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Art Masterclass - 107

How to Paint a Ginger Cat in Watercolour with Alison Fennell

In this portrait (below), I aimed to express the peaceful and slightly aloof look on a cat’s face, and a pair of stunning cool turquoise green eyes. To paint him I used a controlled wet-into-wet technique for the early washes then used wet onto dry as the painting developed and I needed sharper detail.

You will need


  • Stretched Arches hot-pressed 200gsm 100% cotton rag paper (20.5x25.5cm)

Winsor & Newton Professional Water Colour

  • Raw sienna
  • rose madder genuine
  • French ultramarine blue
  • burnt sienna
  • Winsor orange
  • Winsor blue
  • cobalt turquoise
  • cadmium scarlet
  • burnt umber
  •  raw umber
  • Winsor violet
  • plus titanium white opaque watercolour

Watercolour brushes

  • Synthetic Rounds Nos. 8, 6, 3 & 0

HB pencil

How to Paint a Ginger Cat in Watercolour with Alison Fennell

Step One

1. Draw the cat’s body using a HB pencil.

2. Wet the entire inside of the body shape with clear water. Allow the water to sink in until there is a faint glisten on the paper.

3. Add a dilute wash of Winsor orange and cadmium scarlet to the face, body and paws, leaving some patches of white paper unpainted.

4. Paint a dilute wash of Winsor violet and raw umber under his chin, the top of his head and inside the ears. Tilt and turn the painting gently to help spread the paint then lay it flat. This wash can be uneven; we don’t want a solid, flat block of colour so allow some areas to be different strengths in tone.

5. Still working on moist paper, quickly add much darker passages of burnt umber, burnt sienna and French ultramarine.

6. Add Winsor blue and cadmium scarlet around the eye socket. It is fine if these bleed into each other a little.

Step Two

While the paper is still moist, use a small No. 0 brush and a mix of Winsor orange, cadmium scarlet and burnt sienna to paint stripes on his paws, neck and face. These will soften slightly.

Step Three

1. Once the painting is completely dry, carefully re-wet the face and neck with clean water and allow it to soak in until there is a satin sheen on the paper. Re-paint the stripes, the side of his left-hand cheek, the inside corner of his eye and the flat of his nose using a mix of Winsor orange, cadmium scarlet and burnt sienna.

2. Add a touch of dilute Winsor violet under his chin.

3. Use a slightly moist clean brush to soften some hard edges here and there for variety.

Step Four

1. Re-wet the paws and body with clear water and allow the satin sheen to appear. Paint the paws with a mix of raw umber and bunt sienna, and paint the dark shadow clefts between his thigh, elbow, neck and body in a darker mix of raw umber, burnt sienna and French ultramarine. This will soften beautifully yet still convey form due to their tonal contrast with previous washes.

2. Use the same mix for the corner of the eye clefts, the whisker follicle spots, and the gaps between the claws and toes. Also use this mix to paint the stripes again, but this time use a slightly broken line to suggest fur.

3. Allow to dry completely.

Step Five

1. On completely dry paper, paint stripes on his head, paws and chest in a mix of raw umber and raw sienna, softening in some places for interest with a clean, slightly moist brush. Rinse after each softening to wash the pigment from the brush.

2. Re-darken the left-hand cheek shadow using a mix of burnt umber and French ultramarine, and soften again so that the shadow blends into his face.

3. Paint his eyes in cobalt turquoise and add a wash of Winsor violet on his chin.

4. Add darker cobalt turquoise to the base and corners of his eyeball for contrast.

5. Use a mix of raw umber and raw sienna to paint any parts of the face that remain pale.

Step Six

1. Add a broken line to suggest the mouth and a tiny hint of darkness in the nostril using a mix of Winsor violet and burnt umber and use the same mix to paint around his eyes for definition.

2. Use this same colour mix to indicate a few whiskers.

3. Paint the insides of his ears with rose madder genuine, using a dry brush and dragging it sideways across the paper to create a rough look to indicate the furry insides of his ears.

4. Paint the bridge of his nose with a mix of raw sienna, raw umber and Winsor violet and soften any hard edges with a moist brush so it blends in with the face.

5. Paint darker points of cobalt turquoise into the right-hand side and under upper lids of the eyes to create depth. Then allow the eyes to dry completely.

6. Mix opaque watercolour white with a speck of Winsor violet to create a mid-purple colour. Brush an arc of this across the top half of the eyeball. Into one side of this arc add a pure white speck for the highlight.

7. Paint a very fine moisture line along the bottom eyelid using opaque white; this will bring the eyes to life.

Step Seven

Finally, to create a painterly effect, make a mid-brown watery mix and spatter across the cat’s body by softly tapping a No. 8 brush (the floppier the better) against the back of your hand about 8in. above the paper.

Alison runs weekly watercolour classes in Tongwynlais, near Cardiff. Visit or email her at

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