Building A Believable Red -
Cardinals are such vivid and iconic birds that it is inevitable that many find there way into art. And many a cardinal has ruined rather than enhanced a landscape. Being the perfect foils for deep evergreen and snow, putting them in is a strong temptation. Which is how they come to ruin the scene.
Simple colors are always wrong. Life just isn’t that way. Our vision does not work that way. We see the variations in color, values as depth. This is important, you need a full range of values from light to dark if your work is not to appear flat. This is where a tonal study of anything comes in handy. If you are working from a photo making a black and white, or more accurately, a grayscale model, will help you with this.
Opps, see what happens with red? When I used to shoot black and white film, if I photographed anything that was red, I would use a red filter, to protect its value, tone. Otherwise, red tends to come out almost black. This gives you a clue to why works that contain red barns and cardinals so often go wrong. Too dark, not enough value!
So we need to build that believable red! Starting with the underpainting
Starting to build red
If I were painting this in oils, I would start by mixing up my own reds, but these are colored pencils and I needed to review just what reads I had. When I did the underpainting, I used vermilion red, true red and Tuscan red with a touch of yellow, white and terra cotta. This was done pale. The point here was to set the stage for the following layers. With Prismacolors, the Vermilion is more orange than red. For the cardinal, this is correct.
It is important to build a really substantial red. It is not only that cardinals are a bright red, they are a dense red. So I needed to make sure that the red was both vibrant and saturated. Once I established just where the colors go, I did an overall layer of vermilion. Then I used scarlet lake. This is a more bluish red. These two layers were blended together. Using a paper stump, I rubbed lightly and quickly over the colored pencil. The friction of the stump helps to slightly melt the wax, helping the two pigments to blend. Over that I used poppy red.
I also underpainted the black mask with Tuscan red. Yes, red. Even around the eyes, the black is not absolute so building the black around the eyes and mask requires the building of color. First the Tuscan red blended that in, and over it a layer of indigo blue. Only then was I ready to lay on the black. Around the eyes, a lighter, cerulean blue as also used. It is especially important not to completely cover the blues, as these will be the highlights. You might think these colors too dark to be highlights, but color is relative. It changes by what surrounds it. In this case, both the indigo and cerulean stand out enough surrounded by black.
This build up of darks also helps define and create an intensity in the red.