Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the July/August 2015 issue of Catster print magazine. Click here to subscribe to Catster magazine.
Jamie Shelman could have taken her art career in a number of different directions. She had a degree in painting from The Rhode Island School of Design, one of the most prestigious arts schools in the country. Yet she created a business based on her whimsical drawings of cats. And thank goodness she did, because her work now delivers joy around the world by sharing the silliness of our feline friends.
Since she was a child, Jamie has loved cats, and she’s been drawing them for as long as she can remember.
“I love their silly, smiling eyes and seal-like bodies,” Jamie said. “There’s something satisfying in their shape that is fun to draw and makes me laugh.”
Starting her business, The Dancing Cat, was a natural extension of this longtime passion. The business began when Jamie’s husband, Tom, read an article about Etsy, back when the online marketplace for handcrafted goods was just starting to become popular. It sounded like the perfect way for Jamie to make her art available for sale online, so she opened an Etsy shop offering her original paintings and drawings.
There seems to be endless inspiration for Jamie’s work, as she continuously adds drawings, each one funnier than the last. The Dancing Cat characters often depict everyday situations, such as eating too much holiday candy, considering life as a carnival ride, experiencing a summer sunburn, or feeling that first fall breeze. Holidays and seasons are common themes.
Jamie’s drawings usually capture an emotion, sometimes even a self-expression of how the artist is feeling – in cat form.
You don’t have to be a cat lover to appreciate The Dancing Cat; the illustrations have a universal appeal. However, many drawings are custom-made for cat lovers who will truly understand the message.
Recently, a chubby gray tabby named Brooksie, who belongs to Jamie’s neighbor, has been paying visits to Jamie’s house, and he has become the subject of several Dancing Cat illustrations. Brooksie enjoys sleeping on Jamie’s back porch in a flower box, a scene she could not resist.
Over time, The Dancing Cat has expanded to include limited edition prints and cards, making the art available to more people at affordable prices. Jamie is now adding mugs and T-shirts to the store as well as adorable pencil bags and pouches made from custom fabrics. Some of the new items have been a result of collaborations with other small businesses, including a line of fine bone china mugs from a pottery company in the U.K.
“I enjoy supporting other small businesses and the work of people I love,” Jamie said.
The Dancing Cat is a successful full-time business that allows Jamie to share her work with cat lovers around the world, but it took some time to get to this point. If you’re just starting out with your own business, Jamie said to be patient: It takes time to build your business and especially to find your audience. But she pointed out that once you find your audience, it’s incredibly satisfying to reach people who really get what you’re doing.
Another important piece of advice Jamie offered is to stay authentic.
“I see so much work out there now that’s just a copy of other work without integrity or spirit, really just trying to make money out of what they think will sell,” she said. “Stay true to your original voice, and trust your instinct. Don’t be afraid to create something that you love. Even if no one else understands it at first, someone will!”
Clearly, The Dancing Cat has a distinct voice in the cat art world. Jamie’s drawings provide a refreshing break, lifting our spirits and reminding us of why we love these furry felines so much.
Read more of Kate Benjamin’s cat style tips:
About the author: Kate Benjamin is the founder of the popular cat style blog Hauspanther.com. She specializes in helping people live stylishly with cats. You may have seen her on Jackson Galaxy’s show My Cat From Hell. Make sure to check out Kate and Jackson’s book, Catification: Designing a Happy and Stylish Home for Your Cat (and You!) and look for their new book, Catify to Satisfy: Simple Solutions for Creating a Cat-Friendly Home, coming soon!