Cardinal in Early Snow: #1

I painted this cardinal tonight. It is based on a photo I found online, but I can’t find it now – I will do my best to locate the photo so I can give credit to the artist who took the photo. I’ll update when I find it.

EDIT: The photo is the January, 2020 photo from the Bird Whisperer Project.

I started with a careful but minimalistic sketch of the bird. Then, I sprayed making fluid on the paper with a tooth brush. I also used a dip pen to make some very slight marks around the body to suggest feathers, and a highlight on the eye and beak.

After that dried, I wetted the whole paper and added light blue and greens to the background. Once the water had fully absorbed into the paper, but before it could start to evaporate much, I added some large strokes of burnt umber and raw sienna which bloomed out into foggy marks representing distant vegetation.

I let that dry completely before painting the foreground grasses in burnt umber, yellow ochre and cobalt blue. I think maybe I should have painted fewer of these as they are a bit distracting. But I like how they set the scene so I’m ok with it.

Next, I painted the bird with a very light layer of alizarin crimson (I think?) painting the whole bird one flat color. I painted the head wet on dry, and then used clean water to dampen the paper around the body. I wanted that red to blur out a bit to give soft edges around the belly thinking it would help suggest the bird being all puffed up to stay warm. Then, I painted that very light red into the damp paper so it would bloom out a bit at the belly. This worked well – I mean the paint bloomed out just as I had hoped. But, I didn’t account for the impact of the white feather breaks that I added with masking fluid. Next time, I think I’ll need to do one or the other-not both.

I then went back into the bird, staring at the head, and painted another, more careful layer of that same light red. The tail feathers were much more purple in the reference photo, so I used some moonglow for those feathers.

As they later was drying, I added pyrrol orange here and there to give the red some depth, instead of being one single flat wash.

Once that dried I used more of the red, this time at a much more concentrated water to pigment ratio, to paint tiny little has marks to suggest feathers. I was careful to make these marks in the direction that the feathers grow in order to help define the shape of the body better. Most of these marks aren’t even visible now, but I could see them when I was painting, and I think doing things helped me keep the contours of the bird in mind.

Then, I made a much thicker red/orange/purple mixture and painted some tiny little feathers here and there just to sell the illusion of volume. There are so many tiny little feather rendered throughout, and the vast majority just ended up blending into each other – but the few that didn’t really help sell the illusion of feathery contours. You can see it better zoomed in:

Once that was done I painted the mask and bib with a light wash of indigo and raw umber. I let that wash dry, and added more indigo and raw umber using tiny little strokes I went. Most of these were painted right next to each other, and just bled into one wash, but in a few places where the strokes didn’t quite touch I got a bit of a break, allowing that light unerpainting to show through.

I repeated this step with much thicker paint, until I was happy with the values in the mask and bib. I’m glad I took this approach because it helped create a deep black shape that still has dimensionality to it.

When that was finished, I used a tiny brush and clean water to wet a thin line around the eye. Then, I dabbed it with a clean cloth to pull pigment away, which gave a highlight around the eye. This really helped sell the illusion that the eye was setting in the head, instead of looking like a black googly eye stuck on a black mask.

I then mixed that black with the red and painted some very thin lines around the flight and tail feathers, and made some tiny marks in a few places to indicate shape – like the dark spot beneath the scapular feathers, and the line on the sternum between the breasts.

Once that was finished I painted the branch using a lot of yellow ochre, burnt sienna, raw umber, and indigo. As it was drying, I added some stripes of chinese white to bloom out a bit hoping it would look like lichen. This didn’t quite work, so I washed the chinese white into the other washes a bit. The branch was quickly starting to feel overworked, so I let it dry completely, and then went back at it with some wet-in-wet work using yellow ochre and raw umber to define the shape, and then scratching in some indigo here and there to suggest cracks.

After it was completely dry, I removed the masking fluid. I am not quite sure about the snow this created. I like it, but I also feel like it’s a bit noisy. If I were to do it again, I would either spray more masking fluid, keep a few bigger drops, or just skip the snow altogether. I think it bothers me the most around the eye, so maybe next time just be careful to remove any masking fluid near the eyes before I start painting.

I’m quite happy with how it came out. This if my first finished painting of 2024, hopefully there will be a lot more like this to come.