August 29, 2021

How to Paint a Cardinal Wood Carving | The Easy Guide

How to paint a cardinal bird

Cardinals are one of the most popular birds in North America, and for good reason – their bright red plumage is stunning. If you are an artist looking to capture this beauty on canvas or wood, read on for step-by-step instructions on how to paint a cardinal bird.

Sketch the bird using your color pencil. Any mistake, rub off with little water. Choose the color of the paint of your choice and mix if necessary. Use a fine tip brush to apply paint. Gather your materials and tools as you start painting, defining each part with a different color. That means the black eye should not be colored red but black and snow white. Know where each color belongs. 

Look at the original colors of the cardinal and use those for a similar carving. There is no bright red color paint with some pink pigments hence the mixture of red and yellow. Below are the tools and material needed and a well-detailed summary of painting a cardinal wood carving.


  • Paintbrush


  • Cardinal wood carving
  • Yellow paint
  • Red paint
  • White paint

How to make the cardinal

Fake a plain, grey painting and gather your tools. Take a watercolor pencil and water. Water erases mistakes as you are sketching. Sketch the bird using a water-color pencil and erase lines whenever you make a mistake. 

Standard shapes and lines in the cardinal help you attain the exact carving, and these are guidelines that make you stick to the original product. The breaststroke is a rounded line that sits on the branch of the painting. 

The back is a slanted line that stretches below the branch from the tail. The head is round, and the back is in a triangle shape. The bird has unique, spiky feathers slanted to the right and has a head-on top. The wings are below the head. 

How to paint a cardinal for beginners

Gather your tools and materials. Use yellow and red paint for the cardinal so that you get the actual color. The combination gives you a bright red color since you will be adding yellow to the red paint. Adding white gives a pink bird instead of a red one. 

Use a fine tip of the brush to apply the paint. Apply the first layer of bright red paint on the bird. The grey background makes it dry quickly and darker. Make sure you do not paint the branch since that will ruin the carving. 

There will not be a feature to distinguish the bird from the branch. There is a little spot expected on the branch of the carving, and that is where the wing tip covers. The beak has to be yellow. Add black areas using the brush, and that is the outline of the bird and the wing. Below the beak, there is a rectangle in black. 

Add a horizontal line of the beak using black. The feathers have to be separated on the tail, but not all of them. Separate them using the black color so that they will be identical to the remaining ones. Add a dot that makes the eye, and on top of the dot, add a little white paint. 

Some highlights on the bird are necessary. These come from an additional layer of bright red paint on the breast and the wings’ tips. Add snowflakes using white paint, the tip of the brush, and add white dots randomly over the entire painting. 

You are allowed to use the bottom of your brush while adding snow. Cover some of the branches and birds using snow. Add them on top of your snowy hills. Do not be worried about some snowflakes that are longer than others. Add as many dots as you want. 

What yellow and red for the cardinal

Just like human beings, cardinals have their melanin. In this case, it comes in red. The color red comes from their diet. They get carotenoids from the seeds and fruits they eat. Carotenoids increase in the cells that grow feathers, and that is how they appear in red. 

Male cardinals have a high definition of color since they feed on a seed-heavy diet when no fruit-based diet. Lack of wild fruit in the diet leads to an unpleasant red plumage. The seeds are not red, but they have the organic compound carotenoid, and the yellow seeds help create the red color. 

The fruits and berries eaten by cardinals make a deep, rich plumage. The males are bright red, and the females are brownish. That is why the males use their color to attract mates. Porphyrin gives reddish and brownish shades. Certain plants help the Cardinals keep their color. 

What kind of paint do you use for the cardinal?

Acrylic paint is the popular finish to consider on a wood carved cardinal. It cleans up easily with water when it is either wet or dry. It is waterproof, and that makes the carving last outdoors when exposed to storms and rains. Make sure it fully cures before use and seal the paint for durability. 

Before painting, make sure the carving’s surface is smooth. Smoothness is by sanding your carving. Look for 220-grit sandpaper so that you get rid of the dust and unwanted material. Remove the sanding dust using a soft brush. 

Another option is canned air since it removes dust in areas hard to reach using a brush. Avoid using a tack cloth since it leaves a residue that disturbs the performance of sealers, paints, and stains. A lighter sealer is ideal for carving, and clear glaze seals the wood and allows the carving to absorb the stain. 

Apply the glaze and let it dry before you apply acrylic paint. Make sure the wood glaze does seal the surface too much so that the surface absorbs the thinned glaze. Choose a sealing of your choice and apply it to your carving. Brush your fingers on the surface to see if it is dry when the sealer raises the grain, sand with 220-grit sandpaper. Apply the paint washes or stain. 

When you choose to seal the cardinal wood carving using Opaque paints, use a pallet knife to mix one part of Sonja’s all-purpose sealer with two parts of background colors. You have two options when applying the paint. 

Use one color to apply a base coat to the whole carving or mix the sealer with different colors for the first coat in a specific area. Your choice depends on the color you want, and playing around with colors requires experience. 

The preparation process makes it easy to apply the final colors to the carving. When using the dry brush technique on the carving, apply a base coat mixed with a sealer. Whichever method you choose, make sure you apply the paint and sealer mixture using a brush. 

The first coat has to be smooth for a smooth finish. For a smooth coat, thin the mixture with little water and apply two thin coats. Pay attention to the mixing ratios so that the mixture does not become watery. Allow the base coat to dry between applications so that the paint does not lift. You may also like our posts on How to make a wood carving stand out & How to Make a Wood Carving Bench.

David D. Hughes

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