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How to Paint Cardinals in Snow in Watercolor

Tags: paint tree paper

When winter comes and color in nature is spare, cardinals are a heartwarming sight, and an extra delight perching in pale birch trees. Three ordinary watercolor techniques make up this painting: saving the white of the Paper with masking tape for the trees, using sticky shelf paper for the birds and spattering white Paint for snow.


  1. Tape a piece #140 cold press watercolor paper 11 x 14" size, to a board. Either horizontal or vertical orientation will work well.
    Cardinals with white birches.jpg.jpg
  2. Draw on the back of the shelf paper, two cardinal shapes. Have them face opposite directions. Oval bodies, round heads with peaks at the crown, tail and wings. Omit the feet for the present time to keep the shapes compact. Cut them out and set them aside.
    Circle, oval, contact paper.jpg.jpg
  3. Sketch, in pencil, four birch trees. Get a variety of widths and spaces between them. At the top, have them branch out. Tear strips of beige masking tape, and mask the tree trunks. Tear, or cut a strip of tape lengthwise for narrow trees. Press down well. Cut and tear shorter, tapered pieces and make branches at the tops of the trees.
    Mask trees.jpg.jpg
    • Alternatively, if the idea of masking isn't to your liking, paint around the trees as in the tree on the far right.
  4. Make a perch for the birds by sketching a branch or two crossing over the birches. Split into forks at the end.
    Draw branch.jpg.jpg
  5. Remove the backing from the shelf paper and stick the birds, facing one another, on the branches. You'll be overlapping the masked trees.
  6. Prepare paints by squeezing 1/2" from tube watercolors in these colors: two shades of blue, red, two colors of brown, green and yellow.
  7. Pull the blue paints, each with its own brush, into the center of the palette. Mix with water to the consistency of milk. Paint the blue in long strokes from top to bottom. The blues ought be dense enough to cover in one stroke, but not opaque. Add in some greens. Air dry or use a hairdryer.
    Paint blue.jpg.jpg
  8. Unmask the painting by pulling off the tape and bird shapes. If you have not used #140 cold press paper, do this step very carefully, as the tape might tear the paper. If the paint has bled under the tape, lift it off with a round bristle brush you have cut to 1/4". Or use a purchased "scrub" brush.
    Unmask ptg.jpg.jpg
  9. Pencil in places on the birds where you need to. Details such as the wings, beak, feet, mask on the face. Draw a tiny circle for the eyes at the edge of the mask, to remember to paint around them. If you forget, just use white paint to add them later.
  10. Paint the cardinals with red. Dilute the paint with water to the consistency of milk and fully load your brush, not scrimping on paint. Let it dry before doing the orange beaks and feet and the black mask.
    Paint birds.jpg.jpg
  11. Paint the birches by running a strip of water down their centers. Run a line of brown paint down one side and let it bleed into the wet area. Use the end of a flat brush to stamp the horizontal lines on the trunks.
    Paint birches.jpg.jpg
  12. Paint details in the landscape such as tiny branches, twigs, etc. Whatever appeals to you. Run ivy around one of the trunks.
    Finished art.jpg.jpg
  13. Make falling snow by squeezing 1/2" of opaque, white tube watercolor. Add only enough water to make the paint resemble heavy cream. Fully load a large, flat brush, and tap it against the handle of another large brush. Practice first on a scrap paper until you get the hang of it.
    Spatter snow.jpg.jpg
  14. Perch the birds on pine branches, instead and illuminate them with a yellow moon. The green is a good contrast to the red birds.
    Four cardinals in the snow.jpg.jpg
    • 2 cardinals pine tree snow.jpg.jpg


  • Masking fluid, a paintable, liquid latex, isn't a good choice for such a large expanse as the trees. It would be fine for the two birds, however.
  • A liner brush has long, soft, very flexible hairs which hold a lot of paint for doing fine line and delicate areas.
  • Use a white household eraser pad for lifting areas you want to correct. Just tear off a chunk, scrub with it and dab dry with a tissue.

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How to Paint Cardinals in Snow in Watercolor


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