Bird Watching

My brother-in-law recently asked if I would do a painting for him to give to my sister as a wedding anniversary gift. "She loves to watch the cats watching the birds," he said. He wanted me to do a painting that would include a cat watching birds.

I said I'd be happy to.

I'll try to paint pretty much anything (except portraits). I was a little concerned with how I would paint a cat in the style of the birds I paint. Or should I just change the way I paint birds altogether and make this painting different from any other bird painting I've done. How would I simplify the cat?

It took me about two weeks to come up with a design that I was willing to try. I found a photo of a cat looking up. The shape was simple enough that -- if I stripped away all the detail -- it still looked like a cat. I re-drew the cat without the texture of the fur. Should I include whiskers? Should I include an eye? A tail? The mouth? How could I paint this cat with just enough detail to convey a curious cat, without too much detail that would make it look out of place with the painted birds?

After a few sketches, I was pleased with a rough draft. I chose a canvas that was very vertical. The space between the cat and the birds was nearly as important as the birds and the cat. The space between the cat and birds represents tension and safety. The only way I could have that space was with a canvas that was this vertical.

I placed the birds. I wanted one bird to be watching the cat. There's a clear bit of communication going on between this bird and the cat. Curiosity at both ends. It's a good relationship.

The last detail I added was the mouth to the cat. I went back and forth on whether I should add it. Eventually, I drew the mouth on a white piece of paper and taped it onto the cat (which was dry). I asked Kimberly which she liked better.

Ultimately, we both decided the mouth was just enough detail. I'm so pleased with how this painting turned out. I admit dreading it a bit, but I really couldn't be happier with it. And I'm so glad it's going to my sister.


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