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How to Paint a Dapper Victorian Cat in Adobe Photoshop

Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

Digital artists have the unique ability to travel back in time by tapping into the styles and techniques of other periods. In today's tutorial I'll show you how to create a fun, dapper cat, inspired by the beautiful portrait paintings of the Victorian era. My tools of choice will be Adobe Photoshop CS6 and a Wacom Intuos Pen Tablet. Let's begin!

Tutorial Assets

The following assets were used in the production of this tutorial:

Brainstorming: The Victorian Era

Cats, plus moustaches and suits, always equals a very fun painting! But I had no clue when I began this project that the idea of humanizing animals is so popular throughout art history that it even has its own name.

According to Wikipedia, Anthropomorphism (dare you to say that five times fast), is the "attribution of human form or other characteristics to anything other than a human being."

Many storytellers have used tales of animals that speak and wear human clothes since the beginning of time.

Victorian Elements

For digital artists, replicating traditional styles like acrylic and oil paintings is actually quite fun. And to get a better grasp of the Victorian era of painting, I studied many images from Google to pick up the commonalities in technique and form.

Here are some things I noticed that I could apply to my painting:

  • The subject was often positioned in front of landscape scenery or curtain drapery. 
  • Subjects also were positioned at an angle facing slightly off from center view.
  • Rich colors dark in tone were always used (reds, browns, and black).
  • Paintings were realistic, but used choppy brush strokes for details.
  • There was a huge focus on dramatic lighting, with lots of shadow enveloping the subject.
  • Museums and owners often use ornate gold frames to frame these works.

Once I had enough information, I could move on to researching the clothes to dress my cat!

1. Sketch the Victorian Cat

Step 1

I stumbled across this really great Pinterest post dedicated to Anthropomorphism and used it as a huge inspiration for this piece. Tumblr was also a great avenue for gathering references, since many people already dedicated their pages to Victorian fashion.

Creating a New Document in Adobe Photoshop I used the following settings for this painting:

  • Dimensions: 8.5 x 11 inches
  • Resolution: 300 dpi

Step 2

To start dressing my cat, I first made a very rough trace of this PhotoDune reference using a Standard Round Brush (B).

Trace the Cat Reference

Step 3

Keeping all the references I gathered in mind, I dedicated new layers to sketching three different outfits to choose from. 

Sketch Outfits for the Cat

Step 4

After looking through my choices, I thought that combining certain outfit details might make for a really great piece. With this in mind, I created a much cleaner version of my original sketch, adding extra details like the monocle eyepiece to further tell the Victorian story. 

Clean Up the Cat Sketch

Step 5

So as not to over-complicate this piece, I decided that a very simple oval frame would suffice. Using the Ellipse Tool (U) I created one long oval for the frame, and then Duplicated it, resizing the second oval into place. 

Use the Ellipse Tool to Create the Frame

Next I simply position the cat into the frame by hitting Control-T to select the Free Transform Tool. Hold Shift while resizing to maintain the shape of the cat. 

Resize the Cat to Fit Inside the Frame

2. Create a Grayscale Base

Starting a painting on a white background can be very intimidating, so I created two new layers to set my basic tonal values. 

I filled the background layer with a light gray color using the Paint Bucket Tool (G).

Fill the Background with a Light Gray Color

Then I used a Hard Round Brush to fill the portrait and frame with a darker gray.

Fill the Painting Area with a Dark Gray

3. Paint the Base Colors

Step 1

Control-Shift-N to create a New Layer and set it as a Clipping Mask to the gray circle. This will help keep everything you paint within the guideline of that circle. Select a Textured Brush from the Brush panel to begin painting the base colors. 

Paint the Base Colors on a Clipping Mask

Paint the base colors for the head and outfit, referring to your original references for color inspiration. 

Step 2

Set a new layer to Multiply. Pick a dark brown color to begin painting in some deep shadows similar to the style of old Victorian paintings.

Paint Shadows on a Layer Set to Multiply

4. Build Textures, Light, and Shadow

Step 1

To convey realism with any piece, it's important to paint above the sketch layer. Start painting above your sketch, making sure to carve out the structure of the cat's face and outfit. Pay special attention to the original cat reference in order to understand the natural flow of hair.

Paint Above the Sketch Layer

Step 2

Add a New Adjustment Layer for Hue and Saturation and set it as a Clipping Mask to the gray circle, as in our previous steps. Adjust the Lightness to -70 so that we can establish more contrast between the cat and the background.

Add a Hue and Saturation Adjustment Layer

Step 3

Painting with Layer Blend Modes allows us to adjust the colors without ruining our work. Here I used a layer set to Overlay to brighten up the piece a little, by painting with a warm yellow color.

Add an Overlay Layer to Brighten Up the Painting

Step 4

Experimenting can lead to many surprises! Adding an additional light source will help to make this painting really pop, so I use a mixture of Hard and Soft Round Brushes to paint where the color catches the cat.

Add an Additional Light Source

5. Paint the Background Curtain

By keeping the different components of this painting on separate layers, we can easily add background elements like a red curtain. First, I add a new Clipping Mask to our portrait circle and position it underneath the cat layer. Then I use a Hard Round Brush to begin painting a red curtain reminiscent of typical Victorian pieces. 

Paint the Background Curtain

To finish the curtain I switch over to a Grunge Brush to add texture as well as the finishing touches.

Finish the Background Curtain

6. Further Develop the Fur and Outfit

Step 1

Now it's time to make this painting come to life! Build the texture of the fur by using short strokes in the direction the hair flows. Use a Hard Round Brush to establish the overall texture, and then transition to a Soft Round Brush to create an airier feel.

Paint the Fur with Hard and Soft Brushes

Step 2

Set a layer to Multiply to deepen the shadows of the overall piece. Then set another layer to Overlay using the color white to light our subject for added contrast against the dark background.

Deepen and Brighten Colors with Multiply and Overlay Layers

Step 3

In order to paint fur realistically, you'll have to paint several layers of shadows, mid tones, and highlights to establish the appropriate body and movement. Vary your stroke length and try not to hack at the fur or else it'll create an unnatural effect. 

Continue Painting the Fur Until it looks Realistic

7. Use Adjustment Layers to Intensify Colors

I can never finish a painting without an Adjustment Layer or two. Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Levels and adjust the Shadows, Mid tones, and Highlights Input Levels to continue punching out that contrast.

Add a New Adjustment Layer for Levels

Add another New Adjustment Layer for Color Balance, adjusting the Midtones and Highlights to bring out the bluer hues.

Add a New Adjustment Layer for Color Balance

8. Paint the Frame and Background

Step 1

Let's move on to the frame and background. Use the Ellipse Tool (U) with a fill of white to create an oval shape on top of the sketched frame. 

Use the Ellipse Tool to Create the Oval Frame

Step 2

Right-click and select Blending Options. Add a Drop Shadow and Inner Shadow.

Add a Drop Shadow and Inner Shadow to the Frame

Step 3

Add new layers and set them to Clipping Masks for the shadows, color, and texture of the frame. Keeping these all on separate clipping masks will allow you to paint without worrying about going outside the lines. 

Create Clipping Masks for the Color Texture and Shadows

Use a deep red color as the base of the frame, and apply a bright gold texture on top of it with a Grunge Brush

Here is the final frame.

Final Frame for the Painting

Step 4

Time for the background color. Fill a New Layer with dark blue and set it as a Clipping Mask to the gray background. You can fill the gray layer itself, but I always like to keep my options open by creating new layers that are easily adjustable.

Color the Background Blue

9. Create a Damask Pattern

Step 1

Let's hang this Victorian painting on the wall with an easy Damask Pattern. Sketch the outline of a custom damask design on a New Document in Photoshop. Fill the design with black using a Hard Round Brush.

Sketch a Custom Damask Design in Photoshop and Fill it

Step 2

Duplicate this design several times, positioning the duplicates into place using the Free Transform Tool (Control-T). Merge the layers. When you're finished, use the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) to select the design and go to Edit > Define Brush Preset to create your own damask brush. 

Create a Custom Damask Design Brush

Step 3

Use your custom damask brush to carefully stamp the brush on one half of the wall. Duplicate and Flip (Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontal) the layer to complete the background. When you're finished, set the layer to Vivid Light and bring down the Opacity to 12%.

Create a Damask Pattern Background

Add a simple Vignette effect by Filling a New Layer with black and Erasing the center with the Eraser Tool (E). Set the layer to Soft Light and bring down the Opacity to 80%.

Add a Vignette Effect to the Background

10. Finishing Details

Time to finish this painting! Using the Brush Tool (B), take a Hard Round Brush with high Opacity (50-100%) and finish cleaning up the painting. During this stage I mostly focus on making sure that details are well defined and not too blurry.

Don't forget details like whiskers, the gold chain for the monocle eyepiece, and the vest buttons. And of course, add additional hairs affected by that colorful light source!

Clean Up the Painting and Finish Details

Your Dapper Cat Is All Done!

I hope you've enjoyed following the process for this fun digital painting. You can learn many techniques to improve your art by researching traditional styles and attempting them in Photoshop. Good luck! And feel free to help me come up with a name for my dapper cat in the comments! 

Final Result for Painting a Dapper Cat in Photoshop

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