Easy Birch Trees with Cardinals in Winter

I painted these birch trees with cardinals a few years ago, and they make a great beginners acrylic painting tutorial! I love them for a winter painting project, but you can use this tutorial as a base and make it fit any season. 

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Finished acrylic painting of birch trees with cardinal The Social Easel Online Paint Studio

You know I love to add metallic touches to my paintings. I have a whole blog on my favorite gold products even, but for this wintery forest scene, I will be using silver. Just a little bit mixed into a few areas adds that snowy luster to the paintings. 

Whatever your favorite acrylic paint brand is, I am sure they have a silver you’ll love.

Blended Background

For a quick and simple background, I am using some Apple Barrel Caribbean Blue, white, and a little bit of silver paint. Any tealy blue color will give you a similar look. You don’t have to have that exact one.

Choose colors that speak to you… This is your painting!

I load my colors to my 1″ flat brush and do a vertical blend. Make sure you have enough paint on your brush if your paint is skipping or dragging.

Read my blog about blending backgrounds HERE.

Close up of acrylic painted Birch Trees The Social Easel Online Paint Studio

If you are newer to painting or struggling to get a good blend, step one is to make sure you have enough paint on your brush. Not only can you cover your canvas a little faster, but it makes for a smoother transition.

If you don’t have enough paint, it makes the job harder on you. You will experience skipping and feel like you are trying to force the paint into your painting surface. 

It shouldn’t pull or tug. If that is happening, that means you need more paint on your brush.

Paint a Snowy Ground

After the background is complete, switch to a small round brush to paint a snowy ground. Add just a tiny bit of blue paint to the white to create a little more contrast, depth, and shadows. I prefer to use a cool blue and not the same teal as the background.

Paint snow over the base of the birch trees The Social Easel Online Paint Studio

If you grab more blue on your brush than you meant to, don’t worry… Add a little more white to blend in. If your paint is already setting, let it dry, and you can go back to it and make the changes you need!

Always remember, when acrylic painting, you just have to let it dry, and then you can change whatever you want.

How to Paint Birch Trees

With the white paint and your small round brush, paint tree trunks.

In this birch trees with cardinals painting, you don’t see the treetops, so they will be about the same thickness from top to bottom, only narrowing slightly at the top.

Acrylic Painting Birch Trees with Cardinals The Social Easel Online Paint Studio

Paint some close together and it’s ok if they have a little bit of a wave to them too. This is how trees grow naturally and will make your painting look more organic.

If you think your trees are looking weird, it could be that you made them too perfect!

Painting Bark on Birch Trees with Cardinals The Social Easel Online Paint Studio

Certain colors can be more transparent than others. Don’t let that bug you. Be patient, let it dry, and then add another layer.

If you don’t let it dry all the way between coats and you keep layering on the paint, it can become really gloppy and get sticky and hard to move and work with.

Birch Trees with Cardinals painted in a mixed media pad The Social Easel Online Paint Studio

By the time you are done adding in the first layer of all the birch trees, they will be ready for the second coat if you want one.

Once you have all your birch trees painted, go back into the white from your snow and cover the base of the trees where they meet the ground.

Lightly holding brush with black paint to create bark on Birch Trees with Cardinals The Social Easel Online Paint Studio

For the bare winter branches, switch to a smaller round brush, I used a #0 but every brand sizes a little differently.

It’s all about the pressure you apply to get the thickness of the line you want. The more pressure you use, the thicker the line will be.

Just add a few here and there that come out from the truck with a slight upward angle.

Painting black and gray lines on Birch Trees with Cardinals The Social Easel Online Paint Studio

Now, this part is when it starts to look like birch trees. To mimic the peeling bark, add black horizontal lines and some gray shading.

I like to use fine detail brushes. You don’t need to use much pressure at all. If you want little skinny lines just barely graze your canvas.

Adding black when the white is still wet will create some variation and mix some gray tones into the lines.

Hold the brush lightly in your hand and drag across horizontally, alternating sides. Sometimes you can make a little dap for a knot in the tree.

Do this fairly quickly… you don’t want to overthink where you are adding all those black marks. Bouncing around helps each spot look a little different. Otherwise, it will look like dashes.

Small round acrylic paintbrush and Birch Trees with Cardinals The Social Easel Online Paint Studio

Overthinking is our worst enemy. You want to work kinda fast down the tree. You can go back and add more or use white to clean things up.

Now, go back in with a little white and gray to add some shading here and there so all the bark isn’t the same color.

Even add a little silver if you want. It’s your art work! Sometimes you make a happy little accident, and it becomes your favorite part.


Now that the trees are done add a flurry of snow. The easiest way to make tiny little snowflakes in a painting like this is with the back of your brush handle! 

Simply dip it into the white paint and sporadically place your dots. Again, move around quickly and avoid making a pattern.

How to Paint A Cardinal

It’s finally time to paint the cardinals into your wintery birch tree forest. I just love how the red pops of the blue background.

Birch Trees with little Cardinals Painting The Social Easel Online Paint Studio

For the body, paint parenthesis’ ( ) and fill it in. Then run a line down one side to straighten the back and drag it all the way down for the tail. 

The tail is kind of flat at the bottom and then angles back up to the body. 

The head is a triangle. Up from the back to a peak, then down to a beak and connect back to the body. 

How to paint an easy Cardinals The Social Easel Online Paint Studio

Add the signature black on the front of the face. Then mix some into the red on the body for shading and the shape of a wing.

With the tiniest bit of orange, make a beak.

I break how to paint a cardinal down into steps on a larger scale so you can see exactly what I am doing in the video tutorial below.

Watch The Full Birch Trees and Cardinals Acrylic Painting Tutorial

Learn more about Christie’s Inner Tribe!

This isn’t a detailed, lifelike way to paint cardinals. It’s a very simple shape, but as you paint all the pieces, step-by-step, the painting will come together.

Learning how to paint can seem hard, but once you break it down into basic shapes and steps, you will be able to master so many things!

Visit my FB painting community and share what you make!