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How to paint a cat in sunlight with David Webb

Posted on Thu 14 Mar 2019

Demonstration: Cat in Light

You will need:


  • Bockingford 425gsm NOT watercolour paper, 15x11in. (38x28cm) taped around all four edges to a board


  • Ultramarine
  • Alizarin crimson
  • Raw sienna
  • Indian yellow
  • Burnt sienna


  • Rounds, large and medium


  • Mixing palette with large wells
  • Board
  • Masking tape
  • Water
  • Kitchen towel
  • 2B or 3B pencil

Before you begin

Prop your board up at an angle of 20 degrees to the horizontal.

Step 1

Carefully sketch the outline, paying special attention to proportions and the angle of the head. You’ll notice I made a note of the sun’s direction (you don’t need to write this). It’s important to know where the light is coming from, whatever the subject, so you can tell where light and shade will fall. In this painting the cat is strongly backlit, which has created a few highlights. It’s probably best to draw these areas carefully, as they will need to be avoided during the painting process.

Step 2

1. Make separate dilutions of your five colours in the mixing wells of your palette.

2. Dip a large brush into the raw sienna and, starting at the top of the paper, brush this into the left corner. Work this to the right of the paper then pick up Indian yellow and blend this on the paper while the raw sienna is still wet.

Step 3

1. Continue to paint this wash down both sides of the cat. You can see where I have dipped into either the raw sienna or Indian yellow.

2. As you paint down the left side, be aware of the fur and whisker highlights and try to avoid these. Of course, you could use masking fluid here, although I prefer the more natural effects of the loose brushwork (even if it is a bit clumsy in places).

3. For the wash on the cat itself, I used mainly raw sienna. Again, there are plenty of highlights here, particularly on the right-hand side of the head and body, and on the tail.

Step 4

Try to paint the background and cat at the same time, as this wash should all join up again towards the base.

Step 5

Once the first wash is completely dry, begin to paint the mid-toned wash. Starting in the top-left corner, mix alizarin crimson and ultramarine on the paper and paint this down and around the cat. Again, be careful to avoid the highlights.

Step 6

Brush burnt sienna into this as you move to the right.

Step 7

1. Rinse your brush and fade out the wash either side of the cat to create a shaft of sunlight.

2. Load your brush with raw sienna and, beginning at the tip of the ear, brush this down over the cat’s head, avoiding the area of the eye.

Step 8

When you reach the cat’s shoulders, change from raw sienna to a mix of ultramarine and burnt sienna. I like to mix these two on the paper so that I can create areas of warm and cool colours. Most of the lower back is cool as it is in the deepest shade.

Step 9

As you reach the base of the cat, paint the tail then rinse out your brush to fade the wash out to the bottom left. There should not be a hard outline where the cat connects with the floor. Allow this wash to dry.

Step 10

Now it’s time to paint the darks. Use ultramarine mixed with burnt sienna to paint the darker markings on the head and face. Again, avoid the eye area.

Step 11

1. Paint inside the left ear with a mix of alizarin crimson and raw sienna to create the effect of the sun shining through it to make it appear pink.

2. Use ultramarine with burnt sienna to create broad shapes across the back and nearside, to create the impression of tabby stripes.

Step 12

1. Use the same mix for the markings on the tail then add a little more burnt sienna to the paper surface to create the strong, diagonal cast shadow across the floor. The burnt sienna creates a lovely warm glow caused by reflected light.

2. Again, this wash should be continuous and there should be no obvious line between the cat and the surface that he sits on.

Step 13

Finally, make a strong mix of ultramarine and burnt sienna and, with a smaller brush, paint the details around the eye, the iris and the lines on his left cheek. If you have done it right, the cat should appear as if he is sitting in a shaft of sunlight. If not, then have another go.

The finished painting

Cat in Light, watercolour on 425gsm Bockingford NOT watercolour paper, (38x28cm)

David Webb

Find out more about David and his work by visiting

Click here for a further watercolour demonstration to paint a cat portrait with Liz Chaderton

For fun ideas for drawing and painting cats with Linda Birch, click here

This demonstration is taken from David's article in the May 2019 issue of Leisure Painter

Click here to purchase your copy

How to paint a cat in sunlight with David Webb


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  • Love this water color! Will try it in my amateurish way. I'm a subscriber from the U.S., so will not get the May issue of Leisure Painter for several months. Will try this using the copy from my tablet. Cats are so difficult for me to draw, but that doesn't prevent me from trying.

    Posted by Ingrid Waldron on Sat 16 Mar 05:59:58