How To [Not] Paint a Cat, Part Deux


So, it’s Friday evening and I’ve poured myself a nice cold of  Pinot G., and I’ve met my deadlines for the week (yes, Dear Readers, sometimes people actually pay me to write.) and you and me can discuss the crucial issues of the day.

Namely, Summer is over. I watched it go, sitting in my backyard, at 4:44 pm Daylight Savings Time on the Long Island Sound Sunday, Sept. 22. More of a bummer this year than usual.  Don’t get me started.


I did not pick up a paintbrush this whole past week (spent all my time wordsmithing, you know) but I do have  something worthy to show you from a spot of painting (let us all now assume English accents) from yonder fortnight.

Two weeks ago I was working on an illustration of the beloved children’s tale, Peter Rabbit. Beatrix Potter is my idol when it comes to illustration, and I  have a chapter on London Gardens in my work in progress, the Damn Garden Book, so I was not going to miss the opportunity to reference my childhood infatuation with All Things English, starting with Peter Rabbit.

You know the story. For my illustration, I had to get the lay of the land, namely farmer MacGregor’s garden:


The wondrous Beatrix illustrated it as a walled garden on the edge of a woods. And my favorite scene:


Voila, Le Chat. (they call them moggies in England, by the way.) See how this ties into our whole Paint a Cat saga?

So, here is my interpretation of Peter Rabbit at this most crucial part of the whole story of Peter Rabbit:


(I have blocked out the left hand side for future text, FYI.)

As soon as the paint dried on this thing I knew there was a problem with the cat but I didn’t know what.

I put it away for 48 hours, took a fresh look at it, and it hit me like Thumper:


The cat’s head is too small. Of course!! That’s why it looks more like an ermine than a C-A-T.

But the thing had already been painted, and it’s watercolor, so o lordy, what to do?

I am now going to tell you, Dear Readers, a Trick of the Trade.

All I did was paint a new (right) cat on a separate bit of Canson 90 pound cold press paper (the only paper I use — I love love love this paper) . Then I cut it out, and glued it over the ermine, like thus:


Here’s a close up:


I know from experience that when this picture is scanned for print and published in a book, the fact that it’s a cut out will never register with the reader:


In fact, if I am not about tell blab about it right now, you probably would never have noticed that Peter himself is a cut out, pasted in front of the MacGregor garden in the background:

P1190666 2

And you know what? I feel A-OK about this because I have recently discovered that our darling Miss Potter did the exact same thing back in the day when she was watercoloring her way to immortality.

Take a look at this illustration below:


See that DoG? Look closely:


Look closer:


Yep. He’s a cut out. Underneath that Pomeranian, probably,  is some small-headed Pug that gave the delightful Miss P. second thoughts.


And if Miss P. can do it, then I can do it.

11 Comments, RSS

  1. SusanA

    Hi, Vivian. I love your interpretation of the MacGregor garden! The bunny is wonderful! He has the sweetest face. I can only imagine the time and care that go into your posts, and I appreciate every one of them. Have a great day tomorrow painting!

  2. I have a mini BP set of books and recently saw a full sized version of a beautiful set ..
    I thought of my 4 grandsons..and it only suited one of their moms..or me..:)Should have bought it.. the second cat on!
    Bunny and gardens too..Love that!

  3. Laura

    Secrets of the cut-and-paste revealed! I saw an exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago a few years back about Victorian women playing with photos collaged onto illustrations (Playing With Pictures). But secret collages in watercolors, oh my. Now I have new things to look for in innocent watercolors. Thanks for the enlightenment.

  4. Carly

    Lovely. I love Beatrix Potter. Thank you.

    I’ve taken an art journaling class that didn’t give me as much isight, technique, and enjoyment as your blog does. What you give away is ten times better than what a lot of hacks out there charge serious money for. Yu can paint AND communicate and that’s very rare.


  5. I love the idea of cutting and pasting! As a collage person, this is so normal and natural to me but I never thought about it in watercolor! See, in how NOT to paint a cat, I learned a good new trick! Thanks!

    And happy to see Mlle. Lizzie Cosette next week. (She’s showing her urban jungle girl a bit up here, though she came nose to nose with a mouse this weekend, they stared down and Lizzie walked away. Executive assistant got an F in mousing. Good thing she’s a purrgirl!) I still can’t even get my drawing close to yours, but I’ll keep trying!

  6. Good tip. Since its for a book when its printed up you wont notice and the rest of the painting is wonderful so why waste it. Never realized Beatrix did the same thing. How interesting. Its hard to tell even close up but now I can see it. Love Beatrix Potter too.

  7. Judy Jennings

    Vivian, I too love Beatrix Potter and her beautiful illustrations. I stumbled across a wonderful book a few years ago and wonder if you have ever read it: How the Heather Looks: A Joyous Journey to the British Sources of Children’s Books written by Joan Blodger and published here in 1965. She and her husband and two children travel around Britain seeking the world they had read about in children’s books like Jemina Puddle-Duck’s farm, Winnie-the-Pooh’s forest, and Toad Hall for example. It isn’t art and watercolors, but their seeking and finding these enchanting places that we have all read and dreamed about is a sweet story. I’m jealous. I want to go, too.
    P?S. You don’t have to apologize or explain for being “late” with your blog. We just worried about you. Big time.

  8. Tiny Dancer

    I found your blog after receiving your book When Wanderers Cease to Roam as a gift and I wanted (hoped) to find whether you taught art. I love your tutorials and I’ve always been amazed that you give them for free. Carly’s right. There are a lot of “teachers” with half your talent charging a lot of money for lessons that are half as enlightening or useful.

    And I never thought I’d say this but your bunnies are just as cute as Beatrix’s, and she’s the patroness saint of cuteness and bunnies.

  9. christine

    Thank you, Vivian, for your weekly posting. I look forward to it every week. Now, I am off to read “October;” September passed too quickly.

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