Grand Manan Island, New Brunswick 2019 – Our First Three Days!

Last week, I led an ‘en plein air’ watercolour workshop on beautiful Grand Manan Island in the Bay of Fundy. This is the twenty-ninth summer that I’ve taught on the island. Our group of workshop participants was a nice blend of repeaters and first-timers. We got to know each other on Sunday evening over a delicious dinner at the lovely Compass Rose Inn.

MONDAY
It was a gorgeous sunny morning and we met in North Head Harbour. I demonstrated in the shade of a large boathouse. My goal was to encourage everyone to spend the day on smaller, quicker watercolour studies rather than settle into a sustained piece right off the bat. With that in mind, I’d prepared a small cardboard frame for each painter. The inside dimension is 4×6″, the size of a postcard.

I worked at my easel. My demonstrations are, in a sense, illustrated discussions. I rarely complete a finished work as a demonstration. My goal is to show a process and discuss it’s benefits. I worked in the 4×6″ format and didn’t do a preliminary pencil drawing. Straight in with the brush! I told the group that I would not criticize them for inaccurate proportion or perspective. I wanted to see what attracted them to the subject; it’s essence. Simplification and editing were stressed. Each painter was asked to do a minimum of two vertical and two horizontal small works over the course of our first day.

Another thing we talk about every morning is the availability of coffee and lunch and, very importantly, the location of the closest washrooms. Eventually, the painters explored the harbour, found their spots and got to work.

Grand Manan is a busy place. Rockweed was being harvested just off the shore as we painted.

I’ll never complain about the sunshine but there is a time for a shady break. Our friend, Kirk, opened up his shed and revealed a whole other range of colourful maritime subject matter.

At the end of the day, we headed to our studio for a critique. This is the first year that we’ve been hosted by the Grand Manan Art Gallery and our liaison, David Ogilvie, made us very welcome.

It was a productive day and I managed to display all of the work together. Click on any critique image in this post in order to view a larger version.

Monday Critique

TUESDAY


The morning was damp and overcast so I gave a demonstration in the studio. I knew the sun would be out soon and it was only day two; a good time to discuss value. Years ago, I painted a watercolour of the now ruined Ross Island lighthouse in my playful quasi-modernist style and donated it to the Permanent Collection of the Grand Manan Art Gallery.

Ross Island Light by Barry Coombs

I drew up the image the night before, simplifying it a great deal. Using a combination of Burnt Sienna and Cobalt Blue, I mixed up three values of a ‘sepia’ wash. Paper white was reserved for the lightest areas, followed by the light and dark middle values and, finally, the darks. This process establishes a light direction as well as a pattern in the image. While working ‘en plein air’, a value study can be very useful if not essential. It’s not necessary to spend forever on it or even to paint it. A quick pencil sketch will often suffice.

Demonstration done! Sun shining! We jumped in our vehicles and went to Woodward’s Cove. The harbour there offers all kinds of great painting material. The group spread out a fair bit but I knew where they all were and enjoyed the exercise as I visited and gave feedback throughout the day.

I’ve conducted outdoor critiques many times over the years but the comfort and proximity of the studio prevailed this week. It was back to the gallery in nearby Castalia at the end of the day, where we broke up the critique into two groups.

Tuesday Critique a

Tuesday Critique b

WEDNESDAY
Seal Cove was the venue for watercolour painting on Wednesday. This popular site still hosts several old sheds that were once used to smoke herring; a key industry in the island’s past. I demonstrated onsite and chose to show an approach I call ‘shape-reading’. As usual, it was an opportunity to look at a subject and discuss a sound process and anticipate potential challenges or problems. The demo was optional as many of the experienced participants had witnessed the approach in other workshops.

Following that, I gathered the participants who were new to my workshops and taught them how to tackle proportion and perspective with a measuring stick. All of those weathered buildings and docks demanded careful consideration of angles. The weather was fine again and another successful day was underway.

Critiques are always constructive and a big part of the learning experience. As you can see, the sheds were by far the most popular subject. The weather forecast looked good (they were givin’ fine, as the locals say) for Thursday. The plan was to paint at Ingall’s Head. Stay tuned!

Wednesday Critique a

Wednesday Critique b

 

 

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One Response to “Grand Manan Island, New Brunswick 2019 – Our First Three Days!”

  1. FRAN MARINI Says:

    Finally! News about your workshop on GMI – I’ve been checking in on a daily basis eagerly anticipating results. You do not disappoint, Barry. Love the photos as they bring back very pleasant memories of last summer’s workshop. I continue to be amazed by the talent of your students. FM

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