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Cat Portraits : Getting the Eyes Right

Pet Portraits.
How to achieve a realistic painting of a cat using watercolour.

Get the eyes right and the picture will follow; as the metaphor goes - the eyes are the windows to the soul.

We can judge an individual by looking into his or her eyes and can find a connection with a pet dog, cat or horse, and even wildlife, in a split second.

A viewer can also engage with a person or animal depicted in a painting; whether the piece of art or pet portrait is highly detailed and realistic or more loosely painted in an impressionistic style. If the eyes are believable - the viewer is more able to connect with a painting, to empathise and/or gain understanding.

An idea, moment or thought can be captured in the eyes of an animal, bird or human with careful use of brushes, pastels, ink and/or graphite/colour pencils.

Watercolour painting of a cat, portrait study.
Cat's Eye in Watercolour



Saving the best for last.
Many portrait and wildlife artists prefer to leave painting or drawing the eyes until the very last moment – as if, by magic, adding the eyes will suddenly bring an animal or human portrait to life and smooth over any rough lines or brush strokes gained in the painting along the way.

Adding the eyes may be the missing element that brings life to suggested gestures or features in a painting, or, after many hours of working on a portrait, painting the eyes in a detailed piece of artwork might seem like adding the cherry on top.

Leaving the eyes to the end, comes with a risk.
There is enjoyment in that last minute addition of the eyes, when the subject shines through the art paper and portrait to bring a painting to life. But the connection between an owner and their pet dog or cat, the rider with their horse or pony, one family member with another, or even between friendships – can be made or broken if the eyes are not believable - sometimes causing the rest of the artwork to become a wasted effort.

Starting with the eyes, getting them exactly as you envisage them, can be an adrenalin rush – get the eyes right and, without anything else on the page, the subject can come to life – instantly - from the outset of the painting.

An artist who believes in his or her own painting or drawing, from the beginning, can become more energised, enthusiastic and motivated, bringing the painting to a more successful conclusion.

'Galloping about doing good
Is a full-time job
That needs
An experienced eye of earthly
Sharpness'
(Stevie Smith, The Galloping Cat)

Painting wildlife, human and pet portraits can capture the spirit or soul of the subject – and when the viewer is able to believe in a painting, or its message, and connect with it in some way – even the simple fondness or greater appreciation or empathy for a pet cat or dog, or any other domestic pet, farm animal or wildlife can be shared - which can leave its touch upon humanity in the process.

More on how to paint realistic eyes, later.

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