and happy child, that they supported me to be able to do what I loved from early age.
I always enjoyed creating, at weekends I was drawing and painting in the studio of our local artist community, I learnt there how to make enamel jewellery which I sold to German tourists during summer with profits. I won some art competitions at young age and had exhibitions with the adults from our local art community. When time arrived to choose school with the recommendation of my art teachers, my parents gave a green way, and they let me continue my studies in Art High School. I left home as young as 14 years old, to do what I loved, supported by my parents from the background.
Does your artwork come from that background?
I graduated at Moholy Nagy University of Art and Design MOME Budapest, Hungary in 2002 as Textile Designer specialized in handwoven textiles. Why I ended up in the textile department, I don’t really know, but probably my love for yarns came from my grandmother who loved to make embroideries, and my other grandmother had also a loom and a Singer to make textiles and clothes. But in fact I had chosen the Handwoven Textile Department because I had to choose from the given options, and when I saw their workroom with full of colourful yarns, I just knew, that was for me.
The University was useful to learn about history of art and gave support as technical knowledge for making unique handmade textiles and for drawing but didn’t prepare for the life in the sense of how to market yourself as an artist, or what comes after the school. In Hungary that time the Textile Industry was dying, they didn’t need more designers. Also, I was a bit full of the first 4 then 5 years of constant criticism from my teachers, so I was happy get my Artist Degree, and start to do something on my own. Yet during the University I purchased an old loom originated from Finland and started to work as a freelance designer, produced hand woven textiles for cushions and window blinds made by painted bamboo using my loom.
Soon after I met my Portuguese husband, and I left Hungary, and left my loom and colourful yarn collection behind, and started a new life which meant in the following 10 years we have been living in 4 different countries including Romania, Poland, Portugal then Malawi, then back to Portugal, moving constantly. I had a black cat that time called Rebeka, and she accompanied us everywhere except Africa, I think probably she was my somebody important from my previous life, but for sure she inspired me to create my first cat paintings.
Without my giant loom, I thought it is probably best time to pick up painting again, because it doesn’t need much space; a person can do it everywhere, and while I was expecting our first son, I created 22 whimsical cat paintings, which now is the base of my colourful Cats of Karavella Collection. That 10 years was not a very productive period tough in my life in art sense, as I was quite busy to find my new role as a mother and build a new nest in every country we moved after each other. The real thing came only later when accidentally I found an article about Fine Art America and I realized I can be anywhere to reach people without involving myself in the local art scenes, and this gave a new purpose to my life!
What are you trying to say with your work?
Now I believe about 80% of my works are about cats, which will change in the future, as from September my second boy finally will start preschool, so I can become from a stay at home mom, a full time professional artist, and dedicate myself totally for paintings! Meaning, there will be even more cats, but other subject too.
Although cat lovers say cats rules the internet, life and the whole Universe, I don’t have ambition to change the world with my cat paintings. I paint about them because it is my passion, and simply I would like to show this beautiful animal to the world through my eyes. If somebody ask me, what is the word which most represent cats, I would say sophistication. When I opened my Artist Website through Fine Art America in 2016 starting out with my first 22 cat paintings, I realized with my cat art I can connect easily with likeminded people in the whole world, and receive encouragement from costumers, fans and followers, which is very inspiring.
I also paint commissioned cat portraits for custom orders, and my aim is to create a lovely looking portrait about a great companion or as a memoire. My costumers normally crying with happy tears, which is a proof for me, that I succeeded, and my painting is talking to them on its own.
I choose randomly my other subjects, I like to work from my own photographs such as places from our traveling, so I paint for my pleasure, not because I want to say something with them. I don’t have art about political messages, or critics about life we live in, and I am not really into abstract art, I love to paint what I see, and I paint them, because I find them beautiful. It is relaxing and good to my soul.
What made you choose the medium you work with?
I use mainly watercolours in different forms. For my colorful Cats of Karavella Collection, which are bigger size mixed media paintings, I prefer to use Ecoline, which is a water based brilliant liquid watercolour, comes in jars, very similar to inks. I combine this medium with metal gouache and permanent markers, which help me to achieve a very controlled look. I love this paint, because it can provide me the bright and intense colours which I need, to be able to achieve what is in my mind, and with silver and gold and bronze gouache I can add an extra touch which make them special looking in live, and hopefully turn my first-time buyers into collectors.
To my more realistic Cat Portraits I use also watercolours but in pan versions. While my 2D paintings requires more precision and all about colors, on my watercolour cat portraits, I like to let the paint flow, and create a different style. I started this collection last year in December, and I made so far 70+ paintings about one two or three cats together inspired by photographs, and I still learning with each of them to try to develop a spontaneous watercolour style.
Do you work in a studio?
While living abroad, we purchased a place at the sea, which was meant to be my studio when we settled down, we also nicknamed it as my Karavella Atelier. But when we finally stopped traveling, I was expecting my second boy, so we decided as I will be a stay at home mom for some years, it will be more convenient if I work at home. We turned my studio to a seaside rental, and I have a room for my art in our house, but practically I use only a corner where is my desk, some shelves and wardrobes to store my art supplies, papers and paintings, and as a “Pet Woman” I am very happy with this solution right now, because it is comfortable, I can work with my cat at my side, and everything I need is near, and as I am not painting on giant canvasses, I can do everything on a A3 sized drawing board. I stayed with the name of my dream studio, that is from where the Cats of Karavella came from.
What is the one thing in your studio you just could not be without?
My first thought was to this question that it is my cat Riscas! I have a young Lynx Point Tabby boy for a year, and he believes that he is my assistant, or something like that. Like my other cat was, he likes to involve himself in the process, and what is for sure he is a big help in my marketing efforts! But as he is a cat, he is very independent, so he chose to stay near me when he wants, and not when I want, so my correct answer to this question is my computer with internet!
In this stage I am not exhibiting in physical galleries, so all my art activities happen online. I am not painting plein air, as it would be more assisting to my kids to paint that to paint myself. I need my computer for painting cat portraits from digital photographs, I need it for keeping contact with my costumers, fans and followers on my social media accounts, for taking care of my Artist Website and shops, also communicating with my friends and family.
Who are your biggest influences?
I love Art Nouveau movement, the work of Alphonse Mucha, Gustav Klimt or Henry de Toulouse Lautrec, for an architect, Antoni Gaudi! In my Ecoline cat paintings I prefer bright, vibrant colours, and drew inspiration from the organic and geometric forms, motives and angular contours of this great decorative style. I like the look of stained glass windows and enamel jewellery, and I try to implement some ideas in my colourful Cats of Karavella Collection. When I somebody write to me, that these cat paintings would look great as stained glass, I know I achieved it, and makes me satisfied. From watercolour artists, I would have too many to mention, don’t have a favourite.
What is your favourite piece of work by yourself?
My absolute favourite painting is the “Blue Cat with Goldfish” mixed media from the early collection. This painting was shared and liked lots of times on different social media and was the second piece I sold from my originals and this is the painting which brought my first sale at the very beginning in my POD activity featured on a T-shirt! Since then it is my all-time bestseller painting, I sold several prints, and related products in different forms from my both shops. Sharing this painting to the world brought me not only lots of fans and followers, but also my main collector who has so far 11 original artworks of mine from the Cats of Karavella Collection.
How much time (on average) does it take to complete a work?
Depend on the size and the type of work. Right now daily I have around 2-3 hours purely for my art, when my little one is sleeping afternoons. The bigger sized cat paintings from my Cats of Karavella Collection takes 3/5 days to complete. The watercolours from my Cat Portraits Collection are made in one sitting, I try to finish them in that 2-3 hours, and I sometimes need some extra time in the evening to call them ready. If a watercolour portrait has more than one cat, I need 2 sitting to complete. My other themed artworks are the same, watercolour is a fast medium, and I use hair dryer to accelerate the process, to not to waste any minute for waiting from my creating time.
If I am not busy with some other programs, I make 2-4 cat portraits per week, and try to make at least 1 bigger sized Ecoline cat art every month.
How do you know something is ‘finished’? Is it easy to walk away?
I just feel it, I don’t need to think about it too much. My routine is, when I think it is ready, I let it alone for some hours, or a night, and have a look after with a fresh eye, to see if I need to correct or add something, but most of the time, when is done, is done. I don’t regret after anything, and I don’t have unfinished works in pile, I finish them all.
Nice and Clean
What project are you working on now?
I love to work on projects, right now I have two ongoing one, and I will start a new one from September. I started a new Cat Zodiac Collection at the end of last year, to paint one zodiac sign per month, to have the 12 signs till November. I will be launching a new Cat Art Calendar for the Christmas Season. If somebody buys my Calendars, for me is a meaning that they like most of my cat paintings, they just cannot decide which to buy, and they want to see a variety of my paintings whole year long. I consider them as an appreciation, and as a type of free enjoyable advertising, for which I am paid for, and not opposite. My Cat Art Calendars in a home of a cat lover, with monthly changing paintings, can be shown during a whole year to neighbours, friends, family members and visitors, so I am already thinking the theme of the following year!
Music chosen by Dora
My second project I started in 2017 December, it is my Cat Portraits Collection. I wanted to start to make pet portrait commissions, but to receive them, you need a body of work to show that you are able to do it. So, I needed cat models, and volunteers, to help me to create and develop a style which is appealing enough to ask me for commissions. During this half year I made 70+ watercolour cat portraits, and lots of them are already commissioned artworks. I created a system at my Cats of Karavella Facebook Business Art Page asking for models, and because this way I know the owners of the pets, I can receive direct feedback from them. These are not commissions, because I choose the photos to paint from, but a great system to create movement, and make even people happy and it is much more enjoyable than to paint random cats from the internet. Those who cannot afford to buy the ready paintings, can purchase a print or a related product from my Artist Website. I receive more and more custom orders, I have already have returning costumers, or people finding me also by referrals, which is great.
The third project I will start in September, I want to develop my other Collections too, about non-cat themed paintings, I would like to make more watercolours related to Portugal, for local galleries, and when I have enough artworks, try to sell also at the local summer fairs. For this I need yet not only quantity or good paintings, but also to gather courage, because as I mentioned I am quite good now in online communications, but I am not taking part in physical art scenes.
Old Street in Obidos Portugal
What was the best advice given to you as an artist?
One of my very first teacher told me, that it is all about shadows and light next to each other. I need to notice these values, and apply them well, and if I succeed, the picture at one point will get together. I follow this while painting watercolours. At my mixed media paintings, I don’t follow any advice, I just do it how I feel, and I just let myself to go with the wave until is getting together.
Otherwise I think all my art teachers told me always the same, that I need to focus in what I am doing because they told I had potentials and I was not using them fully. I didn’t take this very seriously, because I was missing the ability to focus longer period on the same thing. I could make the given task in a quite short time compared with others, then I lost interest and went for my other businesses. I was not very interested anymore to create nice things just for the sake of being. And when I got ready and wanted to do something with my art and I found the online solution, I was already lack in time. I can create only in silence, for me is not very easy when young noisy kids are always around my legs. So that was a very good advice to use my time wisely, but I wasted some years.
I also liked another advice from a fellow POD artist, that if you sell something, do from it more. Well yes, this advice just working fine!
What was the first piece of art you sold?
I always liked to create art not only for the sake of being nice, but to be able to sell them, and as I wrote before I created different genres so far, not only paintings. If I consider my enamel jewels which I made as a young teen, they were the first ones I sold. Then if I consider art my one of a kind handmade textiles for cushions, and my window blinds, made on my old loom they were the first ones in that genre.
My very first original painting I sold was the “Pretty Me In Tuxedo” cat art form my colorful Cats of Karavella Collection, which I made as a surprise painting about a cat for someone who became later my main collector. He purchased it and right after the Blue Cat with Goldfish painting, which was also his absolute favourite. These two sales gave me courage to let my original paintings go, because although I received requests before, I was afraid of art scams. He gave me the trust, and that huge appreciation which I was needed, and I am very grateful for that till today!
Do you find it hard to navigate the artworld?
At the beginning I found it overwhelming and confusing. When I restarted in 2016 my art activity online, first I felt sorrow and panic, that I didn’t start earlier, and I will be never able to build up a presence on the internet, because it seemed will take an eternity. Of course, I also realized, cats as subjects of paintings are a totally oversaturated theme, so I have a very strong competition out there. Then I calmed down, prepared a plan, and listened to the advice to the experienced ones, that is not a sprint but a marathon. As I was lacking time with a young baby I dedicated my first year for learning and sharing my existing work to the world, to build up a presence, so when the time arrives to paint new works, I will already have an audience to show them. Luckily, I received positive feedback very soon, and I started to create new works earlier than I planned.
Our Purrfect Universe
I think it is a hard work, in a sense that there is a part which we all would love to quit, and it is the marketing. Most of us, artists are I believe more introverts by nature, but you must open to the world, step out from your shell and try sell not only your talent, but also show a part of yourself to the public. It is not easy to shout day by day openly to the whole world, that: Look! This is my art; do you like it? Do you like it that much, that you would buy it? Also today you need to be a bit of an everything, although I am not a marketing expert, not a writer, not an entrepreneur, not an actress, but I already did a bit of everything, and I am freaking out from the prospect, that what If I open also a Youtube channel, will I be able to speak to a camera?
An outsider can imagine, ohh you are so talented, just paint something, upload to the net and you will sell it like sugar and is not like that. It is a continuous work or developing, communications with your audience, always searching for new ideas, finding new people who can appreciate your work, try to use every opportunity to get out and show what you do, to make yourself visible in the sea of other talented people who are trying the same as you. So there is not a thing as overnight success, it is a long journey, but with all the frustrations, ups and downs, I enjoy every minute of it, and enjoying more and more as I feel really appreciated by my fans and followers. On the other hand, I believe the possibility being online as an artist, it makes so much easier. From my little corner studio, I can reach for the cat lovers of the whole world, isn’t it just great and makes it simple?
What are you personally doing to advance your work career?
I am painting almost every day. And planning to widen the mediums I am using right now in the future, but going step by step, letting time to sink to everything, because I believe is not good to jump fast from one thing to the other. I am continuously working on marketing, keeping contact with my followers, and trying to add new art frequently. Although I don’t follow art trends, I try to keep updated about new trends and ideas in marketing and try everything out to see if I can have benefit from it. Such as making time-lapse videos about my painting sessions, creating free giveaways, or involve my followers in my projects, etc. I keep what works and drop what doesn’t bring satisfying responds. I try to follow also trends in the Online Cat Community, because it is a way to reach more cat lovers and show them my art. After two years working on this, it feels great, that I am not talking to the empty space anymore but was able not only to gather a great base of followers, but also found new friends from all over the world. I try to collaborate also with other artists, participate in movements in different social media sites, to help each other to climb up on that ladder, and gain a better exposure. I am reading art forums, searching for practical advice to learn from them as much as I can, and trying to investigate and find out what other successful artist did to achieve their level.
How do you price your work and why do you price it that way?
I price my artworks by type, size, and the time I spent to create them. In case it is a cat portrait commission, I also consider the number of animals which are on the same paper. There is a never-ending discussion what price is a good price, and I believe everybody should do how they feel comfortable with. Normally the overpricing and under-pricing create big debates, and for sure I would be considered that I am under-pricing my work. But I need to add more one factor. Art count like a luxurious product, but I want to create widely affordable pieces, and want to make as much people happy with my paintings as much I can! Most of my costumers doesn’t have luxurious homes, and cars, they have cats, and sometimes lots of them. If a cat lover wants buy my original painting and hang it on their wall, or a mug with the portrait of their cats, it makes me very proud and happy, and I am already satisfied!
Once I read an advice from a fellow watercolourist on an art forum, that you can price your pieces lower, and sell thousands of them, or you can price them high and sell only occasionally. So, I prefer the first way and honestly, because movement makes me much happier, then overpricing my watercolours, and waiting for the big catch for months. It would make me depressed. Not to mention, that as I am in Portugal, I must also consider that I want to sell not only to the US market, but also for Europeans. I do not want to paint to my drawer to keep my unsold paintings forever, I am painting to make people happy, make movement, and keep myself motivated.
Music chosen by Dora
My goal is not to be super rich from art, or be a celebrity artist, not to mention since I spent one year in Africa, my world and priorities changed quite significantly. I live in a small village, where fortunately I am not bombarded daily that I need lots of unnecessary things for a fulfilled life, so I create my prices accordingly, and I am able to make from them what I need! With my pricing method in almost a year, I sold 60+ original paintings for happy costumers from 4 continents, 9 countries, and 20 American States. And have sales every month from my POD stores, so I think I figured a good pricing for myself which brings me satisfaction.
Do you use social networking in your day to day life?
Yes, I use every day, and I am kind of everywhere. Before I joined Fine Art America, I had only a Facebook personal profile for keeping contact with my family and friends from different countries. I put most efforts and find most effective is my Cats of Karavella Facebook Business page, and two Instagram accounts. One specialized to my cat art and going with the same Cats of Karavella name, and another general art account to my non-cat themed artworks. I tried to write blogs too, but I am not really into it, still have a free account on WordPress, and I am also on Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, to mention only the main ones, just to spread the word about my art. In the future I would like to open a YouTube channel to my art videos, but right now I just cannot do more.
Is there anything that really annoys you about the artworld?
When one artist doesn’t respect the way of the other. When they suggest that only that art worth something which cost thousands or millions of dollars. When they say, if you are under-pricing your work, you are not giving value to your own art, and the public also won’t give value to what you do. When you make a line on a paper, because it felt good, and they expect you to create a big story about it, for what reason you did it. When is difficult to decide, that what you see it a true success, is really a great celebrity artist, or only a bloated empty balloon supported by bots and a team of marketing experts. Looks can be deceiving sometimes, and discouraging to an artist, and can put you down. So that is why when I feel confused and overwhelmed, I try to focus on what I do and already achieved and not to look what others do. You can call this ostrich politics, or it is a way of protecting yourself, sometimes you just need to let it go, for not to be annoyed or discouraged because of the lots of information you are facing through the net.
What advice would you give new artists?
New artists when they just start out need lots of practice to be good in it what they do, patience, dedication. What we see sometimes it seems so easy and natural, most of the time there are many years of practice, sweat and probably a good marketing team behind those seemingly very successful artists. So, this shouldn’t discourage new artists, it is possible to build up your place with consistency, willing to learn from the experienced ones, and probably follow or at least try out their advices. But it is not going to happen tomorrow, more likely in some years, or some 10 years, or 20 or even more. I believe new generation want everything right now or for yesterday, if it seems not going fast, or they give up, or they start to cheat with robos, which will create only an illusion, but won’t give true results. You shouldn’t want straight a lot, aim less, and be happy for your little achievements, this way you can go further.
I receive sometimes compliments that God blessed me with a gift. I am sure I inherited artistic vein from my parents, but I joined my first art lessons as afternoon and weekend activity when I was yet in elementary school, and practically doing it since then. I am 40 now, so it is about 30 something years in my case and two years spent online trying to learn the tricks, to be able to make that satisfying cat art which make them most of the time shed happy tears.
Have you got hobbies?
If hobby is something you love to do in your free time repeatedly, then I don’t have a hobby, because I paint in my free time, but I don’t consider it as a hobby anymore. I like reading, and I still have a big yarn collection, and although my looms stayed in Hungary, once I would like to continue, but to make hand woven tapestry instead of textiles for home decor products. I created a homemade loom from a cloth stand and started to make a tapestry from one of my painting, but it was very time consuming, so I gave it up right now for painting. In fact, I was not correct before, that is my only unfinished artwork I need to complete yet one day.
Where are you based?
I am a Hungarian Artist living in the sunny Portugal, in a little seaside village called Povoa de Penafirme, 60km to the North from Lisbon
Dora Hathazi Mendes
CONTACT DORA direct by using the form, or scroll down to comment on this interview
I live in Manchester, UK and try to promote other artists and writers when I can.I'm so pleased you found our community and I hope to chat to you soon!!Please comment on my posts if you like them 🙂