• Pascale Vanbutsele

Cats with personality

Updated: Jun 1

It was March 2021 when I saw the reference photo. Two cats with expressive faces clearly showing their personality. I have to admit, I am more of a dog person but these two are just gorgeous. The blue door frame enhanced the colours of their coat and I liked the overall composition. Yes, this would be a nice art project! And I filmed the entire process in time-lapse mode.

Reference photo and art sketch on the easel with pastel pencils
On the easel, ready to start a new pastel painting

Painting set-up and background

As you can see in the image above, the reference photo was very good with clear colours and a nice composition. However, the door frame was skewed in the reference so I decided to make it straight in the painting itself to make it visually more correct. I also "cleaned up" the transition from the floor tiles to the threshold for a more aesthetic effect.


As usual, I try to get the background in before I start on the actual subjects of the portrait. Because I am right-handed, I start from the top left corner and work my way down to the right bottom corner as much as possible. I recreated the blue wooden door on the left with some dark blue and dark turquoise pastel pencils from Faber Castell and Caran d'Ache and some ochres from Carbothello to simulate the distressed parts of the wood.


The background mainly consists of Rembrandt soft pastels in dark umber, grey and black smoothed out with Sofft pallet knives with sponges. The floor tiles are a random mixture of cool and warm greys together with some pale blues and pinks to recreate the look and feel.


A cat called Meringue

Onto the cat on the left, she is called Meringue. To avoid smudging the painting, I started with her tail and rear legs whereas I normally would start with the eyes to get some "life and soul" into the pet portrait. So I was already a little disconcerted because I could not proceed in my usual way, but then these stripes on the legs! In beige! I spent days on that one hind leg to get it right. 😣 Even though the painting is a decent size 40 x 50 cm it was very fiddly work to get all the stripes in at the right place and in the right colour.


There are no beige pastel pencils. You have to create the right colour directly on the Pastelmat paper by mixing warm greys with either umber, sienna, ochre or pink to get the right hue and value. When I mention pink in this context, a lot of people look strangely at me 😀. Faber Castell pink 132, caput mortuum 169 and Carbothello pink 681 are pencils that I use very often in pet portraits for all kinds of coat colours. The pinks can tone down the ochres and yellows to the right tint and caput mortuum, just like sienna, gives so much vibrance to browns and umbers.


Compared to the body, painting Meringue's head was an absolute doddle. Yes, it was a small surface to get all the markings in, but I was so happy that I could finally get the eyes in and give this cat portrait some much-needed character. If you have read my previous On the easel blogposts, you will know that I like to have a silent conversation with the subjects I am working on. I find it comforting and beneficial to the creative process.

Pastel painting in progress where one cat has been portrayed
First cat in the pet portrait is finished

The magnificent Lotus

He really is sumptuous isn't he, Lotus? This look of superiority on his face, expressing almost disdain for Meringue who wants to go outside while it is wet and raining. So impressive and majestic looking! I had the most wonderful time painting his striking coat with this myriad of vibrant colours.


Tine Bouchat, the owner of Meringue and Lotus, who also took the reference photo, told me that in reality, their eyes were bluer that in the photo, so I added a bit more colour without making them look unnatural.

Pastel painting of two cats standing in a doorway ready to go outside.
Meringue: “Come on papa Lotus, let’s go outside.” Lotus: ”Are you mad! It’s has just rained, everything is wet!”

Finishing touches

Once both cats were done, all that remained was to add the blue stone threshold. Tine told me that it was wet and windy when she took the picture. That is why Meringue's legs and paws are reflected on the wet surface.


Painting the threshold was a suitable end to the artwork and the journey. A simple task that allowed me to reflect on what I had learned from this pet portrait. What I particularly like about it and what I might do differently in the next painting. I think I struggled so much with the striped leg because I couldn't ask Meringue for help since her face wasn't there yet. I know that sounds silly, but once her face was in, the rest of the painting seemed to flow out of my pencils. Another sign perhaps that it is important for me to work from the heART.



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