1. I do not like using masking fluid. It's unruly, so this is a perfect situation to use a good masking tape. I trim it to size and press firmly in place. Here, I also make a very light pencil sketch.
2. The mask allows me to paint the background area with freedom to keep the basic white of the trees intact.
3. I begin to lay in some elements of the background here.
4. Now, I paint the trunks of most trees, and I can also lay in shadows from each tree to give the snowy areas contour.
5. At this stage, I can add more detail. Also, it's at this point where I consider which of the main trees will have branches that either overlap another or pass behind a neighboring tree.
6. The background of the painting is pretty well complete by now, though I fuss with this periodically through completion.
7. Because of the way the white space is opened up for me, I paint the cardinal last. If the background was a mixture of solid colors, I would alter this sequence. Now, the bird is the potential deal-breaker. There isn't much to say here other than paint him in with caution and really think of about how you will do that. Do it haphazardly and you may be faced with a problem that is impossible to correct.