Cougar portrait in pastel

Cougar, Mountain lion, Puma, Florida Panther….. Whatever you want to call the largest of the small cat species, Puma concolor is one of North America’s most elusive and enchanting felines to roam the wilderness.

This post will focus on the step-by-step process I did while drawing the cougar mount from the Field Museum’s exhibit hall.

Cougar, Puma concolor, mount from the Field Museum.

The cougar portrait started, like all of my other portraits, with a rough sketch.  From there, I refined my sketch by measuring and scaling from the cougar mount and transferring my measurements to my paper. The ground I used for this portrait is a burgundy color from Canson’s Mi Teintes collection.  This is a textured paper with a medium size tooth which perfectly holds the pastel for that textured feeling and finish.  I used my trusty color-erase white pencil as it is one of the essentials I keep close when I work on dark colored ground.

My set-up in the Carnivore room while drawing the cougar portrait.

Drawing felids (cats and cat relatives) are a slight challenge as they have a flat skull compared with other animals.  They also possess a foreshortened and wide muzzle orsnout which is unlike canids (dogs and dog relatives) as the muzzle length and width are a distinguishing factor between some of the species within both groups.

At this time in the process, I am sometimes still deciding what media to use (not surprised).  This time I choose Prismacolor Nu-Pastels and Derwent pastel pencils.  I started with an under-painting of Nu-Pastels as I could get a larger amount of the ground covered in a shorter amount of time.  Once the basic colors for the under-painting were complete, I added the highlights and shadows in places so that I knew where I would be enhancing certain areas when I started the detail work.  As you can see above in the finished under-painting, the cougar has a flat feeling to it as I have not rendered the form much in this photo.  As I started to add the detail (more color layering, hair and texture) the cougar starts to take on a more “real” look or a more modeled look on the paper.

I added dark patches of color to create the base of the skin and fur folds, the dark shadows within the ears, and the shadow that is created under the chin on the neck.  Once that was done I started with more highlights around the cheeks, over the eyes, and on the tips of the ears.  You can see that once the low- and high-lights are done, detail can be added.  And I LOVE DETAIL!

The eyes are the entrance to the soul so this is my favorite feature to draw and paint.  I do have a tendency to add more emotion into the eyes I create then what is presently on a mount or in a photo reference.  The detail is were I get to use pastel pencils and my blade to sharpen the Nu-pastels.  I can get a better point with the pencil or by cutting or chopping away at the pastel sticks or blocks to create a point verses just using the Nu-pastels or my Sennelier soft pastels.

Folds on the skin are the first part of the fur that I started on.  I layered the dark colors with medium tons and then after a quick spray of fixative, I added the light colors and white highlights.  The textured paper takes away a little bit of dimension since you do see a little of the ground color through the layers of color but with each mammal portrait I do, I try to balance the color of the ground with the base colors in the specimens fur color.  With the cougar, you can see the the burgundy color of the paper balances out with the orange and golden yellow colors of the fur.

Once finished, I always sign and fix with spray so that the pastel does not rub off easily.

Cougar, 2016, Pastel on paper, 19″x25″. Copyright Rebe Banasiak, The Brush Hilt, Rebe Banasiak Art.

I will be doing more carnivore portraits in the future so keep your eyes on my blog pages here, Facebook and Instagram to watch the progress unfold.

Next step-by-step, Shrink-e-dink sketch magnets:  How I create shrink-e-dink magnets from my sketches.  Stay tuned.

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