Pen and Ink Basics at DVSA!

21/04/2019

Spring term is underway at the Dundas Valley School of Art. I’m scheduled to teach four one-day workshops and the first took place last Thursday. Pen and Ink Basics is exactly as it sounds. My goal was to introduce the students to the core techniques of pen and ink drawing. We used sketching pens for this workshop as it cut down on overturned bottles of India ink and allowed everyone to focus on the techniques.

It’s not all about technique, however. I simply cannot teach drawing without discussing fundamentals and principles. The most important for us on Thursday was ‘light and shadow’.

Before we started our first pen and ink exercise, I worked at an easel and presented a few ideas about ‘light and shadow’ and it’s effect on basic volumes. Next, we started on our first drawing; a pear. The students worked from my diagrams/models. Remember that our goal was to gain some fluency with the techniques. The day was not about creating original works of art. I demonstrated the steps one at a time.

Where does one begin with a pen and ink drawing? First of all, we decided to use cross-hatching as our technique. That was all very well but what direction should the lines follow? I presented an approach that I call ‘parquet’ and you can probably tell where I got the name. The initial work with the parquet approach looks very mechanical and the emphasis is on overall shape and value rather than stroke direction.

As you can see, the first step was only the beginning. We continued to develop the drawing until it gained a three-dimensional quality. We talked about edge versus outline as well as other considerations.

In total, we did three drawings over the course of the day. Our second exercise was the ball cap and we used stippling as our technique. Our final drawing was the teapot. We combined cross-hatching (although not with parquet) with line variety.

The students were keen and brought a lot of energy to the projects. We wrapped up with a look at the drawings. Click on the image to view a larger version.

Thursday Critique

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Spring Watercolour Classes at Arts on Adrian – Week One!

17/04/2019

I’m back from sunny Mexico to some less than welcoming spring weather. All the more reason to set up a bright and cheerful still-life for the Saturday and Tuesday watercolour students. I had the still-lifes of Paul Cézanne in mind.

Cézanne developed his gorgeous, luminous watercolours with brushstrokes of pure colour over a pencil drawing. I didn’t mimic his process exactly with my demonstration but we discussed it as I painted. I never insist that the students emulate my demo but I did ask them to give it a try, even as a study for an hour or so. Saturday is a six hour class so there’s time to experiment and explore.

Most gave it a shot and a few spent the day pursuing the approach. Not everyone liked it but they’re always willing to consider new ideas.

Sustained Saturday Critique

The Tuesday students worked from the same still-life. It’s a three hour class and, at the beginning, I sensed some interest in the fabrics and folds. My demonstration, as a result, was a simplified study of a section of fabric and they found it helpful.

They don’t have a full day but they really work hard and they’re quite good at selecting and composing. Basically, they selected and zoomed in on an area of the still-life that attracted their eye. Not taking on too much gave them a better chance to resolve their work in the time available.

Don’t forget to click on a critique image to view a larger version!

Tuesday Critique

Our last few days in Mexico City!

09/04/2019

We headed up to Mexico City on Friday morning and checked in to a lovely hotel on the main square. A few hours of free time were spent exploring the Zocalo and surrounding area. Our goal in Mexico City was to visit Casa Azul, the home of Frida Kahlo. In addition to that, we planned to visit the Museo Rivera, a purpose-built building housing the pre-hispanic artifact collection of Diego Rivera. After an excellent breakfast on the terrace overlooking the national cathedral, our transport picked us up on Saturday morning. First stop, Casa Azul.

Casa Azul from the street

In the courtyard

Kitchen

Frida’s studio

Our next stop was the rather imposing Museo Rivera. The collection is extensive and fascinating.

Cartoon for mural

It was a full day with a lot of shuttling around but worth it. It was also the last day of group activities before heading home on Sunday morning. I’d like to thank all of our participants for making the workshop a success. Here they are, the class of 2019!

Courtesy: Stewart Stein

More from San Miguel de Allende, Mexico!

01/04/2019

Everyone was refreshed from our day of free time as we met in our studio for my morning demonstration on Wednesday. Our plan was to paint inside the lovely Bellas Artes with it’s cool arcades and tranquil atmosphere. And it’s arches. I used my demonstration to dramatize the feeling of looking into a sunlit space through an arch. I kept my palette simple; cools and warms.

For once, we had no shortage of shade. Most of the students were ready to tackle arches.

Let’s see what happened with those arches! Remember to click on a critique image to view a larger version.

Wednesday Critique a

Wednesday Critique b

Thursday was our last full day of painting. Our plan was to leave on Friday morning for Mexico City (more about that later). We had a lot on our agenda on Thursday so I decided not to offer a demonstration in order to give the group an extra hour of painting time. We walked up to Parque Guadiana, a quiet and pretty park in a residential neighbourhood.

At the end of the day, we gathered at our studio for our Final Critique. I started out by looking at the Thursday paintings and followed that with a selection of work from earlier in the week. It was a nice way to look back on our painting time together.

Thursday Critique a

Thursday Critique b

Wait a minute! What the heck is that bird doing there? One of our painters took a metalworking class while she was here and this was her chance to show us the result.

Thursday Critique c

That was it for our supervised painting days and for our stay in beautiful San Miguel de Allende. My next post will be from Mexico City where we will visit the famous home of Frida Kahlo; Casa Azul.

 

 

 

 

Hola from San Miguel de Allende, Mexico!

26/03/2019

I’m back in beautiful SM de Allende with a great group of watercolour painters. We arrived on Thursday and enjoyed our Welcome Dinner at the hotel. Friday was a relaxing day. I led most of the group on a tour of the town and the afternoon was free time for painting, shopping or just taking it easy.

Things got serious this morning (Saturday). I gave a demonstration at the hotel, reminding everyone of the importance of value and pattern.

Following that, most of the group worked on the hotel grounds for the day. The courtyard is lovely and spacious and our rooms were close at hand. It’s a good way to start as we sort out the practical elements of ‘en plein air’ watercolour painting.

It was a good start to our workshop. We convened at 5pm sharp for our first critique. Click on a critique image to view a larger version.

Saturday Critique a

Saturday Critique b

I gave another studio demonstration on Sunday morning. This street scene was quickly drawn from memory. I discussed a ‘big to small’ process and varying washes to add interest. Also, we discussed what colours work when painted over other colours and what doesn’t work. For example, I can’t paint a green door over a red wall without getting a very dull result.

After the demonstration, we headed to Parque Benito Juarez and it’s a lovely spot for painting. The park is very green and surrounded by attractive residences and hotels. Just up the road from the park is the outdoor public laundry. No-one was washing clothes today.

It’s hot here but lovely in the shade. I discourage the painters from painting in the sun. A pleasant day in the park wound down and we returned to our studio for the critique.

Sunday Critique a

Sunday Critique b

I left the hotel early on Monday and walked up to Plaza San Antonio, a quiet square with a brilliant white church. I set up my easel and prepared for an onsite demonstration and I was ready to go when the students arrived.

The square has a large shade tree with a view of a street dropping down. I pointed out the importance of checking angles carefully in order to make the perspective believable. After we discussed that, I painted the scene with a flat angled brush. It was a very complicated subject so I stressed simplification as I took them through my process.

Everyone sought out shady spots and got to work.

It was nice to cool off in our studio at the hotel at critique time.

Monday Critique a

Monday Critique b

Tuesday is a free day. Shopping, sightseeing and even more painting was on the agenda. We’ll be back at it tomorrow morning in sunny San Miguel de Allende.

Winter Wednesday Watercolour Class at DVSA – Week Eight!

18/03/2019

Our winter term at the Dundas Valley School of Art has come to an end. Two weeks late, mind you, due to the makeup classes needed after a very snowy and icy February. Anyway, it’s March at last and these kid’s rain boots seemed like an appropriate subject.

Why not review soft-edge techniques one more time? In addition to that, I showed how I approach the drawing of the objects. Getting the angles right is the key to fore-shortening the boots convincingly.

I’ve really enjoyed working with this group of eight watercolour painters. Attendance was excellent throughout and all were present for our last evening together. Gloria had to leave a bit early so here’s a look at her work in progress. Bold colour!

Here’s the rest of the work. Click on the image to view a larger version. There was significant progress over the weeks together. Working from direct observation is a time-honoured, traditional practice and it’s not easy!

I’ll be back at DVSA this spring. Thanks for following. Next stop; San Miguel de Allende, Mexico!

Wednesday Critique

Winter Wednesday Watercolour Class at DVSA – Week Seven!

10/03/2019

Last Wednesday, I was back at the Dundas Valley School of Art for our seventh class. We should have wrapped up the term by now but our wild and wintery February has us doing makeup classes. Makeup classes, however necessary, can be attendance killers as the students didn’t schedule for them initially. I was very pleased, therefore, when all but one were able to attend. I appreciated, also, that our missing artist called in to say she wanted to be with us but was unable to do so.

I’d promised to discuss painting even washes, with no (intended) variation. I spent a few minutes on that before making a quick analysis of how the various objects received the light.

I continued to stress a sound process involving a thumbnail sketch as well as lots of colour testing and even a few simple studies of the objects. The students continued to work diligently and thoughtfully and their progress is evident. Don’t forget to click on the critique image to view a larger version.

Wednesday Critique

Painting from Photos in Watercolour at Arts on Adrian!

04/03/2019

I’ve never been an advocate of painting from photographs although I have done it on occasion in the distant past. Let me clarify my thought. I have used photos as reference. My ‘Cubist’ watercolours have always been inspired by memory, imagination, sketches and, at times, some photo reference. My more traditional bird drawings and paintings, however, rely greatly on my own photographic reference. However, I don’t copy photos verbatim and I don’t understand why anyone does so. Technical virtuosity and rendering skills, no matter how sublime, do not necessarily equal art.

North Head, Grand Manan
by Barry Coombs

 

 

 

 

 

White-throated Sparrow
by Barry Coombs

Many artists do work from photographs, though, and many do it well. An artist is capable of transforming the photographic reference into something personal and beautiful.

I prefer the tradition of ‘en plein air’ and direct observation and it’s mostly what I teach. As a longtime instructor, it’s been impossible to avoid the preference many students hold for working from photographs. I decided to deal with the practice by offering a one-day workshop.

The participants sent me three photos each ahead of time. I created a PowerPoint presentation so that we could look at them all together and identify potential problems. We broke it down into three categories: composition, light and shadow and colour.

First of all, we looked at watercolours from masters of the medium that were all painted without the aid of photographs. Then, we looked at the photos sent by the students. Our goal was to find the essence of the subject. In order to do so, all of the images required some serious consideration.

We looked at this lovely snowy scene from Karen W. I made a few suggestions. Eliminate or move the two trees in the lower left corner. Remove the sign or whatever it is in the same area. Lose the wire seen across the roof. Re-design the foliage to show the viewer more of the building. Re-design the trees on the left to deepen the space and suggest a pathway. Karen had a great idea and shortened the roof so it wouldn’t run off the righthand edge of the painting.

Our next step was to decide on a format. Most of our pads and watercolour blocks are of a 3 x 4 proportion (9 x 12, 12 x 16). The format was drawn directly onto the photograph and a grid was created. Then, a smaller image, in exactly the same proportion, was drawn and a four-value study was completed. Have a look at what Karen W did. Later on, you’ll see her sustained watercolour in progress in the critique image.

Gridded Photo and Study
by Karen W

Once a small study was completed, the grid was used to transfer the image to a watercolour sheet, in exactly the same proportion! The rest of the afternoon, for the most part, was spent painting. I interrupted at one point for a brief discussion of copyright and ethical issues that often arise when working from photos. Of course, if you always use your own photo you don’t have to concern yourself with these issues.

The day went very well. Not everyone was able to finish their work but all went away with a better understanding of the potential problems and pitfalls of simply copying a photograph and the many creative benefits of interpreting their photographic image. Here are a few of the photos that were used.

And here are the paintings! Click on the critique image to view a larger version. Karen’s painting is on the upper left.

Painting from Photos Critique

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright and ethics

Winter Wednesday Watercolour Class at DVSA – Week Six!

23/02/2019

Ataulfo mangoes from Mexico. That’s what those yellow things are. A few of the Wednesday evening students were unfamiliar with them so I thought I’d identify them right away. They’re delicious.

It was week six at the Dundas Valley School of Art last Wednesday evening. Our Mexican theme was a stark contrast to the freezing rain and icy sidewalks and roads outside. I reviewed, as I often do, some soft-edge and brush-handling techniques. I’m very pleased with the progress of this group of painters. I don’t think they need a lot of new ideas but generally require quick refreshers and time to solve the painting problems posed by the still-life. Teaching art at this level (intermediate) is mostly reactive, not prescriptive. This is not a beginner class with a pre-planned lesson every session. Therefore, on the first evening, I don’t know exactly what I will teach on the sixth evening. I need to get to know the group in order to respond to their needs.

During the three hours of our class, I circulate and keep an eye on things but I don’t constantly hover. They need to think for themselves. Also, I constantly urge the students to pace themselves by stepping back from their work frequently. Painters need to keep their eyes fresh. It’s very helpful to walk around and see what your fellow painters are up to, as well. We learn from each other in these environments. Every class winds down with a constructive critique. The critique is a very important learning tool and critiques have been a key element of my teaching practice since day one, about thirty years ago. Enough about that, here’s the work from Wednesday night.

Wednesday Critique

Winter Watercolour Classes at Arts on Adrian – Week Three!

20/02/2019

The gloves were off this week at Arts on Adrian in Toronto! These strange, sculptural shapes are hockey gloves and they provided many challenges to the Saturday and Tuesday watercolour painters.

The first challenge was drawing. I approach all subjects the same way, more or less. I start with very basic shapes. Take a look at the study at the bottom of the demonstration sheet. That’s what my drawing looked like before I refined it as in the larger study.

Our next challenge was light and it was a real key to this subject. The gloves are black so we had to keep the lightest areas as luminous as possible. This meant thin washes in those areas; lots of water.

Another challenge was black. I mixed my blacks and greys with Cobalt Blue and Burnt Sienna. However, the students were allowed to change the colours, if they so desired.

In my demonstration, I painted the different segments of the glove one at a time. The structure of the glove lent itself to this approach.

Believe it or not, there are Canadians who hate hockey. I found out who they were as we painted the gloves. Everyone dug deep and worked hard to solve this tricky painting problem. There may have been some frustration but, fortunately, no-one dropped the gloves!

By the way, this blog received it’s 245,000th view today. Thanks, as always, for your interest and support.

Sustained Saturday Critique

Tuesday Critique