I believe that there are many ways in which you can draw a cat. The concepts I outline in this article are, of course, not solely exclusive to this animal, but the methods I mention lend themselves well in supporting you master a drawing of a cat.
“One Cat Just Leads to Another..” Ernest Hemingway
I was surprised to discover that Ernest Hemingway, at one point in his life, owned over 50 cats whilst living in the Finca Vigia in Cuba. Undoubtedly, he felt a connection with this animal. He joins the likes of Lucian Freud, Andy Warhol, Goya and David Hockney who all share a fascination in depicting the unique traits of the domesticated feline. (Depicted below is a quick sketch by Lucian Freud, The Sleeping Cat.)
In researching this article about how to draw a cat, I stumbled upon Theophile Alexandre Steinlen, the French Art Deco and Art Nouveau painter. I suspect that he is perhaps one of the most prolific sketch artists when it comes to cats, (on a level with Hemingway’s personal as well as literary obsession with them.) Steinlen published a book of cat illustrations called the Dessins Sans Paroles Des Chats (Drawing of Cats without Words.)
I found that the relationship artists have with cats is somewhat different to that of other animals. The cat seems automatically invested with loaded meaning and allusion.In ancient times they were revered as gods. The goddess Freya in Norse mythology drove a chariot driven by cats. From domesticity, to fertility, from lust to treachery, from an official residency at Number 10 Downing Street as a “chief mouser” to the allegorical and elusive Cheshire Cat in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, or the Cat in the Hat in Dr Seuss, the cat seems at once living being, subject as well as allusion.
One of my favourite paintings of a cat is this one by, Karen Hollingsworth called Connected (2010). It encapsulates a peaceful scene dappled in sunlight where one imagines sitting at that very desk gazing across a limitless landscape. The cat is at once a marker of domesticity and the great outdoors combined, almost a subtle nod to its ancient heritage as an outdoor predator turned peaceful indoors sojourner. It is a scene I could look at for a very long time and reminds me most of all that the cat and images of it are heavily linked to our own home lives.
To want to learn how to draw a cat, therefore, seems to be an artistic rite of passage. It is no wonder, that this creature intrigues both literary and art worlds alike!
Step by Step Drawing
I found myself thinking about whether there was much difference in the technique I employ in drawing a cat in comparison to, let’s say, a dog. In my last blog post I tackle the subject of a dog and breakdown the various stages of how you draw one. You can read about the four step process here.
The same technical approach is employed in getting down the basic shapes of a cat and then filling in the smooth lines, shapes, fur and so on. I have sketched out my cat in three steps for you to see. I start with angular shapes to delineate the body’s outline and then use softer lines in subsequent layers to capture the animal.
There is perhaps a further step to take when sketching out this animal.
Having briefly scanned across history and read about the dynamic of this animal in art and literature, exploring different types of drawing techniques, over and above the one mentioned so far, seems interesting.
Firstly, cats have a unique way of moving, different to other animals, which means there is a new compositional challenge in how to portray their movement on the page. Your observational skills need to be sharp to follow the curvature of legs or spines or how they turn their head to gaze at something.
So what are the other types of drawing you can use when drawing a cat?
If you have a cat my first challenge to you is to try and draw it live through the concept of “gesture drawing.”
Give yourself no more than 2 minutes to draw your cat in front of you. Gesture drawing supports you develop fluidity and movement. When pressed for time you get your main lines on the page. Don’t worry about the details, just the lines to depict movement. Hide your rubber (eraser). Draw the whole shape of the cat first through a series of lines. As beginners we tend to obsess from the start about the minute details as opposed to the whole. Gesture drawing forces us to capture the whole in a few strokes.
Capture the movement.
Take a simple image of your cat.Looking at the image more than your paper, transcribe the contour lines of your cat onto the page. Here are 3 different ways to practice this technique;
Put your hands and paper underneath a box so that you are not looking at your paper, only at the cat image and draw. This is called blind contour drawing. (A blindfold would equally suffice!)
Start drawing without lifting your hand away from the page so that you capture the image in one continuous line. This is known as continuous line contour.
A blend of the two methods where you spend more time looking at the image than you do the paper but can still lift the pencil off the page. This is called modified contour drawing.
…And my final recommendation for the drawing tool to pull out of your arsenal is using negative space.
I find that I employ negative space more readily than I would positive space in order to strengthen the authenticity of the shape of a moving cat. If the drawing you have laid down on your page doesn’t quite work, you need to develop other tools by which to strengthen your image.Employing and enhancing negative space can work to support you with this.
Look beyond your cat picture to the spaces around it. Do the spaces look the same shape on your drawing? Ensure that you aim to transcribe the shapes you see as accurately as you can. You will find that a more accurate depiction of your desired image begins to evolve. You are relying on the “science” of your vision to draw your picture.
I have a filmed 45 minute tutorial on drawing a cat which you can watch here! I hope you enjoy it!! (Let me know!)