The Cat Burglar

Being Dutchies, it took Zart a while before we understood the rich historical world of The Cat Burglar, a print by hand of Illustrator Stephen Dumayne. Shortly, a cat burglar is a master thief who makes James Bond look like a douche bag: “A particularly stealthy burglar, especially one who gains undetected entry through the use of agility”, as the wiki describes it. The cat burglar is quite an interesting, almost iconic figure that appears in many forms throughout history.

The Cat Burglar and Other Folk Stories

Zartist Stephen Dumayne is specialised in commercial graphic design and illustrations. His work evolves from sketches on newspapers or small paintings on canvas into graphical work. Dumayne grew up in Wales and studied until 1997 in Southampton. After his studies he set out to create Illustrative oil paintings thematically based on folkloristic – and and distinctive local stories. In the course of time Dumayne switched to making digital work. He ‘digitised’ his drawn and painted illustrations using various techniques. An example is The Cat Burglar.

Dumayne made The Cat Burglar after he read a short story somewhere. A Cat Burglar is invisible, flexible as a cat or spider man himself and he – or she- steals from the wealthy and gives to himself ….

Take a Virtual Tour

Click the links in the image below for historical references.

Charles Peace, the Real Cat Burglar

The ‘real’ cat burglar is probably Charles Peace. Equally hated and admired many stories, both true and untrue, kept being written and told in bars and at fairs. Charles P. was finally caught after many spectacular escapes from several prisons and hanged in Leeds in 1879. The story goes that, again he managed to escape. His death, as gossip tells, was staged and somehow he was thought to still be moving around. He kept unseen for many years because he could change shape. Hence a Cat Burglar is usually depicted with a mask. This Charles P. was front-page news for decades. All the stories gave this master thief a mythical status. Charles P. from living legend to iconic figure.

Iconic figure

The character of The Cat Burglar inspired, of course, above all many copy cats. But also many writers, filmmakers and artists. Think for example of the character Irma Vep from Les Vampires. A famous silent film consisting of multiple series made in 1915 -1916. Or Alfred Hitchcock’s romantic thriller To Catch a Thief. Marvel’s Spiderman can be recognised as a more heroic cat burglar. And the female version made her debute as Catwoman in 1940 in the first Batman comic. However, most of these figures appeared long after Edgar Wallace, a famous crime writer, published his short story “ The Cat Burglar” in 1927.

OMG ! It’s a girl

As history shows,the character of the Cat Burglar is surrounded by mystery. It can be a man, but may as well be woman. In Dumaynes version this remains unclear. He plays with the question whether it is a woman or a man. The illustration is  full of little details that refer to the Victorian era, the period Charles P. lived. The colour palette and the shape of the houses refer to this historical period. But also typical Victorian gothic elements as mysterious architecture with secret doors and hidden staircases, and chimneys damping with cat tails.

More work  by Dumayne is in our Artist section. NB: Stephen Dumayne recently joined FB. Fans can go there and say hello.

To Artist Page >


The Artist Who Followed Her Heart

Where does inspiration come from? Sometimes you just seem to get stuck. You have zero idea what you want to do next or you are sick of it all in general. Illustrator and textile designer Wietske Claessen knows all about it. While some only dream about changing their lives, she actually had the balls to do so. Wietske started out in fashion had a career most can only dream of. As a textile designer, she worked for several large brands until one day she decided to turn her back on the fashion world and to follow her heart. Thank God for that! Or should we say thank Pacha mama, the main source of inspiration for one of her most popular works, Mother of all Birds.

imageInspiration is not one thing. It often comes from 1001 things happening around you and then out of the blue, there is this little voice inside that says: “ hey that is it! That is what I want to draw!


Claessen’s works appear to be accessible at first sight. She draws funny and cute creatures that make her work seem dreamy. If you take a longer look at her creations you will see they are close to surrealistic and have a twist or undertone that is not easy to define. What you are looking at are highly personal documents made in a recognisable but not-easy-to-do style. To fully understand her work, you need to tune into her magical world.

Mother of all Birds

A personal document

Mother of all Birds is at the same time a highly personal document and a metaphysical statement. Here, Claessen intelligently weaves several layers of meaning together. Mother of all Birds is a work she made for mother’s day. How personal can a work get? The visual shows a Robin proudly showing his red breast. A Robin has many symbolic meanings but in this case, the bird symbolises fertility. “At the same time the Robin is in some cultures seen as a messenger of the spiritual world,” Claessen informs us.

Mother of all Birds by Wietske Claessen

Mother of all Birds by Wietske Claessen

A Metaphysical Statement

The Mother of all Birds is also a plea for more love and care in the world. “For me, this illustration stands for a “Mother” who takes care of us all. A mother who loves us equally by instinct. The instinct we were given by Mother Earth. She lets us ‘be’. She makes us grow into who we are and will become. She teaches us how to take care of others and the world we live in so we can all be a ‘Mother’ in our own way”.

Pacha Mama

Mother of all Birds reflects Claessen’s personal experiences and attitude to life. After she took the brave decision to give up her admirable career in fashion she started to travel. She moved a year to Peru and ‘met’ Pacha mama. Pacha mama is usually translated as Mother Earth, but a more literal translation would be “World Mother”. In Inca mythology, Pacha mama also was believed the Goddess of fertility and harvest. The Peruvian way of life and religious interpretations of what happens in the world is very different from what is believed in the Western Wold. Other cultures see the world in a different way. Claessen internalised some of these views and recycled them in her own style.

Drawing or to Lose a Sense of Reality

It is really quite amazing how Claessen finds the time to make such wonderful work. She runs a store in Maastricht, incidentally makes commission based illustrations. Illustration and finding inspiration sounds so easy. But what if you are so busy? Claessen admits it takes time. Before she reaches the boiling point where she actually starts to illustrate, she has done a lot of research. Ok, in her own way. Wietske: “How do I transfer the mental image to the paper?”… I will find myself frantically going through all kind of books while cutting and pasting images together in my head. …Or it happens that when I watch a movie and unconsciously get touched by a range of colours or its visuals in such a way that it leads to the next illustration. Somehow you internalise what you experience. Yes, a lot goes through my mind before I get to the actual illustration. But once I get into drawing, I lose all sense of reality and go mind travelling … I literally dissolve in my work”.

To Artist Page >

‘I am my own Model’

‘I am my own model’ (Sim 2014). A simple and complex sentence at the same time. In the works you see here, Round and Round and Circles, fine artist and illustrator Sim used a camera with a self-timer and some large screens as a starting point to get the work going. Very refreshing is that you are not looking at a regular selfie. Neither are the works made as a comment on body politics. There are also no hidden feminist statements about the search for a female visual language. Sim uses images of herself for no other than practical reasons.


2015 Close up Sim I am my own modelSim:”I have been searching for models for a very long time. Either they have limited time or they are too expensive. So I decided to be my own model. “In the beginning I had to get used to the idea of seeing myself as an image”, Sim admits. “I had to get over the feeling to start correcting things about myself. At the same time it felt comfortable to paint myself, Sim tells. “How can painting your own contours feel strange? I do not look at all kinds of imperfections I could find but focus on form and posture”.