Once I had been introduced to the Four Gentlemen—Bamboo, Plum Blossom, Chrysanthemum and Orchid—birds and animals were the next logical subjects. I soon learned just how challenging simple lines, circles and other basic shapes can be to paint. Then there was the matter of trying to get the brush load of ink just right: not too wet, not too dry, not too light, not too dark.
The starting point for any creature seems to be the eyes; if you can get them right then the rest of the body tends to fall into place. An exception is in painting Dragon. Traditionally brush painters leave dragon eyes until last because once you paint those eyes the creature comes alive and could roar off the paper!
The Other Barb (TOB) recently discovered one of her many CBP books features an artist who leaves birds’ eyes until last. We all gathered around to study his approach, and while it seems to work well for him, we all contend the ‘eyes first’ camp has our vote.
My first efforts at painting cats improved greatly on discovery of a basic approach outlined in a book TOB recommended. It is aptly titled: Chinese Painting for Beginners # 21 Painting Cat and Tiger.
I also have several drawing books dedicated to cats—domestic as well as the big cats: tigers, lions, leopards, cougars, etc. These are very helpful in working out poses for cats.
One major helpful insight: when positioning the domestic cat’s eyes, draw one and then space the second 1 ½ times the length of the eye away from the first. This concept plus the steps demonstrated in Book #21 improved the look of my cats tremendously.
The steps to good cats’ eyes:
1. Define a pair of eyes using dark ink and a detail brush. The upper eyelids should be a bit thicker than the lower ones.
2. Lightly wash the eyelids away from the eyes in very light ink or ochre.
3. Wash inside each eye with diluted yellow ochre and when dried a bit, tip the brush in slightly darker ochre mixed with a little ink and touch the brush tip where you want the centre of each eyeball.
4. When the eyes have dried more, retouch with very dark ink in the centers and add white highlight dots.
5. Touch up with either dark ink or white as needed to sharpen the details of each eye.
I found doing cats’ eyes a good subject for idle doodling. Blue or green eyes can be done in the same manner. Note the T-guide to laying out a cat’s face. Kittens tend to have rounder heads with eyes closer together. Don’t forget to practice closed eyes, as cats can often be presented napping.
The book also goes on to demonstrate painting tigers, from eyes, to full faces, striping, and all the essentials.
Two of my first cats I felt up to showing are these:
The first cat I sold was this one:
This last fall I added several cat compositions to my successes, and some I turned into art cards.
I continue to practice simple black ink only, line drawings of cats inspired by calendar art. These make neat “parlor tricks”
Two more sold cat compositions were studies done leading up to what was to be a pair of cat pictures. The studies sold in 2011 but the pair was never successfully completed. I simply couldn’t get all the eyes right. As I said–the eyes have it.