Winter Tuesday Watercolour Class – Week Five


Our still life wasn’t the most colourful I’ve ever set up. It poses some good challenges, however. I wanted to discuss process, colour and middle tones and these objects gave me the perfect opportunity to do so.

I’ve been harping on a ‘light to dark’ and ‘big to small’ process quite a lot recently. A big part of representational painting is problem-solving and a sound process can help us solve them.

First of all, I want to mention colour. The study on the left of my demonstration sheet was painted with a triad of Raw Sienna, Cobalt Blue and Rose Madder Quinacridone. It works but Raw Sienna is slightly granular and not fully transparent. When I make my darker middle tones and darks, it can be more difficult to mix and apply them. Those little particles in the Raw Sienna, like grains of sand, are trickier to control with a fluid wash.

The other two studies were painted with Aureolin MIxture (a transparent primary yellow), Cobalt Blue and Rose Madder Quinacridone. All are transparent primaries. If you want to learn how to mix colour, try limiting yourself to your primaries for a while. I know that a lot of teachers give out material lists with as many as two dozen required colours. My palette has seven or eight colours in it. I rarely use more than four or five in a painting.

My transparent primaries were a little easier to handle when I mixed my dark browns.

Watercolour demonstration sheet by Barry Coombs

Now, for the oil jar. Step one is a single unifying wash throughout the object. I’ve reserved a few small shapes of paper white. Also, I’ve touched in some darker paint in the lower area before the overall wash dried.

Step one of watercolour study by Barry Coombs

Step One

Everything was allowed to dry before I started step two. This oil jar is a complex form and I need to establish the light and shadow to give it a three-dimensional feeling.

Step two of watercolour study by Barry Coombs

Step Two

Again, everything was dry before I started to apply the dark brown of step three. As you can see, I’ve reserved some of the first wash. Step three actually is two steps. After the dark brown was dry, I added a few touches of an even darker and cooler near-black.

Step three of watercolour study by Barry Coombs

Step Three

My process involves several elements including simplification, editing and decision-making based on my experience and my goals with the study. Still, the basic steps are ‘light to dark’ and ‘big to small’.

Did I mention that the still life was challenging? Not everyone finished. Finishing isn’t as important to me as seeing evidence of a good process and I think my hard-working students responded very well to the lesson.

Tuesday AM Critique

Tuesday AM Critique

Tuesday PM Critique

Tuesday PM Critique

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4 Responses to “Winter Tuesday Watercolour Class – Week Five”

  1. Joan Wolfe Says:

    Barry: I LOVE the variety of very interesting objects you provide for your students. It is always a surprise, and always very interesting. Loved this week’s. Deeply appreciate these emails, and your generous sharing of your wisdom and skill. You are an excellent instructor!
    Joan Wolfe, London.

  2. scottcooperstudio Says:

    Excellent walk-through of the process. And the student results show what attention to process can accomplish. My approach with students is very similar, although with oil or acrylic there will be some technical differences.

  3. Arlene Says:

    Your students came up with some good varieties of color. We are working with a very limited palette, only 3 colors, and worked on mixing them to make brown, grey and black. Not so easy. Sometimes keeping things simple to a few colors is not a bad thing.

    • Barry Coombs Says:

      Thanks for your comment, Arlene. I limit myself and the students to primary colours quite often. It’s the best way to learn how to mix new colours.

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