Orange Tabby Cat - Watercolor demonstration

Orange tabby cats must be well-loved pets. This is the second in a row that I've painted. I'll show the steps I took to paint this memorial portrait. (If you don't see the rest of this post, look for the Read More link below)

Starting with a pencil sketch I transferred from drawing paper, I wash in a pale background color that will complement the cat's green eyes.

I made sure to draw in the whiskers because I'll paint around them leaving them a white or pale color.

 Next I wash in some of the base color of the fur and eyes.  You might notice some pale shadows on the left as well. Even though these shadows do not appear in my reference photos, I try them out in the first washes. You'll see why below.

In this image, I'm painting in the fur tufts in the ears.
I've added some color for the nose and also the dark pupils and shading for the eyes.

Eyes of animals and humans are painted as if they are grapes or translucent marbles rather than opaque objects. The light will shine through the eyes. This means that not only is there a highlight where the light hits the pupil, but there is a corresponding light area in the iris opposite the highlight. This light area is where the eye color is apparent.

In this case, the eyes are a beautiful green.

Next is the part of the painting that takes the longest. Here the fur is painted in detail paying close attention to the specific markings of this cat.
The portrait is almost finished, but to me it is a bit flat.

This is because the reference photos I was working from were flash photos. A flash on a camera will light the subject from the front which makes for a rather flat appearance.

Much better would be light coming from one side or the other. This would give the subject a more rounded appearance and added interest.

Since I am a painter, I can paint in shadows to improve the appearance of the portrait. In this case, I've decided to have the light coming from the right, so the cast shadows will be on the left as you'll see in the finished piece below.

Here is Mushy, the orange tabby. I hope you enjoyed the demonstration. You can see more samples of my cat and dog portraits at Thanks for stopping by.


Sharon Whitley said...

Fabulous step by step thank you!

Janet Zeh said...

You're very welcome! :)

Anonymous said...

What colors do you begin with for the cat?

Janet Zeh said...

You can start with pale washes of raw sienna or yellow ochre plus burnt sienna for the fur, then while wet, brush some pale washes of French ultramarine at the top of the head and in the shadow areas. For eyes, I always mix greens so you could use French ultramarine mixed with yellow, or phalo blue mixed with raw sienna. Experiment on a scrap piece of paper.