How to Paint a Cat Part One

Last Sunday Top Cat took me into a magical woods on the southern shore of the Long Island Sound…

…otherwise known as The Gold Coast of Ye Olde Long Island…


…where Ye Olde Money of yore transplanted ancient yew trees from the Olde Worlde to make Instant Stately Homes (now gone to ruin)…


…and where the haunted forest is reclaiming ye olde acres of lawns into native wild flower meadows once more…


…where I came upon  yon ancient cottage…


…which beckoned me to pause…


…and consider its perfectness as a refuge from the madding world…


…where I could gather inspiration from nature and light and where cats could roam free…


…but there was just one little problem…


scale.  For this magical realm goes by the name of The Muttontown Preserve (I’m not making this up) and it encompasses the last American address of — I’m not making this up — King Zog, the last, deposed monarch of Albania and I conjecture that ye Ole King had a young Princess for whom nothing would do but she had a play house in the American Colonial vernacular.

I can not tell you how much I want this house. If you hear about some crazy cat lady claiming that she is the reincarnation and rightful heiress of the late great King Zog — that’ll be me, staking my claim to this itty bitty ranch house in Muttontown. I’m not making this up.

But speaking of crazy cat ladies…

…it’s time to draw us some kitty cats!

OK. Here’s how I decided was the best way to share my minuscule amount of knowledge of the visual arts, of which I am not a certified practitioner of.  First, I am going to show you how I draw a cat from memory:

I start with a bottom-heavy oblong shape:



Then I add hips — by the way, I’m doing this from memory to make a point:


The point is that since I have been looking at cats my whole life I have internalized the basic structure of Le Cat:


And as you can see, the basic structure is no more complicated than that of a snowman:


So really, when I paint a cat, I don’t actually have to sketch out this blueprint — it’s already “on the paper” before I pick up a brush:


But I am showing you the building blocks that I visualize when I look at a cat:


And when I say “sketch”, I don’t mean make those crappy wispy wimpy scritching marks that a lot of people do when they “sketch” — I mean commit yourself to making a strong, unequivocal line:


Voila, The Cat. Now, to make a cat head on, you use the exact same strategy…but let’s go through the basics of the dear little kitty face:






Got it?

OK. So, now we’ll make another snowman:


And we’ll erase some lines to make the kitty face front:





And, voila:P1190796

Kitty Cat.

I hope you can see that drawing a cat isn’t all that hard. But it’s something that every cat lover should know how to do, in case of emergency:


I like this kitty’s little smile. But really, those ears? That tail? Those dangling front legs?

I got this Lost Cat poster from a new book that I just started reading:


It’s very cute and I recommend it. But it got me thinking….how can I apply my cat-snowman lesson to a real life cat?

So I found a really cute cat from the internets:


And now all I have to do is interpret this cutie as a kitty snowman:P1190786

You see? All I had to do was  get the basic building blocks of this sweet kitty to start her portrait. Again, I have to say, this is a drawing of what I usually only visualize before I start to paint. It took me a long time before I understood that the time I spend just thinking about what I’m going to paint before I paint makes all the difference between a good painting and one that is a crap shoot, so yes, I spend a fair amount of time visualizing. I’m just saying.

Next, I picture the particular markings that make this sweet kitty her own self. She’s a darling tuxedo tabby, which in my mind looks like this:


Then I plot out where the dark and the light spots are:


And now I’m ready to paint.

Which I will do next week. I will paint this adorable sweet kitty girl and show you how I do it, brush stroke by brush stroke.

However, if you are new to cat painting, you can draw your kitty like I did, and do a nice watercolor wash over your pencil drawing and it will look really nice too. I would have done this to my pencil drawing here but I ran out of time this week. SORRY.

And now, for the Winner of our fabuloso Elizabeth Gilbert The Signature of All Things Give Away:


Top Cat picked : Melissa! Melissa, please send me your snail mail address at vivianswift at yahoo dot com and I will send you this beautiful book a s a p. Melissa is a new dear reader — welcome!



12 Comments, RSS

  1. I would have been enchanted by those trees too..And of course the dollhouse.. the size is off but you paint sitting:)
    It’s adorable..
    I always thought..and still do think the clay pot hats are decorative..

  2. Patricia

    NOW you’re asking me to photgraph my garden? Hello, it’s nearly Autumn, and ours is very much a summer garden. Oh well, I do like a challenge … but I’d better do it fast because rain is predicted for the next week.

  3. I wish I had a garden. I would gladly take pictures for you.
    I read your blog for the pleasure of seeing what YOU DO and SEE in this world. I am here, in an apartment, watching the world go by from my computer.
    You are my connection to it; one day a week, from my favorite place in the world; Long Island, New York, USA .
    Keep going, Vivian. We love to be there with you and, we love those kittys……..

  4. Jeannie

    Thank you for the kitty tutorial! I know see Cat Snowmen might become my Christmas card theme this year. 🙂 I thought of you last night while perusing the book shelves at the big box store. this book caught my eye (no, I didn’t buy it but was tempted!).
    I think friends would think I’d really gone around the bend if they received gifts made of cat fur. LOL! The little cottage is adorable. Just the right size for a painting studio. Thanks again and have a fabulous weekend.

  5. Deb

    HOLY GUACAMOLE! I just drew a cat -an honest-to-goodness looks-like-a cat cat!!! You are amazing . I have no, none, nada drawing skills and yet I, moi, drew a freakin’ cat. I admit that it’s far easier to draw a kitty bum end front-my first try at the face was frightening, as in mutant, deranged cat frightening. Thank you for a tutorial for the drawing impaired!!

    Love the overgrown estates. they are like grande dames- not as put together as before, but ever so much more interesting.

  6. Margaret

    Another great post – I love your painting lessons.
    Re the ‘clay pots on posts’ issue….. Sometimes clay pots are put on top of poles to prevent some person poking a pole in their eye when they stoop to admire a plant. This is the Health and Safety use of clay pots on poles.
    Another use is Pest Control. Should you have a plant that is plagued by earwigs, A clay pot, stuffed with straw and upended on a pole above the plant is alleged to attract the earwigs, which can then be taken elsewhere or disposed of otherwise. I think gardeners are very inventive.

  7. Susie

    Wunnerful wunnerful, I just drew a REAL cat, thank you thank you thank you!
    I’ve been doing sketchings of my cats for years, timid lines, no thinking ahead, and they have never looked anything like my cats. Your tutorial is super all ’round.
    Now here’s a weird bit-that dear little cat photo you found as your model looks very much like my Tweetie, who had to be euthanized Monday, 9-11-13. She was THE one cat I would have loved to capture her likeness, one special dear kitty. And now, you up and show us how to do it, with an almost-Tweetie look alike.
    I can’t gush enough here, thank you.
    And does that little house have a chimney? Wonder what the inside is like….
    Looking forward to next week’s painting-a-cat tutorial, your book of painting lessons (woohoo, yeeessss!) and my copy of that book Jeannie recommended, I just ordered it.
    Thank you again for a lovely Friday visit. And Saturday, too, I came back to re-read this post in case I missed something. I did…the part about thinking about a sketch before actually doing it. Quite important and something I can’t ever remember reading elsewhere.
    OK, I’m done.

  8. Carly

    ME TOO!!! I just drew a CAT!!!

    And it didn’t look like Gumby, or Charlie Brown, or Mr. Potato Head, or even a pile of mashed spuds — my drawing looked like a CAT!!

    I’m so excited I want to draw another one — thank you thank you!

    And Susie, I’m so sorry to hear about your Tweetie. Sweet thoughts and wishes for nothing but happy memories for you and your dear girl.

  9. Carol

    Congratulations to the winner of the book!!

    I am in the same mode as Patricia on the garden thing, hmm… not sure I can get that this season. Maybe the rain won’t start tonight like they are forecasting.

  10. See how many people you just taught to draw a cat?! We’d devour a book on how to draw/paint by the one-and-only Vivian Swift. (I’m just sayin… As if you want to even think about another book right now.)

    I can’t wait to see your readers’ gardens. Sadly, for me, the timing is off since I only just now moved into a little 1924 cottage with a lovely, but rather neglected garden. Nonetheless, I already have my lawn chair set out so I can have my tea there every day. I love to sit watch the birds and dream.

    Wonderful to have you back from your well-deserved vacation!

  11. janet bellusci

    i never knew about that darling little cottage “playhouse” you showed. what a lucky little girl to have had that to play in!! i was happy with old refrigerator boxes!
    can’t wait to send you a photo (or two) of my gardens…hope it’s okay if my dearest cat, MUSHY, appears in one. she loves to pose!

  12. I’ve been waiting for this tutorial ever since you announced it, longing to draw better cats! Imagine my delight to discover your tuxedo tabby model is my Lizzie Cosette (best girl yet!). Here’s the link from the blog post where the photo you used showed up:

    I simply cannot WAIT to see how you paint her! It is her most exciting moment (and one of mine!).

    So glad you got a lovely break and found such an enchanting house. Muttontown. King Zog. Honestly, it is simply perfect for you!

    And now I am eager to do the same lesson to learn how to draw Lizzie as you just did! I’m very, very eager! Thank you for making me smile this day.

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