Suri and His Feline Painterly Portrait on Paper.

Reference photo for Suri by Andreia Oliveira at
Reference photo by Andreia Oliveira at

A few weeks ago, I published Frankie, a Pug, painted using an expressive, broader stroke technique, in other words, a more “painterly” style.

I continue to practice using this more painterly approach with a feline portrait, Suri, a name suggested by my sister, Gayle (thanks ?).

The copyright-free reference photo is taken by Andreia Oliveira at

Why use a painterly style?

The broad strokes suggest or imply rather than show minute details.

There have always been painters who love the look of a brush stroke and who, as a result, are willing to sacrifice “accuracy” for the sake of suggestion and implication. It’s the age-old struggle between those who define and those who seek the fleeting impression.

For a while, I have attempted to achieve the “fleeting impression” and be less detail oriented. I have always loved the loose, visible brush strokes I have seen in paintings by other artists who are successful with this method.

With time and practice, I am learning the importance of adding just the right strokes of paint exactly where they are needed to communicate the most important information to the viewer. I mean, is it really necessary to see every piece of fur, every whisker? Some artists strive for this realism and while I enjoy seeing their work I am appreciating painting my portraits with fewer details. I think you will agree that the painted image does resemble the photograph even without any added details. Do leave a comment below with your thoughts…(all comments are approved by me before they are published).

Suri feline portrait.
Suri on 9 x 12 watercolour paper.

How to achieve looser strokes in a portrait.

The most obvious way to achieve this approach I have learned is to delete and edit. What I mean by that is avoid painting every strand of hair or fur. You can see with Suri that the broad strokes suggest the long, fluffy hair.

Feline portrait value check.
Suri’s portrait. Checking values.

Importance of values.

In addition, I am using somewhat unexpected colours. There are blues, purples, pinks, yellows…not usually colours you would think of when painting a cat. But it all works as long as the values (light and dark on a scale from black to white) are correct.

Squinting is a great way to see the subject in terms of values and shapes. Again, it’s the idea of seeing the forest rather than the trees. Where do I see the lightest lights?  The darkest darks?  Where are the mid-range colours? I notice that I could have lightened the background on the left side quite a bit more…but I chose not to because I liked it the way it was.

In expressive art, the artist is attempting to capture only the important information and leave the rest.

More techniques for painterly, expressive art.

Some artists will paint with their non-dominant hand or use a different type of brush, usually a larger brush or a palette knife, or allow drips to occur here and there. I did not try these techniques with this portrait although I have used these methods in floral work.

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Lastly, this portrait is started very fast with quick washes of paint to establish values. I really like this method that creates a path or template to follow in the next steps of the process.

As the painting progresses, I cannot help but add a few of the fine details that to me, are needed to make the animal truly unique. Only toward the end of the painting is the process slowed to allow for some fine brush work such as in the eyes, “fixing” some of the stripes in the fur, adding the whiskers, the gleam in the eye.

With this new way of painting, I have lots to learn yet and more hours of practice. Many more hours! But who knows where this will lead me?  That’s the fun of all the experiments and learning.

I would love to hear what you think! What have you been learning this new year? Leave a message below or contact me.

One breath at a time, one painting at a time!



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