This Instructable is dedicated to our sweet cat Sammy. He was about 15-years-old when we took him in for a relative and my son and I became very close with this kitty - that was two years ago. His mother was my cat when I was a teenager and when I went as an exchange student overseas in high school, my parents got rid of my cat right after I left. I was heart-broken - but taking in Sammy at his age felt like the right thing to do. I decided to paint a portrait of him based off of a photo that I love of him. Just a few days after I painted it - he became gravely ill and passed away - just a few weeks ago. This portrait is a nice way to memorialize a lost pet - or to capture memories of a living pet.
Step 1: Materials Needed
- Watercolor Paints & Palette
- Paint Brushes - be sure to have some fine detail brushes
- Portrait of your pet
- Tracing paper, pencil & eraser
- Watercolor Paper - The heavier/thicker, the better (I used 400 lb cold-pressed paper)
- Having good watercolor paper can make a huge difference
- You can buy it per-sheet at most hobby or arts & crafts stores (most stores have 40% off coupons also)
- To practice - you can buy a cheaper, lighter pad of watercolor paper at the art store also
- It is said to increase the fluidity of the paint and create a somewhat more glossy sheen look
- It is recommended to make up a solution of 10% gum Arabic with 90% water and use this with your colors as you would water alone
- I've also read that when you use it and the paint dries - you can more easily go back to your work if needed - to remove areas of paint by re-wetting - I've had success with this
- Gouache is a more opaque paint that is similar to watercolor
- I didn't use gouache in this portrait but if I had lived closer to the art store I would have bought it and used it
- I recommend buying only the white - as it will be useful for painting the fine details of the whiskers and fur
Step 2: Preparing the Pet Portrait, Tracing & Transferring
Once you've shaded or scribbled over the back side of the tracing paper over the areas you had drawn lines, then you can place it onto your piece of watercolor paper (right-side up). Figure out where you want it placed and you can tape it down lightly. After that, once again take your pencil and go over your drawn lines on the front-side of the tracing paper. As you do this, the graphite on the back of the tracing paper will transfer onto your watercolor paper. You will also see some indentation wherever you are pushing the pencil and drawing over the lines. It may not produce super-dark lines - but it should be visible enough.
Finally, go over those light lines with the pencil directly onto the watercolor paper and then you're ready to start painting.
Step 3: Starting the Portrait - Paint Tips
As a tip - please note that "less is more" with watercolor painting. If there are areas where you want to have highlights - be careful where you place the paint or leave that area as it is until later. I didn't overdo it with the watercolor painting on the nose of the cat - and the natural paper coming through made it look super realistic and highlighted in just the right spots.
I started out by painting the background. I ended up not liking it so much - and overdid my painting by going over it - then not liking that - and doing it again. The end result was a rather dark background - but I still really like how it turned out. Just note that it's hard to remove it once it's done with watercolor - especially the way I went over the background repeatedly.
Be sure to pay attention to contrast - this is what will make your painting come to life and look real. You don't always need to paint on lines or outline an object or features of your pet. If the pets fur is white in an area it's a good idea to have the area surrounding the pet's fur, a darker color. It will help to make the picture pop out more. Once I did the very bare and basics of the background - which I later changed anyway, I then began by painting the cats eyes.
For the eyes I did a layer of yellowish-orange. Then around it you can see I did a darker orang-ish color. I later go back to finish it up.
Step 4: Painting in the Dark Areas & Basic Details
I initially create a grey wash to go over the body of the cat. Then, I went in with a less watered-down wash of grey (a little darker) to add in more details of the body and around the paw. If you see shadows in certain areas on your photo, just paint it in as you see it. You may think - "wow, that looks weird I can't paint that," but don't listen to that side of your brain - just paint it as you see it. If there are large areas of white, just leave it alone as the paper will show through in those areas and produce a brilliant white.
Once all of the very basic colors are painted in with washes, then you can go back in and paint over some areas on the face with another wash - less watered down again (see image please). You won't be painting in details of the fur until later. As you paint, if you want the edges softer, just wet your clean brush with a little water and apply that to the paper along those edges and move the brush around to soften them.
Step 5: The Furry Details
In the last photo here you can see that the shape of the top of the head, in between the ears - is very straight and rigid. It doesn't look real at this stage of the painting because in reality he has fur going all over the place and it doesn't lie so perfectly and flat. Once we keep painting layers of fur - it will look real.
Step 6: Painting the Body Fur
So, I first painted in darker patches of belly fur on the kitty. Then, I went back in and added some water to soften it out (I made it took dark at first). I then tried to pay attention again to the photo and area of hair growth and movement and just painted long brush strokes for the fur.
I had some problems really showing the white fur on the belly - this is why gouache would have been very useful and would have really stood out better.
Step 7: Final Details & Tips
Finally, the whiskers can be tricky because you want to get them right the first time. Practice practice practice before you paint them! You'll want a good fine-detail brush for this! Be sure to have enough paint and water to allow the paint to flow easily and create long brush strokes.
Lastly, be sure to add shadows wherever you see them in the photo. For example, underneath the cat's head in my portrait you will see that the green is darker in certain areas - and this is to show the shadow from his head. It makes a big difference and helps make your portrait look real.
Go back over areas and add fur to the edges - be sure to avoid any straight edges (other than ears) - where fur belongs. Paint whatever you see.
I hope this Instructable helps you paint an awesome pet portrait!