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Lucy: Cat Portrait in Watercolor

Lucy, Watercolor cat portrait on Arches paper, 12x9"
Lucy Painting #2, Watercolor cat portrait on Arches paper, 12×9″

I was asked to make a watercolor portrait of a beloved cat much missed by her family.  This post will be their first chance to see what I’ve come up with so far. I’m not sure I’ve captured her appearance or spirit yet as her family knows her.

(UPDATE 6/12/2012) Yay! They loved the painting and are getting it framed.

They sent two beautiful photos of Lucy in different poses to work from. I had to guess a little since the photos only showed one paw and the bottom half of her ears and I wasn’t sure how accurate the colors were. Below are the studies I made before the painting above.

Lucy, ink & watercolor, in Moleskine 8x5.5" watercolor notebook
Lucy, ink & watercolor, in Moleskine 8×5.5″ watercolor notebook

First I made the sketch above in ink and watercolor in my sketchbook. I added a paw from one photo and reversed it in my mind to draw the other paw. I guessed about her ear tops.

Lucy, pencil sketch on Mylar tracing paper, 12x9"
Lucy, pencil sketch on tracing paper, 12×9″

Next I made a pencil drawing of the composition on tracing paper. Originally we planned on a larger size, but I decided that making a cat too much larger than life-size was too spooky.

Lucy, Painting #1, watercolor cat portrait on Arches paper, 11x8"
Lucy, Painting #1, watercolor cat portrait on Arches paper, 11×8″

Above is the first painting I did from the pencil sketch. When I finished I realized that something had gone wrong with the drawing. Sometimes a portrait can capture the spirit of the subject well enough, even if it is a bit wonky, but something bugged me and I wanted to try again.

I decided to trace from an enlarged photo to make sure I got the big shapes and placement of features correct. That is how I started the painting at the top of the post. I put Saral Transfer Paper (like old-fashioned carbon paper from typewriter days only erasable) between the watercolor block and an enlarged printout of the photo which I drew on with a pen to transfer the outline to the watercolor paper. I didn’t add anything that wasn’t in the photo. The only thing I changed was the background.

My policy on commissions is that I only take them if: a) I think it will be fun, interesting and/or a good learning experience to paint; and b) if I can take as much time as I need; and c) I only charge if the collector loves the painting.

If Lucy’s family doesn’t see her in the painting, or it doesn’t please them in any way, I’ll gladly give it another try because she’s a beautiful kitty and I’m learning a lot from the experience. Even if I’m unable to make a painting that suits them, I’ve enjoyed spending time with her and only wish she were still with us so I could meet her in person. From the photos I can tell she was a very special creature.

7 replies on “Lucy: Cat Portrait in Watercolor”

Hi Jana, I came here via Alex Zonis’ blog. I’m so happy I did. I love your work. I just painted a cat myself and then another one which I haven’t posted yet and looking at your beautiful painting has helped me tremendously.


Thanks! So nice of you to take the time to leave a note! Isn’t Alex amazing! I just visited your blog and subscribed. Your writing is terrific and you are so funny! Jana


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