Portrait of a Cat for My Parents

My parent’s cat Hanna passed away in November. Hanna was a sweet cat who loved people, especially my parents. A super senior, she was nearly twenty years old, and lived a good life filled with napping, snacks, and lots of lap-sitting. My parents miss her a lot though, so in December, I decided to surprise them with a portrait of her. Let’s take a look.

Hanna, my parent’s sweet, senior cat. Image: a calico cat sitting by a window.

Crafting a Composition

To create this portrait, I relied on a combination of original sketches and photography. As I’ve mentioned previously, I prefer working from in-person sketches rather than photographs except for verifying details. Fortunately, I had original sketches of Hanna that I’d done while she was alive. Specifically, I had done a drawing of her relaxing in her cat bed last winter, when Brandon and I spent Christmas in Maine. This sketch would form the basis of my finished portrait. Since she was similar in size to one of our cats, Iris, I also looked to our little tabby as a model.

Despite having a great base sketch though, I had to make one critical change. Hanna passed away in that cat bed, so I needed to replace it with something more positive. Fortunately, I already had something in mind: a blanket I knitted for Dad as a Christmas present in 2021. Hanna loved sitting on this blanket, especially when it was on someone’s lap. Additionally, I thought its blue tones created a striking contrast with the orange hues of Hanna’s coat. So I created a new composition featuring Hanna on the knitted blanket, studying knitted blankets in my own house to get a sense of the drapery.

Instead of the cat bed, I’d show Hanna relaxing on this blanket I made for Dad back in 2021. Image: a photo of a knitted blanket in a log cabin pattern.

Painting Hanna’s Portrait

Typically my bed portraits have been a combination of painting and drawing on paper. For this piece though, I wanted something a bit more monumental, so I opted for canvas, making this the first pet portrait I’ve done using painting exclusively. I painted it before and after Christmas, completing it over four days total.

As with many of my painting projects, I’m grateful for the year I spent painting daily abstractions. The experiments I did with dry-brush, splatter and other forms of mark-making have helped me become much more comfortable with using more fluid, abstract strokes for this work. For Hanna especially, I think working with more abstract, dry brushwork made a big difference in terms of capturing her coat’s texture and coloration.

Reflections on the Portrait Experience

With a lot of my pet portraits, one of the biggest challenges is instilling a sense of personality. In a lot of instances, I’ve either never met the animal or have only had minimal interactions with them, so I rely on conversations and life sketches I’ve done of other animals to instill a sense of liveliness and personality.

This portrait, however, was different. Except for my own cats, Hanna’s portrait is among the most personal I’ve done because I knew her. Although I didn’t see her very often, I had experienced her unique quirks first-hand, from her love of sitting on laps to her habit of staring at you penetratingly across the room. In painting this portrait then, I felt more comfortable instilling a sense of her personality because I knew her.

Ultimately though, what mattered most was making sure my parents liked it. And based on where it went in the house, I believe I succeeded.

Categorized as Art

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