View Full Version : Cat WIP from the Start (Advice Solicited!)

01-04-2006, 03:51 PM
Going to try another critter-- this time a Siamese cat from the reference library (great photo!). I welcome any and all advice from. I realize everyone works differently- but I'm eager to hear all thoughts!

Here is the source image and my sketch.



As you can see, I did only the simplest sketch just to have an idea where things go. (The sketch is pen over initial very light pencil on regular drawing paper. I have not yet transferred it to the velour, which I will do freehand with a dark pastel pencil-- I hate transfer paper.)

I've tried to do more detailed under-drawings in the past but find they wind up getting in the way more than helping. However, I'm curious what other folks would do at this stage though.


01-04-2006, 04:57 PM
Looks good so far! I use very minimal sketches. I freehand draw everything. I don't like tracing and am not a fan of grids. I, too, find that under-drawings are way too restrictive. I usually put down a few lines (probably even less than you have on this one) with pastel pencil and then go right into the soft pastels. I like to create as I go. It's surprising how it always turns out looking like the subject. I've found that you just gotta trust yourself sometimes and go for it.

Looking forward to seeing more!

By the way, I noticed that according to your sig, you're a Vegetarian.:cool: Me too, for about 10 years now.


01-04-2006, 07:11 PM
Hi Brad

You've done a great job on the drawing. On an animal like this cat that doesn't have alot of markings, I would keep the drawing very simple. Basic features only. I find that the more detail I have on my paper, the more confusing it can sometimes get. You'll be able to place the shadows and hilites quite easily so I wouldn't bother with those lines on your final drawing

Based on your drawing though there is one recommendation that I would make. Carry the background color (hopefully you'll use the red!) right to the top of your paper. Don't stop it halfway through the ears.

01-04-2006, 07:31 PM
I wouldn't change anything. If it doesn't look right after the coloring then you can better tell what might need changing. I think the draftsmanship is wonderful and looks like the cat.

01-04-2006, 07:45 PM
Brad- this is going to be cat-spectacular! And looks just like our Cookie- otherwise known as - Wookerbutt- (don't ask) LOL...
waiting to see...

01-04-2006, 07:53 PM
Thanks folks. Kathy, the red is great, isn't it. I had been debating whether carry it to the top because his (her?) head seems a bit lopped off to me by the strong couch line. Glad to know there's agreement! Linda, thanks- Cookie must be gorgeous. Jessa, thanks! I'm encouraged to find out not everyone favors the detailed drawing when you're going to work over it.

Piper Ballou
01-04-2006, 08:25 PM
Hi Brad, this is going to fun for you, this cat with the exception of the white spot by the nose, looks like my cat. I have been thinking of painting her so this will be fun to watch you first.
Not sure how much experience you have on velour...just know that it is not forgiving, so make your marks true.
watching for an update

01-05-2006, 03:00 AM
This should be interesting.I was pondering what Khemosabi2 was saying about grids and such.Seems to me that I get more life out of work if i just eye-ball it.Its definitely a question of trust.The grid results in great proportions, but you loose the spontanaiety, and of course tracing should be punisheable by a good wet noodle lashing.
I would do the following, but that me the newby.

I would block in everything starting with the nose followed by the eyes. In my humble opinion this reference lends itself since the red and white areas can actually help you finish off the image by closing in on the subject and over painting any stray edges.

I would do it as follows: 1,2,3,and fill in for the cat.Of course thats just my non-photorealistic way.my two cents.


Nice reference image.

01-05-2006, 09:23 AM
I agree with the sponteniety(sp) . I do some measuring and when doing buildings I need my ruler. But, I do alot on instinct and feel. I like a bit of fun and "eye balling" too. I guess we all try to combine a bit of "engineering" and instinct and always strive to do well and get better. Practical and art.

01-05-2006, 09:58 AM
I agree with dlake.Could not have put it better.Although Im sure you have your projector types out there.HEHee.

Not for me though.I want to have some fun.See if i can learn enough to develop the trust necessary to achieve originality.

01-05-2006, 10:44 AM
Thank you Runemaster and dlake! Finally someone gets my point of view on tracing/gridding, etc. Much more fun "eye balling" it and not worrying about where every little line is. It's all about originality and spontaneity! :)

Be careful what you say though...I've found there are quite a few people that are very defensive of gridding/tracing/projectors/etc. around here (maybe not in this forum). :eek:

Brad - How's the painting coming along? Any new updates? I find velour challenging but not as unforgiving as some people find it. I love the soft look it gives the painting.


01-05-2006, 10:59 AM
Thanks all. Runemaster- I see what you mean- but that couch line just bugs me personally-- perhaps from my long photography career and the idea of having things cut folks heads in half. But I do plan some sort of value or hue change or the like in the same region so it's not totally flat.

I've been lucky in one sense-- drawing line has always been reasonably natural to me-- so I can sketch outlines etc. from life and photos. It's not evident on the pic above but there were a *lot* of stray pencil lines that I erased (and further zapped out when I scanned and photoshopped the pic to emphasize my later pen marks over the 'good' lines for you all to see). Now, turning these sketchy lines into a painting-- that's another story!

Incidentally, I have no problem with people who use grids or projectors, etc. The idea that if you have an outline the the rest of the painting somehow paints itself with no ability required is crazy! I know-- I only wish it did! But those aids just don't work for me very well-- personal pref. However there are folks who use them who then go on to produce paintings I could only dream of! I really believe in judging the final result and not worrying so much about how the artist got there and whether they were 'cheating'. Again, just my belief system ;-)

I am half way through blocking in some basic values. I am SLOW. Hope to post later today.


01-05-2006, 12:12 PM
I just did one using the grid method.Like i said-its great for proportion.it does yet allow for some flexibility as at some point the lines are gone , and your left to your own device.

See my latest post called morning portrait of sorts.

01-05-2006, 03:30 PM
looking forward to your work.

01-05-2006, 04:03 PM
Hi Brad

Thanks all. Runemaster- I see what you mean- but that couch line just bugs me personally-- perhaps from my long photography career and the idea of having things cut folks heads in half. But I do plan some sort of value or hue change or the like in the same region so it's not totally flat.
Definitely the way to go. The red is lovely.

Incidentally, I have no problem with people who use grids or projectors, etc. The idea that if you have an outline the the rest of the painting somehow paints itself with no ability required is crazy! I know-- I only wish it did! But those aids just don't work for me very well-- personal pref. However there are folks who use them who then go on to produce paintings I could only dream of! I really believe in judging the final result and not worrying so much about how the artist got there and whether they were 'cheating'. Again, just my belief system ;-)
Hear! Hear!. Very well said - you nailed the point. To each his/her own.

Be careful what you say though...I've found there are quite a few people that are very defensive of gridding/tracing/projectors/etc. around here (maybe not in this forum).
Jessa - People in the A&W forum were not defensive about gridding/tracing, they were responding to the fact that everyone is different, has different abilities and that the drawing is only one part of a finished painting. It takes much more than drawing abilities to be an artist.

Re: drawing method - poll

So IMHO (we'll have to agree to disagree on this one Kathy), you need to be able to draw in order to paint. Anybody can trace a photo...no talent needed. Using a grid does require some artistic ability, but it's still relying on a "crutch." I could see using a loose grid to check porportions afterwards but to use it to actually draw, seems too much like a paint-by-number to me.

Nonetheless, what I find the most alarming about all this, is that people are tracing or using a grid for commissions. :eek: Do your clients know that?? Yes, I know you still have to apply color correctly and there is some skill in that. But, I find the real challenge to be drawing the subject....not copying it. Tracing/using a grid just seems a little too deceptive to me if you're being paid to create a piece of art....just my opinion.

So IMHO (we'll have to agree to disagree on this one Kathy), you need to be able to draw in order to paint.

Gee, and for all these years I thought I could paint. Well color me embarassed, (or do I need to know how to draw freehand for that too) :evil: :D

Good discussion in this thread, everyone most certainly has their own opinions on this subject. Obviously, no one is going to change anyone else's opinion so I'll just say Live and Let Live. Do what is right for you, because in the end that is all that matters.

Yes, that was me you told that if you couldn't draw then you couldn't paint. I'll definitely have to disagree with you on that one ;). Since I strive to paint in a realistic style, when I'm doing an animal or human portrait I use a grid to get the placement and proportions of the eyes, nose and mouth. Every human and animal has subtle feature placement differences and getting those correct are key to a successful portrait.

I absolutely respect your right to your own opinion just as I respect the rights of other artists to do what is right for them, be that trace or draw freehand, with their hands tied behind their back,with their eyes closed hanging upside down. :D As I said, before, to each their own.

Brad, my sincere apologies for temporarily taking this thread off topic. I PROMISE not to do it again! You can now whip me with a wet noodle that Rudy was talking about!:evil:

01-05-2006, 04:10 PM
Sorry, I don't have any advice to give you, yet have to paint a cat myself, but looks like you already have gotten plenty of advice. Look forward to see your first post;)

01-05-2006, 04:30 PM
Kathy and anyone else- please feel free to hijack my threads anytime as you see fit-- I'm not possessive ;-)

One last thing about drawing-- I do think that drawing for painting is really not that tough-- I mean-- anyone who can paint can also do a simple sketch I'm convinced. Now, absolutely finished drawings-- those are just as difficult as painting a piece no question-- but I feel that just getting a sketch down is much less tricky than some people think. (It's the following stages that give me fits!)

Also, I guess I should have said something about the look I'm aiming for. Guess you'd call it painterly-realistic. I don't want it to be hyper-real or photo-realistic (good thing too since I couldn't!) but rather to have the likeness but obviously be a painting. (This is just my artistic pref-- I tremendously admire those folks who can essentially create a photo with pastels or other media-- it's amazing!)

I guess I should stop talking and go work on the cat!

01-05-2006, 07:20 PM
I call this the "Why the heck did I ever think I could paint a cat or anything else I must be crazy stage"! Even though it's only about 20% done, I just hate the ugly early part. This is obviously *very roughly* blocked in-- with grey Nupastels on the velour so not to fill the tooth. Didn't much try to match color-- only get some approximate values in-- while avoiding going very dark or too light anywhere. So don't worry too much about how 'off' things are ;-)

I guess my question to folks at this stage is how you would have approached this first pass. Do you block in? With value? Color? Go right for detail? I love hearing all the varying approaches.



01-05-2006, 08:06 PM
I agree with Brad. I draw out my stuff. Once in awhile I wing it but, as a drawing person since I was little I have to do some drawing. i just don't like doing it really technical. That's my husband's forte. But, thumbnails are good. and on the actual paper. It also gives me a feel for the subject.

01-05-2006, 09:39 PM
You can do this.Might need some pencils for detail.

01-05-2006, 10:48 PM
Yes, that was me you told that if you couldn't draw then you couldn't paint

I am fully aware of that. I also knew you hung out in this forum on occassion. Honestly, it doesn't matter. Everyone's entitled to their opinion, including me.

I do realize that applying color takes talent and is not always easy. But I feel an artist should be able to draw and paint. No one says you have to be great at either but a knowledge of both is necessary. To me, gridding/tracing/whatever is using a crutch instead of taking the time to learn to draw.

I, too, could grid/trace a photo. No doubt it would be near perfect. But I couldn't live with myself if I did. I want a piece of artwork to be something I created, from the "ground up" so to speak. Art to me is taking a blank sheet of paper and creating something using my talent only....not copying and creating from that point on. I learned to draw first and feel that is by far the most important fundamental. Even now, charcoal and graphite are my most used mediums.

Luckily, I rarely have a problem getting a portrait ( I only do realistic ones) to look like the animal/person....and have never needed a grid to "help" me. Like Brad said, anyone that can paint can do a simple sketch. So, why would someone need a grid?? If I have trouble with a portrait, I simply work on it until I get it right. That's the best way to learn, IMHO. And if one little line is off, who cares? That's where some of the originality comes in.

So, yes everyone is entitled to their opinions and preferences. I prefer not to rely on grids/tracing/whatever. I would feel like I wasn't using my God-given talent if I did.

*dismounting from soap box and vowing not to return to it*

My apologies also, Brad. I hope this thread is only about your cat (which is coming along nicely) from now on!


01-06-2006, 01:44 PM

Having a really tough time with this. A small part of it is that I simply don't have some of the crucial hues close to the 'real' ones. So in trying to simulate them-- I've been layering related strokes like a madman-- but not happy at all.

This is about at the half way point I guess-- I put some detail in the eyes and whiskers just so the Siamese would seem more alive. But I don't know if it's worth trying to go on. Sort of at a loss now.

On the plus side, I do have several ideas for how I'll approach it from scratch next time. Still, I'd prefer not to give up if possible so all suggestions welcome to spare this from the trash bin.


01-06-2006, 02:26 PM

Absolutely DO NOT give up on this. It is coming along much better than you seem to think!

I find that when I get frustrated with one area, leaving it for abit and working on another area really helps. What I would do at this point is bring your red background closer to completion. I think if you get that almost done, you'll be able to see that the cat is looking pretty good as well.

If you don't want to work on the background, work on the eyes. You've got a really good base there, it just needs more detail. If you look at the ref really close, squint your eyes, you'll see alot of variation in value and color. When I look at them I see the pupils surrounded by a light blue value, surrounded by a darker, purplish blue and then finally the primary value of the eye itself. I find it really important to apply these colors almost like spokes in a wheel. Use a variety of blues, domestic cat eyes are rarely one solid color.

For the fur you've got some great colors going on in there already. Since you are working from a picture from the reference library, you don't need to be tied to the color. It's not like it is your cat and you are trying to match the colors exactly. In this case consider the value more than the hue. Given that you've already got the darks and lights in right spots, now it is just a matter of tying them together. When painting animals, one of the key things is to get the direction and length of the fur correct. You've got the direction down, but I think the length is too long. The fur on an animals face is very short, yours is a bit too long. Again, looking at the reference picture, you don't see alot of individual hairs, so try blending some of your longer furs out so it is more of a color mass than fur. Once you've got that base down, then add a few "clumps" of fur using the appropriate length stroke. The longest fur on this cat should be in front of the ears and in the ears themselves. Use your softest pastels for these.

Another pointer you may find useful is to make sure the areas where the cat touches the background are complete before you put the final furs in those areas in. If you put it in afterward you could end up with a halo effect around the cat. However because of the bright red background you'll have to be careful not to end up with alot of pink fur! But on the same hand, you will definitely need to add some pinks on the cat itself because with that white fur, surrounding colors will definitely be reflected in it. And lastly I always save the whiskers to the very end. When I put them in, I know the painting is finished because I find it extremely difficult to anything more to the face once the whiskers are in.

Hope some of these suggestions help. But really, don't give up on this. It really is better than you think! :cat: :cat: :cat:

01-06-2006, 02:36 PM
Ok, I don't think this is a complete loss yet. Let me go back to your first question about the "first pass." In the limited experience I've had with pastels, I've always used a layer of Nu-pastels first, like you are. I try to find the Nu-pastel color that is the closest to the one I think I will use in the end. Then I just start applying the color as if it was the final layer but without the detail.

So, for this cat, I'd probably would have taken a dark brown, a medium brown, a gray, and a cream Nu-pastel and blocked in the areas of color. I probably would have used the gray for inside his ears and the highlights on his face. The cream color for the tips of his fur near the ears and the dark and medium browns on the rest of his face. Of course, a simple blue for eyes just so you know where they are. I'd wouldn't be too concerned about getting the exact color on this layer because you end up covering a lot of it up.

I know you said you wanted a painterly effect and not necessarily realistic. I only work with realistic paintings so I can't help you on that end. I do think your strokes seem a little long on his face....which makes him look very hairy.

Velour is so easy to go over. It takes quite a few layers and pastel can be brushed out if necessary (although so far, I've never needed to). I've found it's easy enough to cover up mistakes.

I hope this all makes sense and helps a little. I don't know if my approach is the same as others. Just don't give up yet! I don't think this one is beyond the point of no return. I'm sure others will have some suggestions that might work.


01-07-2006, 01:08 AM
You have taken on a challenge to start out with velor, tough to work on though it gives great fur effects. Your start is coming along and you are learning as you go. Re: drawing. who says one can't draw with a brush or with color blocks of pastel.Freehand, grid or trace, different folks different strokes. If the final piece has interpretation, heart, sould and quality who cares about the foundation? I do believe that one should draw as often as possible because it is an invaluable skill to learn especially when the exact reference isn't always available.
I look forward to your finish on this one Doc.

01-07-2006, 07:33 AM
Brad, you've got a good start. You've gotten a lot of good advice here, so I'll be brief--break all your pastels into little pieces, and do more scumbling, less stroking. The strokes--with the tip or corner--go on right at the end. You can even blend by scumbling one color very lightly over another. Scumbling hard over soft has the potential to completely change the look of a passage.

01-07-2006, 10:18 AM
I know it's odd-- but it seems my trouble really is the *soft* pastels per se. I blew what I had so far off with a air-can and shook it outside-- leaving just the ghost image. Now, have started over on what was left using ***only pastel pencils*** and it is coming along much much differently and much better (I think). Believe it or not-- I can see exactly what I want but I absolutely cannot seem to get it out of my hands using the big soft pastels. When I work with the pencils I have the control I need. If I don't ruin this one, I'll post later today. Maybe it's my much longer experience with graphite or maybe I'm just a far more natural drawer than a painter-- who knows?

Thanks all for the encouragement!

P.S. When I did the greyhound I pretty much worked the whole thing first in pencils then added soft pastel touches. I was MUCH happier with that in the end (even if the dog did seem to be floating upside-down in space ;-)

Alessandra Rosi
01-07-2006, 11:27 AM
This is a wonderful reference, and your drawing seems perfect, to me! With a start like this, it's going to be a great cat portrait!!

01-07-2006, 03:59 PM
Okay, I started over-- not too hard since I'd done the drawing on a separate sheet. This time did the whole thing with Cretacolor Pastel Pencils (the only brand I have-- although they don't seem best for velour!). Felt so much more natural-- like drawing not painting! Didn't go for a lot of detail (obviously) but trying to be artsy-realistic. Comments welcome! If nothing else- it's better than the first pass disaster! I just hope this doesn't mean am doomed to use only pastel pencils for all time :-(


01-07-2006, 04:01 PM
I haven't read this thread yet but I love, love, love this kitty. Very nice!! Love the colors.:clap: :clap: :clap:

01-07-2006, 05:33 PM
Brad, it's lovely! And it's nice and loose. I have no idea why you could do this with pencils but not sticks--it's not as if you slavishly reproduced every detail.

Whatever works, I guess. This clearly works for you!! But don't give up on the pastels if that's what you want to do. I think you're still just nervous with them. You'll be fine!

01-07-2006, 06:04 PM
Kim, Simple answer I think- I'm a klutz ;-) Seriously, when I have those big pastel sticks in my fingers I feel like I'm drawing with oven mitts on my hands. I smear, I smudge. But I do love them and love the feel of them so much more than the pencils- so I'm going to keep working... Thanks for the kind comments! And thanks Paulette as well!

01-07-2006, 06:06 PM
Okay, I have NO IDEA why that posted a zillion times. That has happened once before. Sorry!

01-07-2006, 06:11 PM
Guess you need to work bigger then!! How big is this kitty?

Click on the exclamation point in the upper right corner of the repeated post to report them, and a mod will remove it.

Kathryn Wilson
01-07-2006, 09:18 PM
Okay, deleted the extra post.

One other thing, when you post images, please put a double space inbetween images when you paste them into your description. If you don't then the forum format goes extra wide to accommodate the images side by side. This means we have to scroll from side to side to see them and all the posts in the thread. If you need help with this, let me know - :)

01-07-2006, 09:38 PM

K Taylor-Green
01-08-2006, 12:15 AM
Whoa, this is great! Whatever works indeed! I love the colors, and the drawing is really good.

01-08-2006, 10:44 AM
Thanks Kate! Doing this just in pastel pencils now has me wondering whether I should give traditional colored pencils another try. I seem to have much better luck with small pointy drawing tools. But CPs can be sooooo slooooow. So maybe I could combine them with Pastel Pencils?-- I was reading on the CP board that some people do-- although they don't seem to have much in common other than their pencil form. My internal mental battle continues!

In any case my pastel class begins this Wed. so hoping I'll make some progress with the big sticks.

Kim, This cat was just 5x7 inches. My first disaster attempt was 9x12 so I'm thinking I need to work HUGE if I'm going to work in regular soft pastels. Like 4 feet by 6 feet. :-) Ugh!

01-08-2006, 11:13 AM
Brad It's gorgeous!

Alessandra Rosi
01-08-2006, 11:21 AM
Really gorgeous! :clap: :clap:

01-08-2006, 01:18 PM
Hey Brad, your new version looks great. Very different from your first attempt, but this is very striking. I really love the ears, there is something about the lights and darks in them that is just great.

While there is nothing wrong with working strictly with pastel pencils, don't give up on the softies too soon. Just like anything, they take a bit of getting used to which I'm sure you'll find out in your class

01-08-2006, 01:45 PM
Thanks all, I almost feel like this one was a fluke-- except I have done a lot of graphite over the years and am still so much more comfortable with pencils. I kept telling myself... simplify, simplify, and don't worry about color matching just go for value. Despite my frustrations, not giving up on the big guys yet either! Looking forward to the class.

01-09-2006, 08:19 AM
Brad - Love the new version! As for the pastels and CP, I used to only work with a pastel base and then CP on top for detail. You can get very realistic drawings that way. So, it's definitely possible and turns out very cool.


01-09-2006, 09:46 AM
DrBrad... Sometimes the path we take to get to the final product is half the fun. I felt your first rendition was well on the way and hated to see you give up on it but I really like your final product.. particulary your choice of color and the way you've handled the shapes!

01-09-2006, 10:28 AM
Jessa, Interesting! I'm going to try that. Maybe on Wallis not velour.
Mike, Thanks. I did not trash the first version so may look at it again before too long. With the pencils I work in very little circles and strokes, which seems to be the best technique for me now (but one I sadly can't manage with big sticks). But I'm not giving up!

01-09-2006, 04:31 PM
Brad, there is a point in any painting I've ever done at which I say to myself, "Oh man this is ugly!" I call it "the Uglies".... and then go on from there because I know it is something I'll work through - rather like the story of The Ugly Duckling. I really like your new version, but don't give up on the other one either. There are so many techniques to using pastel, and you've only touched the surface.

I hope you enjoy your class, and am looking forward to hearing a critique of it.


01-09-2006, 05:13 PM
I dont think you need to know how to draw to paint at all, but it helps a whole lot.If you can draw you can paint.If you can paint doesnt necessarily mean you can draw.
I stand by drawing.It is the foundation.

Rose Baggs
01-10-2006, 09:08 AM
Great job Brad. Love the colors and the loose style. :)