Before Internet Cats: Feline Finds from the Archives of American Art

Cats and the Creative Process

When you’ve [sketched] one thing, like my cat, over and over again then you begin to get playful with him. You don't have to sketch him the way he is. You can fool around and use any color or distort his shape. I think a great familiarity with a subject allows you to play with it. . . . It doesn't matter whether it’s just like the cat. In fact, you don’t care at all.

—Sally Avery, oral history interview, 1967

Sketches can be used by artists in many ways, whether as rough drafts, playful doodles, idle musings, or simply as beginnings—the seeds for future work. Thousands of sketches in the Archives offer insight into an artist’s creative process. For example, when artist Miné Okubo was a child, her mother instructed her to draw a cat each day to capture their personalities as well as their appearance. Many artists embark on similar exercises in these sketches of cats in different poses, from different angles, and in various media.