In many areas of the US, northern red cardinals stay around throughout the winter, adding a nice burst of color and the sweet sound of music to your back yard all year long.

When it comes to finding shelter and making their nests, northern red cardinals are very private birds. They look for areas that are dense with growth, like evergreen trees or thick shrubs. Perhaps because of their bright colors, cardinals make their homes inside dense greenery. So for this painting I decided to indicate the kind of evergreen that the cardinals might choose to perch in, but to make it minimal so that they could be clearly seen.

Only a few colors are needed for this painting to succeed. I chose the following palette, and used a mixture of Winsor and Newton, Schmincke and Old Holland paints. I used OH Bright Red, Paynes Grey and Raw Umber, W&N Winsor Violet,Olive Green and Sepia, and Schmincke Potters Pink, Naples Yellow and Black.

I have used Schmincke watercolors all my life and can’t say anything bad about them at all. They will last a lifetime – I have a tin which I bought in 1988 and they have years of life in them yet. A good investment indeed.

W&N Cotman colors are an inexpensive students paint which is perfectly adequate for learning how to master the art of watercolor. Nothing to lose if you decide to give up your new hobby!

Old Holland are incredibly intense colors which go a very long way indeed. If you are just starting out and need a complete set which will last a lifetime, this is a very good option. You will never need another color.

I used a size 7 round by Drawell and a size 6 filbert from Pro Arte.

Before drawing my design I studied various photos of northern red cardinals in books and online until I felt familiar with the bird again. When I lived in Bermuda we saw them occasionally, but it is not a bird found where I live now, in northern France. I then carefully drew the birds, and then played around with different arrangements of the birds on twigs, using my lightbox to help me with this. I show this process in the video below, before beginning How to paint a pair of Northern Red Cardinals in Watercolor.

How to paint a pair of Northern Red Cardinals in Watercolor

The important thing with this painting is to keep a light touch and not to go back too often to make adjustments. I was using a sheet of 140lb cold pressed Arches watercolor paper, taped to a wooden board. Watch the video below to see how I painted this picture.