Jane Bennet Cat Pride and Prejudice cat adaptation by TaraFly

Through this Benadryl-induced mist clouding my allergy ridden brain, I vaguely recall that I promised everyone a “Behind the Scenes” post chronicling the making of “Jane Bennet”.
She is the latest in my Pride and Prejudice cat adaptation, a digitally painted portrait of the eldest Bennet sister.

Sarah Jane gorgeous white long-hair cat Noelle Clearwater

The model for Jane was Noelle Clearwater’s gorgeous silky furred SarahJane… who sadly crossed over the bridge last October, after 19 years on this earth. I began her painting in September, and sadly didn’t get it finished before she passed.

I toyed with a few different settings, including a melancholy winter scene with Jane mourning the absence of Bingley. Looking for just the right pose, I dug through my old Regency photo shoots, and came across this image.

TaraFly artist in regency dress

It reminded me of a particular scene from the 1995’s miniseries, where Jane and Lizzy have a tête-à-tête following the Meryton ball, while picking flowers on the grounds of Longebourne.

He is just what a young man ought to be. Sensible, good-humoured, lively; and I never saw such happy manners! — so much ease, with such perfect good breeding!

Pen sketch of Jane Bennet Cat by TaraFly

So I sketched the initial design for Jane, scanned it into Photoshop; then I drew the fence and shrubbery digitally with my stylus.

Next I began laying the color foundations, using a separate layer for each object in the picture, beginning with the bottom (or farthest from our view).

    PS Layers:

  1. pale yellow for the background
  2. leafy green bushes
  3. the brown fence
  4. Jane’s pale pink dress
  5. the brown grapevine basket
  6. her white fur (head, arms, and tail)
  7. her white hair and pink roses

Working with one layer at a time allows me to keep the rest of my painting unaffected, as I tend to work without any concrete plans, and change my mind frequently.
This portrait especially challenged my newly developing skills… as multiple times I stared at the screen, suffering from artist’s block, without any clue how to achieve the desired look.

This painting would sit for weeks in my Progress folder, while my subconscious sorted out the problem.

Digitally coloring a grapevine basket

I began with the simplest project in the piece… the grapevine basket. I’ve drawn and painted baskets before, and one of my first attempts at digital paintings involved a very similar basket design. Originally I smudged all the shadows and highlights by hand (i.e. with stylus/mouse), but with Gaussian Blur it becomes 10x easier.
No, make that 50x easier!

Simply draw your shadow lines and highlighted lines, and then blur the heck out of them (using Gaussian Blur). Sometimes it needs to be done a few times, or else set the layer to multiply, in order to make the shadows dark enough for your preference.

My first obstacle involved the wood grain texture of my fence. It would be simple to choose a photographic texture for the grain, and apply it with Burn or Overlay. However, I wanted to grow and improve as a digital painter, and was determined to paint the texture myself.

Jane Bennet Cat digital painting in progress TaraFly

This screenshot of the program shows where I’ve shaded the wooden posts and was beginning to add squiggly dark grain lines, which I’d later blend in with Smudge/Blur.

(You’ll notice I had the dress and background layers turned off… I’ll do that often to focus my concentration)

Digital painting Jane bennet dress by TaraFly

Next, I painted her dress. I have a love/hate relationship with fabric. I’m not always sure where the folds are, and how the colors shift; it’s difficult to tell from a photograph. So I usually just use my imagination and paint wrinkles and folds however I want, whether it’s technically accurate or not.

This is the one instance in the painting where I did use a fabric texture to create the little rosebuds. I had planned to paint the design by hand, but grew lazy…

This is the same technique I’ve used before, and explained in detail with Mr. Bennet’s portrait.

Adding texture to a shawl. digital painting by TaraFly.

I used my tweed fabric texture on her shawl. In this shot, you can see my cursor (in Eraser mode) trimming off the excess texture where it overlapped onto her dress.

Cat face digital painting by TaraFly

Moving on to the fur layer, I painted the shadows of her face in pale purple, and using the Smudge tool in a small brush size (with heavy pressure: 50-70%) pulled out large tufts and smaller strands of fur.
Her eyes were a blend of blues, purple (for shadow), green, and yellow… I placed dabs of each color and blended with the Blur tool. I manually blended a bit as well.

Jane Bennet Cat's fluffy white tail. Digital Painting by TaraFly.

Her tail was done the same way. I colored it completely white, and added lines of purple for shading, then Smudged all the chunks of fur in various directions, with a flowing manner.
Since Jane is a long-haired cat, the Smudge pressure needed to be heavy to produce the longest strands. A short, light pressure will break early and leave shorter tufts.

It was around this point that I uploaded my first set of photos to Flickr, and gave everyone a WIP update. Noelle was enthusiastic, but mentioned that Jane’s one eye should be green.
Ooops.

Not a serious problem with Photoshop however, thanks to the “color replacement tool” that allows you to substitute one color for another, leaving the shading values mostly intact. The tool tries to replicate all the shadows and highlights in the new color scheme, although sometimes it is a little “off” and you’ll lose details, so touch-ups will be necessary.

But it definitely helps to discover this tool before you re-color an entire area from scratch!
Like I wound up doing 3 years ago with a mermaid’s tail, at a customer’s request.

Digitally painting Jane Bennet Cat's hair ringlets. By TaraFly.

This image shows my beginning work on Jane’s hairstyle and ringlets. I drew this style from my imagination because I didn’t have any hair references that appealed to me. Again, the shadows are getting drawn in purple.

Using the Smudge tool in Photoshop to add hair.

I began smudging with a thick brush and light pressure, just to get the rough outline of hair growth… then I went back and pulled tiny strands of hair using a heavier pressure.

Here is what her hair looks like after drawing a gazillion strands, and adding some highlights…
pure white lines and some yellow sun-kissed spots.

Jane Bennet Cat's face portrait. Digital painting by TaraFly.

Drawing and smudging hair is very time-consuming, but it’s also semi-relaxing due to the repetitive, flowing movement. You can literally sit for hours and just draw lines of hair. 😛

Painting flowers, on the other hand, is not relaxing at all. Actually, this basket full of roses was a bit nerve-wracking… Flowers are incredibly detailed, but I tried to simplify it for myself by painting them in swirls and blobs.

Filling Jane's flower basket with roses.

Have you ever decorated a cake with piped roses?
You begin by piping a blob of icing onto a metal platform called a “flower nail”… and then make a swirl around the top, and add crescent-shaped petals around the swirled center.
I approached these flowers just like that. Swirls and blobs, swirls and blobs, with blurred highlights and shadows. LOL

And those green furry blobs?? I was trying to fill up the basket with “green stuff”, so I wouldn’t need as many flowers. 😛
I also added lots of white blobs (i.e. baby’s breath) for filler.

After looking at the entire portrait, I decided that her pale purple dress wasn’t the right color… so I chose a warmer pink to complement the roses. I also began to detest the ugly brown I’d used previously for her shawl, and opted instead for lavender. Yay for the color replacement tool!

Color replacement tool in Photoshop.
You can see how nicely the color transitions as I scroll my mouse over it, keeping the shadows intact.

So here stands rosy-cheeked Jane Bennet, amongst her flower garden… and something is missing.

Jane Bennet Cat work in progress digital painting by TaraFly.

I needed to finish the leafy bushes in the background, and God help me, I did not want to paint leaves.

I procrastinated for a long while, and finally searched Deviantart for suitable photographs that I could use as a backdrop. But nothing looked quite right.
What to do….

The answer was so obvious, I’m fortunate it wasn’t a blasted snake. This is Photoshop after all, and I use the cut and paste tool only a million times per day…

One morning after eating my brain food (a.k.a. oatmeal banana pancakes), I realized that I could paint a small patch of leaves onto a transparent layer, and copy them repeatedly all over the shrubbery.

painting leaves on a transparent layer in Photoshop.

“Lightbulb”, as Gru would say (from my kids’ new favorite movie).

Don’t tell me these look like poison ivy leaves.

I filled up the background with them, and also pasted some over the fence layer, giving the illusion that leaves were poking through the slats in the fence.

Digital painting of leaves and wooden fence.

Again, do NOT mention their resemblance to poison ivy.
I’m warning ya’. 😉

To give some depth to the shrubs, I added a couple additional layers and painted large blobs of green with a “wet watercolor” brush setting. The bottom layer was blurred and lightened.

Painting leaves and shrubbery in Photoshop.

I think the overall effect looks nice and leafy.

The finishing touch was to add grass. Just a wide strip of green across the bottom of the painting, which was smudged into long blades of grass (just like cat fur).

Adding grass digital painting in Photoshop.

But I’m not quite done yet, adding a couple of roses growing in the bush, lighter shades of grass, and a few more leaves.

It’s dangerously easy to overwork a painting, and hopefully I stopped myself just in time. I have a habit of trying to add too many details…

The finished Miss Bennet, just in time for an early spring!

Jane Bennet finished digital art print by TaraFly.

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Colored Pencil Sketch, Mr. Bennet Cat from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice

Colored Pencil Sketch of Mr. Bennet, modeled after Sammy.

When I began working on my digital painting of Mr. Bennet Cat, I made the decision to take screenshots and work-in-progress pics of the entire process. It had never occurred to me to document my projects in detail before, mainly because my personal techniques are neither unique nor remarkable. Hundreds of tutorials exist online, explaining how to draw, color, highlight, shadow, and manipulate Photoshop layers… showcasing far greater skill than my own.

In fact, if you want to see digital painting at its BEST, check out the Deviantart gallery of Tammara Markegard. Her work is so fantastic, it’s disgusting! LOL I wipe drool off my keyboard, after pouring too long over her intricate details.

Always living in the shadow of true mastery such as hers, and countless others, I fail to recognize my own accomplishments. Apparently, I’ve taken for granted that everyone understands how I create my digital art. That any explanation was unnecessary.
And apparently, I was mistaken. I’ve run across people who grossly over exaggerated my abilities, and also people who wrote off weeks’ worth of work as “She just drew a cat’s face over a photograph”.

So when I scanned in my initial sketch of Mr. Bennet, modeled after Lily’s cat Sammy, I vowed to keep an ongoing, accurate record of my work for anyone curious.

Sammy Whiskers Cat TwoStrayCats Lily Van Niekerk

Lily's Sam Man, half of TwoStrayCats

It all began with a photograph of Sammy, that Lily entered into my Pride and Prejudice Cat Contest. He was voted upon by my Facebook fans to be cast as Mr. Bennet, the patriarch of the Bennet household (Lizzy’s doting father, and proud Mr. Darcy’s future FIL).

I decided to draw him relaxing in his favorite wing back chair, reading a novel, as the character was always retreating to the sanctuary of his study to escape his obnoxious wife and silly daughters. After the sketch was made, and scanned into Photoshop, I drew over the basic lines with a small black brush.
Then I opened three new, blank layers: one for each element of the picture. The chair, the clothing, and the cat himself.

I did this because it allows me to focus on one area at a time; by clicking the eye icon, you can make the other layers invisible and temporarily inaccessible. Any mistakes or alterations made to one layer wouldn’t affect any other aspect of the image… NO “whooops-I-accidentally-erased-half-the-finished-chair-while-attempting-to-edit-his-fur” catastrophes. This decision was easily made as a result of prior trial and error… if something can go wrong, it will undoubtedly happen to me.

Digital painting Photoshop, Mr. Bennet Cat Jane Austen Pride and Prejudice

The basic colors roughed in, on three separate layers

With the line drawing serving as the Background (bottom) layer, I color each part of the image on their respective layers (which I’ve named, appropriately, “chair”, “clothes”, and “fur”). This serves as the color theme… I want a brown coat, yellow vest, blue chair, etc… and can be adjusted or changed completely if I have second thoughts.

There is no rhyme or reason with where to start, but I felt like playing with fur. So I began with his face. Having already colored the black and white areas, I choose a medium-sized brush (around 15 pixels) set to 40% strength, and begin pulling the fur using the Smudge tool. The lower strength creates soft, wide strokes of fur… and narrowing the brush to approx. 4-5 pixels and kicking the strength up to 70%, will allow me to add concentrated, fine hairs.
I tend to overdose on the Smudge tool, and my cats look like electrocuted fluffballs. 😛 Sammy is long-haired, though, so I can justify a bit of fluff.

Painting cat fur in Photoshop Cat wearing glasses

Joe said Sam looks like Harry Potter here...

For his eyes and ears, I take a few complimentary colors (ears: salmon, grey, brown) (eyes: green, grey, yellow, brown) and paint daubs of these with a brush onto a new layer. Then I use the Gaussian Blur filter to blend them together, and merge the new layer into the Fur layer.
With the eyes, it takes a bit of time to get it blurred just right. I’ll re-paint areas if the yellow/gold or green faded away too much.

Anytime I work with shadows, highlights, and reflections, such as on his eyes or spectacles, I open a new temporary layer. That way, I can play around with the strength of the highlight or shadow, add to it or subtract from it, and blur it just right… before merging it with the fur layer.
I choose a highlight a few shades lighter than the base color on the palette, and a few shades darker for shadows.

Photoshop 6 Screenshot Digital Painting Cat Wearing Glasses

Adding eye reflections and highlights to his spectacles

The idea for painting better whiskers came to me from reading this Deviantart tutorial on Hair.
In the sixth step, she discusses those little fly-away strands of hair that glisten in the light… drawing them with a fine brush, and then erasing parts of each strand, with an eraser tool of varying strengths, to create a 3-dimensional effect.
I started doing that with my cats’ whiskers, and I liked how they turned out. This time, I decided to blend the edges together, because the erased pieces looked a bit choppy.

Drawing Cat Whiskers in Photoshop

Drawing his whiskers, and erasing pieces of them

Once I finished with his face and paws, I move onto what I would consider the most tedious part… the clothing layer. I started defining folds and wrinkles in the fabric using a new shadow layer and blending. Then I chose a highlight color to accent where the light might strike his clothing, and applied that color with Gaussian Blur in a new layer as well.

Creating highlights in Photoshop using Gaussian Blur

Highlighting Mr. Bennet's jacket using Gaussian Blur

One of my favorite things to do with fabric, is kind-of a cheat, although it is still time consuming. Instead of painting fabric texture from scratch, I find a swatch of fabric (either scanned from personal clothing, or as licensed stock online) and create a texture to apply. This is where Photoshop manipulation really shines!
For his coat, I used a piece of tweed wool. I removed the original color, because when I select Multiply or Overlay, it then assumes the color underneath. The swatch gets resized down to scale, and must then be distorted using the Perspective command, so that the texture will follow the curves of the coat.
Each block of texture is placed, adjusted to the correct perspective, and merged onto my painted cloth using the Overlay and Opacity settings. The blocks get “stitched” together once they’ve all been arranged, so that hopefully nobody will see where the seams were.

Applying texture to painted fabric using Photoshop

Applying a tweed texture to his coat, using Distort and Overlay

One final tool in the clothing arsenal… the Liquify filter. It allows you to create ripples, and I like to use it on my texture layer, so that the pattern will bulge and bend in accordance with my previously painted fabric wrinkles.
His pants and vest receive textures as well.

Using the Liquify Tool in Photoshop for Fabric

Creating ripples in the tweed texture using Liquify

The book that he held was included in the clothing layer. I used a faux “dry” brush in a darker brown to add leathery texture to the book cover. Then I highlighted the book pages, and painted some shadows as well. The idea for the book’s spine came from my copy of Funk & Wagnall’s Dictionary.

I always have a dictionary close at hand, because my vocabulary is composed of many words I haven’t yet learned to spell correctly… and I absolutely HATE those auto Spell Check programs (and the Firefox browser).
If you notice any spelling errors in my posts, it is because I refuse to use Spell-Check on principle. >:P

Anyway, I drew the pattern from the dictionary, loosely, with a gold brush. Opened a new layer, and shaded with dark brown.

Digital Painting Book in Photoshop

Painting the book

So here is what Mr. Bennet looked like at this point… with his fur and clothing basically finished.

For his wing back chair, I dug through my stock photos for that garish bit of orange fabric that was used for Mrs. Bennet’s dress. I really liked the floral pattern of it, and once the color was removed (again!), it worked nicely as upholstery fabric.
As with the clothing, the piece had to be scaled down and its perspective altered to match the angle of the chair.

Applying fabric texture to chair upholstery using Photoshop

Adding the fabric texture to his chair

More piecing together, block at a time. Once the chair was completely covered, I realized the color wasn’t dark enough to match the intensity of Mr. Bennet’s shading. So I duplicated the chair layer, and selected Multiply, which darkened everything… a bit too much. Scale back to 54% opacity for a subtle shift in contrast.
Then I reworked my shadows again on a new layer, making them bolder.

Mr. Bennet Cat Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice digital painting in Photoshop

Almost finished... he's just lacking a background

So here we have Mr. Bennet in his reading chair… sans a background. I seriously considered doing a wood paneling behind him… but I was afraid it would be too distracting from the details in the foreground. So I opted for a plain color instead… rusty brown invoked a quiet library feeling to me.
I used the paint can filler tool to color the entire bottom layer (right over my sketch), and then added a new layer to paint the shadows behind him on the wall.

Mr. Bennet Cat Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice digital painting by TaraFly

Mr. Bennet Cat, a.k.a. Sammy, looking sophisticated 🙂

And viola! Mr. Bennet in the fur. This piece could probably have taken 4-5 days, perhaps three.. if I worked non-stop. And there are people who could complete this in a matter of hours… I bow to them. Unfortunately, it did NOT take a week… or two… or even three. It took almost two whole months. Why?
Well… LIFE, for one thing. It looks simple, but its time-consuming nonetheless, and time is worth it’s weight in DIAMONDS in this household.

I feel terrible for making promises to my fans, under the assumption that I could complete all these portraits in a matter of weeks. I wanted to launch the book by August, but September is just around the corner, and the book is not. It will come! But I’ve learned a valuable lesson over this summer about creating impossible deadlines for myself, given all the distractions and obligations that require my attention at home.

Plunging ahead anyway. Jane Bennet will be next, with Bingley quick on her heels as a hot-blooded lover should be. 🙂