Capture the essence of your cat in a celebration photo that keeps an eye on cost and lets you add a piece of your own heart to a special celebration or keepsake. Choose a special photo of your cat and a background that reflects your personal style and love for your cat or cats.
I have created this special digital cat portrait project that you will love to try and which will help you create your own work of cat art. The project uses two tools I have not covered on the blog but that you will enjoy using. I know you will love this exciting creative challenge so let’s get started.
You will create an image from a photograph with a layer behind it and an overlay in front. You will also use the Eraser tool which is fun!
This 3 minute video shows the project in visual format. Can’t see the video? Watch here.
Creating a cat portrait from your own photo means you can enjoy the fun in digital exploration, learn some computer software tools and treasure your bond, or memory of a special cat. The finished art work will be one that you can print off on to a photo canvas, a card, or a t-shirt.
Once you understand the tools and how to use them, the opportunities for celebration or commemoration are limitless, as are the number of layers you can use. Enjoy the journey and make mistakes, above all have fun! There is always the ‘undo’ button.
An Introduction to Layers and Overlays
First, for those who have not used layers and overlays before, let me introduce these two tools. They are not intimidating when you see how they work. You will find the short video a good guide so you see the impact that each one has.
With layers I am using the basic definition, as found in Wikipedia. I hope you will find it helpful as a beginner, I know I did:
“Layers are used in digital image editing to separate different elements of an image. A layer can be compared to a transparency on which effects or further images are applied. They are placed over or under the image.”
In photography, overlays are an image or texture that is added as an additional layer to your photograph added using an editing program like Affinity Photo or Photoshop Elements. If you need a visual idea of what an overlay can do, check out my simple overlays post. Photographers use overlays to add a texture or interest that was not in the original image such as mist, snow or sparkles.
Note: Layers can also be called Adjustment Layers and Mask Layers when used in other creative work. For this beginner’s project I will use the term ‘layer’ as a simple description of a stackable element like layers in a sandwich or an onion.
This short video gives a quick introduction to adding a single overlay. If you are a visual learner, seeing the process in action might give you a clearer idea of the steps you need to take.
What You Need To Create A Cat Portrait
A photograph of your cat. This can be a digital image you have taken or a scanned image of an older treasured photograph. I recommend one with space around your cat. A portrait, or a napping cat, works better than a cat being held by someone. Sharply focused is good but if the photo is slightly fuzzy that’s OK. If your image has a lot of clutter a work around can be to use your software’s ‘selection tool‘ (see Photo Terms at bottom of post for a definition).
You will need a background image – this can be a garden, general landscape or something specific to you. I used my very first Cat Writer’s Association Certificate for my project background of Dot (below) and I have also used foliage from our garden.
A digital photo editing program like Affinity Photo, Photoshop Elements or PaintShop Pro.
Optional: Overlay images. These can be stars or snow or something else that your image tells you that you need. Check out Luxe Lens for an idea of what’s available. Luxe is a paid option of high quality. Pexels has stock photos you can use as backgrounds and textures for no charge.
I tell you that the overlay is ‘optional’ because, sometimes, you may add your first layer and then be really happy with the result.
Time to work through your cat celebration project.
You can save your project at any time if you need to take a break. If you don’t think you understood something the first time around, let your mind process the new skill and return to it later.
One question I am asked about overlays is “why should I pay for an overlay when I can get free ones?” One word ‘consistency’. If you discover you love this project and want to make a series on a similar theme then a paid overlay will make your images look more coherent as a series. Overlays are easy to download and import into your editing application. They are fun too.
If you are not sure which direction your portrait should develop in, give yourself permission to play around and learn the process. Collect images and potential backgrounds and try them out. The more you play, the more you will understand and learn. You will create a portrait filled with love and respect for your cat.
Create Your Celebration Image
I love working with photo editing software and overlays and I hope you will too. I am using two sample images here. One to honour our late tabby, Dot Kitten, and one to celebrate our lively tortie Sienna.
Please read through the instructions to see the steps you will take. This way you know what happens and the sequence of steps with no scary surprises! If you are not sure about anything, read the instructions a few times, watch the video, and work through each section slowly. If you get really stuck you are welcome to email me.
In this project I use a Luxe Lens bubble overlay, a birthday party image from Envato Elements and Affinity Photo photograph editing software. The two tools you will learn to use, layers and blending modes, are the same across all computer digital image editing software. They will be in a similar location, under a Layers tab or menu. Check your own software for its exact location.
Mistakes don’t matter, they can help you learn by showing you what can happen. Be positive and have fun.
Layer Tips for New Users
When beginning to use layers be aware of which layer is highlighted in the column located on the right-hand side of your applications window. It will be a lighter colour than the others. This is the layer you are working on.
Take a look at the blue highlighted layer in the screenshot below. Any changes or additions you make will affect only the layer you have highlighted. If, as you gain confidence, you want to use more than three layers make sure they are clearly labelled e.g. Main Photo, Bubble Layer, Party Image etc.,
To make creating your image easier resize your three images/overlays so they are the same size, before you start. This will avoid you having to add your layer and resize each one as you go. Look for Resize, or Document along the top of your software’s window.
Open Your Cat Photograph (Layer 1)
Select your photograph and open it in your photo editing software. This is your first layer.
This layer is your main focus, you embellish and adjust around this image. Whatever your celebration or commemoration I hope you understand from my examples how a clear image can be helpful. [For use in this blog post the image of Dot was resized at 1000 x 770 pixels.] Above you can see my Dot Kitten image before I add the second layer, the certificate becomes the background in Layer 2.
Add Layer 2
Open your second image in your photo editing program.
Copy this image Cmd/Ctrl A to highlight then Cmd/Ctrl C to copy.
Then paste it on to your original image (Cmd/Ctrl V).
Your first image will disappear underneath but don’t panic!
Look at your Layers Menu. You will see two images.
Make sure your layer of background that will go behind your cat image is highlighted like my example here. For me this is an award certificate, you may use foliage, a landscape, a collage of cat toys, anything.
Now you will adjust the transparency of your second image (the Certificate). Look for the word ‘Opacity‘ in your Layers menu. This may be set at 100% to start. Beside it will be a drop down menu of different blending options (modes).
For this project select Overlay, but take a look at the others while you are here to see the impact blends can have. Some are cool and some are crazy!
Adjust the transparency of the overlay layer. I have set mine to 85% as I want to show the background but you may set a more soft ghostly 70%. The choice is yours.
Do not be concerned about the background showing through your cat. We remove this in the next step.
TOP TIP Along the way you might discover that you create something amazing. If you do, save it as an image then restart your project again. I promise you will not remember the steps you took to create your artwork.
Adjusting Your Cat Image
With your background layer still highlighted in the layers column then find your Eraser. In your software it should look like a stylised rectangular eraser (or rubber in the U.K.) and be located on the left side of your editing screen. If you are not sure, check your software’s website for tips.
Select your Eraser tool and adjust the size if it is very big or too small. This is often done with the +/- or bracket keys 
With your second image selected, try a few strokes to start removing the background you can see on top of your cat’s figure. See the magic start to work?
If you take off too much Cmd/Ctrl Z takes you back a step.
Remove the pattern or texture from your cat’s portrait so that your cat figure looks clear.
It is a good idea to save your image at this point (if you haven’t already).
Adding An Overlay Layer (Layer 3)
I say that this layer is optional because you might be happy with your portrait as it is. If this is the case stop here, save your work and finish. If you are curious about adding an overlay layer continue with the next steps.
You can add any texture as an overlay. Something like lichen or stone might seem unlikely but the key word is texture. You will be adding a subtle overlay (50% or less) that binds your image together visually.
An alternative overlay might be something humorous like snow, fairy dust or stars. I have added a simple gold sparkle to Dot’s image and softened the overlay, while I used extravagant bubbles in Sienna’s image, which you will see in the video. Luxe Lens (and other paid) overlays have transparent backgrounds which makes them easy to add to your own image.
Copy your overlay (Cm/Ctrl A) to highlight then Cmd/Ctrl C to copy.
Paste this on to your original image (Cmd/Ctrl V).
Adjust the transparency of your overlay (mine is gold sparkles). Look for the word ‘Opacity‘ in your Layers menu.
Select ‘Overlay’ as in the previous step or try one of the other blend modes.
See if you like the results. If not you can delete the layer.
Save your finished image. See important tips below.
Ahigh–resolution JPEG is an image that is typically 300 DPI (dots per inch) or higher. While its file size may be larger, it can be ideal for those wanting to save a photograph or art piece and retain detail and quality.
I recommend you save your image at a high resolution because this enables you to do much more with your finished work. Most software gives you the opportunity to save or export at different resolutions. This will make the file size larger but it will ensure your image prints well as a canvas or cards.
You can save a second copy, with a different name, to share online but saving a good quality image when you first finish is essential as this will give you more options later.
Check the size of printable items such as photo canvases in online stores like Snapfish You will find canvases of different sizes and shapes, as well as the new flat photo tiles and printable garments for adults and children.
If you have problems or find you struggle, you can email me and I will do my best to help.
Cat Art Information
The Party image I used is by Envato Elements. Search for ‘Party Background’ to find others.
*Selection tool. If you need to cut out your cat from a busy background try the selection tool. How the tool works depends on your own software selection i.e. Photoshop (Elements) Affinity Photo, PaintShop Pro etc., A quick search online will show you how your software treats different selections. The developer’s website and YouTube are excellent sources for the information I do not have space for here.