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Ever Tried to Paint a Black Cat?

Our treasured and adored house panther, Homer, is impossible to photograph or even find. We call him "Invisacat." He can be sleeping on our dark blue sofa not 6 ft away from me, and if the light is dim (even sometimes in broad daylight), I cannot see him--even when I'm wearing my glasses. Too often when he's causing me to sqweeee, I scramble to get a photo of his cuteness, but even before I snap the pic I know that photograph will reveal nothing of his fur's details. He'll just appear as a black blob with whiskers and a poochy tummy.


You can see in this (admittedly krappy) photo in which he's entwined with his brother Reno, you can't see much of him save for those pinprick catchlights in his eyes:

Most photos of him are like that. Even most of the ones taken with "the good camera."


Drawing or painting black cats is no easier for me; I'm no black cat artist extraordinaire like Bernadette Karzmarsky. (Especially if I'm painting from a blurry, poorly-lit source photo that clients so often provide.) But at least when working from a photo you have time to study the photo and the subtle differences in the way the light falls on the cat's coat. Sometimes I'll give the photo a photoshop boost to the contrast, brightness, and saturation. Most often though, that's little help.


Fortunately, there's the internet, and I found a specific learning video teaching "Painting Black Pets in Watercolor." You'll find it on Skillshare (I'm neither an affiliate nor shill for them). Skillshare's tutorials don't quite reach the sophistication and complexity of Lynda.com's, but the service is way cheaper.


This video is somewhat heavier on watercolor technique than how to paint a black cat, but I appreciated the refresher since I'm weak in watercolor. As I watched the tute, I remembered my college art professor spending several sessions teaching us to "see." He showed us how to see the varying tones of light and shadow and the spectrum of colors on any surface. Another of my art instructors had us draw eggs for several weeks to understand the subtleties of shape, shadow, and texture. At its essence, that's what painting black cats is all about.


With fresh eyes, if I see Homer splayed out on the deck in the sunshine, I now take the time to SEE the brownish undercoat and highlights. The black is not simply black, but has some shades of purple and blue. My camera still won't fully cooperate; most photos continue to show him as an amorphous blob, even with time spent metering and coaxing his coöperation, but in the hyper-reality state in which my artist's mind exists, he won't be a blob when I paint him. And sometimes, even the photos come out okay:

I enjoyed the class and look forward to improving my black-cat-painting skills. But I still can't find Homer in a darkened house without a cat locator device.