Here are a few of my illustrated tutorials and how-tos for my  artsy-craftsy friends: (Not artsy-craftsy? pshaw! Summon up that inner child, banish that inner critic, have a go at it and have some fun! I believe there's no time like the present to get creative.)









For the past three years I have been creating colorful watercolor paintings of Cat Ladies (and Lads!) in a whimsical, illustrative style. Many are custom portraits of feline fanatics from around the world; some are miniature paintings in the ACEO (Art Cards Editions and Originals) format, which are the size of a baseball card.

I thought it would be fun to show, step-by-step, how I go about creating a group portrait of a Cat Lady and her loved ones. I hope you will be inspired to use these ideas and watercolor techniques with other things that you'd like to paint.
So what are you waiting for? Get out those paint brushes right now and try these step-by-step instructions...and have some fun!

Step One

Gather Up Your Supplies

    I use 300 lb Arches Cold Press Watercolor Paper, which is extra heavy, but any 140 lb. Cold Press watercolor paper will work just fine...
    For a small portrait I use a No. 6 Round and a No. 1 Round (with a fine tip for details)
    Student grade paints- in either pan type or in tubes- will work, but for really brilliant colors, splurge and buy professional grade paints. I like Holbein, Graham, and Winsor Newton
    Paper towels, a pencil, eraser, tracing paper, a palette to mix your paints in (a divided Tupperware dish works great!), and a big jar or plastic container to hold your rinse water

My Palette

You Only Need a Few Basics

The basic colors I use are: Thalo Blue, Ultramarine Blue, Quinacridone Red (an intense deep rose pink), New Gamboge Yellow, Lemon Yellow, Burnt Sienna, and occasionally Titanium White.I love mixing my own colors...
Red+Blue=Purple or Lavender
Yellow+Blue=Green or Lime
Red+Yellow=Orange or Peach

Step Two

The Sketch

Using reference photos that the client has sent to me, I create a thumbnail sketch on graph paper to work out composition and possible color combinations.

Here are some of the reference photos used, courtesy of Cat Lady Vicki...

Step Three

Tracing and Transfering

Using a pencil, I trace the basic lines of the design onto tracing paper

After re-tracing the lines on the BACK of the tracing paper, I flip it right side up and go over the lines one more time,to transfer the image to the watercolor paper beneath.

Step Four

Faces and Hands

I use a very thinned down mixture of yellow and red to create a peach for skin tones (add a little burnt sienna for darker complexions)

I start darker at the forehead, then add water to lighten the peach-tone as I work down to the chin.

Step Five


While the peach tone is still damp, I add diluted red on the cheeks and feather it out to fade into the peach. The dampness helps the pink diffuse and soften...The man's cheeks are more subtle with just a hint of pink,,,

I use watered-down burnt sienna to add faint shadows on the neck and hands to add a little dimension..

Step Six

Time to Paint the Cats!

For the tabby I start out with a very thin wash of gray, which was made by mixing ultramarine and burnt sienna, then watering it down to a pale gray. He has a peachy undertone on his face and chest, mixed the same way as the peach tone for the faces.

When that layer has dried, but still has just the slightest bit of dampness left, I add darker gray stripes using my smaller brush.

For the other cat, I make a graded wash of medium gray, going into dark gray toward the bottom.

Step Eight

More Details

Next I paint the hair...I mix yellow with just a touch of brown and make a thin wash for the blonde hair. For the dark brown hair, I've mixed burnt sienna with just a bit of ultramarine blue

I mix a tiny bit of brown into my "blonde" paint, and add a few more strokes to add dimension to the hair.

Step Nine

The Background

Now it's time for COLOR and lots of it! I am going to do a multi-color graded wash, starting at the top with purple. I mix my quinacridone red with thalo blue to make a nice grape color.

I carefully paint around the figures as I go, keeping my paint nice and wet...

While the purple is still wet, I blend in some thalo blue at the lower edge of the purple, then work in more thalo blue as I go down. Remember to keep paint nice and wet and runny. To make green, I mix a little thalo blue into my lemon yellow and start working that into the lower edge of the thalo, carrying it all the way to the bottom.

Step Ten

It's All About The Details...

To finish up the portrait, I use my fine line brush to outline key shapes and details. Instead of using black, which can be harsh and cartoonish, I use colors that compliment what I am outlining, often a dark brown or blue.

I start with the head and outline the face, eyes, nose, and mouth, then add a few more details to the hair.

I continue detailing each person and each cat and before you know it, I'm ready for the finishing touch...

The Finishing Touch...The Whiskers!!

With my fine line brush and Titanium White, I carefully draw in the most important detail...the whiskers! This is where a steady hand and a light touch are very important. It might be good to practice first on some scrap paper.

On light-colored cats or backgrounds I use black for the whiskers...

TA-DAAAAAAA! The Finished Product

Ready to Frame

So what are you waiting for? Get out those paint brushes right now and have some fun! Just remember to take your time, do one step at a time, and if you goof up, it's only paper and it's okay to try, try again as many times as you want to (as long as you remember to recycle all that paper)!  Enjoy!