S.O.F.A. member France Bauduin talks about the making of her beautiful drawing of a mother cat and her playful kittens, ‘Happy Days 2’. A project that took her 293 hours to draw it over a 6 months period.
Early last spring, I came up with the concept of featuring my queen Laila with the four kittens she had that year, something I had never done before. I selected a particularly good picture of Laila interacting with one of her kittens and two of her three kittens already around her. After that it was only a matter of exchanging these two kittens with others photos of them showing a better pose. The last one was added without references. For this first project, I draw a full but very bland background. I wanted the drawing to be about the cats and the cats only.
It took me 93 hours to complete it, 64 hours for the cats and 29 for the background. Happy Days was my first attempt on an A2 Daler-Rowney board and I considered it quite successful, for a first attempt that is.
Last summer, I wanted the repeat this concept but this time by integrating the kittens in a more pleasing and challenging background. I also wanted it to be a true representation of what they had been about last spring. After having taken a few exceptionally good pictures of the kittens playing on the fence with Laila lying peacefully among them, I knew where to start.
Using Photoshop, my first task was to assemble Laila and her four kittens in a believable but also aesthetically pleasing “Happy Days” scene. This time, I also wanted to create a link between each of the cats to picture them as a tight family not an assembly of unrelated individuals.
The first picture I selected was one of Monty and Harley about to pounce on each other, with Monty holding the higher ground and Harley in a defensive position in the grass below. The connection was real and the background beautiful. It became my starting point.
After that, I tried to select a picture of Laila lying among daisies near the fence with another of her kittens (Pixel) interacting with her. No eye contact this time, the connexion was physical as he was half astride her with one paw on the fence.
That left me with one kitten to place: Suki, my little climber. As the only girl of the litter, she was also the lightest and most agile. After a few trials and errors, I found a pose where she was near the top of the fence and inserted her on the left, as if she was about to start climbing the fence.
To create a link between the kittens, I then got the idea to make them look at each other’s tail. To do this, I had to modify Suki’s and Monty’s tail by using other reference pictures. And there I had it. Laila in contact with Pixel looking at Suki’s tail, herself looking at Monty’s tail, himself staring at Harley.
This was the easy part. The hard part was to readjust the background and make it fit. For example, I removed the messy ivy above Harley and replaced it by more colourful foliage, the wild grass and weeds by more daisies & small colourful posts. The difficulty when doing any kind of replacement is that you also need to think of resulting shadows, which is even harder if the pictures are taken at different times or even different days.
Because the kittens were more spread out around Laila, I decided to use an A1 size Daler-Rowney board so each kitten would be more or less the same size as in this spring’s drawing.
I always start drawing the main subject, in this instance the cats and always finish with the background, generally working from inside out. For this drawing though I did things slightly differently starting from Suki and moving from left to right, the big A1 size of the board making it impossible to rotate as I usually do with smaller drawings.
Being mostly white, the kittens and their mother were completed rather rapidly, Suki taking only 11 hours, Pixel 15 hours, Monty being darker 24 hours, their bigger mum 22 hours and Harley 17 hours, thus completing the whole cat family in less than 90 hours. Again, this was the easy part.
The real challenge would be with the background with its great variety of colours and textures as I was planning to rebuild a good part of it from an assortment of reference pictures to make it aesthetically more pleasing to the eye.
I knew I had to start with the features I wanted to keep from my main reference photographs: the colourful foliage coming through the fence, the smaller fence posts and the daisies in the grass.
The leaves were slow work but I really enjoyed drawings these, each one a little challenge on its own. As for the small fence of posts, I started with those clearly shown on my two main photographs and recreated those hidden by weeds from other photos. I did the same with the grass and daisies, copying exactly what was around Laila and then extending it on both sides of her by using other reference pictures. Just doing these took over 100 hours.
Then came the difficult part, replacing the messy ivy over Harley with the same kind of colourful foliage surrounding Monty. I also needed to complete what was over him, as my main reference photo wasn’t going that high. Unfortunately, the only reference pictures I possessed had been taken a few days later. The plant had grown so the leaves didn’t match anymore and yet, I had to make it work. While the Photoshop version of the photos could give me a good idea of what the picture would look like, in the actual drawing each leaf had to be imagined and reattached in a realistic way, something a lot more difficult to do than simply copying what you are seeing.
It’s only once I was satisfied with the amount of foliage coming out of the fence on the right side that I considered filling the holes with the planks under it. Because I had used many reference pictures for this, I knew it had to be done plank by plank so the grooves matched and the shadows worked realistically. Until now the drawing had looked pretty good. “Plugging the holes” would either enhance it even more by adding more depth or completely ruin it.
After having completed a couple of planks, I knew it was the right decision. The left side still had unresolved issues but after 250 hours of work, I knew that the right side of the drawing at least would be OK.
When placing Suki with Photoshop, I had made a mistake, placing her a little too high. To make it look like her toe was gripping a plank, I had to bring it higher than it actually was and thus introduced a discrepancy by making the planks slightly narrower on the left side than on the right side. It was only 6mm but the difference was visible so I came with the idea to replace that plank with a little branch coming out of the fence that would offer her some purchase. Sorted.
I had a final decision to make and it had to do with the little lilac flowers found in the grass among the daisies. I thought I had to justify their provenance by adding a small branch of these coming out of the fence. I didn’t want something big and distracting, just a hint of these that would also complement nicely the rather naked corner on the left of Suki’s head. This meant going ad lib again and why I kept it for the very last leg of this journey, when the rest of the finished drawing could give me a better feel of what and where it was needed.
While the main goal of this last feature had always been to make the drawing look more realistic, it somehow added something from an artistic point of view as pointed out by my cat artist friend Tamsin Lord:
“Those lilac flower are a lovely addition ~ when I opened your pic, the composition now literally draws my eye round the whole picture. ”
Other minor adjustments were done as I was drawing the planks like adding a bit more foliage on the left of Suki as that side would have been too plain otherwise. Final adjustments had to be made for shadows with any additional foliage.
This drawing is the result of dozens of hours spent observing and taking thousands pictures of my playful kittens so I could select three “magical “ ones that inspired this composition which took itself quite a few hours to create before I could finally come with a version that worked with Photoshop. It then took me another 293 hours to draw it over a 6 months period (exactly 200 hours more than the original Happy Days).
While I still had over 100 hours of work to put on it, an artist friend of mine, Malcom Cudmore from the UKCPS encouraged me by saying :
“It’s going to be quite an epic piece!”
Epic is indeed the best word to describe this long journey so I can proudly present you Happy Days 2.
By France Bauduin S.O.F.A.
France Bauduin’s web site.
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