Tutorial - Realistic Drawing of a Cat 

This Scottish Wildcat was photographed while on vacation. Although this photograph was cropped, the level of detail is still very good and allowed me to see the animal's features more clearly.

I will walk you through 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 appear complicated, but it’s actually made up of shapes, colors and values. Where there is a lot of detail, such as in the fur, it is simplified by drawing the shapes first and then adding in the detail.

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.

Turn the tracing over, place it on your drawing paper, then 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.

Do not press your hand down on the paper as you work, as this will cause smudges.

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

Starting your realistic drawing of a cat

The whiskers

For the cat's whiskers, indent the lines with a pencil or stylus to ensure a clean line. Don't go over the graphite lines, but indent just to one side of them. This will avoid staining your whiskers with graphite. When you add the coloured pencil pigment it will skip over them, leaving them 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 scumbling 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.

Now 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 the iris by placing radiating lines out from the pupil, but not to the outer edge. Start with Yellowed Orange (P) varying the length of the strokes and placing them randomly so they don't appear to represent the spokes of a wheel. Avoid the reflection.

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.

Add more radiating strokes from the pupil with very light pressure, this time using Permanent Red (P). This is to add depth - don't be too heavy-handed or you risk turning the eye red!

Taking the eye darker

From this point onwards, I will show the work on the left eye. When tackling a realistic drawing of a cat, you can create the eyes separately, as I did, or work on them simultaneously.

The iris is shaded by the upper lid and needs a darker tone applied. Apply Dark Green (P) using medium pressure. Also take this colour into the dark eye surround area, building up to a darker tone. We will add further layers later.

Still using Dark Green (P) and a scribble stroke, add pigment to the centre 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 colours we have used so far together. Avoid that reflection!

Now build up the eye surround with first Dahlia Purple (P) and then Black (P). There is a grey area below the eye, within the darker surrounding area, where Titanium Buff (L) should be placed to protect it from too much colour.

Using light pressure add black radiating lines to the iris, then burnish them 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.

Add a light layer of Light Cobalt Blue (L) over the outer edge of the iris 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.

Don't worry about trying to make your fur lines straight; you are simply trying to capture the look of fur. The strokes don't have to be parallel either - we will work them in the general direction of the fur, but using a random, haphazard approach. The cat's fur is wild and uneven, so don't worry about neatness.

To build darker areas ...

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

When you look at the fur up close, you will see that it is actually made up of many different colours. At first you will only see beige, brown and even a hint of white. However, if you look closer, you will notice some green and lavender flecks, pink tints and even a few purples.

Developing your eye to see subtle shades takes time and practice, but when you do see and include those shades in your drawings, the results will astound you. Fur created with a single pencil or with slight 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.

As mentioned earlier, don't worry about being too neat. We are creating a realistic drawing of a cat here and the messier and random your strokes look, the better the fur will look. You can cross some strokes, which will also add even more texture.

The photos below may seem a little "rough" but they are enlarged from the original drawing, which appeared smoother.

Learn how to glaze with coloured pencils

At this stage of our drawing, I am going to introduce a new term called glazing. This is a stroke where you leave the pencil on the surface 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".

When going over a graphite boundary line first use your putty eraser to remove any excess graphite that may have been left on the surface. This will prevent 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 colour for the light fur.

Extending the colour 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).

Working from the center of the nose outwards, begin to make tiny strokes in Raw Umber (L). They will slant inwards towards the center on both sides and then gradually change to a 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 farther down the bridge of the nose. Also, block in the lighter areas beside the nose and on the cheek with the same pencil. Watch those strokes—they are changing to 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! I dabbed the area and gradually lifted off the pigment before reworking it.

By kneading and stretching the eraser this excess pigment was absorbed and not deposited back onto the surface of the drawing.

If this had been a realistic rendering of a cat for a portrait the commission would have been lost. However, I didn't abandon the project, as I felt it was an opportunity to show we all make mistakes and some are correctable.

Incidentally, if you look carefully at the left side of the head you can see some of the first fur layers, which will develop further as I add further layers of pigment.

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 darkness along the whisker line, then blend with Ginger Root (P) and take this colour across the muzzle towards the nose where you see more of a yellow hue. Glaze these with Apricot (L).

Taking a photo of the artwork and then turning it to black and white by removing the saturation, can be beneficial. It will make it easier to see if your blacks are really black.

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

Lower cheek

Don't worry about getting this area perfectly smooth, as we will build up layers to create the dark base in the next stage. Begin the colour at the bottom left corner of the cheek with the side of the pencil, using light pressure.

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

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

Check your values

Take two pieces of medium grey card; and punch holes of varying sizes. These can be used as "value viewers" to discover the values and colours by positioning the holes over the same area of both the drawing and photo so as to compare your results.

As you can see in the photo, I still had a way to go until my stripe was dark enough. It was also a little too warm in hue. 

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 worked on the fur, I also moved on to the forehead area and laid down several layers of the same colours as the previous layers. This area is not dark enough yet.

The second eye

At this point I decided to complete the other eye. I used the same selection of colours to complete the second eye. This would help me gauge the values in the fur.

If you look closely you will see that the second eye is not reflecting the light in the same manner and therefore the colours are more intense. The inner area is further shaded by the nose.

I used short pencil strokes to build up the fur between her eyes, gradually adding darker layers. That typical wildcat expression is starting to show through now, and I can see that I am gaining more accuracy in my overall colour mixing.

I continue building up the fur texture and values round under the eye on our right, paying close attention to the direction of the fur, which is an important element in a realistic drawing of a cat.

Repeating the steps from the first side of the drawing I continue to add fur to the muzzle and the 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 I’ve shown you how to draw a cat realistically. Perhaps you can try drawing your own!

You might like these

You might like these


Would you like our occasional newsletter?