A Cat Portrait in the Making

A Cat Portrait in the Making

February began with a new portrait project. One I think I’ll have a lot of fun with: a cat portrait in the making.

This isn’t the first cat portrait I’ve done. Late in 2018, I used colored pencils to do a portrait of Bob, one of the orphan kittens I was raising that year. That project was the subject for an email drawing class, but I also wrote a post about drawing short cat fur, which you can read here.

The latest project is not about short cat fur. Quite the contrary, in fact.

I’m drawing Max, our long-haired cat.

A Cat Portrait in the Making

Although I started this portrait in February, it’s been a long time in the making. In fact, it started on a hot July day in 2013.

About Max

Max was one of what I think was a litter of four kittens born under our back porch. I say “I think”, because I found three kittens under the porch, but heard what I thought was a kitten in another location. I never did find the fourth.

When I found them on the afternoon of July 26, 2013, one had already died, and one was barely alive. They were less than 24 hours old, and had been abandoned by the mother. One of the kittens was unwashed and still had the umbilical cord attached. It died within a few hours.

The other kitten was Max. He was clean when I found him but not in the nest. He had, in fact, crawled to the opposite side of that space and was crying.

No stranger to hand feeding baby animals (I grew up on a dairy farm), I took care of Max from that moment on.

Max on July 30. Five days old and taking to the bottle like a pro.

We had only one other indoor cat at the time.

Thomas was our oldest, well up in his teens and diabetic. I wasn’t sure how he’d get along with a rambunctious kitten. So Max stayed in his “nursery” for as long as possible.

I needn’t have worried. As it turned out, they got along well by pretty much not paying much attention to each other. I don’t remember Max trying to coax Thomas into kitten-ish play, but I also don’t remember many disagreements. They often slept in the same room, but not in the same areas.

Thomas (right) and Max enjoying the view out the back door. Max is about a year old. Thomas is fourteen as starting to show his age.

Thomas is now gone, but Max is still with us. A big, hairy cat with a mind of his own. He’s definitely my husband’s cat, but he does like a bit of lap time on my lap now and again, too.

The Portrait

As you might guess, I have a lot of photos of Max from the earliest to very recent. He’s grown up into a very regal beast, but it wasn’t until I saw a tightly cropped portrait of an African lion that I began seriously considering a portrait of Max.

I sorted through my photos of him as an adult and settled on this one.

A Cat Portrait in the Making
My primary reference photo.

It’s not quite what I was looking for, but I decided to go ahead anyway. Otherwise, I’d have to photograph Max at every opportunity and possibly never do the portrait!

I chose white Pastelmat and my brand new Caran d’Ache Pablo pencils. Pastelmat because it’s quickly becoming my favorite paper, and Pablos because I’ve never used them before.

How is it going?

Slowly, but partly because it’s my practice piece for a client portrait. I’m trying new methods on this one before trying them on the client portrait. (An idea that worked extremely well on the drawing I did for Ann Kullberg’s Painted Pony tutorial*.) It takes longer to finish a portrait this way, but it means there are fewer start-overs.

Max’s eyes nearly finished but before I started laying in shadows.

The portrait has advanced beyond this stage, but it’s currently quite ugly. I tried something yesterday (March 8) that didn’t turn out the way I hoped it would turn out, so the next step is fixing that.

And that’s why I now try things on an “experimental” piece rather than client work!

That’s My Cat Portrait in the Making

And that’s Max’s story in brief.

If this gets finished (and I hope it will, but there’s no guarantee on experimental pieces,) I’ll show it to you. I’m also considering writing a tutorial on it, if it’s completed.

But we’ll see how things go. Right now, it’s a step or two each week as I also work on the client portrait. So we’ll see.

PS: I’ll also share the client portrait when it’s finished and been approved by the client! I can’t tell you much about it, but I can tell you it’s cute! The subject is a Welsh Corgi.

Sign up for Carrie’s free weekly newsletter and be among the first to know when she publishes new articles.

*Contains an affiliate link.


  1. LCC

    I’m doing a commission of a beautiful, rich chocolate Siamese with pale green/ blue eyes. He’s passed now ( the owner actually lined up the portrait knowing his life was coming to a close ).
    So I started working with Pastelmat. UGHH. Now, to qualify – I’ve only been working with CPs for 6 months, though have painted portraits all my life (35+ yrs).
    His coloring is challenging, as are the shadows ( mauves, orange, blues, lavender ).
    Well, just horrible on pastelmat. It’s also a small study, at 8×10. Took me 5 hrs for the eyes, and half the face.
    So today I decided to switch up to Fabriano Artistico, as my successful portraits are on “crisper” papers. I did send an update to the owner ( the 1st one). And did 3 hrs on the 2nd.
    Well, she loves it, though I think it’s just the grief talking. I’m liking my 2nd, and further along will send her this update once the body has some work.
    Just a note. I’m not sure I’ll ever love pastelmat, though I see beautiful works and consider it a challenge to master. I’m more impressed with pastel pencils for this paper.
    Thanks for letting me share this.

    1. Thank you for sharing your experiences with Pastelmat and a cat portrait.

      I will admit that there’s a lot to get used to with Pastelmat, but I had a bit of an advantage. I’ve been experimenting with textured art papers for a long time. I’ve used UART, Fisher 400, and Lux Archival (my favorite). I also have a packet of Colourfix that I have yet to try. All of those papers are made for pastel work, so it’s no surprise to hear you say you like Pastelmat better for pastels.

      But the best portrait I’ve ever done, bar none, was the first one I finished on Pastelmat. The title is Mercury, Portrait of a Blue Roan and it’s in the Horse Art Gallery elsewhere on this website. I remember the struggles I had with that, but I also see how it turned out. So I keep using Pastelmat.

      I worked on Max a little bit more last night and think it’s working out the ugly stages. So I hope you don’t toss that Siamese on Pastelmat. Instead, use it as a practice piece.

      By the way, your portrait in progress sounds beautiful. Best wishes with it.

      Thank you again for commenting.

      1. LCC

        Thank you for your advice. Funny, comparing it to the new portrait, the pastelmat is looser. I do like the ways the colors worked out, but the Fabriano resembles the reference photo closer.

        I love your roan, as well as your other horse portraits, especially your tacked Haffie with the GB flag saddle pad. I will study your techniques more.

        1. Pastelmat definitely produces a looser style if you don’t continue layering. I like the animals I draw to look like they could breathe, though, so I layer, layer, layer until I have the look I want for each piece.

          Thank you for the compliments on the artwork. As of this moment, the only one in the gallery that’s on Pastelmat is the roan. The others are on Canson Mi-Teintes, Stonehenge or Bristol.

  2. Patricia E Wilson

    I love this story about Max and how you rescued him. He’s beautiful. I have always adopted my kitties and now have Rascal George who is a black and brown tiger, with a goatee. I am so anxious to see your finished drawing of Max. Thanks for sharing this email today, I needed an uplift.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *