Painting a Cat with Gouache

How to paint a cat with gouache

How to paint a cat with gouache  | by The Daily Atelier

Talk about a motivational coach…

If you have watched a few of my videos, the chances are that you have already met my little furry friend. He often photobombs my drawings. I suspect he is genuinely interested in what I am drawing or painting, and has an eye for classical art. He is a tough critic. Also, he wants to nap in my lap (or on my keyboard, as he is doing ... right now).

Drawing or painting animals is a activity among artists who are developing their skills. This time I did not want to be inspired by an old master or a popular trend. I wanted to paint my loyal friend the way I see him daily. I used my go-to process and my favourite colour palette (yellow and grey, in case you were wondering) to paint him with gouache.

  • I decided upfront to draw him after a photograph. Although he is with me almost continually during the day, he is usually cuddling in my lap – or between my arms in front of the keyboard while I am typing, like right now – which is not the best distance from which to draw him. Also, I don’t trust him not to move or to change position (to chase an imaginary mouse) while I am drawing.

  • I also decided to draw him with a different colour palette than his real fur. The official colour of this buddy is ‘chinchilla gold’ apparently, but I wanted to draw him in different hues of gold and yellow on a grey background.

 
 

Materials

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For the first part of this project, I drew the cat with pencil. I would usually use a graphite pencil, but I have noticed that graphite pencil on grey paper is not easy to shoot with the camera above me, because it is too reflective. I used a black coloured pencil so that you can see it better. This time I also used a white pencil at the end of the sketch to help me highlight the lighter areas.

When I paint with gouache, I almost always use the same two or three brushes. I have lots of other brushes, but I always come back to these:

  • My go-to brush is a soft round brush (size 18 in France).

  • Sometimes I add one or two flat bristle brushes.

 For this painting I used only four colours: black, white, yellow and yellow ochre. I mix my gouache directly on a piece of the same paper as the one I am painting on, so I don’t have to guess how the colours will look on it.

It is exactly the same material I am using in this post to paint a hand.


 

Step 1 – Drawing a cat with pencil

As usual, I first tried not to think of the sketch as a drawing of a cat, but as various geometrical shapes that I was trying to reproduce as closely as possible from my model. I mentioned my three-step process in the self-portrait post

  1. I look intently at a small part of the reference photo, as if it were some abstract shape.

  2. I try to reproduce it on paper, looking back and forth a lot between the photo and the drawing. Do the shapes look the same? Yes: keep it. No: erase and repeat.

  3. Then I look at my drawing again, this time not as geometrical shapes but as the thing I want to draw (a cat). Does it look like a cat? Yes: keep it. No: erase and repeat.

What was difficult here was that in my reference photograph (see above), the cat’s position and the perspective made the dimensions of the two ears appear very different. While in real life his two ears are roughly the same size (really!), on the photograph his right ear (on the bed) looks significantly bigger than his left ear. What a mind trick! That is where the geometrical shapes method comes in handy.

In the short video above, this runs from 00:00 to 01:30. It actually took me 10 minutes.

 

Step 2 – Painting the cat with gouache

To paint the cat, I used almost the same trial and error process, except that, instead of considering shapes, I thought in terms of values. The value of a colour is basically how light or dark it is. So a light yellow and a light blue can have the same value (imagine them in black and white).

  1. I look intently at a small part of the reference photo, as if it were some abstract shape.

  2. I try to reproduce the values on paper, looking back and forth a lot between the photo and the drawing. Do the values look the same? Yes: keep it. No: you cannot erase gouache, but you can add a layer and repeat.

  3. Then I look at my drawing again, not as different values but as the three-dimensional object I want to draw. Does it look like a cat? Does it look like something in three dimensions? Yes: keep it. No: you cannot erase gouache, but you can add a layer and repeat.

In this case, I also used a technique that you can also see (to a lesser extent) in the post where I draw a hand with gouache: I applied bold colours to nail the values, even if it seemed unrealistic at first, and then I blended everything. To blend, I usually use:

  • a colour whose value is right between the values of the colours I want to blend, and

  • an almost dry, flat bristle brush to smudge the underlying layers of gouache: these need to have dried a little already (but not entirely) for it to work.

 

In the short video above, this runs from 01:30 to 03:07. It actually took me 20 minutes.

 

Step 3 – Adding details

I finished with the details, especially on the face: eyes, mouth, whiskers.

This lying position is very familiar to those who know this particular cat. It is the I-just-woke-up-to-have-a-quick-look-at-you-hi-now-I-am-asleep-again position. It usually takes place in between naps. The cat is slightly asleep and, because of the way he is lying and looking at me (as I am taking the picture), his pupils are not in the centre of each eye. Another mind trick! I had to be very careful when painting them.

You may notice that, no matter how broad or fine the detail, I want to paint, I always use the same brush. I don’t know why I do that, but it is a very old habit of mine. I love it when a round brush, no matter how large it is at the base, has a fine tip, and I love to paint with this fine tip (you can see it clearly on the picture). I never use a very small brush, even for the tiniest details.

In the short video above, this runs from 03:07 to 04:06. It actually took me 10 minutes.

 
 

And voilà!

And voilà! It took me 40 minutes to paint my favourite cat. I can now frame this little painting.

Because we know the model so well, this picture is one of my family’s favourites of all the posts on this blog.

I hope you have enjoyed this post. As always, I do not pretend to be a teacher, a seasoned artist or an expert in anything, just a very motivated learner who finds a deep joy in a regular art practice.

 

Finished painting | Painting a Cat with Gouache, by The Daily Atelier

 

The finished painting is ready to frame or gift | Painting a Cat with Gouache, by The Daily Atelier

 

If you liked this post, you will almost certainly like some of these other projects with cats and various animals. Enjoy!