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Painting Cats: Whiskers
Tips for painting accurate whiskers on a cat.

Tips for painting accurate whiskers on a cat.

Image: © Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc

A crucial element in a great cat portrait -- in addition to painting a cat’s fur in the right direction -- is having accurate whiskers. Painting whiskers on a cat is not simply a question of painting a bunch of thin curvy lines coming out of the face near the mouth. Cats can have whiskers in four places: in rows alongside the mouth, in a group above the inner corner of the eye, in a small group on the cheek, and a few long bristles below the lower jaw. Each whisker grows out by itself; they don’t start at the same point.

There are four rows of whiskers on either side of the mouth. The whiskers are arranged like bricks in a wall, i.e. they alternate and directly above each other. You can see this on the photo of Slinky below, but in the photo of Juan it’s hard to see what's going on where his face is white. This is a classic example of where a reference photo wouldn’t be enough and I’d need to spend some time looking closely at Juan and making notes before I painted him.

Remember to count how many whiskers there are and look at the length of each whisker -- they’re not all automatically the same length as they fall out and new ones grow. A cat’s whiskers are also not the same thickness from base to tip -- they taper.

Tips for Painting Whiskers:

  • Use a rigger brush for painting a cat’s whiskers -- it’s a thin, long brush ideal for painting lines.
  • Instead of painting a line, scrape in a line into the wet paint using the back of a brush, a fingernail, or sharp corner of a painting knife (a painting technique know as sgraffito).
  • If you’re using watercolor and want white whiskers, consider masking these out with masking fluid or frisket before you start painting.

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