Cat lovers crazy for local artist's whimsical cat paintings

Cindy Schmidt paints colorful, cranky cats for her Cranky Cat Collection.

“I started painting cats, and they have basically taken over my life,” said artist Cindy Schmidt.

Schmidt created the Cranky Cat Collection around 2000, after noticing her cat paintings were more popular compared to her others.

The 61-year-old painter from Mexico, New York wanted a niche. “I was just looking at cat [paintings] on eBay. They all seemed to be either realistic or cute cats, and I just thought, ‘It seems like cats have more going on than that,’” Schmidt said. She painted her first cat in 15 minutes. It was a purple cat on a splotchy green background, and it sold for $24.

Photo: courtesy of Cindy Schmidt
Cindy Schmidt displays her Cranky Cat Collection at the Craftsmen's Classic Art & Craft Festival in Chantilly, Virginia on Oct. 18, 2015.

Her colorful creations are sold on canvases and printed on items such as bags, bookmarks, cards and coasters. She travels year-round through the U.S. to show her work at different events. The cat lover said one of her biggest shows is Christmas in the Country in Hamburg, New York from Nov. 5-8.

Although Schmidt paints colorful felines, (she uses vibrant colors such as magenta, teal and chartreuse) she captures a cat’s various attitudes through her brushstrokes. Barbara Donaghey, owner of a cat-themed gift boutique called The Nantucket Cat, carries Schmidt’s products in her store. “I tell my customers that if they look through the [card] rack, they’re going to find one of [Schmidt’s] cats with the expression of their cats,” she said. “And it happens all the time. They say, ‘There’s my kitty!’” Donaghey said a cat’s personality shines through Schmidt’s paintings.  

Sandy Conger, Schmidt’s best friend since fifth grade and former cat owner, said she could identify with some situations in the paintings and some of the behaviors the cats display. “I just think she captures that by the expressions on their faces,” Conger, 61, said.

Schmidt owns four cats: Joey, Miki, Fuzzums and Jackson Orbit Stretcher. She said they sometimes inspire her, but most of the time, she’ll imagine cats in odd situations or play off their attitudes.

Despite the name of the collection, not all of Schmidt’s cats are painted with a cranky face. “I’ll start painting non-cranky ones and my usual customers will come in and say, ‘Where are all the cranky ones?’” she said.

Conger, from Fulton, New York, described Schmidt’s paintings as uplifting and whimsical. “You don’t even have to be a cat lover [to love them],” she said.

Cat owner Amysue Gross, 40, said she first saw Schmidt’s Cranky Cat Collection three or four years ago. “The designs were cute and spunky,” said the geography professor from Allegany, New York. “I have several magnets and a small coaster. I have also given away Cranky Cat magnets.”

Schmidt creates tangible art cat lovers can’t keep their paws off of in an era where cats are ruling the Internet. It’s no secret that the Internet is filled with images and videos of cats, but why is there an obsession with furry felines?

It’s easy to lose track of time while watching cat videos, but they can also be therapeutic, according to an article from The Times. A study about consuming cat content online showed that viewers were participating in “digital pet therapy,” which provided stress relief, according to a Washington Post article.

Schmidt said cats have always entertained her. “Having this little creature in your house with this big attitude is kind of funny,” she said. When Schmidt painted seascapes and fairies and sold them along with cat paintings, she said people were always drawn to the cats. “The cats gradually took over in my booth,” she said. “So I just stopped taking the other items to shows.”

Schmidt said she loves seeing kids at her shows. Donaghey said Schmidt sometimes goes to The Nantucket Cat to paint. Donaghey remembered a time when an unhappy five-year-old came into her store, and Schmidt asked the child to help her paint. “The little girl added flowers to each corner of this piece,” Donaghey said. “I would suspect that most artists would go home and undo that, but when she produced that, the little girl’s artwork remained intact.”

Schmidt said she’s honored that people travel to see her shows. She said a Syracuse resident went to her show in Massachusetts for a girls’ weekend, and decided to make it an annual visit every weekend during that show.

Donaghey said the Cranky Cat Collection was unique. “I don’t think anyone else has her style,” she said. Her store logo is of a Cranky Cat painting. “We are proud to have a piece of her artwork we chose for our store logo,” she said.

Conger, whose house is filled with Schmidt’s artwork, said Schmidt is an excellent artist. “[Cat paintings] are just funny,” she said. “They make you laugh and they make you happy.” 

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