How to Draw a Cat in Graphite Pencil

My Cat Joey, Drawn in Pencil by Helen South, Guide to Drawing and Sketching

Helen South, Guide to Drawing and Sketching

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How to Draw a Cat

A good cat drawing reference image
A clear, well lit, well posed photoraph of a cat. F Syufy, licensed to, Inc.

Learn how to draw a cat in graphite pencil, following this easy tutorial.

What You Will Need: Good quality drawing paper (I used lightweight hot pressed watercolor paper), a range of pencils (F, B, 2B, 4B, 6B), paper stump, eraser, blu-tack (removable poster adhesive) or kneadable eraser.

First, select a photograph to use as a reference for drawing your cat. Choose a photograph of your cat that is well-lit, with good visible fur texture and no areas that are hard to see - you don't want to have to guess what shape the ear should be - and a good pose. Elongated or awkward poses are hard to make into a convincing drawing, especially from a photograph. Ideally, the picture should be taken at cat's eye-level.

This is a photo of Joey, who belongs to Franny Syufy. Franny initially provided me with a higher resolution image to work from, but this smaller version still gives you an idea of the sort of quality required.

NB: This tutorial and images are copyright and are for viewing only. Do not publish this tutorial in whole or part on your blog or web page as to do so constitutes a breach of copyright and may incur legal action.

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Tracing the Cat's Photograph

tracing guidelines from the photograph
Tracing the cat's outlines from the photograph. H South, licensed to, Inc.

The focus of this cat drawing tutorial isn't on structural drawing techniques but rather on developing tone, texture, and detail. To make life easier, start off by tracing the photo. If you are confident, go ahead and draw freehand using this example as a guide.

Scan and print, or photocopy your cat photo (or use tracing paper to make a preliminary tracing), then lightly trace the key points of your image. Take particular care with the ears, eyes, and whiskers, and draw as lightly as possible, especially when the outlined area will be white. The idea at this point isn't to make a line drawing of the cat, but to give yourself key reference points - you can easily 'join the dots' freehand. You're looking for edges but more importantly, key changes of tone.

Note that the actual drawing must be very light - this is shown darker so that it will show on-screen.

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Begin Shading

Beginning shading.
H South, licensed to, Inc.

The next step is to begin shading the drawing. Start shading the darkest areas first. Take your time when working towards detailed areas. The scan of this drawing has emphasized the pencil marks. For this style of drawing, your aim is to minimize the pencil marks and work patiently and smoothly through flat areas.

Remember that you aren't drawing lines to show detail, but shading AREAS of light or dark tone in the same place that they are in the photograph.

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Shading Mid Tones in the Fur

H South, licensed to, Inc.

Using a B pencil, begin shading the mid-toned areas. Use a blending stump instead of your fingers to carefully smudge over and even out the shading. Where you have light fur against dark, use short strokes going against the direction of fur growth, leaving tiny spaces between the pencil marks for the light fur.

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Developing Dark Values

Because there are large, dark areas, at this point some shading is boldly added to the cat's body and background. A fair bit of time is taken to define the whiskers, and carefully observe the shapes of the marks on the face. A little more shading is added to the eye, taking care to preserve the paper white highlight.

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Adding Detail

H South, licensed to, Inc.

Close observation and patience are needed to carefully add the details of facial features and fur, such as dark whisker spots, the nose, and the mouth. In this example, the cat's mouth is very subtle, drawn by short upward strokes, as the top lip is defined only by white hairs and the shadow on the lower jaw. Note the smooth shading that is drawn as a base for the darker fur texture that will be added next.

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Fur Details

H South, licensed to, Inc.

This example shows the short pencil marks, narrowing as the pencil is lifted towards the end of the mark to give a fur texture. Where the fur is very short and thick, very short marks and dots can be used to build up the texture.

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The Completed Cat Portrait Drawing

The completed cat drawing
The completed cat drawing. F Syufy/H South, licensed to, Inc.

The completed cat portrait. A great deal more graphite has been added to darken the background, using a 7b pencil using small circular strokes to build up a dense fill. Short pencil strokes against the direction of fur growth have been used to build up fur texture, smoothed along the direction of the pencil marks with a blending stump to reduce the paper texture. You need to use quite a bit of patience to do the detail close to the whiskers.

  • Take your time. This drawing took several hours.
  • Keep your pencils sharp.
  • If looking at the whole picture is too daunting, try doing a small area at a time.
  • Make sure you get your darks dark enough - don't be wishy-washy.