Learn the art of painting a cardinal with acrylic paints through this simple and comprehensive tutorial. With just three basic paint colors (red, black, and white) and a few paintbrushes, you can create a stunning cardinal masterpiece. The best part? You don’t need any sketching or drawing skills. This tutorial also includes snowy branches to add a touch of whimsy, as well as a customizable inspirational quote. Whether you’re looking for a Christmas-themed painting or a Valentine’s Day craft, the vibrant colors of the cardinal make it perfect for any occasion.
Step-by-Step Guide: How to Paint a Cardinal
To create the full painting, including the background and snowy branches, refer to the tutorial at the end of this post. The following steps specifically cover the process of painting the red cardinal bird.
Step 1: Bird Body Shape
Using cadmium red paint, fill in a half-circle shape with a 1/4″ angled brush.
Step 2: Bird Tail and Head Feathers
Paint the tail and feathers on the cardinal’s head using the same red paint and 1/4″ angled brush. The tail should be thicker near the body and taper towards the end. The feathers on the top of the bird’s head should be straight and angle out at 45 degrees. Each feather should decrease in size as you move down to the neck. Use the angled brush’s chiseled edge for the feather strokes.
Step 3: Add Cardinal’s Wings
Paint the oval-shaped wings inside the body using dark red paint (a mix of red and a tiny amount of black).
Step 4: Paint Bird Legs
Using the same dark red paint as before, paint the bird’s legs with your angled brush. The legs start at the bottom of the body, more towards the tail than the center of the belly, and are angled forward.
Step 5: Add Shadows
Add some shadows to the bird’s belly, the back of its neck, and the top part of its tail using the same dark red paint. Use small, quick strokes with the angled brush to create feather-like textures.
Step 6: Paint Black Markings on Face
Paint the black markings on the cardinal’s face using black paint and a size 1 round brush.
Step 7: Add Feather Details on the Wing
Using light red paint (a mix of three parts red and one part white) and a size 1 round brush, add lighter-colored feathers to the bird’s wings. The cardinal’s wings consist of short feathers at the top and long, thin feathers at the bottom.
Step 8: Paint Highlights (Neck, Head, and Belly)
Add highlighted feathers to the bird’s neck, head, and belly using the same light red paint from step 6 and a size 1 round brush. If the light red paint blends too much with the body color, lighten it further with some white.
Step 9: Paint Eye
Once the black markings on the cardinal’s face are dry to the touch, paint the bird’s eye. You can use a white gel pen or thinned down white paint and a detail brush. The eye starts at the border of the black marking and is more round than oval. You can also add one or two dots inside the eye to create reflections.
Step 10: Paint Bird’s Beak
Using the same light red paint from step 7 and a size 1 round brush, paint the cardinal’s beak. The top of the beak starts in the middle of the eye. Cardinals have short yet wide and sharp beaks. When painted, the beak should resemble a sideways diamond, with shorter lines on the inner beak.
Step 11: Red Feather Details
Take pure red paint and add more feather strokes to the bird’s body and head feathers using a size 1 round brush. Avoid covering all the layers of red paint underneath to give the bird more dimension.
Step 12: Line Through Beak
Once the bird’s beak is dry, paint a thin line in the middle of the beak using dark red paint (a mix of three parts red and one part black) and a size 1 round brush.
Step 13: Bird’s Claws/Feet
Paint the bird’s claws using a size 1 round brush and the same dark red paint as before. Cardinals have four claws, with three usually visible at the front and one grasping the branch at the back.
Step 14: Final Highlights
Paint thin feathered lines on the bird’s chest and the top of its head feathers using light red paint and a size 1 round detail brush.
Cardinal Painting Ideas
If you’re looking for more ways to incorporate cardinals into your artwork, here are some fun ideas to try:
- Add a cardinal to an ornament.
- Paint a winter scene featuring a group of cardinal birds, like this tutorial from Art Sherpa.
- Paint cardinals on a water bottle and give it as a gift.
- Create a rock painting with a cardinal design.
- Incorporate cardinals into handmade greeting cards.
- Sketch a cardinal in an art journal spread.
- Paint a cardinal on glass jars or wine glasses.
- Design a cardinal on a wooden sign for unique DIY farmhouse decor.
Cardinal Drawing Stencil DOWNLOAD
To make your cardinal painting easier, download the cardinal stencil image below. Save the image, and then use one of the provided stencil transfer techniques to transfer the sketch onto your canvas.
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