How to draw a realistic cat step-by-step
Have you ever wanted to draw a realistic-looking cat? Here’s an easy step-by-step process to enhance your drawing skills.
This is what your finished drawing might look like.
In this step-by-step tutorial, you’ll learn how to draw a cat in three stages.
- First, you will sketch a vertical line then add some simple lines and shapes to use as a guide. This is called a construction drawing.
- Next, you will draw your cat outline by adding curves and lines. You’ll also use the shapes as a guide, drawing outside of them or within the inside.
- Finally, you’ll complete your cat drawing by adding simple strokes around the outline for fur.
To go a step further, you can use a blending stump to add shading and form. Either way, your cat will look impressive – almost like it’s come to life on the page!
Get familiar with the basics of cat anatomy
The best way to learn how to draw animals is to study their anatomy. Take time to study real-life cats and learn more about their positions, features, and poses.
If you don’t have a cat, you can watch videos of cats in action.
You can also look at cat anatomy drawings and books to study their bone and muscle structure.
Start with a quick stick-figure sketch
A simple way to better understand the movement and curves of cat anatomy is to watch a real cat in motion while you sketch it rapidly. Only sketch it in the stick-figure style of drawing as you see here. Try to draw your whole cat in about 10-20 seconds. It doesn’t have to look realistic.
Scribble gesture drawing is the best place to start when you first learn how to draw. It can also be a great way to warm up before you do any drawing at all.
Scribble gesture is all about capturing the major energy of and getting to know the subject. It’s also about knowing the movement and angles of the cat’s legs, spine, and position of the cat’s head. You can also learn about the balance of weight, the center of gravity, and where the weight of the paws are.
To complete this tutorial, you don’t need much cat anatomy knowledge.
Just look at the drawing and ask yourself where the line is vertical, horizontal, or on an angle. You will also need to ask yourself which direction a curve is traveling in. Either in or out.
Gather your art materials
To draw your cat, you will only need a pencil and a piece of paper.
If you want to shade your cat, you will need some extra art materials.
- 1 piece of paper
- 1 pencil
- 1 normal eraser
- 1 kneadable eraser (or reusable poster putty tack is fine, too)
- 1 paper stump (Optional if you want to blend afterward. You can buy this from an art or craft store)
A step-by-step guide to drawing a cat
Let’s get started drawing a realistic-looking cat.
Step 1: Draw a vertical line
To get started on your construction drawing, lightly sketch a vertical line any length you like (I chose seven inches long.) You can use a ruler or sketch your line using the motion of your shoulder and a stiff wrist to guide you. This is your vertical center guideline and you will compare all your sizes, angles, and shapes to this line.
Tip: You should always be sure of where your line begins and ends. Make a mark at the top and bottom of this vertical line by drawing a tiny horizontal line. I call this a tab.
Then halve the vertical line. Mark it with a tab in the center.
Next, halve each half of your line again. This will create four equal divisions down the vertical line.
Tip: Measure each of your four divisions to make sure they are the same length as each other. This will help you draw proportions well. You can measure with your pencil by lining up the tip at the beginning of a tab and pinch-gripping your pencil behind and touching the other tab. Carry your pencil down to the next one and check it. Alter your divisions until they are all approximately equal.
Step 2: Draw a large oval for the body
Make sure that you sketch all your shapes lightly.
The first shape to draw is a large oval for your cat body. Start the top of your oval at the beginning of the second tab down from the top and end it a little way up from the bottom.
Tip: To draw a nice oval, find halfway between the top and bottom of the oval and draw a horizontal line as a guide for how wide you want your oval to be. Mine was about three inches. You can draw yours the same or by approximating if you like.
Step 3: Draw a circle for the cat head
Your cat head can begin with a circle. We will add angles and curves to refine the cat face and features later during the outline drawing stage.
Begin the top of your circle just a bit down from the top of the center vertical guideline and end it as it crosses over and just below the top of the big oval body.
Draw a horizontal guideline to help you create the width evenly on each side of the vertical line. I made my circle two inches long and two inches wide. You can also approximate the width of your cat head.
Step 4: Draw the cat ears as two triangle shapes
In this step, you will draw two triangles ready for adding curves to draw the ears later.
Start your triangle on one side, by drawing a vertical line directly upwards from the outside of the center of the circle and stop at the full height of the central vertical guideline. Do this on both sides of the cat head circle.
Tip: Keep this line parallel to your center vertical guideline.
Next, you can complete each triangle by drawing a diagonal line down from the tip of the triangle ear shape to meet the circle. Do this on both sides. This will create a triangle on each side of the head for the cat ears.
Step 5: Draw ovals for the 4 cat paws
Now you will draw two larger ovals at the base of the circle for the two front leg paws.
Tip: Note that these two ovals are positioned a little distance apart. They are also both positioned at the height of the bottom marker on the vertical line.
Draw two smaller ovals a little bit higher up the page for the two back leg paws. This will make them look like they are a bit further back into the distance than the front ones.
Step 6: Draw 4 long ovals for legs
Now it’s time to complete the main shapes of your cat by adding two large ovals for the front legs and two smaller ovals for the back legs.
Tip: The two larger ovals in front come up to just below half of the large circle body. They are on a slight angle outwards. The smaller ovals for the back legs are lower and also on a slight angle outwards. The oval legs touch the ovals for your cat paws.
Step 7: Draw the shapes for your cat nose, eyes, and mouth
Draw a small upside-down triangle for your cat nose. See how the triangle begins at the top of the large body oval. It’s a short horizontal line that is drawn evenly on both sides of the central vertical guideline.
Complete your upside-down triangle cat nose shape by adding two diagonal lines (one on each end of the horizontal line) that meet on the central vertical guideline.
Add one angled line on each side of the top of the nose, to travel upwards, and continue these upwards to just above the halfway mark on your circle.
The cat eyes are added just as small circles for now. Space them a little distance apart from one another by using the angles you have just created as a guide to position them.
Step 8: Draw the outline curves on the face, limbs, and body
In this step, you will add the outline to your entire cat. Press lightly as you travel around the shapes. Notice where you must draw inside the shape and where to draw outside the shape.
Tip: Keep the drawing you are copying from parallel to your drawing. Place your finger on the curve you are drawing so that you don’t lose your place. Always look carefully at the drawing you are copying from before you draw your curve or angle.
You can only draw something well if you have seen it properly. It’s not enough to just look at it. You must ask yourself what the curve or angle is really doing, then record it by drawing it onto your page.
Our brain can only remember one thing at a time when we are first drawing, so go slowly. Don’t be tempted to make it up or you might become frustrated with your results.
Ask yourself, “What direction is this curve traveling in?” But don’t say “left” or “right.” It takes too long to work out which is left and which is right.
Instead, name something in the room like a bookcase, door, or window. I call this the Artist’s Language. It really works — give it a try!
Tip: Don’t name the part you are drawing (especially parts you know like cat paws, eyes, nose, and legs.) Ask yourself things about the shape. If it’s an angle you are drawing, ask yourself, “How much of an angle is this, compared to the vertical or horizontal sides of my page, or center guidelines?”
At this stage you can refine the facial features, beginning with your cat eyes. Add more graphite along the top of the lid to gently cut across the top of the circle. Don’t angle it downwards too much as you head towards the direction of the nose, or your cat will look quite grumpy. Keep the bottom lid very curved.
When you draw the nose, darken inside the nostrils and the shadow at the base of the nose. Add an upside-down ‘Y’ shape for the mouth.
Add the whiskers last, using quickly pulled strokes as you ease off the pressure. Pull outwards beginning on the face with a firmer touch in the cheek area. That way your cat whiskers will begin slightly thicker and darker at the base and become thinner and finer as they travel away from the face.
Step 9: Erase all the construction drawing shapes
Now it’s time to erase all the unnecessary guidelines and gently erase your outline before you add the cat fur.
Step10: Draw the fur outline
Notice the direction that I have used for the little fur markings. Always create your fur in the direction of the underlying body.
Some strokes will be curved and others slightly more straight.
Tip: Fur on the face travels upwards and outwards from the nose and eyes. See this photograph for an example of a cat to gain a deeper understanding of the fur pattern.
At this stage, you can call your cat a completed outline drawing, or you can continue to add form by shading in the next step.
Step 11: Shade the body
All you need for this step is a paper stump to gently pull the graphite around the image. You can begin by shading a bit of graphite onto the darker shadows at the base of the cat. Blend that area. You can use the graphite on your stump to blend other parts of the cat.
You can also pull some graphite off the fur areas, add more delicate strokes in the direction of the fur, and then blend the area as needed. Occasionally lay your pencil on the side to add a tiny bit more graphite and blend again.
Use your paper stump in the direction of the fur. If you have covered an area too much, just use your kneadable eraser formed to a little ball with a peak on it to pull back some of the graphite, then blend around the edges to soften the area again.
Finishing up and planning your next project
Once you are happy with all your blending, your cat is complete. Great job!
This is a process you can practice several times so that you can draw your cat from memory any time you like.If you would love to learn more about how to draw and shade using professional methods, see my course: Complete Drawing and Shading Course.