‘Watch Cat’

When your new soft pastels arrive you have to take them out for a spin. I chose a photo of two of my cats just outside the studio where one was sitting in a box and the other lurking in the foliage further back. I used an A1 sheet of cartridge prepped with white primer for a bit of tooth.

The pastels turned out to be harder and slightly grittier than I’d hoped but nevertheless, do a job. It gave me a good basis for understanding the shapes and colours that make up these cats , but the best bit I think is Cat Two’s eyes because they are absolutely him – a total cartoon of a lad!

I hadn’t quite intended to follow this up but translating from pastel sketch to painting felt like a legitimate challenge. This is acrylics on primed cartridge, first iteration.

The next iteration includes highlights to Cat One and some hints of foliage. A disadvantage of painting at this scale on cartridge pinned in place only by large clips at the corners is that it buckles and becomes impossible to photograph without ripples of reflected light. Bang it under a massive scanner and it would be much improved in that regard but perhaps not so much in the revelation of unhelpful detail!

Best bits? Cat One’s coat and Cat Two’s eyes. Less cartoon now, more realistic glint.

This is the third iteration with the beginnings of defined foliage which could then be knocked back with a dark wash.

This sequence shows the effect of different light levels. Same time of day, changed angles and LED lighting.

Last set of images, this time in daylight and with some too-shiny crops.


So, enough of the buckling paper, this is all about 14″ x 18″ pre-stretched canvas. Base is a layer of transparent primer and a light wash of dilute burnt sienna; and suddenly there’s a kind of Italian feel to it

The drawing is in willow charcoal, the paint acrylics. With the colours blocked in, I outlined the shapes of the ‘blocks’ of cat and the lines of her markings to get an idea of tonal composition.

And this is where that led. The palette is quite limited; Burnt sienna, Payne’s grey, Titanium white, and Naples yellow – all very dilute and soft. At this point I was becoming fond of the background and reluctant to proceed with the whole dark and heavy foliage thing but had no real idea of where else to go.

So I emphasised the cat’s highlights.

Then this happened. The light patches are actual light from the windows falling onto the back of the canvas. A friend suggested quantum cat – neither inside nor outside the windows which were neither there not not there!

Quantum mechanics aside, serendipity is also an artist’s friend and this gave me a new imagined framework – cat looking out of windows, high up somewhere. The lines and shading are made from willow charcoal, coaxed into tight lines with a wet brush but allowed to leak and blend round the edges.

What to do with those windows though. Where are they? What do they look out onto? At the top, I tried blocking in some colour which I spent another half hour trying to reduce. At the bottom, I drew in some loose shapes that could be buildings or trees and then dissolved the charcoal with a wet brush to make the lines less prominent.

This took several deep breaths because I like the dilute wash, but the insides of windows are rarely as bright and light as the windows themselves so that had to be adjusted. Again, very dilute Payne’s grey and now a touch of Hooker’s green which gives that bottom left a bit of a Chinese look I think. At least it bears some similarity to parts of a poster I have which a friend brought back from China in the 1970s.

The windows needed some definition then and, with an eye on keeping the image simple (I could very easily get out a palette knife and start slicing thick goo into it if not restrained), I added another couple of charcoal lines to each and a straight brush stroke of dilute Payne’s grey to make the final image.

So here it is, Watch Cat, keeping watch high up somewhere in a fantasy Sino-Italianate tower and looking out over an indeterminate landscape. Ta da!


Impossible to resist a video, but what’s the story?

Made in Filmora10 by Wondershare.

Original image with filters via Paintshop Pro.

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