My Watercolor Christmas Card of Cardinals

Each year I paint my own Christmas card design. Now lest you think I am a prolific painter, I have to admit that I paint the card once, photograph it, and then print cards on my professional printer. My family and friends look forward to seeing what my design will be each Christmas.

For this year’s card, I decided to paint a male and female cardinal in falling snow.

“Christmas Cardinals”
© Annie Glacken

Here is a list of the pigments I used in this painting:

Pyrrole Red
Vermillion
Royal Blue
Cerulean Blue
Ultramarine Blue
Yellow Ochre
Burnt Sienna
Quinacridone Gold
Winsor Green blue shade
Titanium white gouache

After sketching my birds, I applied Pebeo drawing gum (frisket) to the tops of the branches and parts of the holly and berries where I wanted to save the whites for snow. I like the Pebeo brand because it is blue and I can see where I have applied it.

While waiting for the frisket to dry, I mixed up a puddle of cerulean, a puddle of ultramarine, a very pale puddle of yellow ochre, and a thicker green with a mix of the winsor green blue shade and quinacridone gold.

When the frisket was dry, I wet the background and then dropped in the blues into the sky and a small amount of the yellow ochre to indicate some light.  I knew that I wanted to keep the emphasis on the birds so I purposely kept the background very light. When the shine began to leave, I painted in the holly leaves that I wanted to be muted with the thicker mix of green. Because the paper was still wet, these holly leaves would be soft and diffused, keeping them in the background.

Background Wash
© Annie Glacken

After the background was dry, I mixed up a grayish brown using the ultramarine blue and burnt sienna and painted the branches. I then painted the holly leaves in the foreground with the same green mix I used previously and also a darker green I made by adding a touch of the royal blue to the previous green mix. On the berries, I first painted a little light gray mixed with the ultramarine blue and burnt sienna in areas where I wanted the shadow.  After this dried, I painted the berries with a mix of the pyrrole red and vermillion.

Painting the Branches and Holly
© Annie Glacken

Next, I began painting the female cardinal.  I used a little yellow ochre on her breast and let that dry.  Then I painted in a very light grey using the ultramarine blue and burnt sienna under the beak, under the wing, under the belly, and a little on the wing.  When this dried, I painted in a pale mix of the pyrrole red and vermillion on the head, wings, and tail.  For the beak, I used a very pale wash of the red mix. I mixed a really dark black using royal blue and burnt sienna and painted this around the beak and in the center of the eye.

Female completed
© Annie Glacken

For the male cardinal, I first painted the light gray mix in the shadow areas on the wing, tail, and belly.  After this dried, I used a brighter darker mix of the pyrrole red and vermillion to paint the red areas.  I painted the beak and black areas the same way I did on the female.

Male completed and frisket removed.
© Annie Glacken

I then removed all of the frisket from the painting.  I painted in a very pale wash of the ultramarine in some of the areas of snow on the branches and holly leaves to tone them down slightly.

To finish, I spattered in snow using titanium white gouache.

Voila! My mother is going to love this card!

This 6″ x 9″ original watercolor painting is available for the price $70 plus tax. It was painted on 140 lb. coldpress watercolor paper and has four deckled edges. Color on the computer monitor may be slightly different from the original. If interested, please use the contact page from the menu above and I will be happy to answer any questions.

I will be taking a break for a few weeks to spend time over the holidays relaxing with my family and friends.

I wish you a very Merry Christmas and a healthy, happy and blessed New Year!

As always, the images in these posts are copyrighted. Thanks!

14 Replies to “My Watercolor Christmas Card of Cardinals”

  1. Great !! Unfortunately, we have no cardinals in France and probably in Europe too. I never seen a real one. They are amazing of beauty and you made them perfect on your card. Is the male more red ? I didn’t know. Thanks for sharing you card with us. Happy future owners must wait with impatience your treasure !

    • Laurence, that is too bad you don’t have cardinals in France, but I bet you have some other beautiful birds there that we don’t have. Yes, the male cardinal is a very bright red and the females are mostly grayish brown with a little red on them. Thanks for the compliment. I hope you have a Merry Christmas!

      • Thank you Annie. You are right, and first, I’ve 3 hens in my garden who are the prettiest birds I’ve ever seen, and so kind with us ! Merry Christmas to you too !!

          • I have an Araucana, deep brown, a Brazilian hen whose eggs are green-blue, sort of pale teal (you can google it if you don’t know them, bur perhaps you know well..;) , a “Tigrette” (a new breed resistant to virus) grey-brown and white, and a white silk hen, so fun, her tale is like a pompom, and on the top of the head too, but she doesn’t give eggs, just a beauty in the garden. I was affraid by hens for long time and nI’t know they are so interesting and interactive.

          • I love Araucanas and used to have them. You are making me want to get some hens again! 😉 Merry Christmas!

  2. Oh Annie, you are so inspiring. I haven’t painted for couple of months and miss it terribly. Have a trigger thumb and middle finger on (of course) my sketching hand, so seeing a specialist next week. I have always wanted to paint my own Christmas cards but never knew how to do it. Your tutorials are a blessing and your work amazing. Thank you again. Betty Nye

    • Betty, I am so sorry to hear you are having problems with your hand. I pray the specialist will be able to help you and that you get back to painting soon. I hope you have a lovely Christmas!