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If you’ve ever tried gift shopping for a cat parent, you’ve probably stumbled upon Nia Gould’s work — and likely sighed with relief when you did. In a sea of often dull and indistinguishable cat-themed shops (“cat mom” mugs have their time and place, but we can do better, right?), Niaski, Gould’s online boutique, stands out from the crowd. Niaski offers products for the artistically-inclined: sketchbooks, pencils, tape, prints, tote bags, gift wrap, and colorful cat collars. Gould’s three books, A History of Art in 21 Cats, A Day at The Gallery, and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Cat all reimagine the work of famous artists through a playful and feline-focused lens. Put simply: Niaski is where art obsession meets cat obsession. The results, from “Pablo Picatso” collars to “Clawed Monet” sketchbooks, are enchanting. We caught up with Gould to chat about the artists and cats who inspire her.
How did Niaski get started?
I started Niaski in 2015 after taking a screen printing course and getting the bug for making my own work to sell. I set up an Etsy shop and ran my business while working full-time as a graphic designer for six years until 2019, when I decided to go full-time self-employed.
Niaski’s clearly the shop of a cat lover. Tell me about your own pets!
Growing up I had one black cat, and he was with me for 16 years. He was very loyal and a real companion. It was after he passed that I knew I wanted to be surrounded by these furry friends forever. I have only ever adopted my cats from the Cat Protection League; it is important to me to rescue them. I have had six cats in total since my first, and all of them have been full of character. The cats I have now are my main inspiration for my business: Salavdor Catli is a very handsome black and white cat with a very Dali-esque white mustache, Pablo Picatso is a grey fluffy and fiercely independent Maine Coon, and Frida Catlo is a petite black cat and my new studio companion — she is with me most days when I am working away.
How do your pets influence your illustrations and product concepts?
When I adopted Salvador, I had no business. I enrolled in a screen printing course and needed an illustration to take with me, so I looked over at the cat one evening and created a Salvador Catli and a Frida Catlo illustration. I took these images with me and started making tote bags; they were an instant hit and people in the class wanted to buy them there and then. This is really how it all started. I set up an Etsy shop and started creating more and more cat artist illustrations. It all started with tote bags and prints and just grew from there.
How did you develop your signature style? What’s your process like?
I’m a graphic designer, so all my work started off with a very graphic and simplistic style, especially when creating the cat artist portrait illustrations. But as my business grew, so did the way I work. I mostly create all my work on the iPad now, creating illustrative twists on old masters featuring cats by hand. My cats play an important role, as I always try to take photos of them for reference in poses and character.
It’s just you running Niaski — how do you do it?! Do you have any advice for aspiring shop-creators?
It is just me, yes. I manage everything from design, marketing, website, photography, stock-take, ordering, and packing orders. When I write it down it seems like a lot, and even more so now I have a three year old little girl too, but I think when you are doing something you love and you see it bringing not only yourself so much joy but others too, you just keep pushing and keep going. I am very much a night owl, and I used to come home from work and then work all evening on Niaski to get it to a stage where it could become my full-time job. My advice is to just keep going, try out different ideas — some fail, some become successful — and go from there. It’s not an overnight thing, but it’s definitely an exciting journey to be on.
Have you always gravitated to drawing cats? A lot of your work draws from famous artists from many periods and styles — Basquiat, Matisse, Van Gogh. Is art history a passion of yours?
I do love drawing cats, but I also work freelance as a children’s illustrator and have been fortunate enough to create books featuring many varieties of animals. Animals are by far my favorite thing to draw — I love bringing so much character and life into them. I do always really enjoy bringing my two loves together; art history has been a big part of my life growing up, and I feel it’s so important to learn and study some of the greatest out there. Matisse is my favorite by far, and I would like to think I would have been part of the “Wild Beasts” Fauvism movement at that time.
What do you find most rewarding about Niaski?
When you see an idea come into fruition. My enamel pins have been my biggest success for me and initially they were a very expensive outlay, but I committed to it and seeing it grow has been amazing.
What’s next for Niaski?
Rather excitingly for my business, I am about to move from my spare room in my home into an actual dream studio space. So there will lots of exciting things coming up, including new prints and new products — keep an eye out for cat artist catnip toys, too.
“Blackie was a friend and a collaborator. I never saw him as a pet and I don’t see Bosko as one either — they are family members.”
“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.”
The Kiev-born, LA-based artist talks surreal cat tattoos and mondo Maine Coons.
“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.