Portraits of Gumbo the Cat

Ink and Gouache Paintings for His Humans

Portrait of Gumbo the black cat in sumi ink and acrylic ink. He is flipped over sleeping with a stuffed carrot.
Portrait of Gumbo the black cat in gouache and colored pencil. He is a black cat sitting in a human pose, dropping a cup of coffee.

Early in 2020 my friend Jeny commissioned two painted portraits to cheer up her boyfriend, Sam, who was hating his job at the time. She knew that a gift featuring his buddy, Gumbo the cat, would be a sure-fire way to lift his spirits. Jeny requested different styles since she and Sam have contrasting tastes in art. One would reflect her appreciation of graphic design and the other Sam’s interest in comedic realism. These were my very first commissioned animal companion portraits! I am so thankful for their support and kick starting my art studio journey.

A Jet Black Cat

Gumbo is silky black with a patch of white fur on his belly. He was adopted by Sam who found him in a wood pile behind his house as a small kitten. Gumbo grew quickly from kitten to toddler to teenager to a big boy cat but still loves Sam as his papa. He likes to drape his long body around Sam’s neck like it’s no big deal as Sam walks around the house. Jeny is Gumbo’s other human buddy, however, she’s convinced that Gumbo and Sam share a special bond. She and Gumbo like to hangout when she works remotely, as he chills by her side.

I have been honored to visit with Gumbo while Sam and Jeny were away. Days of coming by to keep him company gave me insight into his personality. He’s mischievous, aloof, and most of all, loving. He is not easy to play with unless you really challenge him. He loves creeping on small critters on the other side of the window (and destroying the blinds in the process). He is obsessed with wet cat food, which is painted as an “easter egg” in Sam’s portrait.

A close up of a painted can of cat food in gouache and colored pencil

The Ink Portrait

Time lapse video showing the ink portrait of Gumbo the Cat

Jeny shared artwork for inspiration featuring bright colors and the combination of image and text. These were elements that I was excited to portray in my own way. The final portrait has a combination of vibrant acrylic inks and sumi ink. I originally planned on using flat colors for the entirety of the piece but spontaneously decided to try a salt technique on Gumbo’s body and carrot for a textured effect. One of Gumbo’s favorite toys is a stuffed carrot that he kick-boxes, kitty style. I imagined him sleeping with it in his paws, peacefully dreaming of killing carrots. I wanted to incorporate some textual elements, so I painted some sleepy “Z’s” in metallic silver acrylic ink, and brush-lettered “Gumbo dreams of killing carrots” on the edge of the portrait in vermillion sumi ink.

The Gouache Portrait

Gouache painting on Gumbo the cat in progress, on a drafting table surrounded by paint tubes and brushes.

For Sam’s piece, Jeny referenced animals painted in human poses. The final features Gumbo sitting with his legs crossed, staring at the viewer. I decided to use gouache on this for a more realistic feel. It was one of the first times I used the pigment so I definitely experienced a learning curve. I started by laying out solid fields of color. I found as I went that colored pencils work well on gouache’s chalky finish, so I built up texture in his fur and on the surrounding kitchen scene. The piece ended up having a caricature indicative of Gumbo’s personality. According to Jeny, he broke one of Sam’s favorite mugs featuring Mickey. In another spontaneous decision, I drew the falling coffee spelling “oh boy!” as if the mouse was exclaiming in surprise. I felt that it was important to get Gumbo’s glowing green eyes and blank stare down when he’s about to do something mischievous, like dumping a cup of coffee and breaking the mug. In fact, I repainted the eyes because I didn’t quite have it the first time. I’m glad I did, because I think he looks much more Gumbo-esque now!

Jeny and Sam moved shortly after I created the pieces, so I was happy Gumbo was portrayed sitting in their kitchen as a reminder of their old home. I miss them all and can’t wait to see them in the future after this pandemic ends.