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 United States. Yet she created her business, The Dancing Cat, 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.
Can you tell us about yourself and what you're working on?
I'm an artist/illustrator living in Baltimore, US with a current passion for fat cats and good design! I'm currently working on a book to be released Spring next year - about cats of course!
My drawings usually capture an emotion, sometimes even a self-expression of how I’m feeling – in cat form.
What age were you when you first started making anything? What did you make?
Since I was a child, I loved cats, and I’ve been drawing them for as long as I can remember. I love their silly, smiling eyes and seal-like bodies. There’s something satisfying in their shape that is fun to draw and makes me laugh. I also used to draw in books as a child and loved art class - I recall a flower painting I made that won a local competition and was displayed at the mall.
Where do you usually work from? What's your ideal setup?
The best place in the world to be a maker is any place that allows you the time and freedom to create. I work from home with the neighbours cat who comes to visit and hang out all day. This chubby grey tabby named Brooksie has become the subject of several Dancing Cat illustrations. Brooksie enjoys sleeping on my back porch in a flower box, a scene I could not resist.
Tell us the story behind your latest product. Why did you make it?
My latest product is a series of Spring inspired cat drawings, focused on shapes, colors and simple compositions. I love color and cats are the perfect shapes to play around with. Holidays and seasons are common themes. My drawings usually capture an emotion, sometimes even a self-expression of how I’m feeling – in cat form.
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.
What's the best careers advice you've ever received?
Always remember to have fun. Sounds cliche but sometimes you get so caught up in work you forget the original joy that brought you to the work to begin with. Take time to step back and rekindle that joy!
If you’re just starting out with your own business, be patient: It takes time to build your business and especially to find your audience.
The Dancing Cat is a successful full-time business that allows me to share my 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, be patient: It takes time to build your business and especially to find your audience. Once you find your audience, it’s incredibly satisfying to reach people who really get what you’re doing.
When you're running low on motivation, what do you do to pick yourself up?
Take a trip! Get out of the studio for a bit. I find travel brings new perspective and new ideas. Sometimes you need that time away to even see what you're doing.
Stay true to your original voice, and trust your instinct. Don’t be afraid to create something that you love.
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. 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!
If money were no object, what would you do with your time?
Travel more, build my own studio. Visit the Mediterranean and spend more time outside in the garden together with cats!
If you could be anyone in the designer world for a day, who would you pick and why?
Paul Smith. I love his passion for art, color and cycling, bringing those together into a functional object, something you can wear, is pretty cool. Plus he has a super color palette.
Who are the people you admire and look to for inspiration?
There are a lot of great illustrators I come across online I've never even heard of. So much great art going on right now and the accessibility via the internet to connect and find is amazing. Loving a lot of cat art coming out of Japan right now.
What's the last thing you read that made a lasting impression or really got you to think differently?
I really enjoyed reading Outline from Rachel Cusk. Musings on the profound in everyday experiences - her ability to capture intangible feelings and sensations so beautifully was a pleasure to read and had me narrating my day to day activities in my head.