Recently a friend contacted me and commissioned a pet portrait of her mom's dearly departed cat J.J. In the past when doing a pet portrait I started by spending time with the animal doing gesture drawings capturing its movement and personality. Since J.J. had passed that wasn't an option. Instead I asked for lots of stories and photos and I learned that J.J. stood for "Judge and Jury" because the cat was notorious for observing with quiet distain.
Later I spent time with a living black cat to get a feel for how the fur interacted with light and what colors lay within the black. Next I did several value sketches of the photo I liked the best and subtly adjusted the composition to best align with compositional foundational elements. I wanted the composition to be "fair and balanced" like a judge. Equal parts light and dark, warm and cool, and foreground and background.
I also found out what colors my friend's mother liked and chose a color chord based on her preferences. Since I wasn't going to work from nature but rather from a photograph, I gave myself permission to push the colors away from reality and into this pre-ordained color pallet: blue, green, red and orange.
Soft pastels lend themselves to showing lines/streaks of color where they are applied. When viewed from 4-6 feet away the lines all blend together and "read" as one color. One advantage of these lines is that you can angle them to represent movement or, in this case, fur. Up close the lines look like individual hairs but from a distance the cat simply looks fluffy.
Overall I like how it turned about but best of all, my friend likes how it turned out too!