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  • Writer's pictureKevin Roeckl

Tanner portrait in progress - start to finish

June 2

Started a new portrait of Tanner, an orange cat, for loving owner Tammie Wolf.

First I created a detailed sketch on a very special sheet of Canson paper I’ve been saving. It is “Sepia” (color) Canson paper, but I have two sheets that are several shades lighter than Canson’s usual Sepia. I think it must have been an anomaly in the paper-making process. Canson is a company in France that has been making papers for 500 years. Canson art papers are “dyed in the pulp” which means the color is added to the wet pulp used to make the paper….before it’s even a sheet of paper. So I can’t imagine how this lighter Sepia paper happened. I have been hoarding the two sheets I have, since I will never find another like it. I’m using one of them for Tanner’s portrait - it perfectly matches the bedding colors in Tammie’s photo. And really sets off Tanner’s orange coat.

Today was my first day sitting down at my worktable on Tanner’s portrait. As always, the pencil colors I’m using are on a sheet of paper above the artwork, with swatches of those colors on the same paper I’m working on, next to them. I sacrificed a strip of this unusual paper by cutting a strip off the top of the sheet, since this will be a wide horizontal portrait. Much wider than tall. Tammie’s photo of Tanner is in front of me on the monitor.

Prismacolor pencil portrait of cat in progress in Kevin Roeckl's art studio

It was a beautiful summer day for working in the studio with the window open.

Here is the result of the first days’ work in the studio.

My concept for this portrait is to do the bedclothes very loose - big gestural pencil-strokes to indicate the lines of the folds - with Tanner’s sweet little face in tight detail. This pic is too small to see much of what I mean by “big gestural strokes”….you can see it a bit on the left edge of the artwork. You will see more of that in tomorrow’s work.

Colored pencil portrait of cat in bedding, on Canson paper, in progress


Tanner portrait in progress 2

My concept for Tanner’s portrait is to do the bedding in big, loose, gestural strokes, and Tanner’s face in tight detail. I chose this particular color of Canson paper because it’s the same color as Tammie’s bedding - a muted mauve. So it’s just a matter of adding the lights and darks of the folds, not changing the basic color at all. Tanner’s orange face will "pop" because it’s quite a different color.

The bedding is finished, and you can now see what I meant to do. The hills and valleys of the blanket in the foreground are just loose scribbles of strokes on the mauve paper to give it form.

Colored pencil portrait of a cat in bedding, on mauve Canson paper, in progress

A close-up so you can see the “big, gestural” pencil strokes. To get colored pencils to make a quarter-inch wide stroke like that, I scrub them back and forth on a scrap of rough paper to flatten the end.

Close-up detail of colored pencil portrait of a cat in bedding, in progress

The key to these big impressionistic strokes is to work fast. Not stopping to carefully edge around sharp details, but very quickly dashing the shapes and colors into their general area. When standing back from the artwork, if it was done right, the folds and shadows look photo-realistic. Up close, you can see how loosely those strokes were thrown onto the paper. There is a lot of energy in them as I move across the paper…using just 5 or 6 different colors in that mauve-grey color range.

pencil scribbles on scrap paper

Here's the scrap of rough paper I was using to flatten the pencil points. This is what it looked like after today’s work.

Prismacolor pencil with flattened point next to sharp pencil point

A wide flattened pencil next to a sharp pencil point. That's how I get those big wide strokes out of a pencil lead.


Tanner portrait in progress 3

Working on Tanner’s face.

You can see how nice the golds and oranges look on that mauve-grey paper. Tanner really "pops" on that color.

Colored pencil portrait of orange cat, in progress


Tanner portrait in progress 4

Continuing on Tanner’s face. The eyes are in now.

Finishing the eyes always brings a portrait to life more than anything else.

Colored pencil portrait of orange cat in bed, in progress

Here’s a close-up of Tanner’s eyes.

Seeing pictures of the whole portrait on a phone or laptop screen doesn't do justice to all the fine detail in an artwork that is 24 inches wide.

Colored pencil portrait of orange cat in bed, close-up detail of eyes


Tanner portrait in progress 5

If you’ve been following this portrait from the beginning, you know that my concept for this portrait is to do the bedding very loose and impressionistic, with Tanner’s face in tight detail.

Here is Tanner finished now, in tight detail. Next I’ll be working on the blanket over his head, which will be detailed around his face and getting looser as I move farther away from him. That’s the plan. Once I go meticulous and detailed it’s hard for me to loosen up again. My hand and brain wants to finish it with the same tight detail. That’s why I started with the bedding — quick ’n loose…easy for me to do when that’s all that existed on the paper.

Colored pencil portrait of orange cat under a blanket, in progress

The eyes are the most critical part of a portrait, but the expression of the mouth is very important too. On the days when I work on the eyes, and then on the mouth in any portrait, I have a certain tension until I get them captured just right. Tanner’s nose was a very important feature too. When I was talking to Tammie about what she wanted me to capture about Tanner, she said his “cute little freckles” on his nose, which she loves, are important to her.

Colored pencil portrait of orange cat under a blanket, close-up detail, in progress


Tanner portrait in progress 6

Now I’m adding the blue and white blanket over Tanner.

Today’s work was to do the fold that is to the left of his face. It was slow going because it's dark where it’s folded over his head, so the colors in that shadowed area are surprising. The light blue stripes on the blanket look almost black there — look at the “top” edge of the blanket to see how light the blue is. I had to figure out the correct colors in the shadowed area.

Colored pencil portrait of orange cat under a blanket, in progress

What color do you think the “white” part of the blanket is in the shadow area? For sure it’s NOT white.

It is actually very close to the paper color. In this pic I’ve used Photoshop to show you the color of the “white” underside (shadowed side) of the blanket. Take a look at that bar of color beside the shadowed “white”. The other end of that bar against the paper color shows that it’s just a shade lighter than the paper. Surprising, huh?

Colored pencil portrait of orange cat under a blanket, color comparison

Working on this shadowed section was slow going also because I needed to work very carefully around his whiskers, which were already there as single white pencil strokes. Have to keep pencil points very sharp to detail carefully around the whiskers with dark colors, or it would be all too easy to blot them out.


Tanner portrait finished!

Finished portrait of Tanner for Tammie Wolf.

Tanner is a 3 year old rescue who loves to curl up and sleep with his big brother Doberman, Jackson. When I asked Tammie to tell me about Tanner and what she wanted to capture in his portrait, she said she loves Tanner’s "cute little freckles” on his nose. She wrote: ”This sweet boy is about 3 and a half years old and is only just getting where he cuddles and demands petting. He has only found his motor in the last couple of months. He is a rescue that I picked up off the street at about 6 months old.”

Prismacolor pencil portrait on Canson paper of an orange cat under a blanket, by artist Kevin Roeckl
14 x 26 inches

This is the third portrait I’ve done for Tammie. She really has an eye for picking out photos that will make appealing artwork, and that are unusual for a portrait. The composition of this piece is very nice --- I have Tam’s photo to thank for that. The folds of the blanket coming from the right carry your eye to Tanner’s face. That little bit of brick-red at the far right of the fleece gives a nice balance to all the orange of Tanner. And the blues in the blanket counterbalance what would otherwise be an all-earth-tone color scheme - pinks, mauves, browns, oranges. And Tanner’s face right in the center with an engaging expression, perfectly framed by the curved stripes of the blanket folded around him and that big chunk of black shadow along the left edge of his orange coat.


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