Dragonfly days


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sample sketch dragonfly

I always think of my mom when I draw dragonflies — she loved them. She had dragonfly scarves, dragonfly jewelry, dragonfly garden art. A writer, she doodled tiny dragonflies in the margins of her notebooks. During the last week of her life, when she could no longer leave her bed, the biggest dragonfly I’ve ever seen landed on her windowsill and stayed for hours.

So, when I was looking for an insect subject to demonstrate drawing on earth-stained paper, I naturally thought of dragonflies. This fellow is drawn with just two colored pencils, a black and a white, but the warmth and complexity of the stained paper makes him so much more. He’s part of a demo video for my Botanical Sketchbook Painting class, which gets under way on Tuesday. I can’t wait!

Inspiration for a day of nature drawing


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fb signs and seasonsA used bookstore is like a gem mine. Poke around for awhile, and you just might unearth an unexpected treasure — for example, a lovely 1887 edition of Burrough’s wise and luminous essays on the natural world. Tramping through his beloved Catskill Mountains, he pondered whether the rapid scientific advances of his day would diminish the grip of field and flower, woodlands and weather, on human imagination:

“Science does not mar nature… Study of nature deepens the mystery and the charm because it removes the horizon father off. We cease to fear, perhaps, but how can one cease to marvel and to love?”

And so begins a day in the studio.

Happy drawing, everyone!

Sometimes staining can be a good thing


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Speaking as someone who once spilled an entire mocha latte down the front of my shirt 15 minutes before I was due to speak before a workshop group, I can vouch for the staining power of coffee. But it’s that very characteristic that makes coffee a terrific alternative painting medium — it stains white paper with a gorgeous (and delightfully aromatic) brown tone similar to a watercolor wash. This page in my 2008 sketchbook is painted and lettered with three varieties of my favorite beverage:

Paper Prep Coffee Girl2I love drawing and painting on stained paper, with its raw warmth and sometimes-bark-sometimes-leather texture. We used earth-based acrylic pigment to stain sheets of watercolor paper in my recent North Carolina workshop. Dogwoods were blooming in the mountain coves, so we drew them in layered colored pencil and charcoal:


This week, I’m staining lots of paper in front of a video camera in preparation for the upcoming Botanical Sketchbook Painting course. The best part is the fact that you never get the same result twice — each sheet is uniquely smudged and pocked, each with its own rustic beauty. The second best part is the fact that… well… someone has to drink all that leftover coffee.

Is anything more fun than drawing ogres?


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This week is the final lesson in my online Draw & Paint the Enchanted World course. It has been quite a journey, alongside a cast of characters who ranged from elegant elven royalty to the hairy hobgoblins. Now it’s time to return to the natural realm, and begin filming the upcoming Botanical Notebook Painting course. That will be an adventure of a different kind.

Edible Stones


I bought a battered paperback copy of Gerard’s Historie of Plants this week, and I have been wandering his Elizabethan garden ever since. A contemporary of William Shakespeare, John Gerard wrote a vast and delightful old-time herbal cataloging the “Vertues” of medicinal plants ranging from calves’-snout (snapdragon) which can be worn as a garland necklace to protect against witches, to a meadow wildflower called jack-go-to-bed-at-noon — which, when boiled and served up with butter, “strentheneth those that have been sicke of a long lingring disease.”

Gerard was a prominent figure in his day, a 1636 horticultural celebrity with friends in the royal court. Travellers to exotic places collected plants for him. New specimens for his garden crossed the ocean in the hold of Sir Francis Drake’s ship. And yet, in the formal portrait created for the frontispiece of the Historie, he’s not holding his exotic Persian Lily (“the vertue of this admirable plant is not yet knowne”) but the stem of the humble potato. As it turns out, Gerard’s famous book was a stepping-stone on the spud’s journey from the temples of the ancient Inca to the inside of those little cardboard boxes at McDonald’s.


John Gerard and his potato plant

Gerard, ever inquisitive, was one of the first Europeans to grow and eat potatoes. In Spain, they were considered “edible stones,” a bizarre novelty unfit for the table. In Scotland, the tuber was condemned as unholy because there were no potatoes in the Bible. In France, depending on which doctor you asked, you would be told that potatoes were related to belladonna, and were therefore poisonous. Or, at the very least, they were the cause of leprosy. Either way, France passed a law making the cultivation of potatoes a serious crime.

None of this discouraged Gerard. He enthusiastically included the potato in his Historie of Plants, writing an entry that would go far to win the much-maligned vegetable a place in Old World kitchens. It reads nearly like poetry: “From the bosome of the leaves come forth long round slender footstalkes, whereon grow very faire and pleasant floures.”

Here we are, four centuries later. Gerard’s charming Historie is still in print and world potato production is upward of 300 million metric tons. Potatoes are no longer an exclusively Western menu item — in fact, China is now the world’s biggest grower of Gerard’s source of dietary “goodnesse and wholsomenesse.” I think the Elizabethan gardener would be proud.

As for cooking instructions, Gerard suggests “being either rosted in the embers, or boiled and eaten with oile, vineger and pepper, or dressed some other way by the hand of a skilfull Cooke.”

New course: Botanical Sketchbook Paintings

rosesnotebookEvery plant has a fascinating story waiting to be told. Roses and the legend of St. Elizabeth, irises and the survival of King Clovis to become the father of the French nation, angel trumpets and the doomed settlement of Jamestown — turn over any leaf and find a tale hidden just beneath. In my new course, Botanical Sketchbook Paintings, learn to tone and texture your own paper to create a wonderful vintage look that can range from rustic to refined. Then use a surprisingly simple four-step method for layering opaque paint and colored pencil to make botanical images that sing on the page. A lighthearted look at page design will provide ideas for arranging the elements of your botanical tale. We’ll also cover tips for distilling your written narrative down to a few bright, clear sentences and labels that communicate the heart of your story hand-in-hand with the drawn and painted page.coffeearabicaThis content-rich course will be posted IN ITS ENTIRE FORM with all video lessons and all printable pdf pages on Monday, July 6, 2015. This way, each participant is truly free to create multiple pieces, to work at her own pace and focus on each aspect of the process — designing, painting, writing, lettering — whenever it is convenient. Instructor feedback and guidance via email is available at all times. I love to hear from you! The window for completion will remain open for six months, through January 2016. The cost of the course is $65 and enrollment will be limited. To sign up, email me at studio@valwebb.com irisanotebookptg2 Here’s the supply list. If you live where some of the materials aren’t available, live outside the US, or prefer to use something you already have, I can advise on good substitutes.:) Supply List:

  • 2B drawing pencil and kneaded eraser
  • 12-tube set of Reeves gouache (costs $10.50 from www.dickblick.com)
  • Large plastic watercolor palette or old white china plate for mixing paint
  • Pigma Micron black waterproof ink pen, size 03 or 05
  • Basic set (12 or more) Prismacolor Premiere colored pencils
  • Inexpensive synthetic watercolor brushes – #1 round, #4 round, #10 round
  • A sheet of heavy watercolor paper (at least 300 lb weight). Cold press. Buy a full 22×30 inch sheet if possible, and you can use it for several paintings.

Questions about the supplies? Email me.

Draw with me in North Carolina!

Barred Owl

Artist/Naturalist Workshop: Drawing Birds with Val Webb
Two Days – April 25 and 26, 2015
Red House Studios and Gallery in Black Mountain, NC
$150 (includes art supplies)

Learn to draw eggs, feathers and a variety of North Carolina birds during a two-day workshop in beautiful Black Mountain, NC. No experience necessary – all levels of art ability welcome. With lots of step-by-step guidance from illustrator Val Webb, the workshop includes:

  • Drawing lifelike eyes, beaks and feet
  • Drawing birds at rest and in flight
  • Techniques for fast and accurate pencil sketches
  • Layered charcoal and colored pencil drawings on toned paper
  • Feather textures: Shading for highlights and shadow
  • Drawing birds of prey
  • Drawing songbirds
  • Basic bird anatomy for the artist
  • Lots of illustrated material to take home

Bring your favorite sketchbook (8×10 or larger) and ALL OTHER ART SUPPLIES ARE PROVIDED.

Class size is small, and is expected to fill quickly. Registration is payable either by check or by PayPal. (Email Val at studio@valwebb.com for instructions.)

Black Mountain is located 8 miles from the Blue Ridge Parkway, near Asheville. In addition to great natural beauty, it has a thriving arts community and a rich history. If you are traveling to attend the workshop, plan an extra day or two to relax and explore the area. More information about Black Mountain is available at www.blackmountain.org.


Exactly one month from today…


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…a new session of “Heirloom Garden in Colored Pencil” will begin.

L8 instagram imageBack by popular demand, this course includes 10 lessons on drawing old-fashioned flowers and vegetable plants — plus how to draw water droplets, transparent glass and favorite garden insects. Butterflies! Bees! Dragonflies! All in colored pencil. More info is available on my Upcoming Online Classes page.

Drawing workshop in Mississippi


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Val Webb - charcoal pelican smallI will be heading up to the Pearl River delta in March to teach “Drawing Native Birds of Mississippi,” a live workshop hosted by the West Point / Clay County Arts Council. Here are the details:

Drawing Native Birds of Mississippi
Saturday, March 21, 2015
Louise Campbell Center for the Arts
West Point, MS

No experience necessary - this class is open to all levels of
art experience. See and enjoy Mississippi's migratory birds in
a whole new way as, with step-by-step guidance, you learn to
use traditional illustration techniques to create a realistic
drawing. Start with a series of fun sketching exercises, then
complete a finished bird drawing using layered charcoal and
colored pencil.

All art supplies are included so that everyone can expect
consistent results. Each student will be provided with a supply
of drawing paper, 2B pencil and kneaded eraser, tinted pastel
paper, black charcoal pencil, white pastel pencil and a set of
illustrated tutorial pages to keep.

Please bring a sack lunch.

Pre-registration is required. To sign up, call Kathy Dyess 
at 662-494-5678.

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