Leah Goren Embraces Being a Cat Lady
Talking to the creator of Catlady, a collection of essays by inspiring women from Mara Altman to Emma Straub (plus honorary dog lover Aidy Bryant).
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Growing up, we all heard tales of cat ladies — the lonesome spinsters who live out their days suffocating under an ever-growing pile of hissing fur. We feared the cat lady, and more than that, we feared becoming her. In Catlady, an anthology of essays written by cat women from all walks of life accompanied by whimsical illustrations, Leah Goren shows us there’s nothing to be afraid of.
Goren’s cat ladies are comedians (Noël Wells, Ashley Reese, and lone dog lady Aidy Bryant), painters (Kaye Blegvad), conservationists (Lisa Kytösaho), lawyers (Judy Smith), and journalists (Kelsey Miller). They’re singles, parents, friends, wives, and serial-daters. They’re Emmy nominees and New York Times best sellers. Basically, they’re everything we might want to be when we grow up.
Goren can count herself among the talents redefining catlady-dom. With three books published — Catlady, BESTIES, and Ladies Drawing Night — and clients ranging from Kate Spade to HarperCollins, she has established herself as a skilled illustrator with a delightfully distinctive style. Below, she tells us about the process of compiling Catlady.
Cats are a repeated subject of your illustrations in and out of Catlady. How have yours contributed to your creative process?
I have two Devon Rex cats, Aaron and Lacy. Over the years they’ve been a calming presence around my studio or office while I’m working, especially during times I’m working alone. One thing I became known for as I began to work as an illustrator were my drawings and patterns of cats. Many people responded positively to these drawings, likely because there are so many cat lovers out there, which encouraged me to keep going.
What motivated you to compile Catlady?
I started making drawings of cats back when I was in school simply because I liked how they looked — the imagery often felt like it could be symbolic. But there was no real meaning behind any of them beyond being decorative. As my work evolved and I became an illustrator of many things, not just cats, I felt like I should complete the chapter on cats by writing a book about the relationship between cats and women. I wanted to explore the topic from all angles and finally find some meaning for the drawings I had done over the years.
Tell me about the creative process. How did the final product come to be?
An illustrated book comes together like a puzzle. First I compiled all the text, then made all the illustrations to go with it, and then hoped it would all fit together once it was designed into the layout. Somehow it worked!
How did you decide who to feature?
I picked contributors who could speak to a wide variety of topics, from kitten rescue to cat shows, and also writers whose work I loved. To supplement the essays and interviews I added some pages with interesting mini-stories, such as the history of cat-eye makeup or the story of the first cat launched into space.
In addition to Catlady, your customized pet portraits are wildly popular. What’s your favorite thing about custom pet illustrations?
I love offering the pet portraits because it’s a relatively affordable way someone can commission a piece from me. The paintings are very personal and so they make great gifts. I also often hear how someone is commemorating a pet who died or who is getting old. It’s really touching that someone would choose me to make such a special piece for them.
From mental health tips she learned from her dogs to the shame of running out of poop bags, her illustrations are playful and relatable.
From Salvador Catli to Frida Catlo to Clawed Monet, illustrator Nia Gould creates whimsical products for pets and their people.
“I think the relationship between a woman and her animal companion can build out a character a lot — they’re more like witches’ familiars than pets.”
“I just simply like the idea of cats and their specific things. Throwing in a cat is something that comes naturally now when I make an illustration.”
Sio Hornbuckle is a writer living in New York City with their cat, Toni Collette.