Interview With Cassie Graus Of KittyCassandra Etsy Shop
Cassie Graus hails from Manassas, VA and currently works as a proposal writer and cat painter in Fairfax, VA. She attended the College of William & Mary, majoring in English and Marketing, and discovered her love of painting cute, mischievous cats during that time. She lives with husband Joe and their exotic shorthair girls Walnut, Caruthers, and Fergie, and their Himalayan boy named Templeton. She has been featured on Animal Planet’s CATS 101, and in a Slate.com video about the National Capital Cat Show. She also just finished writing and illustrating a children’s book about her cats called “Templeton and Caruthers and the Snack-Finding Mission,” available on Amazon.com in June of this year.
Cassie’s Etsy Store is the KittyCassandra Etsy Shop.
All answers are copyright of Cassie Graus.
1. How did you get interested in cats? How old were you when you had your first kitty?
I’m an only child, and I think my Mom thought I needed some company, so she adopted a sweet little Maine Coon named Angel when I was in third grade because our apartment complex didn’t allow dogs! I think we would have gotten a cat either way, though.
2. How did you discover Etsy? Did you consider other ways to sell your paintings?
My friend Kirsten loved Etsy, I heard about it first through her. I browsed around and saw that a lot of artists had a presence on Etsy, so when I did my first cat painting in 2007, that was the first place I thought of to sell it, in the “Geekery” category (since that category tends to attract “artsy” people with my sense of humor and kawaii/”cute” aesthetic — the “Pets” category is more dog-centric, I think). eBay was too big, my paintings really got lost in the sea of listings. My most successful experience, though, was on a Persian cat message board, I instantly sold my first two paintings through a post on there. Now, my business consists of commissions alone, instead of me saying “Hm, I think it would be cute to have a cat as a tugboat captain, let’s paint that” and waiting to see who’ll buy the finished product.
3. Do you sell your paintings in a local store in your area?
The closest I’ve come is the National Capital Cat Show in Chantilly, VA. I set up a little vendor booth for a weekend. There was a lot of foot traffic looking at my stuff, but I only sold three paintings. I think cat owners really like custom work, tailored to their (and their cat’s) interests, so the “gallery” approach isn’t the best for me. In fact, for the sales I did make, it was because the person thought “Wow, that painting looks like MY cat!” or “My cat does that!” so it might as well have been custom.
4. Have you been successful at selling your products on Etsy? Have you always been successful, or did you end up getting a lot more traffic after being featured on a specific blog?
I had a lot of success on Etsy when I had a big inventory of paintings to choose from on Etsy, which attracted a casting person from Animal Planet’s show “CATS 101.” They were looking for an offbeat human interest story for their exotic shorthair breed profile, and they thought my story of using my exotics as inspiration for my paintings would make a cute 2-minute piece. Once that show aired (here’s the YouTube clip of it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4F0XcYx6ttM), my Etsy was flooded with people who had seen the show, 1)., buying out the pre-made paintings I had in the shop, and 2)., wanting custom orders for their cats based on the paintings I’d already done. The show in turn attracted a publisher, with whom I’ve just finished writing and illustrating a children’s book called “Templeton and Caruthers and the Snack-Finding Mission” that will be available in June on Amazon.com! So, my success really is based on dumb luck, being in the right place at the right time.
5. Do your customers ever give you new ideas for products?
All the time. Pretty much every customer already has something in mind that I would never have thought of, because every cat and owner has such varied interests. I’ve done a cat dressed as Charlie Chaplin, Legolas from Lord of the Rings, a supreme court justice cat, a ninja kitty, two cats fighting over a prize ribbon, a rapper kitty for a music producer, a cat blasting off in a spaceship to her home planet, a Jehovah’s Witness cat drinking wine, I’m working on a cool James Bond-type kitty now, and I have a request for a U.N. ambassador cat at the podium!
6. How’d you come up with the KittyCassandra name? I mean, I know your name is Cassandra – just wondering if you always thought you’d do kitty related products.
I’ve never painted a Ragdoll only because I’ve never had a request from a Ragdoll owner, but I would love to paint one! The closest I’ve come, coat-wise, is painting Himalayans.
8. Are you a one woman show?
I think that’s accurate. My husband Joe, a software engineer, gives me ideas sometimes because he shares my sense of humor, and of course gives me moral support. 🙂
9. Do you have a blog?
I don’t have a blog per se, but I sometimes post updates on my Facebook fan page. I just don’t have anything interesting to say on a daily or even weekly basis! I have a 9 to 5 office job, so Monday through Friday would have no content, and Saturday and Sunday are pretty much heads-down, uneventful days besides painting. Readers would be bored to tears. “So I ate a really good gyro today, and painted a chubby cat dressed as a Vegas showgirl!” Not Webby Award material. 🙂
10. Can people custom order a painting? Can someone return it if they don’t care for it?
My business consists of 100% commissions, so yes! I am booked through winter, so there is unfortunately a wait involved. And I’ve never had someone return or give me negative feedback on a finished painting, mainly because I take photos throughout the initial sketching phase, so they agree with the concept and composition, and I encourage them to let me know if they want anything added, removed, or changed, and I’m glad to do it! It is their painting, after all.
11. Can you share a story with us behind a painting that you especially enjoyed working on? Maybe because of the story behind the kitty?
I really enjoyed working on the supreme court justice cat. The client is in law school, and named her persian cat after Justice Cardozo, I think because it always looked very grumpy and judgmental, just scowling disapprovingly at you if you ate an M&M that fell on the floor. But its personality was as sweet as can be, I was told. The painting challenged me to paint a more realistic portrait, like a real judge’s portrait. I also enjoyed taking artistic liberty by putting a powdered wig on the cat, I think cats enjoy that sort of pomp and circumstance, feeling special and important. They love that.