Black Cats in Sun and Shade: A Painter’s Eye View

My Little Buddy, who goes by several names

My Little Buddy, who goes by several names

or, The Natural Black Cat

Over the years we’ve had fourteen domestic felines; five of those have been black cats. They’re glorious, purrsome, and chirpsome; they make me call out “Hey, sweetness”! They’re major snugglers, and adept communicators; I’ve had deep rapport with black kitties. My imagination always sings when I see a black furry creature lounging in the house, busy making sheen from sunlight. Often reported to be some of the most affectionate cats, they walk up with eyes bright and loving, do head-bumps, and always work a takeover of human hearts. My own ‘house panthers’ have been thoughtful muses, taking up lap vantage points at the drawing table and the computer. I adore black cats! I’m tellin’ black cat stories here because this fur color so often gets a bum rap; the black kitties are lovely cats like any other, and make wonderful companions. My Cat Book will hopefully be completed soon, dancing with cats of all hues.  Meanwhile, I’m tapping out a beat in words, holding a soiree in honor of the cats who are often named “Midnight” or “Eclipse” or “Shadow”; cats who are always dressed for an evening of music. They are ready, instantly elegant, and waiting, while I reach for my ‘little black dress’.

Above you see my late Mom’s “beautiful black fox-faced cat”, as she described him. She’d also say, “He’s a honey.” She “officially” named him “Good Old Boy”, against my advice, LOL. But he is his own cat, and never networks. Adventurous cat rascal that he is, on occasion I’ve called him “Stinkpot”, and now, in my house, he mostly goes by “Little Buddy”. You also see him in my Gravatar and on my “About” page above. He was a found kitten, a rescue, and his front legs have an unusual formation, but that’s another story for later. Even nearing eighteen years old he’s still one of the most arboreal little cat guys I’ve ever known. He always climbed anything in the room he could get his paws on, and was lifted down carefully several times a day. He sleeps a bit more now.

In awe of achromatic kitty beauty and the ways it fascinates, we sought out our first black feline; the rest walked into our life from the street or the roadside. Black cats placed up for adoption aren’t adopted at the same rate as felines of other colors, according to many reports from shelters. Persistent myths about luck plague them; I’ve seen that myself while standing in the adoption room at a local pet store; “I’m not having a black cat,” I heard someone say. Superstitions about luck and fate aren’t relevant to animals so I’m not even going to talk about them here. There is nothing the least bit scary about black cats, any other cats, or black animals. Another reason cited often is that in shelters, their faces are harder to see, their personalities obscured in dark features. They’re harder to photograph for ‘available pet’ networking; a prospective adopter might anticipate difficulty taking home pictures of them.

As a painter I study light, dark, and color and the way they all fit together in nature. The color of animals is a visual phenomenon, so it is through color theory facts that I advocate a sensible approach towards understanding the bounty of visual effects we enjoy on this earth.

Black cats are natural creatures, with natural world coloration. Black fur is completely wholesome, and may even afford cats who are living outdoors, some camouflage in the partial or low lighting of dawn, dusk, and night. The part of electromagnetic radiation from the sun that humans can see is composed of all colors. Painters take the blacks and the darker hues, the whites and the brighter hues, the ranges of gray between shadow and light, and fuse them with the visible spectrum. Dark hues intensify the colors around them just by being there. Black cats really do go with everything, as advocates list among the many reasons to adopt them! Painters work that rainbow and all its degrees. We play up and down the gray scale and sound a flourish at either end! All permutations are counterpoint to each other, weaving contrasts together. This isn’t just the painter’s eye view, this isn’t just true of the world of visual art, it’s true of the way humans see brightness, shadows, hues, and forms out there in the physical world. Sunlight just behaves that way. Color in nature is compound and our vision and perception are both attuned to respond to its intricacies. All shades, tints, and colors are needed in living and painting. All colors work together to make daily experience; combinations of dark, light, and color reveal the landscape out there in full. If we humans were to startle every time murky color or shadow crosses into our view, we’d be one jumpy bunch of folks! We’d be like long-tailed cats in rooms full of rockers.

Animals of all colors stroll through this landscape of contrasts, living, moving accents who rouse and delight our attention and senses.

When something is visually black, that means, roughly speaking, it has absorbed all the rays of light without reflecting any. However, in nature, there is usually no absolute white or black or even completely solid hues. Reflected wavelengths are mixed with spectral adjacents. On a black kitty, we may see silvery highlights playing on their fur; we may see bluish effects. Shadows are often recognized by painters as having color. Natural dark has its own shades and intensities and when painting towards a natural effect, an artist may mix colors into black paint that is straight out of the tube, or build dark areas with glazes. When using black ink in drawings, I used to layer over it with pencil marks of both neutral and bright color.

Catlike Image Appears in Landscape; detail of mixed media

Catlike Image Appears in Landscape; detail of mixed media

When light encounters any object, all photons are transferred to other energies; objects of each color emit new photons of that same color’s wavelength in the original light.  If white is seen, all colors of visible light have been converted to new photons, same frequencies. A black kitty’s coat has absorbed most of the visual rainbow, converting it to heat and leaving black as the hue we see. Kitty blinks at you and purrs. Pet and scritch your black, fuzzy feline, feel the vibrant warmth; in strong sun, you’ll see light glittering on the lush fur surface. Dusky black kitties are not only snugglebugs, they’re an intrinsic fact of nature like nightfall and daybreak. More expanded explanations will be coming in my book.

Update, April 21, 2014: To illustrate this concept (somewhat), here is the  recent composite image made from a composite of two photos, one of Little Buddy and one of refracted sunlight. For more explanation , see here:

Little Buddy with a rainbow in his black fur. He's a found kitty with unusual forelegs.

Little Buddy with a rainbow in his black fur. He’s a found kitty with unusual forelegs.

In my region during summer, daytime dark resides in tree trunks, shaded leafy alcoves and creek depths, and on iridescent blackbirds gathering on fields. Nighttime dark carries fragrance, katydid clacking, frog chirps, whip-poor-will calls. The black cats, along with all the cats, are usually seen reclining in the house’s sunny spots year-round, but now and then seek partial shade. In other regions and seasons, dark also has its own splendors, there for anyone to find who looks. Nearing the earth’s poles, dark enhances the auroras.

I’m unable to paint now, so I take pictures. I’m no photographer, far from it. However, even using non-professional, highly amateur photo techniques, anyone can take striking pictures of black kitties with the digital cameras of today. Black cat pictures remind me of old film noir with its strong contrasts of light and dark. I’m calling this photographic record of my Little Buddy, Black Cat Noir. Imagine a few sax riffs, here.

If you have access to the equipment of professional photographers, you can really go full throttle, setting up lights and taking exceptional pictures of your black cat(s). Many Internet sources describe these processes and how to take great pictures of dark cats, as well as cats of all colors. These experts are adept at getting enough illumination on the faces of cats , and other animals, of darker colors. Meanwhile, here are some of my more amateur pictures. Hey, I like any picture that has one or more of my cats in it!

I no longer use flash.

1. You can make the beautiful cat eyes the focus of the picture. Even with little or no definition of facial features, such photos are usually stunning. Black cats most often have gold eyes, as Little Buddy does. Some have deep emerald green eyes, and a very few have  blue eyes. On the left, he’s radiant in sunlight plus the ambient artificial light. There’s a little too much light on him in this picture on the right, washing out his glossy black. Although these pictures show the face fairly well, pictures that show off the eyes of black cats are really effective when you see just hints of the feline faces surrounding the glow of the eyes.

Impending food alert, all cats are wide-eyed

Impending food alert, all cats are wide-eyed



2. You can use silhouette, employing the sinuous shape of cats, without ideal lighting. Here’s two silhouette pictures: a frizzy-edged picture from summer, like my Gravatar photos, and one from a winter evening.

Ever watchful kitty

Ever watchful kitty

Hangin' out, being part of the catmosphere

Hangin’ out, being part of the catmosphere

3. Strong sun plus ambient room light makes silvery highlights on fur. Sunlight roars at this latitude. We’re pretty close to the sun in the southeastern US. I have good illumination for photos, even indoors. Notice bluish effects. Those black cats  named “Shadow” combine many degrees of shadow.

The Sheen King relaxes

The Sheen King relaxes

4. Setting off other colors…Little Buddy electrifies the surrounding colors as they in turn enhance him. He rocks the spectrum!


5. In this old photo taken back when I did use flash, he’s pert and slinky.

Little Buddy when younger

Little Buddy when younger

That ferocious sun begins to set; cicadas begin to scree. The grayed scenery of evening fades into the deep, convoluted black-greens of night. Eventually we hear the last fiddle vibrate down; the music quiets. We continue talking awhile, watching fireflies light; and then the guests go home. Inside, the cats stir from sleep: black, tabby, and brown tuxie; present in spirit, another tabby of Mom’s we have been looking for since the tornado of 4.27.11. It’s time for stories, reflection, purring, and snuggling. If you have loved and been loved by a black cat, now is a good time to tell it – to friends, to people on the Internet! Help build a new and positive black feline mystique to override the myths that are old and harmful! I hadn’t planned on writing about this online before my book is published, but I came to feel this information is needed now. Cat lovers who are ready to adopt again, consider adopting a black one. You’ll get lots of kitty love, the fun of taking inventive photos, and you’ll see natural vistas in your own home that no photograph or painting can ever truly capture: the astonishing glory of black cats sitting in sunshine, or the soft depths seen when furry black cats stretch out in shade.

Acknowledgments: The author thanks Dr. Photon for reading this article and advising in ways that helped to keep the physics real! Any science errors are my own.

Note: Sorry I cannot seem to fix the incorrect alignment of text with the photos in the first two rows.

August 17th is Black Cat Appreciation Day. This holiday to celebrate black cats was created by Wayne Morris.

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About Catwoods

I'm a writer fascinated by the natural world and animals, especially cats.
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68 Responses to Black Cats in Sun and Shade: A Painter’s Eye View

  1. Shame on me for missing black cat day! I’ve never understood what people have against black cats. Silly superstitions. I have had two solid black cats and they are equal to or more affectionate than my others. I currently have three young black cats eating and sleeping in my garage. I would love to find homes for them as I am no longer able to bring in more cats (we are currently down to seven in the house). Hubby was diagnosed with cat allergies, heaven help us! But our current babies stay. He loves them as much as I do and we’d never part after committing ourselves to them. :)

    • Catwoods says:

      Thank you for telling me about your cats, Linda! I never understood the superstitions about black cats, either. I always thought they were especially beautiful cats, and all of our black kitties have been such really sweet kitties. I’m sorry to hear about the allergies, but I’m happy to read that you are keeping the kitties and working with the situation. I’ve heard that medications can keep allergies well-controlled. All the best wishes going out to you!

  2. Catwoods says:

    Thank you for telling me about your kitty, bluerock/debrazone. I’m so sorry that you lost him! I do think the green-eyed cats are especially beautiful. Glad to hear you’re painter, there’s really nothing like working with paints or inks! I’m fond of dogs, but will always be partial to cats. I’ve always liked Siberian Huskies, too.

  3. Great article! You have reminded me of my last cat. He was the offspring of my Sealpoint Siamese and an unknown father. He had a wild personality and would fetch. Although I tried to raise him as an indoor cat, he was always trying to escape, and one day he did. I last saw him lurking in a bush seemingly afraid to venture further, but he did, never to return. He was a beauty with bright green eyes and a silken coat. I’m a painter; I relate to your description of the colors found in black and shadow. Thanks for a beautifully written reminder of my love for black cats. When I married my husband 33 years ago I realized I would not be able to get another cat, as he is very allergic to them. Since then we have always had Siberian Huskies. Our latest addition is very cat-like sweet girl with smooth, shiny black fur with the look and feel of a cat’s coat. So I finally got my kitty, in a sense.
    Keep up the fantastic writing.

  4. Catwoods says:

    Reblogged this on Catwoods Porch Party and commented:

    I’m reblogging my earlier essay about black cats today because it’s Black Cat Appreciation Day. It includes a few ideas for taking photos of black cats.

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  6. Catwoods says:

    I’m so glad you enjoyed the post, torchgirl2012. I hope you’ll take many photos of Jack and post them! The one you posted yesterday is excellent. It must have been so wonderful having 8 black cats around!

  7. Thanks for this post found it very informative having loads of fun taking photos of my new boy Jack. He is adorable very loving exactly how you describe Black cats always loved Black cats mom at one stage had on complete Black family if 8.

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  9. Charles Huss says:

    It is difficult to photograph black cats but you have captured them quite well.

  10. Patsy says:

    Absolutely beautiful photographs and your book will be a wonderful gift for all cat lovers, black or otherwise, around the world. Thank you! Our last big, black, beautiful male was “Oliver” so big, but so soft and so timid and shy.

    • Catwoods says:

      Patsy, thank you for the encouragement; I’m glad you have enjoyed the photos! Your Oliver sounds like a wonderful kitty, thank you for telling me about him!

  11. I can’t have cats due to rather severe allergies, but I’ve always loved them. Some of these photos are making me want to try my hand at painting one… If I decide to expand my repetoir beyond corvids I think it will be to try my brush at felines :) Thanks for sharing all the lovely pictures and stories of your Kitties!

    • Catwoods says:

      Thank you for visiting and for the encouraging words! I’m happy that you have enjoyed my photos and stories! So sorry to hear that you cannot have kitties! I really admire your corvid paintings, and I think painting cats would be a wonderful direction for you to explore.

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  13. Karen B says:

    I love your cat photos, but I especially love your amazing artwork with the cat face hidden in the landscape. Your paintings are full of life and passion and colour.

    • Catwoods says:

      Thank you so much for your kind words! I really enjoyed visiting your blog, your photography is stellar!

      • Karen B says:

        Thank you so much! It’s funny, I almost gave it up last week, then 2me4art reblogged two of my posts and since then I have had contact with like minded people like yourself and suddenly, things are looking and feeling a lot better.

        • Catwoods says:

          I’m very glad you decided to stay! I will definitely be visiting your blog again. I’ve been getting off to a slow start myself, and I don’t know how to do SEO. Health issues mean I don’t get around to actually comment on other blogs much, but I hope that will change in the future.

          • Karen B says:

            I suppose that we all want to feel that our presence counts for something and thank you for helping me to feel that is the case. I am so sorry to hear of your health issues. I too have had problems which saw me immobile for nearly a year. I started the blog when all else seemed impossible. What is SEO?

            • Catwoods says:

              I’m happy if I helped in any way! Glad you are feeling better now! SEO is Search Engine Optimization. Supposedly there are ways to make a blog more visible to search engines, but it’s a mystery to me. I’m a latecomer to computers. One day maybe I’ll ask a tech person.

  14. leemalerich says:

    just read this post a second time. so worth it.

  15. awax1217 says:

    My wife and I are big fans of the cat. Some of my blog is on cats. Unfortunately we lost quite a few due to old age. They are gone but not forgotten.

  16. msmouse7 says:

    What a great post about black kitties. My first black cat, Koko, had blue eyes. She was beautiful in looks and spirit. MeiMei is my current blankie and is a bit more adventurous, as in exploring new heights.

  17. desilef says:

    Beautiful! My current foster-cat is a gorgeous long haired black female and super-affectionate. And yes, her meow is more like a chirping trill. I think her color was indeed held against her at the rescue home besides which she didn’t show well — intimidated to be among so many other cats when she longed to attach herself to a human. Thank you for your photos and words.

    • Catwoods says:

      Thank you, desilef. Thanks also, for fostering a kitty. I’ve had those chirpers and trillers too! Here’s hoping your foster cat gets a wonderful forever home.

  18. vera ersilia says:

    Wow. I am super-impressed by your black cats! I also LOVE black cats and their mysterious beauty. But I’ve had only one long-haired that arrived one Christmas as a 5 months-old looking for a home. When we left Arizona for New Mexico he moved next door so I knew that he would be well loved there too. Thanks for your visit to my blog. I call Paladin my Prince Charming because he is sooo affectionate. It is difficult to photograph black animals, I know ’cause I had Scotties….you do excellently with your photos. Cheers for Thanksgiving if you are in the USA, and if not, Cheers anyway !!! Vera

  19. Candace says:

    Your cats are beautiful.

  20. sjthomas30 says:

    Black cats are my favorite! I love this! Great post :)

  21. lindsay53 says:

    Thanks for liking our blog! Great tips for photographing cats but aren’t they just such natural posers!!!

  22. Love your black cats and your artwork too!! We have two cats!

    check out our autumn leaves, Rich Colors of Autumn

  23. melmannphoto says:

    Two black cats later am still wonderous at their attitude and mystery.

  24. Beautiful Black kitty!! I love all cats, but somehow there is a special spot for black ones. Thanks for stopping by over at Not Dabbling in Normal and checking our my black cat photo! Have a great day!

  25. 30 years ago my father spent hours and MILES of 35mm film trying for great shots of my first black cat. He would love the instant gratification of a digital camera! Your photos are wonderful, and I’m going to work on getting better shots of my three house panthers.

    • Catwoods says:

      Thank you so much! I took many pictures of the black cats we had during the years when we used film. I used a point and shoot camera and the photos aren’t terrific, but they are precious memories. My present pictures are far from professional level photos; I wish I could truly capture the gold cat eyes. I only get a few I think are good enough to post, but it’s so much fun to take them.

  26. floridaborne says:

    Loved each and every picture. Mr. “Sheen” certainly has personality!

    Throughout my life I’ve been owned by cats of many sizes and colors. All have delicate psyches The one that was on my lap is presently pouting on my desk. I had to move from my chair. He was comfortable. Humans can be so annoying. ;-)

    • Catwoods says:

      Thank you for your comment, I enjoyed reading about your experiences with cats! They definitely do not understand the notion of being moved from a comfy place of their own choosing!

  27. Nine years ago I went to the shelter to adopt a new kitty. I had no preconceived plan as to color. When I saw two little black fluff balls together, I asked to see them first. One was sweet and clingy. Very shy. The other was a nutty adventurer. I couldn’t decide, so I didn’t. I took them both. For eight years I was the mother of two fluffy black cats. The best kitties I’ve ever had the privilege of living with. Then one day a little black stray showed up in my neighborhood. She too is fluffy. And the sweetest, snuggliest little character with a mind of her own. There is a series of posts on my blog about Sophie’s rescue and integration with Sadie and Sally. After many months, a success. So now I’ve got three black cats. As for them being unlucky–pffft! I am the luckiest to have them!

  28. gillianoz says:

    Longhaired black males seem like the most playful of cats — along with orange males, too, of course. Thanks for reading my blog (Blogodonia) and for sharing your cat images.

  29. Pingback: Cat-Inspected Art | Catwoods Porch Party

  30. A.D. Everard says:

    I love cats, too and have always had cats (even out in the wilderness). Usually they find us and our latest is a muscular beast, more panther than pussy-cat, called Houston who arrived as a skinny little stray at our front door.

    Cheers! :)

    • Catwoods says:

      Little Buddy and I thank you for your comment! Our best wishes go out to everyone who takes in kitties! Almost all of ours have been strays or even ferals we took in.

      • A.D. Everard says:

        That’s so good to hear! I so agree with you! Some of our most amazing cats have come in as strays – I don’t know if that early trauma adds something of a spark to their character or if we’ve just always been lucky, but the reward for taking in a stray has always been fantastic just in character and style. I could never turn away a stray. :D

        • Catwoods says:

          Nice description of the kitties we get through “doorstep” adoptions; and great to hear from others who take them in! We always take the strays, too, finding good homes if we are at cat capacity when they arrive.

  31. Fantastic post. I love, love, love my black cat bagheera…

  32. Catwoods says:

    Little Buddy and I say thank you!

  33. rumpydog says:

    Happy Black Cat Day to your kitty!

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