Fall Sustained Saturday Watercolour Class



I hadn’t dug out the brass objects for quite a while. They’re a good challenge and there are a few things I wanted to emphasize with my demonstration.

First of all, there are lots of reflections and they can be quite distracting. It’s important to think about the objects as volumes and to carefully consider how they are lit. The spotlight is directly above our still life and I tried to simplify these objects to show how the light source can make them feel three-dimensional.

Often, I mention ‘wire frame’ drawing. Do you know what I mean? Some of you may have done a project in high school involving the creation of objects from wire. Imagine making a box from wire. You’d be able to see right through it. I did a small ‘wire frame’ study on my demo sheet. The coloured ellipses show the base of three different objects. Note the red ellipse. It fits into the space between the two books. No overlap. Overlap would defy physics. The ‘wire frame’ approach helps us create believable space in our work.

Watercolour demonstration sheet by Barry Coombs

We stopped about thirty minutes after my demonstration to review our thumbnail sketches. We do these sketches to work out our compositions. Everything should be considered, not just the placement of the objects in the frame of reference (usually a rectangle) but value and colour relationships, as well. The colour chosen for the ‘background’ will have a big impact on the image.

Take a look at what the Sustained Saturday students created.

Sustained Saturday Critique

Sustained Saturday Critique


Happy Thanksgiving, Neighbours!

HARVEST by Barry Coombs

by Barry Coombs

We celebrated Thanksgiving in Canada over a month ago. I’d made a few sketches around that time for HARVEST, acrylic on canvas; 18 x 24″. I finished it last week and thought I’d post it to wish a Happy Thanksgiving to all my friends in the US of A. Enjoy your day tomorrow!

Fall Tuesday Watercolour Class – Week Three!



This is another view of the still life from the Saturday class. I didn’t change anything for the Tuesday classes. I like the solid, simple forms and the textures of the distressed surfaces.

My demonstration was similar to the one I did on Saturday, as well. I used wax as a resist material to preserve light areas and to suggest flaking paint. Also, I granted ‘artistic licence’ to anyone who wanted to add some decoration to the simpler pots. I added a geometric band to the green pot. Why not?

Watercolour demonstration sheet by Barry Coombs

Some of the Tuesday students attend the Saturday classes, as well. I always remind them that they have only half the time to develop their work. Three hours versus six hours. Then, they start painting and amaze me with what they can accomplish, whatever the time span.

In other news, I was at the Dundas Valley School of Art yesterday. I was a part-time instructor there for twenty years so it always feels like a bit of a homecoming. I met the talented students in the full-time program individually and offered some feedback on their work. In the afternoon, I gave a one hour slide talk about my own art practice.

Speaking of talented students, have a look at what the Tuesday students did.


Tuesday Afternoon Critique

Tuesday Evening Critique

Tuesday Evening Critique

Fall Sustained Saturday Watercolour Class



We’ve been experiencing some beautiful ‘Indian Summer’ weather in southern Ontario recently. Unfortunately, a bad cold seems to be roaming around the region, as well. I caught it after my return from Sicily (could it really have been that person who coughed for 9 1/2 hours straight on the flight from Rome and barely covered her mouth the whole time?). Yesterday, I was operating at well less than 100% but I didn’t want to cancel the class.

The good news is that I have great students. A team took over coffee-making and cookie duty. I kept contact to a minimum and we had a very nice day of watercolour painting. My still life may evoke a Mexican feeling and I couldn’t help but think about the painting holiday I’ll lead in Mexico next March.

I discussed the use of wax as a resist material during my demonstration. I first painted the green pot on the left with a yellow wash over the entire object. I applied wax (wait until the paint is dry!) to protect some of the yellow before painting a green wash over the whole pot.

With the more complex pot on the right, I used wax to create highlights in the light areas and reflected light in the areas of shadow.

Watercolour demonstration sheet by Barry Coombs

Thanks go to the whole gang for chipping in and bearing with their sick instructor. Many of them tried the wax. Can you see where it’s been used?

Sustained Saturday Critique

Sustained Saturday Critique

Final Days from Taormina, Sicilia!



Red sky in the morning……There was nothing ominous about this sunrise as the weather was perfect for our last two painting days in Sicily. On Monday, we boarded our transport for the short but steep trip to Castelmola, a picturesque village that towers over Taormina.

Castelmola from below

I set up my easel in a shady spot for the morning demonstration. A few new ideas were the focus of my demo. I presented three different types of pencils; Conté, Pitt Pastel and Wolff’s Carbon. They make very strong marks and are suitable for a broad and spirited approach to a watercolour painting.

Monday demo

Watercolour Demonstration by Barry Coombs

What a place to paint! The views of Etna, Taormina and the Greek Theatre were breath-taking.


Taormina from Castelmola

Greek Theatre from above

The charming alleys and tiny piazzas rounded out the wealth of subject matter for our painters.

Monday church

Catherine at Work

Barb and George

Our vans picked us up for the descent to Taormina and we held our ‘en plein air’ critique at the hotel.

Monday Critique a

Monday Critique a

Monday Critique b

Monday Critique b

Tuesday was another beautiful day and our transport took us below Taormina for a day at the beach. Our main subject was Isola Bella, a small island also known as the ‘Pearl of the Ionian Sea’. Isola Bella was private property until 1990 when the Sicilian government bought it and made it a nature reserve. A strip of beach almost connects Isola Bella to the main shore but some wading was necessary to make it to the island. Still, many of our painters made the crossing and enjoyed the island and it’s vistas.

Tues c

Tues b

Tues a

This was our last full day of sketching and painting. I decided to refrain from doing a demonstration so the painters could get right to work and make the most of the scenery and sunshine. Everyone worked hard and our shady critique spot back at the hotel was very welcome.

Tuesday Critique a

Tuesday Critique a

Tuesday Critique b

Tuesday Critique b

All good things come to an end. Wednesday was a free day until 5pm when we met for our Final Critique which was followed by a fabulous Farewell Dinner. There was lots to do on Wednesday. Shopping was at the top of a few lists. Some of us visited the Palazzo Corvaja for an art exhibition that was an homage to Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini. The highlight was a screening of Pasolini’s fascinating short film from 1968 called “Che Cosa Sono Le Nuvole?” (What are Clouds?).


De Chirico

The bus picked us up at 8am on Thursday morning for the quick drive to Catania airport. I thought the festivities were over until three of the women in our group (now known as the Three Graces)  got up in the aisle and sang us a hilarious song of their own composition but to the tune of a popular operatic aria.

These painting holidays are a success when everyone contributes in their own way. My thanks go to all of the participants and to those of you who followed, liked and commented on our creative adventures. Special thanks are due to Paola Romano, our indefatigable and ever-cheerful guide/facilitator. Ciao!



Taormina! Week Two of our Sicilian Painting Holiday.


fri b

fri a

Whether you look up or down, Taormina is gorgeous. We had an easy travel day from Siracusa last Thursday as it’s only a few hours to Taormina. Upon arrival, one of the participants said “We’ve gone from the charming to the spectacular”. This is not a criticism of Siracusa. It’s a great city. Taormina, however, soars above the sea and spectacular is certainly not an understatement.

Friday was a free day except for a guided walking tour in the afternoon. One of the most important sites we visited is the Greek Theatre.

fri f

fri c

It was back to work on Saturday. We walked to the local park and it was a perfect place to paint. The park was founded by Florence Trevelyan from the UK. Look her up! It’s a fascinating story.

sat c

I set up for a demonstration and discussed foliage. Given our surroundings, it seemed like an appropriate subject. I had a little help with my demo, by the way.

Sat a

Watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

The group enjoyed the day very much. Aside from the lovely gardens, the park features Victorian follies and fabulous views of Mount Etna.

sat b

sat e

sat d

sat f

sat g

Following a very pleasant day of sketching and painting, we headed back to our hotel for an outdoor critique.

Saturday Critique a

Saturday Critique a

Saturday Critique b

Saturday Critique b

We strolled up to a quiet piazza on Sunday morning. I demonstrated with a 1″ flat angled brush. It was a peaceful and lovely spot. We were minutes away from shops and restaurants but it felt like a private outdoor studio.

Watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

sun d

sun b

sun g

sun c

sun e

sun c

sun f

Our critique at the end of the day was enhanced by a glass of almond wine, a Sicilian specialty. It’s been a wonderful trip so far and there’s still lots of painting time ahead of us. Thanks for your comments and likes.

Sunday Critique a

Sunday Critique a

Sunday Critique b

Sunday Critique b

Ragusa, Noto and more from Siracusa!


Ragusa c

Monday was the day for our trip to the splendid baroque towns of Ragusa and Noto. We started with Ragusa and followed our knowledgeable and entertaining guide, Francesca, from site to site before enjoying a traditional Sicilian lunch.

Ragusa a

Ragusa b

Noto was our next destination. It’s absolutely gorgeous with it’s honey-coloured stone.

Noto a

Noto b

Noto c

Tuesday was a painting day and our transport picked us up at 9am for the short drive to the archeological park. The weather was somewhat threatening and a few raindrops fell as I demonstrated at my easel. Sometimes, a simple and quick demo is just the ticket so I finished up so the group could get to work. Guess what? We had a great day. It was cloudy and there was distant thunder a few times but no rain.

ap a

ap d


ap c

It was back to our room at the Hotel Gutkowski for a look at the work.

Tuesday Critique a

Tuesday Critique a

Tuesday Critique b

Wednesday didn’t start off well. The winds were high and the waves were higher and it was raining on and off.



I decided to spend part of the morning presenting a sustained demonstration at the hotel. I worked back and forth on two sheets of figure studies. The first sheet portrays a group of fishermen that I photographed during our boat cruise. I apologize for the terrible photo of step one. I drew the group with pencil and followed that by painting in the shadows with a cool grey wash. When that dried, I added the local colour. For the final step, I developed the drawing with pen and ink.

Watercolour demonstration sheet by Barry Coombs

Watercolour demonstration sheet by Barry Coombs

I used a few different approaches on my second sheet. The drummer was done with a brush pen.

Watercolour demonstration sheet by Barry Coombs

It happened again! It was a very blustery day but didn’t rain much and the sun broke through several times. However, it was our last day in Siracusa so most of the group took some time off  for shopping and even for a performance at the puppet theatre. We also had to pack. Thursday was to be an easy travel day but we still needed to prepare for our next stop: Taormina!










Siracusa, Sicilia – We’re here!



Our tired group arrived in Siracusa last Thursday. We settled into our charming boutique hotel, Hotel Gutkowski, which faces the sea. We made our way to a local restaurant for our Welcome Dinner before finally getting a good night’s sleep.


Friday was mostly a recovery day and the group enjoyed a free morning. In the afternoon, we met a local guide and enjoyed a walking tour of the Ortigia, the old town of Siracusa. We wandered the narrow streets and visited the beautiful Piazza Duomo. At the end of the tour, we found ourselves by the harbour. Boat tour, anyone? Why not?



Puppet Sign


Saturday was our first full day of sketching and painting. We started off with my demonstration at the hotel. I discussed several of the common visual elements we would be encountering during our stay. After the demo, we headed to the Duomo.

Watercolour demonstration sheet by Barry Coombs

I always suggest that the participants find a shady spot. As you can see, some really paid attention.

Gillian at work

George at work

Joel and Sandra at work

Joanne and Elizabeth at work

We regrouped at the hotel at the end of the day for our first critique. Everyone enjoyed seeing each other’s initial impressions of Siracusa.

Saturday Critique a

Saturday Critique a

Saturday Critique b

Saturday Critique b

On Sunday morning, I led the group through the Ortigia and crossed a bridge to the mainland part of town. I knew of a special little harbour that is home to many of the small traditional fishing boats. I set my easel up there for my demonstration. I showed the group how I approach a drawing with lots of ‘planning lines’ before I added watercolour. The name of the boat is Felicia and my little study is now in the private collection of it’s fisherman owner.

Boat with eye


Fishing Boats

Watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

Shady spots weren’t hard to find. This little harbour was a lovely spot to paint. Can you see the painters under the far wall?

Harbour with painters

We weren’t the only ones painting!


Forgot your sketching stool? Don’t worry about it. The local fisherman were gentlemen and provided a comfortable perch for one of our painters.

Barb and Chair

Once again, it was back to the hotel for a look at our work. Tomorrow, we’re off to the baroque towns of Ragusa and Noto. Stay tuned!

Sunday Critique a

Sunday Critique a

Sunday Critique b

Sunday Critique b





Fall Tuesday Watercolour Class – Week Two!



Last Saturday, I set up a seasonal still-life of gourds and pumpkins. I modified it a bit for the Tuesday classes. My demonstration didn’t vary much from the Saturday demo, either. These objects are challenging but a lot of fun to paint. We discussed two main and somewhat different approaches.

Have a look at the study on the lower left of the demonstration sheet.  My first step was to establish the core shadow of the pumpkin with a grey wash. The grey was a mixture of Burnt Sienna and Cobalt Blue. I painted the entire shape with clean water and, while it was still wet, touched the grey wash into the area where I’d observed the core shadow. As both washes were wet, a soft edge was created. When this step was perfectly dry, I painted the pumpkin again with an orange wash. The shadow of the stem was also established with a grey wash and was dry when I added a light green wash over it.

The study on the upper right was painted with the same process. The orange stripes were the final step.

The upper middle study was painted with a different process; ‘light to dark’ and ‘big to small’. I started with a light yellow wash throughout the shape. While wet, I added a darker value to indicate the core shadow. Once dry, I added the stripes, trying to follow the form of the gourd in order to give it a three-dimensional quality.

The dark green gourd was painted with a mixture of Pthalo Green and Rose Madder Quinacridone. This odd combination can produce a really blackish green.

Watercolour demonstration sheet by Barry Coombs

Tuesday classes are three hours long and the students have less painting time than the all-day Sustained Saturday participants. With that in mind, most tend to work a little smaller and take on fewer objects in their compositions. Although I strongly stress the learning process over the final product, it is kind of nice to finish a watercolour once in a while. Finished or not, they came up with some very nice work.

Tuesday Afternoon Critique

Tuesday Afternoon Critique

Thursday Evening Critique

Tuesday Evening Critique

Fall Sustained Saturday Watercolour Class



It’s that time of year! Pumpkins and gourds are a popular subject and they’re not hard to find right now. Most grocery stores have a display, some things edible and others decorative, as we anticipate Canadian Thanksgiving next weekend.

I approached the studies on my demonstration sheet in two different ways. First of all, I’ll talk about the one on the upper left. I drew the gourd with pencil. Next, I painted it with clear water and touched in a grey while wet. The grey serves as the core shadow of the object. When the grey dried, the whole thing was painted light yellow. Can you see the shadow coming through the pale yellow? The dark green was added once the yellow had dried. The partially painted pumpkin (say that fast three times) below was done in the same manner.

The other three studies were created with a ‘light to dark’ and ‘big to small’ process. Let’s discuss the one on the upper right. I painted the whole thing yellow and touched in a darker value, while wet, to indicate the core shadow. Allowing it to dry between washes, I added the orange stripes and then the dark green broken stripes.

The use of light and shadow is a traditional way to give an object a three-dimensional quality. We learned yesterday that the stripes, following the contours of the objects, are also a very effective way to achieve the same goal.

Watercolour demonstration sheet by Barry Coombs

Most of the students followed my lead and warmed up with a sheet of studies. Others completed sketches and thumbnail compositional studies before starting a sustained watercolour. The studio at Arts on Adrian had a great energy and we enjoyed viewing our efforts at critique time.

Sustained Saturday Critique

Sustained Saturday Critique


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