New Online Course!

Gentle Garden: Botanicals & Pollinators in Carbon Pencil
12 lessons – lifetime video access – start anytime
PLUS one live streamed session (details below) $90

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botanical art

Less smudgy and easier to control than charcoal, richer and darker than graphite — and with no graphite “shine” … carbon pencil is a sensitive and satisfying medium for botanical drawing. In a series of 12 step-by-step video lessons, learn new techniques while drawing a wide range of flowers and their pollinators. Each video is accompanied by illustrated printable pages and a selection of licensed reference images.

KEEP YOUR COURSE ACCESS FOREVER. There is no expiration date for your video access; the password-protected site is yours permanently. Beginning October 1, a new lesson will post weekly for 12 weeks. Work at your own pace. Unlimited instructor feedback is available anytime you like, via email. You do not have to complete a lesson each week — your site password will never expire.

NEW! BEGINNERS WELCOME – THIS IS A “FREEHAND OPTIONAL” COURSE. Please don’t let a lack of drawing experience keep you from the course. Every lesson begins with a demo of how to draw a preliminary sketch in 2B pencil before we begin to layer the carbon pencils… BUT if you prefer to concentrate on carbon pencil blending and shading now, and save the freehand sketching practice for later, I will also provide printable preliminary sketches you can transfer and use to get started. Happy to help!



  • Week 1. Skill builder – soft blending and surface patterns. Draw a carbon pencil study of heliconius butterfly Red Postman.
  • Week 2. Botanical drawing – Use soft blending / surface patterns to draw the dazzling heliconius butterfly Zebra Longwing on flowering lantana.
  • Week 3. Skill builder – creating depth and contrast with layering, also drawing textured stems and leaves. Draw a carbon pencil study of long-stemmed plants you choose.
  • Week 4. Botanical drawing – Use techniques for creating depth and textured leaves to draw hardworking bumblebees on bearded iris.
  • Week 5. Skill builder – drawing over soft tones to create furry, shiny, and velvety textures. Draw a carbon pencil study of the world’s cutest pollinator, the honey possum (Australia).
  • Week 6. Botanical drawing – Use drawing over soft tones to draw flying fox (Pteropus bat) and the exotic wild banana blossom.
  • Week 7: Skill builder – combining carbon pencils to create metallic textures. Draw a carbon pencil study of the wonderfully metallic aquatic leaf beetle.
  • Week 8: Botanical drawing – Use combined carbon pencils to draw a water lily leaf beetle on Nymphea odorata, a fragrant white water lily that traps its pollinators!
  • Week 9: Skill builder – Four steps to a rich solid black background. Draw a carbon pencil study of a creamy magnolia blossom isolated on a black background.
  • Week 10: Botanical drawing – use four-step background technique to draw a moonflower and its nocturnal pollinator, a beautiful sphinx moth, in a nighttime setting.
  • Week 11: Skill builder – blending and detailing to create brick texture and wood texture in carbon pencil. Draw a carbon pencil study of a patterned daylily with weathered brick background.
  • Week 12: Botanical drawing – use blending and detailing to draw heirloom multiflora petunias spilling over a window box, and their hummingbird pollinator.

PLUS – THIS SESSION ONLY! WE WILL HAVE A LIVE-STREAMED DRAWING SESSION TOGETHER. During the course, at a date and time we will mutually decide based on time zones for all students, I will host a one-hour open drawing session in real time using Zoom, a group meeting app where you can simply log in on your phone, tablet or computer and we can talk to one another directly. I will draw during the live session, to help answer any technique questions you may have. More about this as the course unfolds.



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Carbon pencil magic


All is Illusion – 12×16 carbon pencil on hot press watercolor paper

Exquisitely gentle shading, lush velvety black tones… I have completely fallen in love with carbon pencils. I’m working hard on a new online course, so I can share some carbon pencil magic with you.  Gentle Garden will begin October 1, and will focus on using this lovely drawing medium to create botanicals (and their pollinators – bees, butterflies and hummingbirds). The details will be available soon.

To my Journey students

Dear Friends,

I have some news – originally, our year-long course was set to end on June 29, with a bonus lesson to finish out the cycle on July 7.

However… in response to a steady stream of email requests, I am extending the lessons for two months, through the end of August. (We have lots of teachers among us, and summer is their creative time!)

Here is our itinerary for the remaining lessons:

6-1 Beautiful Lookalikes: monarch, viceroy, queen and king butterflies (watercolor sketching)
6-8 Monarch life cycle and host plant in colored pencil (botanical drawing)
6-15 Trompe l’oeil Butterfly Collection in colored pencil (realism)
6-22 Summer wildflowers with a splash (loose watercolor)
6- 29 Summer wildflower color wheel in colored pencil (botanical drawing)

The month of July will focus on birds of prey — from the tiny shrike to the world’s largest raptor, the harpy eagle. Four lessons will feature a different bird and a different technique each week.

Our final month, August, will focus on colored pencil and will be all about animals and their settings. Deer, fox, aquatic animals and even the domestic cat will each have a week this month… with our final lesson going out August 31.

The archives will be open to you permanently, starting on June 30. The July and August lessons will be added to the archives when we conclude.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart, for joining me in this year of drawing and painting nature. 🙂




The tape is drawn… to secure a sheet of paper that is drawn… which contains a drawn butterfly who uses the illusion of owl eyes to frighten away predators. I love the medium of carbon pencil, with its slightly mysterious feel and lush, bottomless black values. I’m working on a collection of drawings now that will combine wild and tame aspects in a symbolic or narrative way.





Les Papillons

Free pen-and-ink video lesson: Draw a baby robin

Contrary to centuries of popular folklore, the robin is not a reliable sign of spring in most of the world. Hardy and unconcerned with the cold, robins have been known to remain straight through New England winters and to leave breeding grounds on the Arctic tundra not because the temperatures dropped, but only when food supplies grew scarce.

The red-winged blackbird, whose migration is as regular as clockwork, should be our harbinger of spring. But somehow, the robin manages to hold on to his title year after winter-weary year.

In this video lesson, we will use the wonderful textural qualities of pen and ink to draw fledgling robins, just at the brink of flight. Baby birds are fun to draw, because they are so angular and awkward. And all baby birds — robins and otherwise — are wonderful indicators that spring is well and truly here.

Watch the video all the way through and print the illustrated pdf pages before you begin. Happy drawing!

Click to open pdf pages:

If you liked this video, let me know! Email me at to be added to my mailing list. Suggestions for future drawing topics are always welcome, too!



About those robins…


This week’s Journey video lesson is a fun technique — pencil textures over a watercolor base — and our subject is the robin. Lots of folks associate this fellow with the first return of Spring, but actually the robin is quite cold-tolerant and often he opts to stay put, instead of flying south for the winter. A better harbinger of warmer days would be the noisy and numerous red-winged blackbird.

Free: Paint a Spring Hare


Easter is only a few weeks away, so here is a video tutorial (and a set of printable pdf pages) to guide you in creating a spring hare in watercolor and pencil. I used 140 lb. Strathmore watercolor paper and a #4 synthetic round brush in the demo, but feel free to substitute if you have different supplies.

This video first appeared in my Draw Paint Letter yearlong course. I hope you enjoy it.

Click to watch video:


Click to print pdf pages:

Draw a Vine Wreath

REF Brown Hare




Something old, something new


Carbon pencil drawing in progress

I was baffled, the first time an art teacher handed me a piece of charcoal. A quiet child who compulsively inked animals on inappropriate surfaces (inside textbooks, on school desks, on walls, on the arms of giggling classmates), I had been enrolled in a Saturday class in hopes that it would channel the drawing urge.

Our subject was an uninspiring bowl of oranges — in retrospect, probably not a wise choice for a classroom full of energetic nine-year-olds. My brittle black stick of vine charcoal snapped in half and peppered the paper with a galaxy of specks and smudges. After a few minutes, I abandoned the still life assignment and sketched a herd of prehistoric horses I had seen in a book on cave paintings. Dark smudged heads and bodies fading to pale bellies, slender galloping legs. The teacher did not approve.

I did not return on the following Saturday, and for the next 51 years I had little interest in drawing with charcoal… until I met the carbon pencil a few weeks ago, and immediately fell in love.

A blend of lamp black and clay, the carbon pencil is harder than traditional charcoal. It produces a deliciously deep, flat black with none of the annoying shine that graphite can leave on the paper. The carbon pencil has a lot to teach me about drawing… and none of it involves a bowl of oranges.


Fidelis        carbon pencil, Val Webb 2019




Mama’s Last Picnic

My mom, a prolific writer, submitted this remembrance to NPR a few years back. When they called to arrange legal permission for its broadcast, they were so charmed by her soft southern accent that they asked her to read it aloud on the air.  She would be 83 today. She would be delighted that you are reading her work, and I am too. Enjoy.


The author (center) with her parents, Helen and Claud Thomason


By Margaret-Ann Allison

The pungent aroma of baked ham curled out the kitchen window and wrapped around my head. I had spent the entire morning perched on a limb of the mango tree in our Fort Lauderdale back yard, reading a Nancy Drew mystery. Now the whirring of a mixer and clanking pots and pans briefly took my mind off the mosquito droning in my ear. The day of the big picnic had finally arrived.

All summer I had looked forward to the picnic my parents had planned with my aunt and uncle. I had such fun with my cousins when we visited at their farm, but this time they would be in my territory — the beach.

Mama was a good cook and she loved preparing fancy menus for special occasions. In fact, the only thing she liked better was criticizing someone else. She was especially discriminating where in-laws were concerned. More than once it had been called to her attention that her sister-in-law (a well respected caterer) cooked “the best cakes this side of heaven.” Mama said, “Her cakes are too heavy and her icings taste of lard.” She shared her opinion with the Tuesday Church Circle group and knew it would reach the ears  for which she she had intended it.

“Mama, I’m starving!” I called as I slid to the ground and headed toward the screened door of the back porch.

“If you’re hungry that means you’ll be ready to enjoy your meal when we get to the picnic.” Mama had been cooking for two days, and her time and temper were getting short.

“Don’t come in on my clean floors with your sandy feet and dirty clothes. Go wash off at the spigot and get ready to go. The chicken is almost done and soon as I ice the cake, we’ll leave.”

Daddy watched in silence as Mama stuffed egg halves with a creamy yellow mixture she extruded from a pastry bag and twirled into stars.

“Is the cooler full of ice and did you pack the cloth I put out? I won’t eat my dinner off those dirty wooden tables — be sure the lid is clamped tight on the tea pitcher or we will have tea sloshed all over the trunk when we get there. Will someone please answer that phone? I can’t do everything,” she said, as she covered the deviled eggs with wax wrap and began icing a large layer cake with coconut-and-seafoam icing.

As I passed the hallway I heard Daddy talking on the phone. “Well, we’re running a little late but we should be leaving in about twenty minutes. You go ahead and put your things on a table but save us one nearby. See you soon.”

“I was afraid of this,” came the wail from the kitchen. “We’ll arrive and your sister-in-law will have her gourmet feast spread out and she’ll stand there sneering at my offering. I should have baked some beans to go with the potato salad. I just know she’ll bring one of those seven-spice pound cakes she is so proud of.”

“It won’t matter what you bring if you don’t hurry,” Daddy sighed. “It will be too dark for anyone to see it.”

Finally the car was loaded, the gear stowed in the trunk, and as we backed out the drive, Mama said, “I feel like I did during exams when we were in college.”

The twenty-minute drive was made in total silence. I was joyously anticipating making sandcastles and forts with my four male cousins. Daddy must have been counting the number of trips he would have to make with the baskets of food, cooler chests, towels and chairs before he could finally sit and visit with his brother. I’m certain that Mama was mentally checking the long-thought-out menu she had worked on so hard. This was one time her in-laws would not outshine her! The ham (baked in a mixture of orange juice and honey) was perfect. The fried chicken had just the right shade of gold on the batter. Her deviled eggs and potato salad looked exactly like the picture in the magazine she had copied the recipe from, but the crowning touch would be her homemade coconut cake. She had cracked and ground the coconut meat herself to assure a fluffy freshness.

As our car pulled into the parking area, Mama’s worst fear was realized. My aunt was standing beside a table which was obscured from view by the crowd of relatives around it. “I’ll carry the cake,” Mama said, opening the car door for me, “and you take the tea pitcher. Your father can bring the big hamper.”

Mama held the cake in front of her as a warrior would his shield, and walked through the sand toward the tables. As the crowd parted, she looked confused — and then triumphant. There, sitting atop newspapers, was a large jar of peanut butter, a loaf of bread, a bag of chips,  a jar of grape jelly, a sack of apples, a carton of Pepsi and a pitcher of tea.

Eyeing the coconut cake, my aunt said, “I hope you didn’t go to a lot of trouble. I’ve been so busy with my catering I haven’t had time to cook for my family.”

“I know exactly what you mean,” smiled Mama sweetly. “I’ve been busy too, so I just threw together a few things I had in the refrigerator.”

Mama never went on another picnic. “You just can’t improve on perfect,” she said.