Thursday, February 18, 2010

Saving Ole Horseface!

It all started with discovering this old oil sketch I had started some 10 years ago. I didn't want to tear down my acrylic set up so I decided to redo it, in a smaller format, in acrylics. "This will be fun! " I thought. Sure it will, Gwen, sure it will.

I then found the reference photos of my Mom's dear late kitty, Betsy. She was a totally sweet, awesome, kind and highly intelligent tuxedo cat.  

Here is my color palette. It's the usual setup save for some colors added and some left out. The basic warm/cool strategy is employed. The colors are cad lemon light, cad lemon medium, cad orange, cad red light, alizarin crimson, sap green, viridian green, cerulean blue, manganese blue, cobalt blue ultramarine blue, burnt sienna, raw sienna, titanium white. I added some carbon black later on and and some glaze medium (Golden brand). All paints are either Golden or Winsor Newton brand.


Here is but a limited selection of my paints. This is a quarter of the acrylic paints I actually have. I'm scared to actually total it all up but it would be in the thousands I am sure. *shudder*

I quickly sketch out a whimsical drawing. I want to have a tuxedo cat day dreaming about pretty fish. For one of the first times I don't really worry about design. I figured that it would just "work out". I use a raw sienna Staedtler water color pencil to sketch it out.

I then seal it with some clear glaze so that I won't lose the sketch once I start brushing on the acrylics.

I then apply a layer of cad red light and varying degrees of white and some cad yellow light. This stage always makes me wonder if I know what I am doing. What a mess! The fish, however, are being put down amazingly easily. I have never illustrated fish before, believe it or not. I feel like I have always done them, pulling some experience from somewhere.

I then go in with some black. Quickly I realize that ivory black is just too transparent and opt for Carbon black. It is very opaque. Perfect! I love how the red does peek through though and will add some dimension to an otherwise flat-looking coat.

I start filling in the background to help me assess the colors necessary and where to put what. I have found working all around the canvas helps me to reduce the chance of underworking or overworking it.

I continue to work on the cat. Is it just me, or is he beginning to look a little evil? Hmmmmm.

Yes, yes he is beginning to look evil. However the fish are looking luminous, beautiful and effortless. 

I decide to open his eyes up to change his expression from diabolical evil genius to surprised and mesmerized by all the pretty fishes. But cats ARE diabolical geniuses sometimes! The look, though, just didn't lend itself to what I was trying to do. I also realized that the fish weren't quite working in that the sparseness was detracting. I added more fish. There, that's better. This painting was beginning to feel like work rather than play. Damn it!

I then go back to the photo to do some facial comparisons. There are some structural issues. The pose isn't exactly replicated because I needed to change it to reduce the "evil" factor. It is here that I recognize a major problem. My friend who comes by says "Hey, he looks like he's part cat and part horse" and Ole Horseface is born. 

I decide to still work more on the painting overall to bring it up to a more finished point. I then step back and take a look. Yep, there is he is, "Ole Horseface" looking back at me, mocking me. Something must be done!

I redraw the nose and top of the mouth, shortening the distance between the eyes and nose. As you can see it made a HUGE difference. I didn't have the foreshortening quite right initially either. Also the white line of fur going up the nose was hugely distracting. I got rid of that. The large straight-shaped fish is changed into a more curved form so it is more aligned with the flow of what is around it and keeps the eye in the painting rather than "pointing" at the cat and also leading the way out of the painting. I darken up the edges to reinforce the entry point of where the fish come from - mana from Heaven for this lucky tuxedo cat!

And finally, it is done.  A success snatched out of the jaws of defeat.

In retrospect, it would have been much better if I would have, like I USUALLY do, sketch out a thumbnail to make sure the design works. I managed to make it work but but it sucked the fun out of it at some points. Lesson learned. 

I titled this little 5" x 7" original acrylic painting "Tuxedo Daydream". 


  1. Lovely tutorial! it turned out great!
    Im sure Betsy will Love it :D
    Will u be selling it on etsy?

  2. Yes Blakenetizen, it's on Etsy now as we speaketh or, um, er, writeth! As I was painting this I kept thinking of Sylvester the Cat. Lol! Ah Bugs Bunny will always be in my work somehow, someway :)

  3. Love seeing your step by step progress! And he is sooo cute! ;)

  4. Aw thanks Cabin+Cub : )
    Yes, I will be doing more of these step-by-steps as I think they are helpful and show the creative process involved. It's not always pretty! lol!