Like many of my paintings "Cardinals" started off as a demo piece for my Wednesday morning Watercolor Class at the Y. I was looking for something "winter-y". I had seen a photo on Facebook of a group of cardinals, thirteen to be exact, sitting on some sort of non-descript perch. I loved their brilliant red color and decided right away that I wanted to paint that picture…well not exactly that picture. Although I was initially intrigued by the red cardinals against the grayish white background, I knew that I needed to make a few changes in the composition. There were far too many cardinals in the photo, some would need to be eliminated for a cleaner, less cluttered look. After a few sketches I came up with a plan using just five cardinals, and turning the nondescript perch into tree branches. I added a few vertical lines to imply tree shapes in the background.
I wanted my background to be subtle but still have some life to it, so I mixed a combination of Payne's Gray with various blues and greens. Since I wanted the snow on the branches to remain white I had covered that area with masking fluid. I had also used masking fluid around the outline of the birds to keep the gray paint away from the areas that would be painted bright red. The Payne's Gray and blue/green combinations were applied to a wet surface letting colors run together. I then added a bit of yellow for some warmth and contrast. Then I covered the wet areas with crumpled Saran Wrap and hoped for the best! This was after all a classroom demo, so I wanted good results!
After letting the paint dry a bit and the colors pool around the crumpled Saran Wrap, I removed the wrap and exposed the background. It turned out exactly as I wanted! It was full of many little random nooks and crannies in various shades of gray, blue, green and yellow which created a surface pattern and more importantly, a sense of depth.
The birds were painted in a loose painterly fashion, rather than a tight illustrative look. After working with the soft grays, I enjoyed painting the bright reds, oranges and yellows. The tree were kept subtle; you can see the background pattern behind the trees, which helps to unite the composition. The spindly branches coming from the trees draws our eyes from the strong vertical tree shapes, to the birds. The subtle background texture complements the focal point without becoming a distraction.
At the very end, I used opaque white to add tiny falling snowflakes. I was pleased with the final result and decided to use the painting for our family Christmas card this year. After photographing the painting, downloading it into the computer, importing it into a graphic program, and adding text, the only thing left to do is print the cards!