SM de Allende, Mexico – Thursday and Friday!



This may seem like a rather humble portal. It’s the entrance to the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes. Let’s take a look inside!

IMG_5442  IMG_5438


Td  Te



Serene, shady and beautiful; the Instituto is a wonderful place to paint. I’d made arrangements for us a few days prior and on Thursday we invaded.

Anticipating a lot of arches, I did a demonstration in our studio at the hotel before we left for the Instituto. I discussed drawing and perspective; most of my planning lines are still visible. The washes were developed with a ‘big to small’ process. My first wash covered the whole sheet. My second wash covered everything except the light exterior wall. I darkened the architecture a step at a time. Then, I painted the door and planter right over the shadows.

Watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

Once at the Instituto, it wasn’t difficult to find comfortable painting spots and lots of attractive subjects. We settled in for the morning.

Fiona at work  Paula at work

Barb at work  Joan at work

Paula at work

Karen at work

In addition to all of the other perks of this excellent painting site, a fabulous lunch spot was steps away; just across the street in it’s own shady courtyard. We all enjoyed the delicious food, great service and ambience of Cafe Contento.


It was a downhill walk to our hotel for our tired painters at the end of the day. As usual, we convened in the Salon Aldama for our critique.



Friday was our last day of painting as a group. I arranged to do the demonstration in a spacious, sunny upper room at our hotel. The huge windows offer a great view of the town. I wanted to wrap up with something a bit different so I chose a flat angled brush and did very little preparatory drawing; basic shapes only. I talked about my process and decisions as I worked. This watercolour involves a degree of artistic licence and a lot of simplification.

Watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

Our venue was a small, peaceful park, Parque Guadiana, not far from the hotel. It was a productive day. I’ll leave you with the critique and I think you’ll see that the students worked very hard and improved during our time here. One more post to come, though! Stay tuned for our Final Critique.










SM de Allende, Mexico – Wednesday


Watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

We headed out of town on Wednesday to historic Atotonilco. I knew what was in store and that was lots of domes, towers and belfries. My demonstration had two main themes. First of all, I discussed the basic volumes that make up an architectural form. Can we analyze the tower in terms of spheres, cones, cylinders and cubes? Doing so gives us a greater understanding of the subject and also leads to my second theme; light and shadow.

The light changes over the course of the day and, if the sun goes behind a cloud, shadows can’t be seen at all. Understanding the forms we’re painting helps us light the forms effectively.

The cathedral and ruins at Atotonilco are quite spectacular. It’s a quiet town and only about twenty minutes away from SM de Allende. We hopped in our taxis and got there in no time.




It’s a very popular spot with my students and you can see why. As usual, we gathered back at the studio for our critique.



As we wound up our critique, thunder crashed and the skies opened up for about 30 minutes. Soon, the sun was back out and we were treated to a fabulous double rainbow. Another great day in San Miguel de Allende.




SM de Allende, Mexico – Sunday and Monday



We convened at our studio, the Salon Aldama, on Sunday morning. I did a sustained watercolour demonstration which I completed in a little under an hour. My demos aren’t always so long but I wanted to take the group through a process. Also, I talk throughout my demonstrations, sharing my thoughts and decisions. Sunday morning, I discussed everything from basic brush-handling to soft-edge technique and colour mixing.

Watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

My subject may seem a bit unorthodox. It’s a view from our hotel parking lot. It has several elements, however, that we see from day to day in SM de Allende.

Our Sunday painting site was the park; Parque Benito Juarez. The park is a lovely green space surrounded by picturesque villas. It’s also adjacent to the outdoor public laundry where several of the students settled in for the morning.

Marie, Nancy and Elizabeth at work

Karen at work

It was back to our hotel for critique at the end of the day.



The focus of my Tuesday morning demonstration was on several of the things we see and deal with as artists every day in our ‘en plein air’ watercolour workshop. Flowers and foliage, stones and walls.

Watercolour demonstration sheet by Barry Coombs

Our site was Plaza San Antonio, a quiet square off the beaten track, with a church and a small park. There’s a school across from the church and the attentions of the charming and well-behaved kids are always a treat. Everyone found a shady spot and got to work.

Nancy at work

Carolyn at work

Marlene at work

Joan and Fiona at work

Another great day and another critique. Lots of nice work! Everyone has been working hard and we all looked forward to our free day on Tuesday.



SM de Allende, Mexico – Saturday



I’m back in lovely San Miguel de Allende for my annual ten-day watercolour workshop. We arrived late Thursday night and took it easy yesterday. This morning, I took the group behind the hotel for a demonstration.

What do the following two images have in common? My watercolour study is an extreme simplification of the view on the right. SM de Allende is rich in detail but colour and light are paramount. I’ve used basic blocks of colour in this little study. Restricting the shapes to blocks prevents me from overworking it and getting distracted by ‘realism’. It also keeps my focus on my goals of establishing a pattern and colour harmony. Remember this is only a preliminary study but it can be an important step towards a successful sustained composition.

Watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs IMG_4940

Everyone settled in to work for the day. We stayed on the hotel property and there was no shortage of spectacular subject matter.



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After a lunch break, we got back to work.

Stewart at Work  Nila at Work


It was a brilliant day and we wound it up with a critique in our studio, Salon Aldama. The work was terrific and a great start to our workshop.




Winter Tuesday Watercolour Class – Week Ten



Winter term has come to an end. Hopefully, the winter weather is on the wane, as well. I opted for the classic shapes of the pears and warm colours for our last still life.

My demonstrations are basically watercolour sketches. As I painted, I chatted about many of the things we’ve discussed over the past ten classes. Simplification, soft edge, brush-handling, etc.

Watercolour demonstration sheet by Barry Coombs

It’s been a great term. Many of the students showed real progress. Most of all, everyone learns something, including me, every class. The students are very supportive of each other and we have fun. And the commitment! Kim made the time to come to class today before flying to Europe for a family March break holiday. Still, she had to leave before our critique so here is her watercolour.

PEARS by Kim Magee

by Kim Magee

Thanks for participating, following, commenting and liking. My Spring Studio Calendar will be published on this blog in a few days. Spring Tuesdays start again on April 7.

Tuesday AM Critique

Tuesday AM Critique

Tuesday PM Critique

Tuesday PM Critique



Sustained Saturday Watercolour Class – March 7



The Teddy Bear Picnic proved to be a week-long event at my studio. The Tuesday students had a lot of fun with them and the Saturday group came up with a few interesting interpretations of their own.

I presented the same concepts in today’s demonstration as I had on Tuesday. We tried to break the bears down into their component shapes. This allowed more control of soft edge techniques. Simplification, as always, was discussed. How can we suggest the full, three-dimensional quality of the toys with the simplest means?

Watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

Did I say ‘a few interesting interpretations’? That might be an understatement. These imaginative visual solutions are worth a good look.

Sustained Saturday Critique

Sustained Saturday Critique

Winter Tuesday Watercolour Class – Week Nine



We don’t really do any wildlife art at the studio but if we do it’s from real life and not photographs! Our bears (ursus theodorus) were fairly well-behaved and the students enjoyed the creative opportunity.

Last week, I presented an approach to watercolour painting that can help break down a complex form into it’s components. It can be easier to control soft edge techniques, for instance, within the smaller shapes of legs and ears than it is to paint the entire body of the bear with one wash.

I’ve left thin slices of white paper between the bigger shapes to show my analysis of the components. It’s not necessary to leave the white with this approach but it is important to let a shape dry before painting it’s neighbour.

Watercolour demonstration sheet by Barry Coombs

I haven’t invited the bears to pose for us for a few years now so many of the students were doing them for the first time. Those who’ve painted them in the past just had to bear with me but they’re a great subject; fun to paint and good for practice with soft edge skills.

Tuesday AM Critique

Tuesday AM Critique

Tuesday PM Critique

Tuesday PM Critique

Winter Tuesday Watercolour Class – Week Eight



Can you draw a hot bubble bath? That would be the perfect spot for these toy critters. The Tuesday students couldn’t just turn on a tap, though. They had to draw and paint these guys. Also, they had to tap into their personal wells of creativity. Everyone had three toys at their own work table so they could arrange them in any way they chose.

Last spring, we had a ‘special project’ without a traditional still life in the middle of the room. Everyone had a seashell. We did it again in the autumn; milkweed pods were our inspiration. As far as I was concerned, any treatment of the subject was allowed. Enjoy the shapes and colours. Tell a story. Create a non-traditional design.

I explored a few ideas on my demonstration sheet. Some are more interpretative and others more conventional. Brush-handling is essential to all. I’ve used the brush in different ways to create soft edges.

Watercolour demonstration sheet by Barry Coombs

Imagination can’t be taught. It can be encouraged, however. Sometimes, it helps to consider your painting as a creative exercise with certain parameters. For example, the small painting on my demonstration sheet was drawn with pencil. The shapes were painted one at a time and a darker colour or value was touched into each shape while it was still wet. No shapes were allowed to run into each other. It was a good way to practice a basic soft edge technique.

FISH By Elizabeth Jay

By Elizabeth Jay

I’m showing you this watercolour by Elizabeth Jay because she had to leave a few minutes early and I wasn’t able to include it in the critique photo. I like it, too. Elizabeth used a bit of wax. She also managed to create layers of depth with her use of cool and warm colours.

I’m not sure if the students were elated or exhausted at the end of each class. Some of the results are more playful than others but it was a positive experience overall.

Tuesday AM Critique

Tuesday AM Critique

Tuesday PM Critique

Tuesday PM Critique

Winter Tuesday Watercolour Class – Week Seven



I’ve set up some challenging still lifes over the last few weeks. Today, I opted for an  arrangement of relatively simple objects that take the light well. Our colours are complementary but I’ve placed the cooler green apples in front of the warm terracotta pots, reversing the basic law of advancing warm and receding cool colours. Why not? If it looks good in the still life, let’s make it look good an a sheet of watercolour paper.

Watercolour demonstration sheet by Barry Coombs

I did some basic review of handling soft edges for both classes. During the afternoon break, I painted the little group of terracotta objects. I wanted to try a unifying approach. Here are the steps I used.

Step one of watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

STEP ONE – You can see what I mean by a unifying approach. I mixed my terracotta colour with primary yellow and red. There’s a tiny amount of primary blue in the wash, as well. I painted the wash throughout the objects, leaving a few small shapes of paper white untouched.

Step two of watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

STEP TWO – The more or less elliptical shapes that denote the inside of the various vessels were painted with a light middle tone and a darker value was touched in while wet. The core shadow areas of the objects on the far left and right were handled differently. A band of clean water was painted above the shadow area. The darker wash was started at the bottom of the band of water. The darker wash and the water touched each other and created a soft edge.

Step three of watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

STEP THREE – Several things happened with this step. The jar on the left was completed with the darker shadow shape. This shape has a sharp or crisp edge all round. The similar shape on the right-hand jar was painted almost the same way except I ‘feathered’ the bottom right part of the shape with a damp brush. Now, look at the pitcher at the back. The first step I took was to paint the upper area darker and feather the lower edge with a damp brush. Then, about halfway down, I painted another band of clean water and added the dark shape below it. Whew! I hope it all makes sense.

Step four of watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

STEP FOUR – I painted the biggest shape on the large jug with a middle tone. While still wet, I touched in an even darker and cooler wash under the spot and in the lower left corner.

Light to dark and big to small. I harp on it over and over but it works. The students came up with some very strong work. I’m always amazed at what they can accomplish in less than three hours.

Tuesday AM Critique

Tuesday AM Critique

Tuesday PM Critique

Tuesday PM Critique



Winter Tuesday Watercolour Class – Week Six



What’s in a background? This is the same photo of the still life that I showed you on Saturday. I selected the green fabric in order to enhance the objects. This, however, isn’t what my students see while they’re painting. They don’t see any sort of backdrop. This is what they see; minus the other students across the room from them.


Now, you know why you see different background colours and treatments in the student watercolours. Have another look at the last Sustained Saturday Critique and you’ll find some very imaginative and vibrant solutions. You might even think that no-one ever asks me for a suggestion about the background in their painting. You’d be wrong. I’m always hearing ‘I don’t know what to do. What do you think I should do?’ Well, I don’t tell them what to do. What we do is review our options. Light or dark? Cool or warm? There are so many things to consider. Let’s have a look at some different background colours with the boots.


WHITE – Like the watercolour paper itself. Doesn’t do much for me. I prefer the green shown above.


ORANGE – Hmmm. I like it better than the white but does it complement or otherwise relate to any of the colours in the boots?


PURPLE – This is the darkest and coolest of the choices, so far. It seems to set off the various warm colours to good advantage. I like it. What do you think?

All we’ve discussed is choice of colour. What about grading the wash from light to dark? Or adding a window or some other familiar element? We’re just getting started but that’s enough for now. It’s time to talk about my Tuesday demonstration sheet.

Watercolour demonstration sheet by Barry Coombs

Once again, I referred to the Saturday class. I talked about colour choices, simplification and process. In some cases, it might be a good idea to paint the entire shape of a boot before letting it dry and glazing other colours over it. In the upper left corner, I painted a green shape. Next, I added the pure Cobalt Blue (see the swatch to the left of the boot). I ended up with dark green and not blue.

With the boot on the right, I looked at it’s component shapes and painted them one at a time. This allowed for more control of the washes, particularly when soft edges were desired. It also gave me a blue and green boot.

The Tuesday students have only half the painting time of the Saturday students. Wisely, most of them kept their backgrounds simple but there are still some very effective treatments.

Tuesday AM Critique

Tuesday AM Critique

Tuesday PM Critique

Tuesday PM Critique


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