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.

My best Flash Sale yet (for a good cause)

Jo Beagle – Studio Assistant

If you have taken online art courses with me, you may have heard some gentle snoring in the background of my instructional videos. That contented sound is made by my senior beagle, Jo, who naps under the drawing table. An enthusiastic sniffer of the great outdoors, she is a veteran camper and good company on sketching hikes. (She’s also great at preventing litter — she can detect tasty crumbs on a discarded food wrapper from 100 yards away.) With the passing years, Jo has developed some serious health issues and this week, in anticipation of a large vet bill, I decided to offer a special flash sale on classes.

From now through Saturday, ALL previously offered courses are $40. Two courses – Drawing Owls or 8 Flowers 8 Ways – are FREE with the purchase of any other course. The offer includes courses that provide you with antique postcards for painting projects, and I will happily send them anywhere in the world.

All courses are lifetime access.

Here’s the complete list:

  • Five Little Songbirds (painted on vintage postcards)
  • Birds and Words: A Joyful Course in Ink and Watercolor
  • Birds and Butterflies on Vintage Postcards
  • Drawn and Decorated Watercolor Lettering
  • Birds in Watercolor and Beyond
  • Birds in Colored Pencil
  • Draw Dogs and Cats
  • Draw Owls (FREE with any other course)
  • Draw Horses and Ponies
  • Drawing Children
  • 8 Flowers 8 Ways (FREE with any other course)
  • Heirloom Garden in Colored Pencil
  • Botanical Sketchbook Painting
  • Gentle Garden: Carbon Pencil Botanicals
  • Draw and Paint Six Culinary Herbs
  • Fairies I: Draw and Paint Fairies in Nature
  • Fairies II: Draw and Paint the Enchanted World


Thanks from Jo (and me)!

A new course inspired by Beatrix Potter

Watercolor Garden Cottage: Inspired by Beatrix Potter
9 Lessons (PLUS one hour video workshop on drawing animals)

Buy Now Button

Inspired by Beatrix Potter’s favorite watercolor techniques, this course has three modules — each containing three separate lessons with full step-by-step guidance and lavishly illustrated printable pages. As a bonus, a video workshop will help hone your animal drawing skills before you begin the course.

In the one hour PRE-COURSE VIDEO WORKSHOP, you’ll complete quick sketches and more thorough pencil studies while practicing simple techniques for fur texture, expressive eyes (along with ears, paws and noses!) in mice, rabbits, cats, squirrels and other small furry creatures. Taking our cue from Beatrix Potter’s sketchbook, we’ll learn to place small animals in different poses. Includes printable pencil exercises and several short projects for skill building.

In the BOTANICAL WATERCOLOR module, we’ll use layering in warm tones to create realistic small paintings of mushrooms, berries and wildflowers similar to the work Miss Potter undertook early in her illustration career. Learn to sharpen your observation skills as you learn three different botanical watercolor techniques popular in the Victorian era, and start your own naturalist’s notebook.

In the GRISAILLE module, use watercolor sketching in warm neutral tones to help you see and understand small animal subjects more deeply. Beatrix Potter used grisaille watercolor to design animal characters and charming little interior scenes. Working in your choice of sepia or grey, our three projects will include painting naturalistic animals, whimsical “storybook” animals, and cozy interiors for them to inhabit.

In the final LAYERED / DRYBRUSH WATERCOLOR module, we’ll imitate Beatrix Potter’s lovely muted color palette and soft backgrounds to place our animals in detailed cottage and garden settings.


Please read this section carefully – I have lots to tell you!

Registration is open now, and enrollment is limited. The course (and the pre-course drawing workshop) will be posted on a password-protected website. Your access to the site is permanent and will never expire.

Starting immediately, I will post drawing tips (notes and sketches) and treats (occasional short videos) on our course site.

The pre-course video drawing workshop will post on our course website February 15. It will remain on the site from that day forward, so you can use it anytime.

The course launch for Watercolor Garden Cottage: Inspired by Beatrix Potter is Monday, March 15. Starting on that date, a complete new lesson will post weekly on our site for nine weeks. You do not need to finish a lesson every week; please work at your own pace and fully enjoy the comfort and cheer that drawing in Beatrix Potter’s style can provide.

Starting on February 15, there will be a private Facebook discussion group just for this course. You are also welcome to share comments and images in my general course discussion group — both links will be posted on our course site. (The Facebook discussion groups are completely optional and no instruction takes place there.)


The supply list is basic, and you may already have art supplies you like to use. Feel free to make substitutions if your supplies are slightly different. I am happy to answer your questions about supplies anytime – my email is

  • Sketchbook or drawing paper (any type)
  • 2B drawing pencil
  • Kneaded eraser
  • Pigma Micron or other waterproof black pen, tip size 01 OR crow quill dip pen and India ink
  • Small paper tortillon or blending stump
  • Watercolor paper or tablet (I will be using Strathmore 400 series cold press 140lb, which is economical and easy to find for most folks, but you may use any hot or cold press watercolor paper 140lb or heavier)
  • A basic set of watercolors in tubes (I will be using Cotman – a good quality economical grade from Winsor Newton) or if you buy individual tubes, here are the colors I will be using: Ultramarine Blue, Alizarin Crimson, Cadmium Yellow Light (or Lemon Yellow), Burnt Sienna, Yellow Ochre.
  • A small tube of white gouache
  • 3 watercolor brushes (synthetic are fine) in sizes 00 round and 04 round, and 1/2 inch flat

Whew! That’s all my info. See you soon! Val

A last-minute gift could be your best ever

A uniquely creative gift is as close as your email inbox — choose from 16 lifetime access online art courses, and I will email you a printable gift certificate ready to delight the artist in your life. GET A SECOND COURSE FREE to give or to use yourself.

The lessons within each course include full video demos and lots of beautifully illustrated printable pages. Classes include:

  • Birds and Words, a Joyful Course in Ink and Watercolor
  • Vintage Postcard Birds and Butterflies (antique postcards provided)
  • Drawn & Decorated Watercolor Lettering
  • Birds in Watercolor and Beyond
  • Birds in Colored Pencil
  • Draw Dogs and Cats
  • Draw Owls: Designed for the Dark
  • Draw Horses and Ponies
  • Drawing Children
  • Eight Flowers Eight Ways
  • The Heirloom Garden in Colored Pencil
  • Botanical Sketchbook Painting
  • Gentle Garden: Carbon Pencil Botanicals
  • Draw and Paint Six Culinary Herbs
  • Draw and Paint Fairies in Nature
  • Fairies II: Draw and Paint the Enchanted World


Drawing to see differences

Drawing a bird can help you see and understand it more deeply. This tutorial from Journey Through the Natural Year will show you how. 

The glossy-winged geniuses of the bird world, crows and ravens appear in folklore around the world: The clever raven is a trickster in northwestern Native American legends. Viking ships flew banners depicting ravens. Shakespeare used ravens as heralds of coming misfortune in his plays, the ancient Greek sun god had a raven messenger, crows were sacred in Celtic tradition, and the Mayans saw crows as bringers of lightning and thunder.

  Both crows and ravens are completely black (the only two species among more than 800 in North America who can make that claim) but there are many differences, too. Be careful not to draw them the same way… or to accidentally use the wrong bird as a reference image!  

In this tutorial, we’ll draw in a lively, loose style that fits well with our feathered subjects.  

Watch both videos all the way through and print the four attached pdf pages before you begin to draw.  

Here is the link to the first video. The password for both videos is   journey  

 Here is the link to the second video:

Click for printables:  

Download 7-12 Crow or Raven REF heads

Download 7-12 Differences

Download 7-12 REF Crow

Download 7-12 REF Raven

New course: 5 Little Songbirds

Wood Thrush

FIVE LITTLE SONGBIRDS: A simple painting technique
6 Video tutorials with illustrated printables
6 Vintage postcards included – Enrollment limited


Buy Now Button

Using a simple four-step painting technique that mimics the effect of a woodcut, paint 5 beloved songbirds on vintage postcards (provided to you). I’ll also send along a sixth postcard for practice. Either gouache or acrylic work for this course — use the one you like best. Our colorful painted flock includes:

  • Wood Thrush
  • Summer Tanager
  • Oriole
  • Blue Grosbeak
  • Yellow Warbler

The complete course, including all 5 birds and an introductory practice video, is posted on a password-protected website. Your site access is permanent and will never expire. International signups welcome — I will send postcards anywhere in the world.


Also, this is a “drawing optional” course for all levels of art experience (or no experience at all). How to sketch each songbird is included in their video tutorials, but if you prefer to focus on painting only, I will provide optional patterns that can be transferred to your postcards.

Use your 5 Little Songbirds as uplifting gifts for holiday giving, or let them roost in your own home. Either way, I hope you will join me!

New course! Birds and Words


Ballpoint and watercolor tint, one of four unusual techniques we’ll explore in my new course.

 Special offer – choose a second course FREE. Lifetime access – your courses will never expire.

Birds and Words: A Joyful Course in Ink and Watercolor – $65

In 12 videos and 20 illustrated printable pages, this course will change the way you think about combining watercolor and ink. We’ll paint swallows in the elegantly simple style of ancient Minoan nature artists; a tree filled with colorful songbirds in the style of Colonial folk painters; design and create a kindly Mother Goose in the style of Beatrix Potter and the golden age of children’s book illustration.  Finally, using a simple plastic ballpoint pen and a thin wash of watercolor, we’ll create a delicately tinted drawing with the look of a Victorian bird engraving. (You’ll receive three antique postcards upon which to draw your choice of birds.)

Each project consists of two parts: first, we’ll draw realistic pencil studies or ink sketches of our selected birds. Then, we’ll go outside the box to re-create them using our project techniques.

Also… Nearly every civilization has a legend featuring birds as divine messengers. So that YOUR birds can bring good tidings, each project includes a hand-lettered component.  Use them separately or incorporate them into your artwork.

This course is “lifetime access” and will never expire. Enrollment is limited. As a bonus for you, choose a second course free for yourself or someone else.

The supply list is simple. In fact, if you have taken a course from me before, you probably already have everything you need:


Buy Now Button



Sketching Sarracenia


These oddly beautiful plants carpet the forest floor at Splinter Hill Bog, one of the nation’s largest remaining stands of old-growth longleaf pine. It’s a natural wonderland, a short drive from my house, a place rich with subjects to draw. I try to make a sketching excursion there every spring, when the sarracenia is blooming. This one is black and white charcoal on a watercolor background.