Drawing white fur

dog fur sketchI love drawing the textures of fur (there are five different fur textures, each with its own technique). It’s not a process that can be hurried, so instead it becomes almost meditative — the drawing slowly unfolding, centimeter by centimeter, across the white surface of the paper. This shaggy fellow, drawn in 4B pencil and measuring 6 by 8 inches, took more than nine hours to gently shade. He is a demonstration drawing, photographed at five stages from preliminary sketch to completion, for my online course in drawing dogs and cats.

How to draw eyes


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Eyes are challenging to draw, but they are also a lot of fun — and the eyes are often the key to expressing human emotion in a drawing. Here’s a short, step-by-step tutorial on drawing realistic eyes in pencil. For your model, cut a pair of eyes out of a magazine photo or crop a pair from an online image. Cut away the rest of the face so that you won’t be distracted as you concentrate on this drawing exercise. When you have finished, I’d love to see your results! My email is studio@valwebb.com.




The pitcher of doom (if you’re an insect)


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Blog pitcher plantMeet Sarracenia leucophylla, the white pitcher plant. I drew this specimen following a day at Splinter Hill Bog, 628 acres of whispering longleaf pine forest and bog at the headwaters of the Perdido River in south Alabama. I felt fortunate to have a real, live pitcher plant to work from — when the first botanical illustration of a Sarracenia was made in 1576 by the court botanist to James I of England, all he had for reference was a dried-up remnant of a pitcher plant collected by Spanish explorers in Florida.

In those days, scientists could only guess about the plant’s strange cupped structure — and after a great deal of study, they concluded that pitcher plants were benevolently designed by God to provide safe refuge for small creatures. (Alas, that’s exactly what the plant’s unsuspecting victims probably think, as well.) Three hundred years later, Charles Darwin was the first to guess at the true purpose of the plant’s unique architecture: not a shelter, but a deadly trap. When experiments showed that pitcher plants digested and absorbed bits of venison dropped into its throat, the mystery was officially solved.

Among all the hundreds of families of flowering plants on the planet, only ten include species capable of trapping animals. There remains much we don’t know about these carnivorous beauties: their lifespan is uncertain, for example, because they sprout from a thick, fleshy rhizome that can spread out underground to give the appearance of multiple plants. In the wild, a large stand of plants may be just a few old — but widespread — individuals. And the intricate patterns on some Sarracenia may extend beyond the visible light spectrum; there is evidence to suggest that they actually have other patterns that can only be detected with ultraviolet vision.

So much to learn, but we may not have that chance — pitcher plant habitat is disappearing at an incredible rate. Wetlands throughout the world are being drained for development. Even preserved wetlands often become contaminated with agricultural and residential runoff. Most of the large Sarracenia stands of the past are already gone.

Fortunately for pitcher plants in my region (and for those of us who like to draw them) a number of bogs are being carefully protected. The largest is Splinter Hill Bog, where this beautiful specimen was growing. There’s also a bog at Weeks Bay Estuarine Reserve near Fairhope, and at the Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge just north of Gautier, MS.


Why I love colored pencils


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Heron fairy header art2

Heron Fisherman, drawn in Prismacolor pencil

I live on a hill, and the street that runs past my front door ends abruptly at the edge of the bay, four blocks down. It’s an easy walk, early in the morning, to watch pelicans dive for their breakfast and hear gulls laughing as they sail past overhead. And in the shallows, when the water is calm, the great blue heron stands motionless. I suppose he is waiting for the gleam of careless minnows in the water at his feet, but he might as well be posing for my sketchbook. A beautiful bird, bold enough to ignore a small woman nearby with a fistful of colored pencils, he makes a great model.

I’m honored to be the featured artist in the upcoming June issue of Colored Pencil Artists magazine — an issue that will focus on birds in colored pencil. I drew this heron, and his fisherman friend, with that event in mind.

The heron is drawn in Prismacolor Premiere, the soft-core colored pencils I like to use. After making a foundation drawing in Dark Umber — including all the major shadows and textures — I used just five other colors, layered on over the Umber, to finish the bird. His beak is Yellow Ochre, shaded gently with Terra Cotta (the same combination is used for his fierce eye). I don’t like to use pre-formulated grays, which seem a little flat, but prefer to blend a warm and vital gray by mixing Light Peach and Cloud Blue.  All the gray areas on this fellow are created with those two colors. Then I used black, of course, for his dark mask and (very sparingly) to deepen the richest shadows.

The fisherman’s wings are based on the lovely (and enormous) polyphemus moth, a silkworm moth that is common where I live. The richly pigmented, slightly dusty feel of colored pencil is perfect for drawing lepidopterans, from monarch to cabbage moth.

Upcoming Workshops & Online Classes


Val Webb - House Sparrow1

Online course:
Birds in Colored Pencil
Starting August 23
8 Lessons – work at your own pace

With step-by-step guidance, learn to create “gentle pencil” foundation drawings and then layer rich colors on top to create elegantly detailed, illustration-quality colored pencil images. This course uses detailed video demonstrations of technique, step-by-step illustrated printables and personal feedback on completed projects. New lessons post every Tuesday on our class website for eight weeks, but you have four full months to complete the material. We’ll mix up classical drawing theory with a dose of natural history, with topics including drawing feather texture, drawing birds in flight, shading for highlights and shadows, color blending, basic bird anatomy, drawing birds of prey, drawing backgrounds and habitat, drawing birds’ eggs.  No experience necessary, and the supply list is quite basic — the list will be available for printing or download by June 1. Pre-registration is required, and is payable by check or PayPal. To sign up, email me directly at studio@valwebb.com.

All images and text (c) 2013 Val Webb

Watercolor Lettering class starts August 5

Recently, some drawing students were flipping through my sketchbook and they spotted a page with some watercolor lettering. “Hey,” one of them said. “When are you going to teach this?” Well, inspired by that student (and by emails from wonderful people all over the world who asked the same question) I put together my first online class… Drawn & Decorated Watercolor Lettering. The first course launched this summer, and a second session began in November. A third one started in March… It is now drawing to a close with students all over the world. It has been a happy journey.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been receiving emails from folks who missed the earlier sessions. The requests are piling up, and so I have decided to repeat the course — which is work-at-your-own-speed with a roomy four-month window for completion. (You could take off an entire month and still have plenty of extra time to finish the classes without ever feeling rushed.)

Absolutely no previous experience is necessary. In 10 lessons, you’ll learn tips, tricks and techniques for creating beautiful letters. We’ll be drawing and decorating letters with user-friendly materials including watercolor, Pigma Micron pens, pencils and a brush. Click the two links below for a printable copy of the supply list:

Supply List – Page 1

Supply List – Page 2

Our adventure in hand-lettering will include:

  • Easy (and lovely) methods for making decorative and illuminated initials
  • Surprisingly simple techniques for Celtic knotwork
  • How to use “quickhand” to make your art journals or notebooks more beautiful
  • Colorful, whimsical letters based on rustic medieval alphabets: how to draw them, how to use them
  • Creative page design that combines lettering and other images
  • Vines and flourishes – watercolor letters inspired by Art Nouveau
  • Guidelines for designing your own unique personal alphabet
  • Combining color, form and attitude to make your letters sing
  • And more…

Lessons appear weekly on a private, password-protected website, beginning August 5. They remain there until December 5. You have access to them anytime you wish to work on them. They include:

  • My video demo with step-by-step guidance for each technique
  • A warm-up lettering exercise for each lesson
  • My printable illustrated pdf instruction pages
  • Examples for each lesson, created to guide and inspire you
  • Personal help when needed, and feedback when each lesson is completed
  • Access to a private online discussion forum where you can communicate with other students taking the course and post images if you wish (participation in the forum is optional)

There are four very basic tools you will need to get the greatest benefit from this course:

  • A computer, or access to one
  • An email account to receive assignments and send your work in for help or guidance
  • A way to print out your warm-up exercises and illustrated instruction pages
  • A way to send images of your completed projects to me for feedback. You can use either a scanner or a digital camera to create an image, then email it or upload it to my web page.

Complete each lesson at your convenience; you may take up to four months to finish all 10. Scan or upload a photo of your work and email it to me for personal feedback after each lesson. Before you know it, you’ll be creating beautiful watercolor lettering! It’s as simple as that.

Consider inviting a friend or family member to take the course along with you, and make it a time for you to be creative together.

The cost of the entire course is $50, which is payable by personal check, money order or through PayPal. (To use PayPal, let me know you want to join the class and I will send you an invoice with a “Pay Now” button.) Email me to sign up, or if you need any additional information. Happy lettering!

Upcoming three-day botanical drawing workshop: Splinter Hill Bog and Beyond

Splinter Hill 6

Photos by Josh Murrah

Join me and discover one of the nation’s most spectacular pitcher plant habitats during a three-day botanical drawing workshop hosted by Mobile Botanical Gardens.

Splinter Hill Bog Preserve, located in the headwaters of the Perdido River in coastal Alabama, is home to more than a dozen species of carnivorous plants — including five species of pitcher plants. The preserve lies at the heart of an area with some of the highest counts of plant diversity in North America. During your visit, expect to see orchids, rose pinks, meadow beauty, milkworts and a number of rare wildflowers.

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 Botanical Drawing:
Splinter Hill Bog and Beyond
April 25 – 27
Mobile Botanical Gardens
- Most art supplies included
(Bring your favorite sketchbook and a 24-pencil set of Prismacolor Premiere colored pencils; everything else you need will be provided)
- No experience necessary
- All levels of art experience welcome

Workshop Schedule:

Thursday, April 25
Splinter Hill Bog with Bill Finch*
  • 8am Meet at Mobile Botanical Gardens
  • 8:30am Bus leaves for Splinter Hill Bog
  • 12:30 Box lunch
  • 3pm Return to Mobile Botanical Garden

Friday, April 26

Mobile Botanical Gardens with Val Webb

  • 8:30 Check in (Coffee, juice and pastries)
  • 9-10 Tips for field sketching
  • 10-12 “Gentle pencil” technique for realistic bog plant studies
  • 12 Box lunch
  • 1-2 Tour of the gardens I
  • 2-4 Botanicals in layered color pencil

Saturday, April 27

Mobile Botanical Gardens with Val Webb

  • 9-12 Wildflowers in transparent gouache and colored pencil
  • 12 Box lunch
  • 1-2 Tour of the gardens II
  • 2-4  Creating rich colors and textures in opaque gouache

*Executive Director at the Mobile Botanical Gardens, Bill Finch is author of Longleaf, Far as the Eye Can See (University of North Carolina Press). A senior fellow with the Ocean Foundation, he is also a former Alabama conservation director for The Nature Conservancy. As a longtime editor and journalist with the Mobile Press-Register, he won numerous national awards for his environmental and business coverage as well as his much-beloved garden column. Bill’s knowledge of the flora and fauna of Splinter Hill Bog is extensive, and he has the ability to inspire as well as to inform.

The cost of the workshop is $225. Detailed information and registration is available at http://www.mobilebotanicalgardens.org.

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For the aspiring artist on your holiday list…


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Gift Certificate photo

Last night, I finished up the drawing for my new gift certificate. Sign someone else up for the online course “Draw & Paint Six Culinary Herbs” and I’ll send them one of these. (I will add hand-lettered course info and your message – and I’ll even decorate the envelope with a little sketch!) Starting Jan. 7, the course is 10 lessons with video and personal feedback, work at your own pace. The cost is $50. No experience necessary… something fun and different for the aspiring artist in your life.

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