Painting Cats in Clothes Inspired by Literature

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Behind the Scenes: The Making of Mr. Bennet Cat

Colored Pencil Sketch, Mr. Bennet Cat from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice

Colored Pencil Sketch of Mr. Bennet, modeled after Sammy.

When I began working on my digital painting of Mr. Bennet Cat, I made the decision to take screenshots and work-in-progress pics of the entire process.

 It had never occurred to me to document my projects in detail before, mainly because my personal techniques are neither unique nor remarkable. Hundreds of tutorials exist online, explaining how to draw, color, highlight, shadow, and manipulate Photoshop layers… showcasing far greater skill than my own.

In fact, if you want to see digital painting at its BEST, check out the Deviantart gallery of Tammara Markegard. Her work is so fantastic, it’s disgusting! LOL I wipe drool off my keyboard, after pouring too long over her intricate details.

Always living in the shadow of true mastery such as hers, and countless others, I fail to recognize my own accomplishments. Apparently, I’ve taken for granted that everyone understands how I create my digital art. That any explanation was unnecessary.

And apparently, I was mistaken. I’ve run across people who grossly over exaggerated my abilities, and also people who wrote off weeks’ worth of work as “She just drew a cat’s face over a photograph”.

So when I scanned in my initial sketch of Mr. Bennet, modeled after Lily’s cat Sammy, I vowed to keep an ongoing, accurate record of my work for anyone curious.

Sammy Whiskers Cat TwoStrayCats Lily Van Niekerk

Lily's Sam Man, half of TwoStrayCats

It all began with a photograph of Sammy, that Lily entered into my Pride and Prejudice Cat Contest. He was voted upon by my Facebook fans to be cast as Mr. Bennet, the patriarch of the Bennet household (Lizzy’s doting father, and proud Mr. Darcy’s future FIL).

I decided to draw him relaxing in his favorite wing back chair, reading a novel, as the character was always retreating to the sanctuary of his study to escape his obnoxious wife and silly daughters. After the sketch was made, and scanned into Photoshop, I drew over the basic lines with a small black brush.
Then I opened three new, blank layers: one for each element of the picture. The chair, the clothing, and the cat himself.

I did this because it allows me to focus on one area at a time; by clicking the eye icon, you can make the other layers invisible and temporarily inaccessible. Any mistakes or alterations made to one layer wouldn’t affect any other aspect of the image… NO “whooops-I-accidentally-erased-half-the-finished-chair-while-attempting-to-edit-his-fur” catastrophes. This decision was easily made as a result of prior trial and error… if something can go wrong, it will undoubtedly happen to me.

Digital painting Photoshop, Mr. Bennet Cat Jane Austen Pride and Prejudice

The basic colors roughed in, on three separate layers

With the line drawing serving as the Background (bottom) layer, I color each part of the image on their respective layers (which I’ve named, appropriately, “chair”, “clothes”, and “fur”). This serves as the color theme… I want a brown coat, yellow vest, blue chair, etc… and can be adjusted or changed completely if I have second thoughts.

There is no rhyme or reason with where to start, but I felt like playing with fur. So I began with his face. Having already colored the black and white areas, I choose a medium-sized brush (around 15 pixels) set to 40% strength, and begin pulling the fur using the Smudge tool. The lower strength creates soft, wide strokes of fur… and narrowing the brush to approx. 4-5 pixels and kicking the strength up to 70%, will allow me to add concentrated, fine hairs.
I tend to overdose on the Smudge tool, and my cats look like electrocuted fluffballs. :P Sammy is long-haired, though, so I can justify a bit of fluff.

Painting cat fur in Photoshop Cat wearing glasses

Joe said Sam looks like Harry Potter here...

For his eyes and ears, I take a few complimentary colors (ears: salmon, grey, brown) (eyes: green, grey, yellow, brown) and paint daubs of these with a brush onto a new layer. Then I use the Gaussian Blur filter to blend them together, and merge the new layer into the Fur layer.
With the eyes, it takes a bit of time to get it blurred just right. I’ll re-paint areas if the yellow/gold or green faded away too much.

Anytime I work with shadows, highlights, and reflections, such as on his eyes or spectacles, I open a new temporary layer. That way, I can play around with the strength of the highlight or shadow, add to it or subtract from it, and blur it just right… before merging it with the fur layer.
I choose a highlight a few shades lighter than the base color on the palette, and a few shades darker for shadows.

Photoshop 6 Screenshot Digital Painting Cat Wearing Glasses

Adding eye reflections and highlights to his spectacles

The idea for painting better whiskers came to me from reading this Deviantart tutorial on Hair.
In the sixth step, she discusses those little fly-away strands of hair that glisten in the light… drawing them with a fine brush, and then erasing parts of each strand, with an eraser tool of varying strengths, to create a 3-dimensional effect.
I started doing that with my cats’ whiskers, and I liked how they turned out. This time, I decided to blend the edges together, because the erased pieces looked a bit choppy.

Drawing Cat Whiskers in Photoshop

Drawing his whiskers, and erasing pieces of them

Once I finished with his face and paws, I move onto what I would consider the most tedious part… the clothing layer. I started defining folds and wrinkles in the fabric using a new shadow layer and blending. Then I chose a highlight color to accent where the light might strike his clothing, and applied that color with Gaussian Blur in a new layer as well.

Creating highlights in Photoshop using Gaussian Blur

Highlighting Mr. Bennet's jacket using Gaussian Blur

One of my favorite things to do with fabric, is kind-of a cheat, although it is still time consuming. Instead of painting fabric texture from scratch, I find a swatch of fabric (either scanned from personal clothing, or as licensed stock online) and create a texture to apply. This is where Photoshop manipulation really shines!
For his coat, I used a piece of tweed wool. I removed the original color, because when I select Multiply or Overlay, it then assumes the color underneath. The swatch gets resized down to scale, and must then be distorted using the Perspective command, so that the texture will follow the curves of the coat.
Each block of texture is placed, adjusted to the correct perspective, and merged onto my painted cloth using the Overlay and Opacity settings. The blocks get “stitched” together once they’ve all been arranged, so that hopefully nobody will see where the seams were.

Applying texture to painted fabric using Photoshop

Applying a tweed texture to his coat, using Distort and Overlay

One final tool in the clothing arsenal… the Liquify filter. It allows you to create ripples, and I like to use it on my texture layer, so that the pattern will bulge and bend in accordance with my previously painted fabric wrinkles.
His pants and vest receive textures as well.

Using the Liquify Tool in Photoshop for Fabric

Creating ripples in the tweed texture using Liquify

The book that he held was included in the clothing layer. I used a faux “dry” brush in a darker brown to add leathery texture to the book cover. Then I highlighted the book pages, and painted some shadows as well. The idea for the book’s spine came from my copy of Funk & Wagnall’s Dictionary.

I always have a dictionary close at hand, because my vocabulary is composed of many words I haven’t yet learned to spell correctly… and I absolutely HATE those auto Spell Check programs (and the Firefox browser).
If you notice any spelling errors in my posts, it is because I refuse to use Spell-Check on principle. >:P

Anyway, I drew the pattern from the dictionary, loosely, with a gold brush. Opened a new layer, and shaded with dark brown.

Digital Painting Book in Photoshop

Painting the book

So here is what Mr. Bennet looked like at this point… with his fur and clothing basically finished.

For his wing back chair, I dug through my stock photos for that garish bit of orange fabric that was used for Mrs. Bennet’s dress. I really liked the floral pattern of it, and once the color was removed (again!), it worked nicely as upholstery fabric.
As with the clothing, the piece had to be scaled down and its perspective altered to match the angle of the chair.

Applying fabric texture to chair upholstery using Photoshop

Adding the fabric texture to his chair

More piecing together, block at a time. Once the chair was completely covered, I realized the color wasn’t dark enough to match the intensity of Mr. Bennet’s shading. So I duplicated the chair layer, and selected Multiply, which darkened everything… a bit too much. Scale back to 54% opacity for a subtle shift in contrast.
Then I reworked my shadows again on a new layer, making them bolder.

Mr. Bennet Cat Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice digital painting in Photoshop

Almost finished... he's just lacking a background

So here we have Mr. Bennet in his reading chair… sans a background. I seriously considered doing a wood paneling behind him… but I was afraid it would be too distracting from the details in the foreground. So I opted for a plain color instead… rusty brown invoked a quiet library feeling to me.
I used the paint can filler tool to color the entire bottom layer (right over my sketch), and then added a new layer to paint the shadows behind him on the wall.

Mr. Bennet Cat Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice digital painting by TaraFly

Mr. Bennet Cat, a.k.a. Sammy, looking sophisticated :)

And viola! Mr. Bennet in the fur. This piece could probably have taken 4-5 days, perhaps three.. if I worked non-stop. And there are people who could complete this in a matter of hours… I bow to them. Unfortunately, it did NOT take a week… or two… or even three. It took almost two whole months. Why?
Well… LIFE, for one thing. It looks simple, but its time-consuming nonetheless, and time is worth it’s weight in DIAMONDS in this household.

I feel terrible for making promises to my fans, under the assumption that I could complete all these portraits in a matter of weeks. I wanted to launch the book by August, but September is just around the corner, and the book is not. It will come! But I’ve learned a valuable lesson over this summer about creating impossible deadlines for myself, given all the distractions and obligations that require my attention at home.

Plunging ahead anyway. Jane Bennet will be next, with Bingley quick on her heels as a hot-blooded lover should be. :)

3 Comments

  •    Reply

    Hi Tara,
    This was fascinating. I learned a lot about digital art just reading your post and I so enjoyed watching the transformation of Mr. Bennett. I think he looks wonderful. I can hardly wait for Jane. Sarah is also eager and excited.
    xo,
    Noelle

  •    Reply

    It was actually a fun exercise… I was a bit worried at first that it would be long and tedious, because digital painting is usually long and tedious. Thousands and thousands of click, click, clicks… repetitive strokes of the mouse… Basically, I skipped over the boring parts and tried to focus on the technique (using layers and filters, etc.), but I’m still worried that I might’ve lost people with the Photoshop jargon.
    I know someone will wonder, “What is a layer?” Once upon a time, I wondered myself. :)

    I’m working on her now… and I’ll try to do a similar blog post for Jane’s portrait. :)

  •    Reply

    [...] I decided the best way to explain how a photomanip is created, is by showing a few screenshots of a work-in-progress, to explain the process in steps as I did earlier with “Mr. Bennet Cat”.         [...]

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