Art and Teaching in the Summer Heat!


We’re having a heat wave in Hamilton, Ontario. And a drought. I’m trying to stay cool as I prepare for my upcoming workshop on Grand Manan Island. Enroute to Grand Manan this year, I’ll be stopping in the beautiful Miramichi region of New Brunswick to lead a one-day ‘en plein air’ workshop. This event, combined with a two-day Plein Air Paintout, is sponsored by Miramichi Art Core and will be a part of the Irish Festival.

I dropped by ART ETC Gallery Shop at the Art Gallery of Burlington today and was pleased to find several of my paintings displayed throughout the space. Also, I was shown some promotional material which features my work. I’ve exhibited at many galleries over the years and the staff at ART ETC are second to none when it comes to supporting their artists. Thanks, ART ETC!

All work is available for purchase or rental. Rental is a great idea as it gives a prospective art patron a chance to live with a painting for a while before making a decision. Drop by when you’re in the neighbourhood.



I received a nice surprise in the mail the other day. It’s a certificate from the Dundas Valley School of Art. The school hosted a function for the faculty a few weeks ago but I was unable to attend. Otherwise, I would have been given this thoughtful acknowledgement at that time. I’ve taught at several institutions over many years and this is the first time anything like this has come my way. Thanks, DVSA.


Plein Air Toronto – Last Two Days!



Two days to go in our week of sketching and painting in watercolour! Last Thursday, we met at Riverdale Farm and painted in and around the farm and the adjacent Toronto Necropolis, a park-like and tranquil cemetery.


I gathered the gang in the Necropolis for a demonstration. We deal with a lot of visual information while painting ‘en plein air’. One of our most important tasks is to find and preserve the light in our subject. A value study is likely the best way to do so and, using a mixture of Cobalt Blue and Burnt Sienna, I created a study in four values. The lightest value in my study is the white of the paper. It’s followed by a light middle tone, a dark middle tone and ultimately, the dark. Even the more experienced students found it helpful.


Watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

I even ended up with an unintentional goofy face on my house. Following the demonstration, I spent some time with the newer students and presented a refresher of some basic watercolour techniques. After that, my job was to find everyone. They’d set up throughout the farm, park and cemetery.

Katie at work

Emily at work

Only a few of the group focused on the farm animals as subjects but I can’t resist showing you a few of the Riverdale residents.



Later on, we found a quiet, shady spot for our critique. Plans were made for Friday, our final day together.


Thursday Critique a

Thursday Critique b

Thursday Critique b

On Friday, we visited Black Creek Pioneer Village, an extensive and wonderful historic site. The buildings and artifacts offer many attractive opportunities for the artists and there are animals, as well.


I set up under a shade tree and demonstrated at my easel. I chose a complicated subject and tried to simplify it with a watercolour sketch. I talk as I paint and attempt to describe the process and the decisions I’m making as the image develops.

Watercolour demonstraton by Barry Coombs

As usual, the group spread out to find inspiration. On a big site like Pioneer Village, it’s easy to lose track of a few of the painters. I now employ modern technology and text missing painters in order to find them.

Friday was the hottest day of our week but there’s no shortage of comfortable, shady spots at the village.

Evelyn at work









Eventually, it was time for our last critique of the week. I appreciate the energy, enthusiasm and talent the participants shared at all of our great painting sites. Was there improvement? I think so. Aside from my efforts, they learn from each other and the critique is a very important part of the process. Have a look at Friday’s work! Thanks for following and feel free to leave a comment. Next year, consider Toronto for an ‘en plein air’ painting experience. We’ve had participants from all over Canada and the USA, as well.

Friday Critique a

Friday Critique a

Friday Critique b

Friday Critique b

Friday Critique c

Friday Critique c


Plein Air Toronto 2016- Days Two and Three!


Last Tuesday, we visited Kew Gardens and Beach in the east end of Toronto. It’s a lovely, shady spot with gardens, sporting facilities and lots to paint. One of the highlights is the Gardener’s House.


I wanted to discuss some basic thoughts about foliage and it’s relationship to architecture. As you can see, I set up my easel in the beautiful sunshine. If you’ve ever attended one of my outdoor workshops, you’ll know that I don’t advise painting in the sun. It’s very hard to see what you’re doing and the watercolour dries more quickly than desired. In this case, I wanted the paint to dry quickly so I could illustrate my ideas without taking too much time.


Watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

Watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

Following the demonstration, I joined some of the new students for a discussion of perspective and the use of a measuring stick. Familiarity with a measuring stick can help us understand the angles of buildings.


We had a special guest on Tuesday. Jay Holobach is an artist from Nashville, Tennessee. He’s spending a lot of time in Toronto this summer and I thought I’d extend some good old Canadian hospitality and invite him to paint with us for the day. Jay works in oils and our watercolour painters enjoyed his company and his work.

Jay Holobach

Kim and Katie at work

Phil at work

Elizabeth at work

Speaking of things Canadian, what better spot for our critique than a hockey rink! Nice boards for taping our paintings and sketches and the sun on our backs. Several hundred puck marks set off the work to great advantage.


Tuesday Critique a

Tuesday Critique a

Tuesday Critique b

Tuesday Critique b

We don’t often paint downtown but we did on Wednesday! The Roundhouse was our venue and it hosts the Toronto Railway Museum and Steam Whistle Brewery. Not only that; the Roger’s Centre (home of the MLB Blue Jays), the landmark CN Tower and the Ripley’s Aquarium surrounded us.


I wanted to discuss pen combined with watercolour. Many of the regular students have seen my approach to pen and watercolour so I let them get to work. I gathered a smaller group of the new students and took them through the steps of a drawing of this building.


Step one of pen and watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

Step One – pencil and wash

Step two of pen and watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

Step Two – Colour

Step Three - Pen

Step Three – Pen


I photographed the steps on my iPad and showed them to the rest of the group as I did my rounds over the course of the day. In addition to that, I completed two more sketches with pen and watercolour.

Pen and watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

Pen and watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

There is no shortage of subject matter at the Roundhouse. The trains and buildings were very popular with our artists.




We found another good critique spot at the end of the day. The Don Station building provided a convenient wall and lots of shade. After critique, we headed to a nearby restaurant for dinner and drinks and a chance to get to know each other. I hope you’re enjoying our Plein Air Toronto week. Look for my next post a few days from now.


Wednesday Critique a

Wednesday Critique a

Wednesday Critique b

Wednesday Critique b


Plein Air Toronto 2016 – Day One!


Last Monday morning, my annual Plein Air Toronto workshop, a week of sketching and painting in watercolour, began at the Arts on Adrian studio. I had a prepared a demonstration dealing with basic approaches to painting skies and clouds.

Studio Demo

Skies are always a challenge, especially in watercolour. I had painted a few sheets ahead of time and I completed one sheet while the students watched. By the way, the sky in the upper right corner is upside down!

Sky in watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

I also brought in a few books. We took a careful look at skies painted by some of the great English watercolour painters of the past as well as some by the American, Winslow Homer and Canadian artist, Frederick Hagan.

Here are some more sky studies I showed to the group. Some have been created with a soft edge (wet into wet) process and some are a combination of soft and crisp edges. Some were done in one step and others took two or three steps to complete.

Sky in watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs  Sky in watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

Sky in watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

Sky in watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

Sky in watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

Sky in watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

It was time to head out of doors and the Sunnyside Pavilion on the shore of Lake Ontario was our destination. Upon arrival, we settled in for the rest of the day.


Sarah at work  Evelyn at work

Barb at work

Marian at work

Ian, Wendy and Olwen at work

Emily at work

It was a great start to our week. At the end of the day, we gathered for our critique and discussed our plan for Tuesday. Stay tuned! Our activities from last Tuesday and Wednesday are coming soon.

Monday Critique a

Monday Critique a

Monday Critique b

Monday Critique b



Pen with Wash and Watercolour at DVSA – Drawing People


Last Thursday, I taught the fourth and final workshop in a series at the Dundas Valley School of Art in Dundas, Ontario. Pen and ink and pen combined with monochromatic washes and watercolour were the media explored in these workshops. On Thursday, our goal was to learn a few ideas and approaches to drawing people.

I spent some time discussing the basic proportions of the figure and the head and provided some handouts to the students. Our first drawing was of a standing man and we all worked from a photograph. I reviewed my approach to drawing which includes a lot of light, planning lines. Then, I added a monochromatic wash, a mix of Burnt Sienna and Cobalt Blue. The wash was applied to all areas of the figure not receiving light. The light areas were left alone; the untouched white of the paper.

Step one of pen and wash demonstration by Barry Coombs

The pen adds detail and definition. It deepens the darker areas. We took a few steps to introduce the pen work to the image, starting with a quick review of the basic techniques.

Step two of pen and wash demonstraton by Barry Coombs

The students worked on their drawings for quite a while. No need to rush. Proportion, light and shadow, the clothing: there was a lot to consider!

Standing Man Critique

Standing Man Critique

Our next drawing was of a walking woman. We took a different approach. After the pencil drawing, the local colours were applied directly. The watercolour washes were allowed to dry before starting with the pen.

Pen and watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

Most of the students would have used another half hour or so to good advantage but time ran out. Finished works of art, however, were not the goal of the workshop. These were learning exercises and intended to introduce each participant to a few sound approaches to drawing people.

Walking Woman Critique

Walking Woman Critique

Thanks for following for the last month. I’ll be back at the DVSA next fall with a new series of workshops dedicated to pen, wash and watercolour. Have a look at their website for details.

Introduction to Pen with Wash and Watercolour at DVSA


I was back at the Dundas Valley School of Art yesterday to teach the third workshop in a series of four. Our first two days focused solely on pen drawing and yesterday we added wash and watercolour to the mix.

Photo of drawing subject by Barry Coombs

Our first subject was two cardboard gardening containers. I provided this photograph to each student. I’d taken care to light the objects so that we could focus on values. After drawing the objects in pencil, we added a monochromatic (one colour) wash to the overall areas of shadow. When the wash was dry, we worked with our pens and added much more information about the forms.

Pen and watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

Our second exercise was particularly interesting. I gave each student a small figurine of a teddy bear. We talked about the drawing aspect of the exercise including proportion and light and shadow. This time, we didn’t have a photograph of well-lit teddy bears to work from. We decided on a light direction, upper left or right, and analyzed the forms of the bears and how they would receive the light. Our goal was to make the bears look three-dimensional.

Drawing lesson by Barry Coombs

We did this drawing in four steps. Sorry! I didn’t have time to photograph all of the steps. First: we drew the bears in pencil. Second: we painted a blue-grey middle value wash in the shadow areas of the bears and allowed it to dry. Third: we painted the local colours. For example, the green shirt and the blue overalls. Our final step was the pen. We used it to enhance the shadows and add texture and detail.

Pen and watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

My goal was to introduce the students to a few ideas about combining pen with wash and watercolour. My hope was that they take home a good experience and apply it to their own sketching and drawing. It was an enthusiastic group and we had lots of fun while working hard on the projects. Have a look at what they created below. Next week, I’ll be back at DVSA for the fourth and final workshop in the series; Pen with Wash and Watercolour – Drawing People!

Cardboard Pots Critique

Cardboard Pots Critique

Teddy Bears Critique

Teddy Bears Critique

Pen and Ink – Natural Forms at DVSA


I was back at the Dundas Valley School of Art today to teach the second in a series of four one-day workshops. Last week, I taught Pen and Ink Basics and most of the students were back today to explore natural forms with their pens.

We follow a step by step approach to our drawing exercises. Today, I brought in objects for the students to draw. Our first challenge was a garlic. I discussed the process on an 18 x 24″ pad at an easel. We then gathered around a table where I presented a smaller pen demonstration in steps.

Drawing lesson by Barry Coombs

Our second drawing subject was a seashell. I have quite a collection so each student had their own shell. Once again, I explained our approach at the easel, touching on key elements such as light and shadow and proportion.

Drawing lesson by Barry Coombs

We concentrated mainly on hatching and cross-hatching today. Stroke direction and edge were discussed. In general, we work from light to dark so the dark ‘stripes’ on the shell were one of the last things I did.

Pen and Ink demonstration sheet by Barry Coombs

What a hard-working bunch! After completing two drawings, and with only half an hour left in the class, I gave them each a walnut. I didn’t do a demonstration but asked them to think about all of the ideas we’d considered thus far. Have a look at a selection of the day’s drawings.

I’ll be back next Thursday to teach Introduction to Pen with Wash and Watercolour. I think the class is full but sometimes there are cancellations so, if you’re interested, contact DVSA.

Pen and Ink-Natural Forms Critique

Pen and Ink-Natural Forms Critique

Pen and Ink Basics at Dundas Valley School of Art


Last Thursday, I taught a one-day workshop at the Dundas Valley School of Art in Dundas, Ontario. It was called Pen and Ink Basics and it’s the first in a series of four this spring.

I cover a lot of material when I teach pen and ink. We started off with a discussion of our materials and a repertoire of fundamental pen techniques; hatching, cross-hatching, stippling and line weight/variety. The material list was not lengthy. I always use drawing pens for these classes. No muss, no fuss, no spilled ink.

Materials-Pen and Ink Basics

We did three step-by-step exercises and the students worked from my models. I presented the goals of the exercise on an 18 x 24″ sheet at an easel so it was easy for everyone to see. The group gathers around a table for the actual pen and ink demonstrations which are done on much smaller sheets of paper.

Drawing lesson by Barry Coombs

Drawing lesson by Barry Coombs

After discussing the basic techniques, we drew a cone using a version of cross-hatching called ‘parquet’. I’ve always enjoyed teaching drawing and the students didn’t just develop their newfound skills with the pen. I also presented, and emphasized, ideas about the traditional use of light and shadow and threw in a few thoughts about two-point perspective, as well.

Pen and Ink demonstration by Barry Coombs

Two more drawings were completed after our cone exercise. A box-like cubic form evolved into a building and we combined a spherical  form with a cone, ending up with a pear. As mentioned, these exercises are done one step at a time. It may seem like a formulaic approach and, to a degree, it is. However, the completed drawings give the students a sense of satisfaction and confidence. The lessons learned can be applied to their own work and are particularly appropriate for those who keep sketchbooks.

Pen and Ink demonstration by Barry Coombs

It was a long day and I was impressed with the energy and enthusiasm of the group. They did a lot of drawing and processed a great deal of information. At the end of the day, I asked each student to choose one of their sheets for our critique.

This Thursday, May 19, I’ll be teaching the second workshop in the series; Pen and Ink: Natural Forms. There may be a spot of two left for you! If interested, contact the DVSA.

Pen and Ink Basics Critique

Pen and Ink Basics Critique



Spring Tuesday Watercolour Class – May 10



This is another view of the still-life from our Sustained Saturday class last weekend. It was no less challenging for the Tuesday students. I stuck to the same ideas presented on Saturday with my demonstration.

The patterns on the wooden objects can be tricky. I followed a ‘big to small’ and ‘light to dark’ process. The vase on the left was painted first. Once dry, I added the leaf shapes of the pattern, glazing right over the first wash. The thin dark veins were added last.

The studies on the right showed my approach to drawing these irregular shapes. Can you see the parallel lines in the upper study? They help me establish the perspective of the object.

Watercolour study by Barry Coombs  Watercolour demonstration sheet by Barry Coombs

I think the students always do well but I guess I’m biased. Still, they’re working from direct observation and completing these watercolours in a little over two hours. The average size of the work is 12 x 16″.

That’s it for our short spring term at Arts on Adrian in Toronto. I’d like to thank all of the students for their enthusiasm and support. Thanks for following, commenting and liking.

Tuesday Afternoon Critique

Tuesday Afternoon Critique

Tuesday Evening Critique

Tuesday Evening Critique


Spring Sustained Saturday Watercolour Class – May 7



Spring is finally here! It’s almost time for painting ‘en plein air’ and yesterday was the final studio Sustained Saturday class of  the season. It’s been a very long time since I included these wooden objects, with their interesting patterns, in a still-life. They went well with the citrus fruit and gave the arrangement a tropical quality.

I discussed a few different elements with my demonstration, including drawing the oddly-shaped wooden dishes. All of those colour swatches had a purpose, as well. Each group of five vertical swatches shows the main colours of the still-life. The horizontal bars of colour are ideas for creating a harmonious background colour. Which one would you choose?

Watercolour demonstration sheet by Barry Coombs

The students were intrigued by the patterns on the wooden vessels. They spent a lot of time on them and used both positive and negative approaches to solve this interesting painting problem. So, what colours did they choose for their backgrounds? Have a look!

Sustained Saturday Critique

Sustained Saturday Critique


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