In this demonstration I’m going to show you step by step of painting a cat in watercolour with DANIEL SMITH watercolour professional paints. I’ve selected my really important steps which are how I build every painting.

Why a cat? – I love painting animals in general. Basically all that we call “nature” inspires me a lot. But cats…. I feel something really special about them. Moreover, I think that in some way watercolour – the media I love so much – is the “cat” among other art materials. Cats are never “predictable”, a cat always does whatever he wants….

The same about watercolour: even when we think – that’s it! I know everything about it! – it still surprises! And to tell you the truth – I love it! I do wish to get surprises on my paper, I do wish to be friends with watercolor, but I appreciate its nature and want to do everything I can to show this on my watercolor paper. So, cats…I live in an area with a lot of homeless cats and one of them now lives in my house. I have an opportunity to see them, to look at them, to take pictures in all kinds of situations. I often use those pictures for my paintings. 

I think, when we paint any subject, we have to feel a “closeness’ to this subject. When I paint cats from those “captured moments”, I don’t paint just a cat, I paint the “moment” I saw in the situation, I paint the feelings and the strong connection between me and that “moment”.

In this painting the moment I talk (paint) about is a sunny morning and one of the “brutal men” in a stray cat tribe (he is supposed to be white, but those times are in the past) is going to find the place for good morning nap. On the lower right, is a small beetle going the other direction, it stops for a moment to wait till this “man” has passed….

Step-1, Reference photo, value sketch and pencil sketch on watercolor paper. Sophia Rodionov
Step 1. Reference photo, value sketch and pencil sketch on watercolor paper.

Step 1  

I start with the picture I have and print it for comfortable usage. This is not really a quality printed photo, but I don’t care – everything about colors and light I have in my mind. The photo is just a memento to remember the feeling and to catch the pose in right proportions. I use my sketchbook and make a small value and composition study with pencil. Then, I make the rudimentary pencil drawing on a watercolour paper cold press 140lb. 


Step 2, first watercolor washes, Sophia Rodionov.
Step 2. First watercolor washes.

Step 2

First wash to define warm and cool spaces, as well as the main drop shadow which is part of my composition. Here I use a “warm mix” from the palette (usually these are mixes of Quinacridone Burnt Orange, Nickel Azo Yellow, Monte Amiata Natural Sienna) and in some places adding Lunar Earth to get the granulation. My light “cool mix” is usually Cerulean Blue, Phthalo Turquoise, French Ultramarine and Sepia in different proportions. Here I add granulating Lunar Blue to the background. For the cat’s shadow I use Moonglow, Verditer Blue and Quinacridone Burnt Orange). 

DANIEL SMITH Watercolors. Nickel Azo Yellow, Monte Amiata Natural Sienna, Quinacridone Burnt Orange, and Lunar Earth for mixing warm wash colors. Lunar Blue for the background and Moonglow for the cat's shadow. Sophia Rodionov.
Colors. Nickel Azo Yellow, Monte Amiata Natural Sienna, Quinacridone Burnt Orange, and Lunar Earth for mixing warm wash colors. Lunar Blue for the background and Moonglow for the cat’s shadow.


Step 3, adding values to the cat's figure to build the form. Sophia Rodionov.
Step 3. Adding values to the cat’s figure to build the form.

Step 3

Continuing with the washes, I start to add values to the cat’s figure to define the pose and to build the form. I use the same colors as in the background, just adding a bit of Quinacridone Coral to the ears. I wet the paper with clear water using a hake brush before applying the colors and spraying the water if I see any hard edges that I don’t want. If I need to put a more defined mark with the brush, I blot water from the brush and take up more pigment with it. This way even when the surface is wet, we have more control of making marks. For the tail, I use watercolour’s wonderful nature, when working wet onto wet paper, to get this spreading mark. 

Step 4, adding darker values to the shadows on the cat and the shadow beneath it. Sophia Rodionov.
Step 4. Adding darker values to the shadows on the cat and the shadow beneath it.

Step 4

Here I continue to add value to the shadows on the cat and the shadow beneath it as well as adding more details to the cat. I don’t wait for the paper to dry completely, I just continue with the process: some places dry, some are still wet and I get various brush marks naturally with little effort. This is important, to have soft edges and strong edges one near another among the whole painting. Also, I always think about cool and warm colors and keep them in mind while painting. Cool colors near the warm colors make the painting more natural and connected to reality, even when you are not “ a real realist artist”.  For the darkest places, I love to use the mix of Sepia, Phthalo Turquoise and Verditer Blue with Deep Scarlet which is one of my favourite dark mixes.

Watercolor mix of Sepia, Phthalo Turquoise and Verditer Blue with Deep Scarlet which is one of my favourite dark mixes. Sophia Rodionov.
Colors. Mixes of Sepia, Phthalo Turquoise and Verditer Blue with Deep Scarlet is one of my favourite dark mixes.
Step 5. The most fun step, creating the textures in a background.

Step 5

The most fun step – creating the textures in a background. Here I use all the same colors I already have on a palette, especially Lunar Blue and Lunar Earth, because I need their granulating ability for textural effects. Here there are no rules: I use a dry flat brush, splatter colors, spray water, lifting marks with paper towel – everything I could think of. But trying to stop in time before making the painting overworked or too dark in value. 

Step 6, checking the background values. Sophia Rodionov.
Step 6. Checking the background values.

Step 6

Here I check the value of the background and make a decision to add a bit more darker value in the lower right corner. Usually I take a break for a cup of coffee and then come back to the painting to look at the painting with more fresh eyes. This time I saw that some more value was needed and used a mix of Deep Scarlet and Verditer Blue, I love this kind of “silver gray” I get in this mix. 

Step 7, adding the final details. Sophia Rodionov.
Step 7. Adding the final details.

Step 7

The final details – I add some graphic lines with liner brush using the same dark mix I already have, and a most important character the painting – the beetle! Sometimes those graphic lines add a lot to the painting, but we should be careful not to make too much of them. And don’t forget to sign the painting! 

Finished painting by Sophie Rodionov.
“Other Way” by Sophie Rodionov

Finished painting, “Other Way”, 15″ x 20″, by Sophie Rodionov

Sophie Rodionov's palette of DANIEL SMITH Watercolors.
Sophie Rodionov’s palette of DANIEL SMITH Watercolors.

Why I choose DANIEL SMITH Watercolors

I love the DANIEL SMITH colors and have used these paints for years. For me DANIEL SMITH is the natural choice because they have a really wide range of colors and not only the basic, traditional colors which could be found in any brand. I often talk about PrimaTek Watercolors made from real minerals, the different interesting colors, many with granulating effects and how some, like Moonglow, separate into several colors when applied in wet washes. 


My basic palette has only DANIEL SMITH colors:

Beside those, I use some other colors depending on the subject:

I’m an artist who loves different textures, I fell in love with the Lunar colors – Lunar Earth, Lunar Blue, Lunar Black and Lunar Violet. In the demonstration of the cat painting I used two of them: Lunar Earth and Lunar Blue. I think they are like a gem in this painting, without them, it wouldn’t have the “magic” it has now. The effects of granulation can be used not only as background texture, but for the animals as well. I paint a lot of pet portraits and the Lunar Black turned to be one of the “must have” on my palette, and all my collectors have loved that effect in their animal paintings. So, I could definitely say that particular part of my painting style wouldn’t be possible without DANIEL SMITH Watercolour paints. And I would like to thank DANIEL SMITH for this.

Photo of artist Sophia Rodionov

About 

Sophie Rodionov is an Estonian-born artist now living in Israel. Since 2013 she has been working as a full-time, self-employed artist, designer and illustrator with a range of art collectors, fashion and textile designers, brands and interior designers. Member of International Watercolor Society from 2017.

Her current work is a balance between abstract shapes and realistic forms, which shift between and create a layered world of captured moments. Sophie finds inspiration in every moment of life and trying to show that each moment deserves to be shown and has its’ own unrepeatable beauty.

Her works are held in private collections of over the world, including United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, Italy, Japan, Taiwan, Germany, Netherlands and others. Sophie works with numerous top-brands and creates illustration designs for products for companies such as Papyrus, Metal Frame Works, Wendover Art Group and others.

Sophie enjoys helping social, un-commercial projects with her art. Among these projects are a BBC interior design show for people with disabilities, an auction for an animal rescue farm in California, an auction for a ballet school, wall art for the cat clinic at Wisconsin University and so on.

Sophie has a background as a glass artist and holds a degree in Bachelor of Fine Arts from Haifa University.

Currently she is based in Israel and finds inspiration all around, she is available for art travel opportunities teaching art classes and workshops.

Kora, watercolor painting by Sophie Rodionov
“Kora” by Sophie Rodionov
Buddies, watercolor painting by Sophie Rodionov
“Buddies” by Sophie Rodionov
Eyes and Feathers, watercolor painting by Sophie Rodionov
“Eyes and Feathers”, 16×20, by Sophie Rodionov
Sophie Rodionov signing her finished watercolor painting.
Sophie Rodionov signing her finished watercolor painting.