Zippity Zoo Daze!!!

Lioness study by Barry Coombs

I took on many jobs to pay the rent and earn tuition as an art student. Not all were ‘art-related’, such as my two summers making office furniture on an assembly line. As a picture framer, I felt some contact with the broader world of art. Skills learned at school got me a job as a commercial screen printer and it was much the same that qualified me as a T-shirt designer and very occasional free-lance illustrator.

I took one short-term job with a specific goal in mind. Way back then, teaching had worked it’s way into my mind as a possible future source of income. I would have to be comfortable painting and drawing in front of people in order to teach and demonstrate. So, I responded to an ad for Zippity Zoo Daze. It’s no less embarrassing now than it was decades ago.

Zippity Zoo Daze was a joint promotion shared by Simpsons, a large Canadian department store, and the Metropolitan Toronto Zoo. I spent several Saturday afternoons painting mostly African wildlife in one of the Simpsons Toronto branches. I worked from a book of photographs. Children and adults would crowd around to watch. The job ended with a final weekend of doing the same at the zoo. Still, working from photos.

Llama study by Barry Coombs  Elephant study by Barry Coombs

I used inexpensive pads of Strathmore watercolour paper. As a particular challenge, I did not do any preliminary drawing in pencil. I ‘drew’ with my brush and mapped in the shapes with light washes.

Camel study by Barry Coombs

I hadn’t had any specific training during my art school classes for this assignment. Demonstrations of anything were rare, particularly in watercolour. I worked from light to dark, observed values and shapes carefully and used the brush to mimic textures. Basically, I rendered.

Rhinoceroses study by Barry Coombs

Looking back, I can see things I like in these studies such as the use of ‘lost edge’. I can also see that I was timid with the darkest values in several of them. Overall, it was an excellent experience. I wasn’t paid much and didn’t benefit a lot from all of the amazing publicity I was told I’d receive but I forced myself to work in front of an audience. Years later, it paid off when I commenced my teaching career.

Ape studies by Barry Coombs



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6 Responses to “Zippity Zoo Daze!!!”

  1. Joanne Ross Says:

    I love this post Barry! Fascinating to lear of all the jobs you tried out on your way to the teaching part of your career. Bet some of your class experiences have been a little bit “zoo-ish” from time to time! Thanks for a good blog.

  2. Sarah Lampson Says:

    Very interesting to read Barry. I was impressed with the diversity of your work, training and jobs. I love the animal portraits!

  3. Mary Gurr Says:

    Hi BARRY,
    Your pictures are lovely. I too worked for Simpsons demonstrating- Hoover Vacuum cleaners to pay the bills while I worked part time at Air Canada.
    I miss your classes. We will be in Bracebridge this winter but we are moving to Collingwood in the spring. If you are planning to teach at blue mountains in the spring, please let me know . Best regards to Aleda.

  4. Carol King Says:

    These are beautiful and sensitive animal portraits. I love them all.

  5. Lois Says:

    I love the Pictures,and the Story that goes with.
    Thanks for sharing.

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