New colored pencil course: The Best Nest

The Best Nest: Birds, Nests & Eggs in Colored Pencil
6 Lessons – Starts Jan. 1 – Enrollment Limited

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Using softly muted colors inspired by Victorian natural history illustrations, draw the nests and eggs of four very different birds (and the birds themselves) in colored pencil: field sparrow, purple martin, green heron and ruby-throated hummingbird.

Two additional hour-long lessons will cover:

  • How to create elegant pencil studies of nests and eggs, to help you see their structure and surface patterns more deeply
  • How to make preliminary pencil studies of birds and feathers (this lesson is a good starting point for anyone new to drawing birds, or a helpful refresher for more experienced artists)

All levels of art experience welcome! Instruction is step-by-step, and each video has multiple illustrated printables and practice exercises. The course is hosted on a private, password protected site you can visit anytime — and your access is permanent, so you can work at your own pace.

Sign up by December 5 to receive Val’s 2022 Year of Birds printable hand-drawn calendar FREE.

Free Printables: Draw a Pinecone

It’s Autumn – the perfect season for drawing pinecones. Just like a snowflake or a human fingerprint, each pinecone is unique. But all of them are constructed the same way, in an elegant pair of overlapping spirals that wind gracefully around a plump form. Once you see this pattern, the drawing process becomes much easier.

Look on the ground beneath mature pine trees to find your drawing subject. No pine tress nearby? You can use the page of licensed reference images included with this handout. Happy drawing!

Join my Christmas Birds mini course!

Christmas Birds Mini-Course
3 Lessons (PLUS video on planning for print size)

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Draw and paint three traditional Christmas birds, each paired with a holiday botanical, using three different art techniques. (And just in case you want to create your own greeting cards or postcards, I have included a video on how to plan for standard print sizes.)

Use layered colored pencil to design and draw a partridge in a pear tree; paint with gouache on tea-stained paper to make a cheery cardinal with holly and mistletoe; and explore the delightful vintage look of ink/gouache resist to create a medieval influenced dove and sweet olive (with an optional angel, as well)!

Commissions: Drawing by request

Ever since I fell in love with the ballpoint pen and its astonishing capacity for fine detail, commission requests for natural history subjects have been arriving in my email inbox. Is there a favorite bird, fish, or butterfly you would like for me to draw for you? I have antique maps for most states, antique documents and letterhead on various subjects, and a generous supply of wonderful old postcards from long ago. Email me for info:

Monarch butterfly life cycle – ballpoint and watercolor on antique postcards
Little green heron in ballpoint on 1869 Pensacola Bay map (printed 1906)
Cicada in ballpoint on original 1910 postcard

Meanwhile in the studio

In addition to my online teaching, I have been preparing a collection of drawings for a one-woman show next January. I’m drawing natural history subjects (think birds and insects, and a mammal or two) in ballpoint pen on antique documents and old book pages. I love the rich detail and slightly mysterious look! My show will be at the Pascagoula Audubon Center, so most of my subjects will be critters who make the Gulf Coast region their home.

To see more drawings and stay up-to-date as new ones are added, visit my Instagram gallery:

New! Butterflies in Colored Pencil

5 Video tutorials with illustrated printables

LIFETIME ACCESS $50Enrollment limited

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Draw four of the most beautiful butterflies you’ve never heard of – each using a different technique, inspired by a woman naturalist from previous centuries. We’ll draw each butterfly with its host plant or nectar plant. An additional full-length video lesson, Butterfly Drawing Basics, will post on our class website July 1 with printable warmup exercises (and a mini project) in advance of the full course launch July 20.

All lessons are hosted on a password-protected website, and your access is permanent. Work at your own pace, and get instructor feedback anytime by email.

See the supply list for this course:

Our colored pencil projects will explore:

  • Intense tropicals on a black background
  • Formal but whimsical butterfly illustrations of the Colonial era
  • Elegantly lush drawings of butterflies and caterpillars in the Age of Exploration
  • Drawing a labeled butterfly specimen from a 17th Century noblewoman’s collection

See you soon!

Sketchbook Giveaway!

Just in time for Mother’s Day, my sister’s Retro Journals studio is giving away a lovely oversized sketchbook, repurposed from a vintage Beatrix Potter print and filled with heavyweight Bristol vellum. To enter, simply take a peek at her etsy store and then comment here with your favorite retro journal or sketchbook. A winner will be randomly chosen on Mother’s Day. Good luck, everyone!

Free bird drawing video: Loggerhead Shrike

A few years ago, wandering along the edge of an unmowed meadow, I found a strange display arranged along the top of an old metal fence. Enormous lubber grasshoppers — four inches long and glossy black — were neatly impaled in a row, upside down with their lifeless legs pointed at the sky. There were nine or 10 of them, each on top of a vertical metal post like a macabre architectural detail. What animal had done this? I wondered. Lubbers are toxic, so what was the reason to capture them and spike them on the fence?
I had discovered the pantry of a loggerhead shrike, a dapper bird whose small size belies his fierce reputation as a hunter. Blessed with a sharp, hooked beak but no talons, the shrike kills and impales his food because he cannot grasp it in his slender feet. Leftovers remain in place for a later meal.
Wisely, the shrike leaves the eastern lubber grasshopper on its spike for several days, waiting for the toxins to dissipate, and consumes them after that.
Today, we will use three tonal values in pencil to draw this beautiful bird. Watch the video and print the three attached pdf pages before you draw.
Click for video.