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Cats with Roslyn Levin - September 9th, 2006

Roslyn Levin's approach to painting cats is similar to her approach on painting other subjects: study cats continually, distill cats to their visual essence and use the brush to bring out those cat-like qualities in a simple, direct and often bold manner. Roslyn began her workshop with a lively discussion on our feline friends.

Opening remarks on cats from Roslyn Levin

Roslyn brought a handout for the workshop participants that showed the outline of cats from the back in various standing, sitting and lying positions. As in Roslyn's style, the cats consisted of a few brush strokes that captured the essence of cat characteristics. The class would be focused on this angle of the cat. In her workshop, Roslyn worked completely with sumi-e ink.

Handout for participants in workshop

Collecting her thoughts, Roslyn paused as she began her first cat. Roslyn believes in correct posture and breathing while painting. Painting is an extension of her whole body movement.

Beginning the first stroke

In the first brush stroke, Roslyn used pressure to get the type of effect she wanted on the rice paper.

First stroke with pressure

In one measured stroke, the outline of the cat and its ears was done.

Continuing the line and adding ears

Roslyn advised the workshop participants to consider drawing the same image in the opposite view. For example, this second cat started with the tail to the left and then added the outline of the body to the left in a mirror image of the cat on the right.

Body of second cat with stroke reversal

Again Roslyn used pressure to get the desired effect in the painting.

Second cat body using pressure

Then Roslyn paused and looked at the completed cats. Roslyn periodically stopped and assessed her work, which is how Roslyn gets a sense of the direction the art is going and the merits of each piece. Roslyn can be surprisingly objective in analyzing her work.

Two cats

At this point, a few practice stokes were drawn to emphasize the need for pressure and total body movement when painting.

Practice strokes to get sense of pressure

In addition to starting with lines, Roslyn sometimes begins with a gray, almost abstract ink wash and then adds lines to create definition.

Starting with grey loose image

Ears emerged from this gray abstraction.

Adding definition to create form of cat

Then the back and tail were added with the original gray ink forming the body.

Looking at the line of the cat with grey body

Roslyn continued with another cat created using gray tones for the body with blacker ink to highlight the back and ears.

Using same technique for sitting cat

Several other cats were created in various positions using this technique. 

Three cats with similar technique

This array of cats led to one of Roslyn's typical engaging discussions with the workshop participants on techniques and paint brushes and rice paper. Roslyn, always challenging our accepted practices, suggested we consider painting on the smooth side of the rice paper to get a better continuous, flowing line.

Standing back and reviewing progress with cats

Here's a Roslyn Levin tip on creating cat ears. Remember how you drew the joints in bamboo paintings? Cat ears are similar.

Cat ears are similar to drawing the joints in bamboo

Roslyn then picked up one of her favourite brushes for drawing cats and other creatures.

Seated cat using a favourite brush for cats

Some seated cats and a standing cat with a distinctive tail emerged from this brush.

Standing car from back with tail raised

Roslyn then created a running cat. 

Running cat

To draw the head of a cat Roslyn began with a gray sketch.

Grey, loose shape of cat head

Then the markings of the cat were added in striking black stokes.

Adding definition to cat head with darker strokes

The eyes and mouth came with similar bold strokes.

Continuing to add more refinement to cat head

Finally, a wider brush with gray ink added the whiskers and fur.

Cat's whiskers added to head

Cats come from a large family. Roslyn turned to a tiger next, beginning its head with a gray outline.

Tiger head using a grey outline

Then the markings of the tiger were added to it.

Tiger head defined with a darker stroke

The eyes and pupils are different on a tiger. Though tigers are painted as fierce creatures by convention, Roslyn's tiger showed an introspective quality. Roslyn's paintings attract the viewer because she paints the subject in way not usually shown, revealing aspects of the subject that are hidden in the conventional approach. This ability to bring out characteristics not usually shown makes her work fascinating to the viewer.  

Eyes and markings of tiger head

The head was then filled in with tiger markings.

Tiger head well defined

A large brush added the fur and whiskers.

Whiskers added with large brush

Then a few more details with a smaller brush.

Fine brush adds more details to tiger head

A neck extended the painting.

Neck added to tiger

Roslyn showed the painting to the workshop participants, many of whom were cat fanciers.

Workshop participants look at tiger

Time was flying by at this point of the workshop. Roslyn reminded participants that part of workshop consisted of drawing cats themselves. Roslyn concluded her demonstration by returning to the basic cats that she wanted us to work on in this workshop. Roslyn reminded us to use simple strokes with pressure on the brush to get the effect.

Return to assignment for workshop participants

Roslyn again advised us to try two cats as shown below to learn how to create two different views of a cat from behind.

Second cat from back

These two cats were the essence of what Roslyn asked us to work on ourselves in the workshop. 

Two cats for us to paint

A few words of advice and encouragement were offered by Roslyn before we headed to our desks to try painting our own cats.

Roslyn Levin's advice for workshop participants about to paint

Workshop participants dove into the cat creation exercise.

Workshop participants painting their cats

Roslyn provided some one-on-one support to each of us suggesting where we might best focus our efforts to get the desired effect.

Helpful suggestion on brush stroke from Roslyn Levin

Some simple suggestions on this work-in-progress illustrated how a few well-placed strokes could make our cats stand out on the rice paper.

Some brush strokes to capture cat characteristics

In this session with a participant, Roslyn returned to emphasizing pressure on the brush to get the continuous but dramatic line that creates the outline of the cat.

Roslyn Levin working one on one with a workshop participant

For more information on Roslyn Levin, see her web site that is listed in the links section.