I've been creating and teaching art for several years and love helping new artists grow and find their own voice.
A Guide to Cat Profile Drawing
When you draw a cat from life, it's important to watch for a time when your cat is sitting still and relaxing. Don't make sudden movements to disturb him. Look at him, sketch, glance back and keep drawing fast because the cat may move at any time.
This is why it's so important to block in the shapes accurately first. Those few moments of blocking-in may be the only chance you get to capture the cat in exactly that pose. Cats can be fiendish about waiting until you need to look, then rolling over to wash their butt or yawning or turning their backs, laughing at you.
So if you see your cat staring at something interesting, like the kids playing in the hallway, you may get in a quick sketch to get the pose before the cat notices what you're doing. This time, Ari happened to be a good model and stayed in that head-up, profile position through the entire drawing.
I'd like to thank him here for that rare opportunity.
If you don't have a cat willing to cooperate, try snapping his or her photo fast with your phone camera before the cat can react fast enough to move. Taking lots of kitty pics will give you unmoving references that make it a lot easier.
So let's start with the first stage—blocking in. Don't take too long; just look at the cat as a series of geometric shapes with volume and sketch those in like you were doing her as a cartoon. My cat is Siamese, so in this tutorial, we'll be doing a Siamese.
Step 1. Blocking in
The way to sketch something reasonably fast and accurate is to sketch it as a series of loose shapes, more or less accurate geometrical shapes that are the right size in relation to each other.
There are a lot of reasons to do this.
One of them is that if you got the muzzle too big for the head or placed the ear triangle wrong, it's a lot easier to erase that bit and do it over than if you got in every detail of a perfect cat ear and only then realized it was too small or large or placed funny. This sketch only takes a few moments if you don't hesitate. Try it several times over.
Try it from life, looking at a live cat that's looking at something across the way in profile. Try it from a photo of a cat in profile or by copying my sketch. Sketch cats quickly to produce "gesture drawings" so that you start getting familiar with their facial proportions in relation to themselves.
Their ears are on top, not the sides of their heads. Their muzzles are short but distinct. You don't have to place the eye on the cat profile yet; this is just ears, head, muzzle. The more often you do this sketch accurately, the easier it'll be to do good cat drawings.
When you get a good one, slide it under your drawing paper, and you won't even have to erase the sketch lines. Just look at them through the paper, and there you go! You can strengthen the sketch with a Sharpie for that trick to make the lines show better as a guide.
I'm still trying to come up with good ways to avoid having to erase out construction lines. Doing them on another bit of paper—it doesn't even have to be good paper—then sliding it under your drawing paper is one of the easiest and most obvious. You can also use a light table if your drawing paper is thick.
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It won't work too well for an illustration board, but anything else, it'll work with a light table.
Step 2. Refining the Outlines
Step 2 already looks like a cat profile drawing. Working over the loose geometric shapes, I was able to keep checking the real cat because he held the position. If you have a cat photo, take all the time you need to study the line of the edge of the cat's head and ears.
Place the cat's visible eye on its face. Notice that this is not an oval pointed at both ends or a circle. From the side, a cat's eye looks much like a human's eye from the side, except that on a cat, the white doesn't show at all.
That vertical curved line in the front also sometimes shows clear right through it if you're drawing the cat in great refined detail. Don't try for anything that subtle until you're either so used to drawing cats you can do it from memory or have a good photo to work from.
We'll just keep his eye pointed in the same direction as his ears and place it where it belongs. Notice that blunt, blocky look above the eye where his head seems to flatten and then jump down? Part of that is the way the hair on a cat's head grows. The top of the head is very flat.
I sketched in the nose mostly for its side. You're seeing half an upside-down T shape with a cat nose from the side.
The ears are actually cones, not triangles. The base of the ear curls around and the top is rounded a little, but still generally pointed. It's important to get that curve where the ear meets the head; otherwise, the ear will look pasted on, unreal.
This outline is a stage that could be transferred and painted, done in colored pencils, oil pastels, pastels, any medium. I'm going to complete it as a graphite drawing. I've used a 9B graphite pencil for this demo so that the lines would be dark enough to scan well. You can use any type of pencil you have or want to, but the softer ones are easier to get good darks with and to shade with.
Copy this sketch too a few times and try developing sketches like this from your step 1 blocking-in sketches. The more often you draw cats, the easier it gets. Keep looking at the real cat or photo to refine and check what you're doing—if the cat's at a slightly different angle, draw what you see rather than what I drew.
Step 3. Shading the Cat Profile
Around the eye, I drew some other guidelines. My cat and some other Siamese that I've known have a pale line right at the edge of their eyelids. So I put guidelines especially at the front of the eye, curving it more to get that subtle half-sphere effect of looking sideways through the cornea.
Notice that I also left a little white coming out from the inside corner of the eye along the side of the nose. A dark, pointed Siamese actually has very pale skin! This will show around the tear ducts and inside corner of the eye. That little detail creates a lot of realism and helps draw attention to the cat's luminous eye.
On the face, I carefully shaded with strokes going in the direction of the fur. This is important for any animal drawing. If your pencil strokes go against the fur to fill the shape, you don't get fur texture.
On the cat's forehead, I did several layers of vertical short strokes to get the darkest part of the forehead mask in. I colored his ears black. On his muzzle, I used much shorter strokes, filling in a radiant pattern going from the nose radiating to the side and down.
I shaded with slightly curved strokes in the direction of his cheek fluffs. As you move away from the front of the muzzle, use soft, loose, expressive strokes still always in the direction of the fur. Start where a clump of fur is close to the skin, and lift the pencil as you pull toward where that clump ends.
I did a little expressive shading for the cat's shoulder since it's pulled back in an interesting way.
Look between the ears and the cat's "eyebrow" area. Notice the mask stops early, and there's a big pale patch. On most black cats and Siamese, there's an area where the fur is very thin and white or pale. You can often see right down to the skin in this spot. Keeping that pale patch in front of the ear is one of the distinctive markings that show realism on a Siamese.
There's a patch of black behind the ear at its base too. This is another little detail of realism that varies per cat, but it's usually there fading to the light area at the middle of the head and base of the neck.
When in doubt, draw what you see on your cat. This is a portrait of mine, so your cat's exact mask shape and markings may be very different.
Step 4. Filling in the Final Details
Place the whiskers carefully. Ari actually has white whiskers, but a few dark ones are good if you're working on a white background. White whiskers on black are difficult in pencil unless you swipe them in with a sharpened white vinyl eraser on smudged graphite.
A cat's eyebrows have whiskers too. Look at the lovely curve they make springing out of his skin. Ear fluffs may also stick out, depending on the angle he has his ears. Some of those are like whiskers. But the main whiskers are eyebrow whiskers and the ones on the muzzle.
I've shaded his front leg strongly, with a little pale fur showing between his toes because Ari has snowshoe feet with white tufts between his toes. Draw the paws your cat really has unless you think my cat is cute.
The fur on his chest radiates out from about the middle of his body. The fur on cat legs runs down, smooth, except on the back where it may fluff out loose. The fur on the back of the cat's head and neck flows down at an angle. On the shoulders, it flows back at a slight angle.
Always, in any animal drawing, I'll say it again, follow the direction of the hair flow.
Whether you use loose, sketching strokes as I did or draw with meticulous pen shading, it helps to be aware of the direction of the fur at all points. Draw fur as clumps and passages, don't try to do each hair. Even on whiskers, three or four stand for a dozen or two. The mind fills in the rest of them easily.
I hope you've enjoyed this cat profile tutorial. Try it at home—especially with the cat you know the best, the one that's probably shedding on your clothes right now. Ari purrs and sheds his infamous Cat Hairs of Inspiration on you!
Lesley on August 10, 2016:
Great help for me to be able to sketch a cat. For a first time attempt I was really pleased. Thank you so much.
Susan Deppner from Arkansas USA on April 19, 2015:
Ari is beautiful, or maybe I should say handsome. I love sketches like this. Wonderful job!
lj on November 28, 2012:
i like this drawing a lot it shows emotion and i cant find one like this that often i like how there is no real outline of it how it just gets it shape from shadeing
emily on October 24, 2012:
hi i have a siemese cat well.... i youst to and im only 9 yrs old and she ran away and so i told my friend a lot about her her name is reanna and she had 5 babies they were so cute so i drew this picture of her an so im going to show my friend thxs anyways p.s. i have my heart set on finding her
KLeichester on December 07, 2010:
Interesting and cute! Thanks for the post.
Kathy from The beautiful Napa Valley, California on December 02, 2010:
Olya on October 08, 2010:
What a wonderful sketch! I wish I could do that..I will sure try!!!
alexis on September 24, 2010:
how do yu do that.................
robertsloan2 (author) from San Francisco, CA on October 20, 2009:
Fosstor, no, I haven't tried using blue pencil for the first sketch because my scanner does pick up blue. It tends to make any lightest values vanish to white though. Also I don't usually have too many lines running out of the darker areas, so I just go lightly and then deepen the lines when sketching. Use what works best for you.
I can see that a blue sketch may give something a nice look though.
fossfor from Brussels on September 09, 2009:
nice hub. I have 2 Siamese cats and they make constantly fascinating and elusive subjects.
Have you tried doing the sketch stage with a blue pencil? I do this out of habit and works well for me.
robertsloan2 (author) from San Francisco, CA on August 28, 2009:
Thank you, Varonny! Give it a try. Not being good at drawing doesn't mean you couldn't become good at drawing -- it has to get broken down into its component skills to where it's fun to practice. Talent is enjoying the process enough to put up with the learning curve.
Veronica Almeida from TORONTO on August 27, 2009:
Great sketch and very good teaching techniques. Now I'm no artist or good at drwaing at all, but I sure will share this hub with my sister. She's very much into drwaing and doing all sorts of arts.
I'll pass it on, as I find it a very good tutorial. I might even try it myself, who knows? I might get the hand of it. - it would be very cool!
thank you for your hub, and take care!
robertsloan2 (author) from San Francisco, CA on August 18, 2009:
Oh good! I hope you can apply the same process to your dog. Pay attention to the muzzle shape in the blocking-in stage and when you get to doing her fur, pay attention to its texture. If it's flowing and fluffy like my cat's fur that's one thing, but if it's curly or wiry you may have to use different types of expressive strokes to get it.
Thank you so much! When you're doing portraits, you really don't need the full body. Even if it's a tiny gerbil, doing the face larger still shows your loved one's identity and unique markings well.
LOL -- would love to see her crossed with Fluffy out of Harry Potter, that'd be cute, complete with some tentacles for fun. Go for it doing the three-headed tentacled puppy!
Wayne Tully from Hull City United Kingdom on August 18, 2009:
Great cat drawing tutorial here!
I don't have a cat, but a dog we do, so I may in the future have go at drawing our dog, although sometimes I do get carried away and may give her three heads and tentacles for legs, so in other words it will start off as a dog drawing but evolve into what I mainly draw lots of...oh well the thoughts there I suppose!
It's sometimes great to inform others that they don't have to draw the full cat, as some people seem to think they have to, but as you've illustrated you don't..well done with this hub!