Add a pinch of salt…


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watercolor fairy sketch copyIf you liked the atmospheric effect created by dripping alcohol into watercolor wash in the earlier mermaid post, here’s a very similar drawing with a slightly different background texture. Sprinkling ordinary table salt into your freshly painted watercolor wash makes a rich, grainy texture that looks a little like crystals, a little like foliage. It’s a fun and slightly unpredictable way to make interesting backgrounds. I salted only the top and bottom of this small (4×6) rectangle, so that the middle would be smooth enough to add a fairy and her friend. They were painted in watercolor, with finishing details drawn in Prismacolor (the color is Terra Cotta).

Any type of salt will work. Using coarse salt, such as rock salt, results in a larger pattern. Sprinkle it directly into the wet watercolor layer, then allow it to dry completely. Overnight is ideal. Then the grains of salt can be brushed gently away to reveal the textures beneath.

This simple “profile view while holding something up” is a pose that works well if you are not yet comfortable drawing hands. While it offers plenty of possibilities — she could be holding up a small bird, a flower, a soap bubble, a friendly insect — it’s still rewarding to be able to choose whether or not you wish to paint realistic hands. Click here to see my tutorial on drawing them.

Still a few spots left…

… in my online course, Drawn & Decorated Watercolor Lettering, which begins Monday. Learn at your own pace with as much guidance and feedback as you like. Step-by-step techniques include Celtic, Art Deco chrome, illuminated Medieval letters, hand lettering tricks from the Golden Age of advertising, and much more. Create your own personal alphabet!

BlessYourHeartEach lesson appears on a password-protected site and  includes video and printable illustrated pdf pages. Absolutely, positively no previous experience necessary. The cost of the 10-lesson course is $50.

Click here to find out more and take a look at the supply list.

Making preparations


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WC sandhill in progressI’m in the lake country of central Florida this week, painting some of the local avian citizens in preparation for the upcoming online course, Birds in Watercolor and Beyond. I sketched these sandhill cranes, an adult and a juvenile, this morning. Now I’m making a quick color study in watercolor and white gouache. (I’ll post another image when it’s finished.)

Sandhill cranes are abundant here: they stalk along the roadsides and peer in through patio doors. They make a rapid, beeping call like a flock of chatty space aliens. At four feet tall, they can easily look into your car window while you wait in line at the drive-through. They are ideal drawing subjects.


Make a watercolor sketch of sage

This morning, the web host for my online course, “Draw and Paint Six Culinary Herbs,” was the victim of a cyber attack. I can’t log in to upload today’s lesson, so I’m posting it here instead. Enjoy!

Time for something light and simple: a sprig of fresh sage in transparent watercolor. This uncomplicated lesson (and the herb’s uncomplicated form) will provide you with the perfect opportunity to look deeply at proportion and texture. Watch the video all the way through, then print the reference photo before you begin. Feel free to use a live specimen from your own garden.





Under the sea


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L8 Step by Step4 copyA fun technique that creates a soothing and mysterious atmosphere: put down a rich watercolor wash in two or more shades of blue. Drip rubbing alcohol into the wet paint to create bubbles. Then use only white (or, in this case, white and pale green) to draw your subject. Don’t draw too much –leave parts of the scene to the imagination of the viewer. Fun!

They live in my sketchbook…


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Fairy Faces…and they’ve been keeping me very busy over the past few weeks, as my “Draw and Paint Fairies in Nature” online course rolls along. I’ll soon be turning my attention (and my pencil) back to other subjects. I’ll re-offer “Drawn & Decorated Watercolor Lettering” beginning April 28, and “Birds in Colored Pencil” beginning May 12. Yay!

More than meets the eye


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mouse and fairy

What do you get when you combine figure drawing, plant/animal/insect sketches, basic watercolor techniques, drawing natural habitat — then season the mixture with fairy tale illustration? An interactive online course called Draw & Paint Fairies in Nature, which begins next week. There are still a few places left in this work-at-your-own-pace, personally guided drawing adventure. Here’s the sequence of our 10 lessons — the “Draw” segment of each is done in students’ sketchbooks, and the “Paint” segment is done in simple watercolor with a bit of colored pencil:

Lesson 1: Where do fairies come from? Draw: Val’s four-step sketch technique, infant proportions, simple facial features, sketch exercise. Paint: Using gouache, making skin tones, glazing and lifting color, baby fairy project.

Lesson 2: How do fairies fly? Draw: Toddler proportions, drawing different kinds of wings, sketch exercise. Paint: Very young fairy in flight.

Lesson 3: Why do fairies love flowers? Draw: Six-year-old proportions, drawing favorite flowers, sketch exercise. Paint: Garden fairy child.

Lesson 4: What do fairies wear? Draw: Older child proportions, creating clothing from nature, creating clothing for fairy royalty, drawing fabric, drawing fairy hats and caps, sketch exercise. Paint:  Your own fairy finery.

Lesson 5: Where do fairies live? Draw: Teen proportions, sketching fairy habitats, sketch exercise. Paint: A fairy at home.

Lesson 6:  Why do birds allow fairies to ride on their backs? Draw: Adult female fairy proportions, drawing birds, drawing the seated figure, sketch exercise. Paint: Fairy riding a favorite bird.

Lesson 7:  Who are the fairies’ other friends?  Draw: Adult male fairy proportions, drawing small woodland creatures, sketch exercise.  Paint: Fairy with a furry friend of your choice.

Lesson 8:  Can fairies live in the water? Draw: Water sprites and naiads, drawing fins and scales, sketch exercise. Paint: Water sprite painted over a toned color wash, a trick for creating bubbles, creating very unusual skin tones.

Lesson 9:  Are fairies always young? Draw: Older adult proportions and features, how to show age and wisdom, how to draw gray or white hair, sketch exercise. Paint: A fairy godmother.

Lesson 10:  Are all fairies good?  Draw: Expressive faces and actions – how to show a sly or mischievous nature, how to tell a story with your drawing, sketch exercise. Paint: A trickster fairy.

Big announcement: Artist-Naturalist Workshop

Land_AcquisitionI am honored — and very excited — to be teaching a two-day workshop at Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, one of the most remarkable ecosystems in the Gulf Coast region. Set for Friday and Saturday, May 9 – 10, this wonderful event is co-sponsored by the Walter Anderson Museum of Art and is called Artist-Naturalist Workshop: An Introduction to Botanical Art. It’s designed for anyone with a interest in the natural world, regardless of art experience.

feature-ourestuaryIn addition to sessions on field drawing, basic botanical art techniques, drawing microscopic plant material, working with watercolor and colored pencil, and art journaling, we’ll also go on a daily plant walk (one day freshwater habitat, the next day saltwater habitat) and see the estuary up close during a sunset kayak paddle.  My co-instructors, coastal ecologist Jen Buchanan and WAMA education director Melissa Johnson, bring a wealth of knowledge and insight to our schedule. This will be a creative adventure that will sharpen your powers of observation and change the way you see (and draw) plants. It’s going to be a lot of fun!

feature-greenParticipants may spend the night Friday — Grand Bay NERR has dormitory accommodations — and both breakfast and lunch are provided on Saturday. If you live in the area and prefer to go home at night, that’s fine, too. The cost of the two-day workshop is $95 (or $85 for Walter Anderson Museum members) and the number of spaces is limited. This event is expected to fill very quickly. The complete itinerary for both days, plus additional info and a registration form, can be printed by clicking this link:


To sign up, call Melissa Johnson at 228-872-3164.



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