Tutorial - Realistic Drawing of a Cat 

For this realistic drawing of a cat, step by step, I picked a photograph of a Scottish Wildcat that I took a few years back. This is a cropped version, I didn't really get that close to the critter!

I have covered the steps required to draw the features, along with the fur textures for this tutorial. 

Click on the image below to download a high resolution version of the photo to work from. 

This photograph may look complex but it can be broken down into shape, color and value (darkness or lightness). Where there is a  lot of detail, such as in the fur, we simplify the blocks of similar tone or color and draw them in first. Detail is then added on top.

Materials required

I used Fabriano 5 paper for this drawing, but you could use any hot pressed watercolour paper in the same way.

I picked a selection from two coloured pencil brands - Prismacolor and Caran d'Ache Luminance - but you can substitute from those you have available. 

Prismacolor (P)

  • Dark green
  • Dahlia purple
  • Black
  • Pale sage
  • Yellowed orange
  • Apple green
  • Permanent red
  • Ginger root

Luminance (L)

  • Sepia
  • Buff titanium
  • Light cobalt blue
  • Apricot
  • Sepia 10%
  • Raw Umber
  • Manganese Violet
  • Burnt Sienna 50%
  • Burnt Ochre 10%
  • Burnt Sienna 10%
  • Olive Brown 10%
  • Dark Indigo (New)

Transferring the outline to your paper

As this is an exercise on drawing the fur and features of a cat in coloured pencil you can use the original traced outline that I created, rather than drawing it yourself, if you wish. 

To get the drawing onto your paper you can first print it onto thin printer paper and then either..

  1. Lay tracing paper over the printout and trace over the outlines
  2. Place the outline on a lightpad, lay the tracing paper over the top and then trace (as the lightpad is lit from behind this can make the process easier)
  3. Tape the printout to a window with bright daylight behind it, then place your drawing paper over the top and trace

If you use the tracing paper, you will need to scribble with a soft graphite pencil (2B) over the back where the lines show through.

Then turn it over so the traced lines are uppermost, place it on your drawing paper, and trace over the outline once more. I like to use a coloured pencil for this as it is then easier to see if you have missed any lines. Of course only the graphite on the back of the tracing will be transferred to your drawing paper, not the colour.

Be careful not to transfer graphite onto other areas of the paper by pressing on the paper with your hand, as this can cause smudges.

If you used the lightpad or window the stage above is unnecessary. 

Starting your realistic drawing of a cat

The whiskers

To ensure that your cat's whiskers remain white use a stylus. or blunt instrument such as a darning needle, to indent the lines into the paper firmly. Don't go over the graphite lines of your tracing, but instead make your indents just to one side of them. This will avoid dirtying the whiskers with graphite that you then can't easily erase. When you work over these indents the coloured pencil pigment will skip over them, leaving them nice and white. 

The pupils

Begin the eyes with the pupils, avoiding the light area of reflection.

Take a Sepia Luminance (L) pencil and fill in the pupil area with medium pressure using the round scribble stroke. Then add a layer of Prismacolor Dahlia Purple followed by Dark Green (P). Complete with a layer of Black (P).

Next add a base layer of Titanium Buff (L) over the iris, again leaving the reflection empty. Use a light to medium pressure to form a smooth, even coating. Place Pale Sage (P) around the edge of the pupil with medium pressure, and then add Light Cobalt Blue (L) over the top of the green.

Also add a very light layer of the blue over the reflections that cross the pupil and iris. This will look too dark at present as we have nothing to contrast with it, but don't panic!

Start adding the texture to the iris by placing radiating lines out from the pupil, but not right to the outer edge. Start with Yellowed Orange (P), varying the length of these strokes and positioning them randomly so they don't appear to represent the evenly spaced spokes of a wheel. Again, avoid the reflection. 

A little colour theory

Red and green are opposite each other on the colour wheel, and layered over the top of each other will darken and dull the resulting area.

Add a light layer of Apple Green (P) over the iris, avoiding the reflection. Then layer Yellowed Orange (P) over the outside edges to continue building up the depth there.

Place more radiating strokes from the pupil using very light pressure and Permanent Red (P). We are adding depth here and don't want to turn the eye red!

Taking the eye darker

From this point the photographs will show the work on the left eye (as we look at it). You can work the eyes separately when tackling your realistic drawing of a cat, as I did, or work both together.

The eyelid is covering the top of the iris and shading it. To darken this area first add Dark Green (P) using medium pressure. Also take this colour around the edge of the iris and into the dark eye surround area. We will build on top of this to darken it later.

Using Dark Green (P) again, and a scribble stroke, add pigment to the center of the iris to darken it slightly.

Now blend the whole iris area by going over it with the Ginger Root (P) pencil. You can use heavy pressure (but do not burnish) to meld the colors we have used so far together. Avoid that reflection!

Continue building up the eye surround with first Dahlia Purple (P) and then Black (P). Note there is a greyish area below the eye, within the darker surrounding area. Place Titanium Buff (L) here to protect the area from the darker colours.

Add Black radiating lines (using light pressure) to the iris from the pupil. Then burnish with Pale Sage (P) using very firm pressure.

Build up the eye surround using Black (P), taking it over the light section to help blend that in.

Complete the iris by adding a light layer of Light Cobalt Blue (L) over the outer edge to move the colour from green to blue-green.

Studying the fur

Study the fur directions in the photograph carefully as it changes according to the bone structure of the cat's head.

Work your pencil strokes in the general direction but don't line them up like soldiers, place them randomly so they are scattered within each "patch" and not in tidy rows. We are rendering a realistic drawing of a cat, and this one is wild so is unlikely to have been professionally groomed!

To build darker areas ...

  • use more pressure and or layers
  • place strokes closer together
  • use a darker pencil

When you look at the fur closely you will see that there are actually lots of colors in it. At first you will likely only see beige, dark brown and perhaps some ginger hues. However, on closer inspection you will note some greenish areas, pink tints, and even some purples mixed in.

Training your eye to pick out the "hidden" colors will take time and practice. But when you do see them, and include them in your drawing, the results will astound you.

Fur created with a single pencil or with a little variation in value, will never look as alive and real as fur drawn with many different colours.

Beginning the fur

Put down a base layer of Ginger Root (P) on the light areas of fur around the eye and muzzle. Remember to take your strokes roughly in the direction of the fur.

Be a bit scruffy here and not too careful. We are creating a realistic drawing of a cat here and the more random your strokes, the better the fur will look. You can criss cross some strokes which will add even more real looking texture.

The photos below may look a little "too rough" but remember they are enlarged from the original drawing, which looks smoother.

Learn how to glaze with coloured pencils

At this stage of our cat drawing, I am going to introduce a new term - glazingThis is a stroke where you don't pick up the pencil from the surface in between strokes.

Hold the pencil at the end, and gently lay colour over the strokes already on the paper, using the colours suggested below. This technique is sometimes also called "dusting".

Before going over a graphite boundary line, tap the loose graphite with your putty eraser to remove as much as possible. This will prevent the graphite and coloured pencil pigment from mixing and making your drawing look dirty. 

Glaze over the Ginger Root (P) with the Yellowed Orange (P) pencil to create a warmer color for the light fur.

Extending the color into the darker areas will ensure that there are no gaps where the patches meet.

Block in the darker patches of fur with Raw Umber (L) strokes mingled with Sepia (L).

The following photo shows an error that beginners often make when starting to draw fur. If you look closely at the darker strokes under the eye, you will see that they begin with a darker spot and look a little like tadpoles! it is best to avoid this if possible by not pressing too hard when you begin each stroke. As further layers will be added to this area those tick marks will be disguised later, but I wanted to make you aware of the issue. 

In the more orange areas of the lighter fur add another glaze of Apricot (L).

Across the bridge of the nose, start with tiny Raw Umber (L) strokes watching their direction carefully. They slant towards the center on each side and then gradually change to a more vertical direction. Darken the area closest to the eye on the left, by placing your strokes closer together and pressing a little more firmly.

Using the Ginger Root (P) blend the nose with medium pressure to soften the fur strokes. Then add more fur on top with the Sepia (L).

Take the Ginger Root further down the bridge of the nose almost to the nose itself. Also block in the lighter areas of fur beside the nose and on the cheek with the same pencil. Watch those fur strokes! They are changing to almost horizontal now.

Add a glaze of Yellowed Orange to the bridge of the nose.

Then build up the fur colors and depth on the cheek using the same colors as before.

Use Sepia 10% (L) over the darker fur patches to soften the strokes and fill in any white specks of paper.

Correcting errors

It was at this point of the drawing that I realized I had made a mistake. I had taken the dark tear stain marking down too far!

The kneaded putty eraser came to the rescue! Dabbing at the area multiple times lifted off enough of the dark pigment to rework it with the orangey hues. You can see the pigment sticking to the surface of the eraser. This can be stretched and kneaded so as to absorb that pigment.

If this had been a realistic drawing of a cat for a portrait commission this might not have been enough to rectify the error and I may have started again. But as this was a wild cat and not someone's pet, I felt it was a good opportunity to show that we all make errors and some are correctable.

Also in the photograph below you can see the initial fur layers above the eye on the left (which is actually the cat's right eye).

The cat's nose

Begin the nose by laying a smooth base coat of Burnt Ochre 10% (L) over the entire pinkish area. Then take Burnt Sienna 10% (L) and using a circular stroke add the shadowed areas to the bottom and just above the nostrils.

Darken the bottom shaded areas with very light layers of Manganese Violet (L) and Burnt Sienna 50% (L).

Blend the colors on the nose together with medium pressure and White (P). Then glaze with Burnt Ochre 10%.

With a very light touch add a little Dahlia Purple (P) to the lower section. Use Sepia (L) to add the crease and the first layer to the nostrils.

Add layers of Black (P), Dark Green (P) and Dahlia Purple (P) to darken the nostrils, crease and nose surround.

The cat's mouth

Layer Light Cobalt Blue (L) and Pale Sage (P) over the fur just above the mouth line. Watch the fur direction as it starts to angle downwards here. Blend with Olive Brown 10% (L).

Continue the Olive Brown (L) up to meet the more orangey tones of the muzzle.

Use Raw Umber (L) for the brownish hairs along the whisker lines.  Then use Ginger Root (P) to blend these brown strokes. Also take this color across the muzzle towards the nose where you see more yellow hues. Glaze the orange areas with Apricot (L).

Taking a photo of your work, and turning it to black and white by removing the saturation, can be beneficial. It will make it easier to see if your darks are dark enough when compared to the reference photo (which you can also turn black and white).

We will look at another simple tool that can help with your values in a moment.

Lower cheek

The bottom left corner of the drawing is dark in value. Begin this with a base layer of Raw Umber (L) using the side of the pencil. Don't worry about getting it smooth, as we will be adding lots of layers to this area.

Build up the values with Dark Green (P), Dahlia Purple (P), Sepia (L) and more Raw Umber (L).

As you work you the indented lines we added at the beginning will begin to appear.

Check your values

Now take two pieces of mid gray card and punch holes with a hole punch. If you have a punch that creates larger holes you might also like to punch one of those. The colour of my card isn't quite as dark as it appears in the photographs.

These "value viewers" can then be placed on the same area of the printed photo and on your drawing to compare the values and colors. It will be easy to tell at a glance whether you have gone dark enough, which I obviously haven't in my drawing on the left of the photograph below. My color is also a little too warm in hue.

I can see that the dark "stripe" above the value viewers should also be darker in my drawing.

The glassy objects holding the card in place are magnets. I work on a slanted board with a magnetic sheet behind my paper, and the magnets stop the cards from slipping down.

I use Black (P) and Dark Indigo (L) to add depth to those values.

As I was working on the fur I moved up to the top and added layers of the same colours as before to the forehead area. This will need darkening as we move forward.

The second eye

At this point I really wanted to complete that unfinished eye to help with the values in the fur! I used the colors in the previous eye, layering and blending to bring it to a similar state.

If you look closely you will see that the second eye is not identical to the first, as it is shaded by his nose. 

At this stage I could see that the fur between the eyes needed to be darker so I continued to layer with the colours I used previously, using short strokes to imitate the fur, building up the value. That wildcat expression is beginning to become more obvious!

I continue to build up the fur texture and values round under the eye on our right, remembering to watch for the change in fur direction, which is important when rendering a realistic drawing of a cat.

Repeating the steps from the first side of the muzzle I continue to add fur to the muzzle and cheek.

To complete the coloured pencil portrait I darken the tiny bit of chin that shows, and add some of the light cobalt blue and sage green to shade the lower edge of the muzzle where it curves into the mouth. This gives form to the area so that it doesn't look flat.  

I hope you have enjoyed following along with me, and have maybe even created your own realistic drawing of a cat, whether it be this one, or your own pet. 

Would you like our occasional newsletter?