Paint a Little Black Hen

Back by popular demand, a sample project from my Birds in Watercolor and Beyond course. Enjoy!

¬†Watercolor is an astonishing medium. Beginning with spatters and splashes, and using only two colors — Pyrrole Orange and Phthalo Blue — it’s only a short, happy journey to a completed hen. This is the warm-up project for Lesson 5 in my online course, Birds in Watercolor and Beyond. Watch the video all the way through and print the pdf pages that appear below the screen before you begin painting. Enjoy!

L5 Hen Progression

L5 Texture Sampler

Chicken Reference 1

Chicken Reference 2

Your preliminary sketch can be very simple — no need for detail. The watercolor will provide surface textures and shading. Here’s what my sketch looked like…

L5 chicken sketch

…and here’s the finished Little Black Hen:

L5 Little Black Hen

Down on the rescue farm

rv at farm

My favorite childhood illustrator was Wesley Dennis, whose miraculous pencil work brought to life dozens of best-selling animal stories. Horses and dogs were his primary subject matter. In homage to his work, I copied one of his drawings in great detail on my fifth-grade desk. The fact that my teacher considered this vandalism and took away my recess for an entire semester did nothing to dampen my devotion. I wanted to grow up to be like Wesley Dennis.

The publicity photo on the flyleaf of his books showed a somewhat grumpy-looking man seated at an easel, with a crow perched on his shoulder and a horse watching through the studio window.  In my ten-year-old opinion, nothing could be more heavenly than drawing animals while a horse looked over your shoulder.

As it turns out, I still feel that way. It took 50 more years of drawing and painting and living life, but during this week’s video art lesson — the one on painting owls, which went out to students in my Journey Through the Natural Year course — a donkey suddenly brays in the background. That was Jenny, who was looking in through my studio window as I filmed the lesson. Beside her was Decker, a huge and ancient spotted saddle horse. Take that, Wesley Dennis.

I am drawing and painting the 60+ animal residents of a private rescue farm in north Florida. My little RV is parked outside a rustic cabin, and my plan is to split my time between working here and traveling. Each animal living on the farm — birds, chickens, dogs, cats, horses, donkeys, pigs — is a rescue with a unique story to tell. Their stories are sometimes shocking and sometimes heartrending, but every single one has a happy ending.

From time to time, I’ll share more about the farm. I’ll post sketches and paintings as they develop. I will have an exhibition of these illustrated rescue stories in a few months — and I will share more about that, as well.

But for now, if you will excuse me, I have to go get a carrot out of the refrigerator. There’s a horse looking in my window.




Join the Journey

use this 1

We’re having fun in my weekly email video course, Journey Through the Natural Year.¬† I thought you might like to see our most recent projects: summer cottage garden (above) and watercolor koi (below).

use this 2

Upcoming lessons (which land in your inbox every Thursday) include sketching autumn landscapes in ink and exotic birds in watercolor — and every fifth week is a hand-lettering project. The cost is $30 per month, and you can start anytime. Click here to find out more.

Crow or Raven?

Crow or Raven art - Copy

This week’s email video art lesson uses ballpoint pen to explore the differences that set apart two geniuses of the avian world: the crow and the raven. Of more than 800 bird species in North America, these two are the only who are completely black… and, perhaps for that reason, people tend to mix them up.

Sketching them quickly reveals some enormous differences: the raven is four times the crow’s size, for example, with an imposing wingspan of up to four feet. The raven has a massive beak and a shaggy ruff beneath his neck. He tends to be a solitary fellow, while the gregarious crow likes to fly in raucous groups.

Both are delightful to draw. (Registration is still open for the weekly email course, Journey Through the Natural Year. For info, click HERE.)

Scancrow - CopyScanraven - Copy

Ballpoint Botanical

Val Webb ballpoint botanical

This week’s email video lesson featured the humble ballpoint pen… a simple tool capable of creating soft, velvety shading — perfect for botanical sketches. Our subject was the prickly pear cactus and its frequent parasite, cochineal insects. (Spoiler alert: dried and ground-up cochineal are the source of the food coloring Red No. 4. Enjoy that bowl of pink yogurt!)

Next week, we’ll go fast and loose to draw summer birds. See you then!

For information on receiving weekly video lessons and illustrated printables, click HERE.