This motif of a male northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) on snow-laden branches has simple shapes, and begins with a pale wash of blue roughly suggesting shadows and depth between the snowy layers. This is built up with a few more layers of the same value:
Hints of the cottonwood branches and buds under the snow are painted, too. Blue is painted somewhat perpendicular to the bird so it won’t later appear to form an outline around the creature.
Now the bird’s local color is painted as a single wash over the entire shape, including its feet, which have a reddish tint to them. The tail appears short and thin because it’s mostly obscured by snow. Red also covers most of the eye except a highlight sparkle. A bit more yellow in the wash suggests the beak’s orange hue. Care is taken to accurately paint the silhouette.
In a short time, shadows and dark shapes finalize this simple portrait. Directional lines created by branch and snow shapes guide the eye to the bird subject. The eye forms the dull “point” at the top right of its black mask. Though this brightly colored bird is noticeable in just about any setting, in this painting just a few simple tricks create visual impact.