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How to Paint Stones: Cat Portrait

Updated on April 10, 2016
theraggededge profile image

I've been 'creating' since I was a child. Painting rocks is just one of my hobbies, which include watercolor painting, sewing & crochet.

Learn how to paint a cat on a rock.
Learn how to paint a cat on a rock. | Source

Painting Animals on Stone

Painting rocks and stones is fast becoming a popular craft activity. The reasons why are clear: rocks, stones and pebbles are freely available, acrylic craft paints are relatively inexpensive and other supplies are minimal. Another, important reason is that it is quite easy to paint onto a rock – much easier, in fact than painting on to flat paper.

The most popular subjects for painting rocks are animals. This is because they lend themselves perfectly to oval and round shapes. In this article, I demonstrate a step-by-step method of painting a cat on a rock, including putting mistakes right!

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The perfect cat-shaped rock.
The perfect cat-shaped rock. | Source

Supplies for Painting Rocks

  • Reference photo
  • Suitable rock – well scrubbed
  • Pencil
  • Acrylic craft paint
  • Brushes, including an old scuffed one
  • Spray varnish
  • Optional: artist's transfer paper
  • Optional: Uniball Signo Broad – white pen

The paint I am using is Claudine Hellmuth Studio in 'blank canvas' (white), 'charcoal black', 'sable brown', and the very useful 'tradtional tan'. I also use a tiny touch of 'classic teal' and 'dab of yellow' for the eyes. I have a set of 2oz pots but they are also available in mini-sets of half oz bottles. This paint is the perfect consistency for painting rocks. I have also heard that Folk Art paint is good too. It is possible to use regular heavy body acrylic but you will have to play around with adding water to get the right consistency.

Reference photo: Neska. The photo has been flipped to provide the right aspect for the rock.
Reference photo: Neska. The photo has been flipped to provide the right aspect for the rock. | Source
It's a good idea to have more than one reference photo.
It's a good idea to have more than one reference photo. | Source

Choose Your Rock and Subject

The rock I have chosen is a little smaller than an average cat but that's fine – it's pretty heavy as it is. It is oval, with a flat bottom. One end of the rock is fuller and rounder than the other, almost egg-shaped. This shape of rock is perfect for painting a resting cat.

The cat I am painting is Neska. Her owner has kindly shared photos of her on Flickr under a Creative Commons license. This means that anyone is free to make derivative works from the photos. Additionally, the photos are of Neska from several angles, meaning that I can even see her fantastic fat and fluffy tail, which will curl around the rock version.

Step One - Drawing the Face

The method I use for drawing my cat face is usually just to copy it right on to the rock with a pencil, but if you want an accurate likeness of a particular pet and aren't confident in your drawing skills, then print out a suitably sized photo of the cat – head only. I usually print out several sizes as I have a tendency to make my cats' heads too small. Decide where you want the head positioned on the rock and lay the photo on top of a piece of artists' transfer paper, tape them in place and trace the main features directly on to the surface of the rock.

Another method, if like me, you haven't any artist's transfer paper to hand, is to print a copy of the photo and cut out the head, turn it over and lay on a thick application of a very soft pencil. Tape the image to the rock and use a sharp instrument to trace over the features. The outline produced will be faint but you can go over it with a pencil, using the original photo as a reference.

Use a fine brush and your black paint to go over your pencil outlines. These painted outlines will form the basis of the cat's stripes and shadows. Go lightly, if you can.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Deciding on the size and positioning of the head.Applying graphite to the back of the image.Taping image into place ready for tracing.Light outline transferred.Drawing in body and main stripes.Go over pencil with black acrylic.Rough outline of facial features.Blocking in shadow area between haunch and head.Beginning the eye.Eyes again.More work on the eyes - still very rough at this stage.Eyes finished for the time being. More will be done to them later.
Deciding on the size and positioning of the head.
Deciding on the size and positioning of the head. | Source
Applying graphite to the back of the image.
Applying graphite to the back of the image. | Source
Taping image into place ready for tracing.
Taping image into place ready for tracing. | Source
Light outline transferred.
Light outline transferred. | Source
Drawing in body and main stripes.
Drawing in body and main stripes. | Source
Go over pencil with black acrylic.
Go over pencil with black acrylic. | Source
Rough outline of facial features.
Rough outline of facial features. | Source
Blocking in shadow area between haunch and head.
Blocking in shadow area between haunch and head. | Source
Beginning the eye.
Beginning the eye. | Source
Eyes again.
Eyes again. | Source
More work on the eyes - still very rough at this stage.
More work on the eyes - still very rough at this stage. | Source
Eyes finished for the time being. More will be done to them later.
Eyes finished for the time being. More will be done to them later. | Source

Step Two – Undercoat the Rock

Even though Neska is a silver tabby, there is an underlying warm tone in her coat, so this will be my base color. Paint on the base coat, avoiding the black outlines, if possible. Don't worry if the surface of the stone peeks through – cats have heavily textured coats and you will be painting over all of this eventually. You can see mine is still very 'rough and ready'.

Do the eyes early on to give the rock some character - tidying up and fine details will be completed later.
Do the eyes early on to give the rock some character - tidying up and fine details will be completed later. | Source

Step Three – Cat's Eyes

I always go straight to the eyes and complete them to about 75%. In this way, I feel as though the rock becomes more cat than rock, if you know what I mean? Neska's eyes are slightly different colors in the photo because the light is coming in from her right side. This also causes some blue-ing around the iris. Those details will be left until later. It is important to get the eyes right – when looking at an animal rock painting, it is always the eyes that grab your attention first. Notice that Neska has black 'eyeliner' but in the photo, you can't see it all as it is hidden by the top lids. While the eyes are drying, I paint a light pink inside the ears and on the nose.

Step Four – Determining Color in the Face

Neska has a lot of light tan on her face, particularly around the nose area. I block in some of these areas, with an undertone of sable brown. She also has a lot of white interspersed with tiny tan and black hairs. I decided to apply all the white and then later go over with additional color. Determine the colors of your cat's face and, being careful to pay attention to the direction of the hair, use a scruffy brush to make short fur strokes in the main color. At this stage, you are beginning to build up layers.

Building up layers of white on the face.
Building up layers of white on the face. | Source

Step Five – Building Layers

Just keep going. Work on the face building up layers of fur, adding detail as you go. Don't paint the ear furnishings (long hairs) or the whiskers until the very end. Notice where there is shadow and gradation of color. It's a long slow process, so put on some relaxing music or a radio play.

The Awkward Stage

There is a stage in all animal portraits where the painting looks pretty dreadful. Nothing seems to be right. This is normal – Lee Hammond, the author of many acrylic instructional books, calls this 'the awkward stage'. It's the point where many beginners lose heart, not realizing that it has to go through this process. This is just a map of the painting. So, don't despair, just keep on powering through. The wonderful thing about acrylics is that you can paint right over many mistakes and adjust color and form as you go along.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Blocking in color on the face.Starting to paint fur.Building up layers of fur on the face.Darkening details.
Source
Blocking in color on the face.
Blocking in color on the face. | Source
Starting to paint fur.
Starting to paint fur. | Source
Building up layers of fur on the face.
Building up layers of fur on the face. | Source
Darkening details.
Darkening details. | Source
Source
Painting fur on the body, following natural growth patterns.
Painting fur on the body, following natural growth patterns. | Source

Step Six - The Body

When you have had enough of the face, move on to the body. You can come back to the head with fresh eyes later. Work from the back of the head and spine, again, always in the direction that the fur grows. Don't be afraid to have some strokes crossing others. Use longer stokes to build up layers of fur. There are special brushes for painting fur, but I often hack away at an old stiff brush with scissors until it makes marks that I am happy with. I've yet to discover the perfect fur brush.

Repainting the ear.
Repainting the ear. | Source

Step Seven - Remedial Work

Time for some remedial work to the face. I decide that the eyes aren't big enough, so I paint over the existing 'eyeliner' to enlarge the eyes a little. Paint the dark rims back in and extend the white around the eyes. They are just about finished now. I add more white highlights around the face and use a white pen for the whiskers. Now is a good time to put the cat aside and reassess the following day. It's surprising how time away from the work can sharpen your judgment.

Upon another critical look, it appears that the ears are a tad too small – can't quite work how that happened as I used a photo to trace the features. No big deal. I can just base coat around them and re-do them. The nose also needs adjustment - I painted over it with a light tan and repaint it in a tiny bit smaller. I want to share these 'mistakes' with you to show that anything can be fixed – it's never too late... well until you spray varnish, that is. As I'm not a perfectionist, if I was painting this merely for myself, I would leave the features as they were... I like a bit of quirkyness. However, as this is supposed to be a portrait of Neska, then I want it to have some resemblance to her!

Source

Step Eight – Finishing Touches

Time to touch up whiskers and highlights with my white pen. It's finished. All there is to do now is take the cat outside and spray it with about five coats of varnish. You can keep your cat outside but it should be brought in during winter. I have several that have survived all weathers really well, but two others have started to peel. I think it depends on the rock itself. Neska is going to be an indoor cat.

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Comments - Are You Going to Paint a Rock?

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    • DreamerMeg profile image

      DreamerMeg 4 years ago from Northern Ireland

      Lovely. Maybe a hobby to take up sometime!

    • Brainy Bunny profile image

      Brainy Bunny 4 years ago from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania

      I am in awe of your talent, Raggededge! Just fantastic. . . from certain angles, the rock looks like a real cat!

    • anuws profile image

      anuws 4 years ago from Dubai, United Arab Emirates

      A great hub, very interesting! thank you so much for sharing. I am sharing this :)

    • Judi Bee profile image

      Judith Hancock 4 years ago from UK

      That looks really good! The step-by-step photos are excellent. Tempted to say "you rock!" but that would be just too cheesy :D

      Pinning it!

    • theraggededge profile image
      Author

      Bev 4 years ago from Wales

      Thank you, for your lovely comments! I've been painting this all weekend!

      Now, if I can figure out how to get rid of that huge expanse of white space, I'll be happy!

    • MrMaranatha profile image

      MrMaranatha 4 years ago from Somewhere in the third world.

      I like it!!! Good Work!!!

    • whonunuwho profile image

      whonunuwho 4 years ago from United States

      Beautiful hub and I enjoyed it immensely. My wife and I once had a small business in which we included painted rocks and chose many subjects as our theme. We were quite successful for a long time in this and enjoyed the rock painting especially back then. Great hub.

    • theraggededge profile image
      Author

      Bev 4 years ago from Wales

      Thank you, MrMaranatha and whonunowho.

      @whonunowho - wish I could see some of your painted rocks!

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I love this hub, theraggededge! The finished rock is beautiful. Thank you very much for the instructions. I like to draw animals and plants, so this is one project that I am definitely going to try!

    • theraggededge profile image
      Author

      Bev 4 years ago from Wales

      Thank you so much, AliciaC. And thanks for the photo suggestion - you fixed my white space too! I really hope you do try rock painting - it's oddly satisfying :-)

    • tanyasays76 profile image

      tanyasays76 4 years ago

      You are incredibly detailed and inspiring! I am a sketch artist and I pick up those acrylics for craft work, but I have never tried to paint on a rock surface! I just never thought about it. I am so glad your hub came along. Thank you. I will give this a go. It looks like a tedious bit of fun ;).

    • theraggededge profile image
      Author

      Bev 4 years ago from Wales

      LOL! That's it exactly, tanya! It's quite exciting at the beginning when I look at the mess I made of a completely satisfactory rock and wonder if I should start scrubbing off the paint before it gets any worse :D

    • Joy56 profile image

      Joy56 4 years ago

      I would love to think i could do this, but your cat is soooooo good it looks alive.... It will take so much practice for me.

    • theraggededge profile image
      Author

      Bev 4 years ago from Wales

      Nooo... it's not difficult if you do it one step at a time. There are so many tutorials on YouTube to paint eyes, fur and the rest, you'd soon pick it up.

    • Sujeet Baro profile image

      sujeet baro 4 years ago from Guwahati, India

      nice real one in stand and creative to.......

    • wilderness profile image

      Dan Harmon 4 years ago from Boise, Idaho

      This is really neat! I love oil painting, and have painted several saw blades, but never a rock. I've got some acrylics - maybe it's time to break them out and paint a rock. I've even got a cat for reference pictures!

    • theraggededge profile image
      Author

      Bev 4 years ago from Wales

      Oh.. wilderness, I have heard of saw blade painting! Have you made a hub on it yet? You get that cat of yours to sit still for an hour or three and you will be painting rocks like the devil! Thanks for dropping by xx

    • Janis Goad profile image

      Janis Goad 4 years ago

      I am a bit of a dud at painting, but I love cats. I might even give this a try one day!

    • theraggededge profile image
      Author

      Bev 4 years ago from Wales

      It's easier than it seems, Janis. Thanks for reading :-)

    • Gypsy Willow profile image

      Gypsy Willow 4 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand

      Very inspiring! I have lost several pets through my lifetime. I am going to try to recapture their personalities by this method. Thank you!

    • theraggededge profile image
      Author

      Bev 4 years ago from Wales

      Gypsy Willow, that's a lovely idea!

    • drosostalitsa profile image

      drosostalitsa 4 years ago from Greece

      Awesome! I love cats.

    • 4wardthinker profile image

      4wardthinker 4 years ago from Sierra Nevada CA

      Wow! Very clever. Who needs paper or a canvas board? This just goes to show you that everything is a canvas for art.

    • theraggededge profile image
      Author

      Bev 4 years ago from Wales

      That's right - I'm going to start on my children next! Thank you!

    • 4wardthinker profile image

      4wardthinker 4 years ago from Sierra Nevada CA

      So funny. Thanks for the laugh! I can almost see the paint brush in hand, and hear the gears a-turning as your saying, "Wait! It will only take a second."

    • profile image

      dreamseeker2 4 years ago

      Awesome! Beautifully done. It has to take talent and patience to make it turn out so well. Found your hub interesting and useful! : ) Thanks for the share.

    • theraggededge profile image
      Author

      Bev 4 years ago from Wales

      Thanks, dreamseeker2. Patience, definitely... talent, well I think anyone could do it with practice :)

    • TamaD profile image

      Tama DeBoer 2 years ago from Wayne, New Jersey

      Very interesting. you make it look easy. Beautiful job.

    • theraggededge profile image
      Author

      Bev 2 years ago from Wales

      Much appreciated, TamaD.

    • Linda BookLady profile image

      Linda Jo Martin 2 years ago from Post Falls, Idaho, USA

      I'm getting into rock painting, but nowhere near your level of expertise yet. I love your cat rock!!

    • theraggededge profile image
      Author

      Bev 2 years ago from Wales

      Keep practicing, Linda. It's a craft, rather than an art. Have fun!

    • chezchazz profile image

      Chazz 2 years ago from New York

      Beautiful work!

    • theraggededge profile image
      Author

      Bev 2 years ago from Wales

      Thanks, Chazz xxx

    • FatBoyThin profile image

      Colin Garrow 2 years ago from Kinneff, Scotland

      Fantastic artwork - I'll have to have a go at this. Great Hub.

    • theraggededge profile image
      Author

      Bev 2 years ago from Wales

      Many thanks!

    • CherylsArt profile image

      Cheryl Paton 2 years ago from West Virginia

      I think so. I've painted cat portraits before, but not on rocks, at least as of yet. I'm looking forward to giving it a go. Thanks for the tips.

    • rebeccamealey profile image

      Rebecca Mealey 2 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      Rock painting could be fun for all ages. Thanks for sharing!

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 2 years ago from East Coast, United States

      I remember seeing these a few years ago in a little shop. The also had a fox and a hedgehog. I thought it was so cute. But yours is awesome. Many of us will try this at home. It will be an exercise in frustration if we want them to look like yours. But you make it look so simple.

    • theraggededge profile image
      Author

      Bev 2 years ago from Wales

      Thank you, Cheryl, Rebecca and Delores. Lovely to see you here. Glad you like the cat rock.

      Cheryl, I think it is easier to paint them in three dimensions. If you can paint cats already then these will be a breeze.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 2 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Good step by step photos. This caught my eye but for sad reasons. We had to have our cat Dusty euthanized yesterday. He was in congestive heart failure and his quality of life was at an end. We did not want him to suffer. We are grieving his loss today. He was such a great cat and had coloring much like the one on your rock only with blue eyes.

    • CherylsArt profile image

      Cheryl Paton 2 years ago from West Virginia

      Thank you Bev (theraggededge). It sounds like fun, maybe I'll stop by Lowes today and buy some rocks. : )

    • theraggededge profile image
      Author

      Bev 2 years ago from Wales

      So sorry, Peggy. Very sad, but you did the right thing - always the ultimate decision that we have to make for our loved pets. {{{Hugs}}}

    • profile image

      Sakina Nasir 6 months ago

      Awesome hub! Love your talent. This is amazing. It looks so real! ☺ I love it. You're so cool!

    • theraggededge profile image
      Author

      Bev 6 months ago from Wales

      Thanks, Sakina. I have that little cat rock sitting right here :)

    • profile image

      nortonsam 2 months ago

      Very nice! I have just started doing this, but DID get discouraged. Now I will stick with it in hopes of refining my work. Some of the rocks I did look great but others amateur. Takes patience and sticking with it like you said! Diane

    • theraggededge profile image
      Author

      Bev 2 months ago from Wales

      Hi Diane, yes, there is definitely an ugly stage, but I think all art goes through that stage. Keep going, you might surprise yourself. Thanks for your comment.

    • profile image

      Alexis 6 weeks ago

      So talented! Will have a go.

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