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 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
  • 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 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


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.

Bees, blooms and “Mad Honey Disease”


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blog dragonfly One of my favorite parts of drawing garden subjects is the unexpected discovery of some startling bit of botanical history — a story that pops up like an unexpected seedling and demands to be shared. It happened recently during preparation for my online course, The Heirloom Garden in Colored Pencil. A strange story about rhododendrons wrapped its roots around my imagination and wouldn’t let go.

Rhododendrons (and their popular relative, azaleas) produce pollen that contains a small amount of potent neurotoxin. Called grayanotoxin, it’s not harmful under ordinary circumstances… but occasionally, when concentrated by honeybees as they make rhododendron honey, it can cause a nasty illness marked by hallucinations and digestive distress. Although rare today — the most recent US cases on record happened in Seattle in 2011 — “mad honey disease” has a special place in history.

A clever first-century general defeated an entire invading army by putting grayanotoxin to work. During a battle in the Black Sea region in 67 BC, Pompey ordered his troops to leave honeycomb laced with “mad honey” along the path of approaching Roman soldiers. The hungry invaders took the bait. Sickened and disoriented, the Romans were no match for the waiting enemy.

The rhododendron, then, is much more than just a pretty face. Grow them, celebrate their history… but don’t put your beehives too close by.


Live watercolor workshop

Yippee! Only 10 days until The Essential Bird and Flower in Watercolor takes flight at Mobile Museum of Art. We’ll pare down our brush technique to the fundamentals, then learn some new ways to paint quickly and dynamically by flicking, blowing, splashing and flowing pigment across the paper’s surface. It’s messy! It’s fun! It’s inspired by Asian brush painting. You will love the results.

Full information is available from the Mobile Museum of Art:

Drawing the Heirloom Garden


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Rose and pencils2

This week, we’re drawing old-fashioned roses in my online course, The Heirloom Garden in Colored Pencil. Romantic, gorgeous and wonderfully fragrant, these blooms have been a favorite throughout human history. Roses appear in ancient stone carvings… they were painted on the ceilings of Roman banquet rooms… knights carried them during the Crusades. The Empress Josephine was a passionate rose breeder. So was George Washington.

Don’t let the many-layered structure of rose “architecture” scare you off. There’s a natural sequence to drawing them, starting at the heart of the bloom and working your way to the edges. It’s a slow and enjoyable journey. Colors are layered, too, beginning with the lightest ones and building up a luxurious intensity. Put on your favorite music and make a cup of coffee, then sharpen those colored pencils. Think of it as drawing therapy.

The Heirloom Garden in Colored Pencil, a course consisting of 10 interactive lessons plus a bonus lesson, will be offered again in March. Click here for more info.


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