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Commission: The Cat’s Meow

Hello All!

I know, it’s been a while! So much going on here! No boring details but the gist is a move, new responsibilities and new adjustments. Now after a few months I finally feel like I’m settling in! My studio is pretty much set up but due to the coldness of winter and lack of adequate heating I’ve temporarily relocated to a cozier and much warmer section of the house.

I have many paintings in the works both figuratively and literally. I am so very excited to make them a reality. One of which is this charming commission. I’ve had it on the back burner for a while and I’m so every appreciative that my clients have an open ended deadline!

At the moment, I feel the need to complete all my outstanding commissions and start a new in 2014. That is my challenge over the next couple of weeks, of course I have to fit in time to partake in Holiday festivities! The baking shall commence this weekend!

Thought on the commission: This commission will be a fun challenge in pattern play. So many lovely markings and colours on these charming cats! It’s also the most cats I’ve painted on one canvas! Five in total. I just hope I am able to capture their individuality and personality in this piece!

The Process

Step One: What is this painting for? It’s a commission where the clients wish to keep the painting for themselves. I was approached by my clients at the Ancaster Cat Show. They were somewhat familiar with my work in that they had previously purchased a small cat painting I did a few years ago, which reminded them of one of their cats. Ever since they had been thinking about commissioning me to do a large painting with almost all of their cats. Waiting for the opportune moment they approached me at the show.

Step Two: Find an image. My clients provided me with two reference images, both of the same scene, just colours and slight movements were different.  It’s always nice to receive more than one image so I can refer to a multiple example of the subject(s). This helps me get a better sense of what’s what, especially when colour is so important. Sometimes a photograph doesn’t quite capture the colour but another might. (will post the original image shortly).

Step Three: Crop and adjust the image. We decided that the cats should be just under life size since we didn’t want the canvas size to be overpowering. I had simple adjustments to make on the reference image. Zooming out slightly and adding tails was all I really had to do in regards to getting the image finalized. A quick hand drawn sketch, a scan and another sketch in Photoshop and voila!

Reference image

Reference image with compositional adjustments

Step Four: Prep the painting surface. I have a new affinity for painting on harder surfaces such as wood panel but I’m not adverse to canvas. My clients preferred the look of canvas so we decided to go with a Gallery depth 20×40 inch canvas. I didn’t have to do anything to the surface as it already came primed, yay!

Step Five: Print out the reference image and add grid lines. I bypassed printing out the reference image since I already had a viable one via the original photograph. I did how ever print out a rough version so I could draw grid lines over it. I decided with this particular painting I would employ the Grid Transfer Method. This method allows me to use visual guides that correspond with the reference, hopefully making the transferred image more accurate! Needless to say I will still need to adjust shapes here and there when I start painting but it’s made my life much easier!


Grid Transfer Method. The lines are ready!


Step Six. Transfer the image. Using a mechanical pencil and employing an eraser and ruler I transferred the image. This is one of my favourite steps when working on a painting. I love the drawing process but with an oil painting I have to remind myself to keep it simple because I can always go back and add or adjust. I just try to not make the adjustments major, like moving an object or altering it’s shape in a drastic manner. You want to do all the important stuff before you start to paint. This saves you from a lot of frustration, unwarranted frustration as the application of colour will more than likely cause some aggravation!


Transferred image. Pre-colour wash.


Step Seven. Colour wash. For this particular painting I wanted to keep the colour light and neutral. I chose a burnt sienna, a very light wash of it. Basically I’m sealing in the graphite so it doesn’t interfere with the paint once I start to apply it to the surface. Though in retrospect since the cats mostly have shades of gray in them I could have left the canvas unsealed. Though it might have caused issues with the trim…Again, sealing in the graphite should  help eliminate added frustration. Unfortunately I did not take a photo of this step but you get the gist and you can partially see the colour wash in the next photo.


 Step Eight. Paint! With most paintings I like to begin with the background. For many reasons, one being it’s usually the most simple to paint, thus easing you into the painting. It also helps frame the main subjects and allows you to work into the background if you need to adjust shapes. With cats there is fur. With fur there is texture, both contained within the shape and venturing outward into the background. This for the most part is why I like to finalize major areas of the background before I start working on the main subject…the cat, or in this case, cats.


Painting process. Post colour wash.

Also I’m using oil paints. Depending on the colour used they usually take a little while to dry…one must have patience, the ability to plan their steps ahead of time and the luxury of time! Having said all that painting the background first may help you avoid mixing unwanted colours together…such as the green into the light gray. We’ll see, as Titanium White takes extra long to dry and I have used quite a bit when mixing the background greens.

The Background. As you can see I simplified the background. I felt it unnecessary to depict the actual location. Simply adding green shades with suggested forms implies that the cats are looking out into a landscape. It also makes the image less cluttered and allows the viewer to concentrate more on the cats rather than saying yup, that’s a pine tree and brick. I just hope my abstract shapes are not a distraction! I am still on the fence but they are growing on me…

As for the cats there have similar colours and shapes present in their coats, though each have specific and original markings. I will play with the colour variations, especially within the shadows and dark areas. I love adding rich colours within darker ones, like a dab of ultramarine blue within in a charcoal shade or a vibrant crimson within burnt umber. I think these additions add depth and vibrancy to the painting. I think those are my most favourite “painting touches” Can’t wait!

Today’s work will focus on completing one of the cats. More than likely it will either be the centre, gray or the far left tortoiseshell…I haven’t decided! I do know however that the process will be fun, exciting yet calming. Stay tuned for my next blog post!




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One Response to "Commission: The Cat’s Meow"

  1. Reply
    Fran Elliott July 23, 2014 11:29 am

    I love this little tutorial you have done and cant wait to see the finished project or further steps.


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