How do you get whiskers to look right when you paint them?
How do you paint the whiskers on a cat without lumps, bumps, or chunkiness? I’m Zann, and I’m a professional pet portrait artist. Painting whiskers is challenging, but I believe you can do it!
The key is to get the whisker done in a single stroke.
But Zann, you say, that’s REALLY HARD.
Agreed. And that’s why I’ve put together a few tips to make it easier. For example, what brushes work best for painting whiskers, how you can prepare the background you’re painting on, and how thick your paint should be for easiest whiskering!
And if that doesn’t work, I’ve even included a secret “edit undo” for acrylic and oil—so you don’t have to get it right the first time.
1. Prep the background (make it WET)
Don’t skip this step! Even if you’re painting whiskers over a nearly-completed painting, you can still put down a medium (acrylic gel for acrylic folks, linseed or safflower oil for you fellow oil painters) before you add whiskers.
If you’re painting on a forgiving background, you don’t even need to wait for the previous layer to dry. But for an unforgiving background, like your kitty’s lovingly-rendered face, if you’re not confident in your ability to get that whisker right the first time (and who is?), let it dry and then re-wet the background afterwards.
Two reasons. First, because wetting the background allows your new, white (or grey or black) whisker paint to glide smoothly across the canvas.
And second, because if you botch a whisker, it’s a lot easier to wipe off and paint over!
So yeah, wet your background with a medium (oil or acrylic) if it’s not already wet.
2. Pick the right brush
For painting cat whiskers (and dog whiskers), I like to use a stiff Bright. Yep, there’s a paintbrush called a Bright. It’s basically a flat brush, but with shorter bristles. I find the shortness allows that brush to keep its shape longer than a typical Flat. A filbert is also a pretty solid choice.
What to look for in your brush:
- thin taper
- stiff bristles
3. Get your paint consistency right
Right out of the tube, I find most oils too thick to paint cat whiskers (Walrus whiskers, maybe? Jk, I’d still want thinner paint). Some acrylics are fluid enough to do it.
You you have to use your judgment and shoot for some foody textures we all know. I like to use something about as viscous as olive oil or heavy cream.
What this does, is allow each hairline stroke to follow the surface texture of your strata (what you’re painting on), without riding along on top. In addition, you want enough fluidity to make it from root to tip without needing to reload or readjust your brush.
Otherwise you’ll get the same issues that you would with a dry background: bumpy, chunky lines.
4. Paint those kitty whiskers all wrong
Go ahead. Grab some spare paper or canvas and try a few strokes.
Paint them hard, paint them soft, paint them root to tip and tip to root. Do some wrong and then erase them, just so you know it’s possible. Watch the video above for how easy it is to “undo” whiskers if you do one wrong in oils.
Then try how I do it. You might discover something that works better for you.
5. Paint cat whiskers just right!
You’ve got your brush, your paint, and your artwork.
Load your brush with the most your brush will hold without getting globby on the brush.
Starting at your cat’s face, at the root of the whisker, brush out a smooth curve toward the tip. Lighten up on the pressure as you go, and you should get a perfect, smooth, tapered line.
With a wet background, a bit of the background colour will mix in and you’ll get an even more transparent, wispy, hairlike effect.
With medium over a dry background, as you run out of paint the medium will make your line more transparent, without your brush running dry and causing chunks. This will also give you an effect of translucence.
Now you know how to paint whiskers on a cat, get out there and get painting!