Winter Wednesday Watercolour at DVSA – Week Two!

Last night, I was at Dundas Valley School of Art for the second evening of a four-week watercolour class based on the still-life. As I mentioned last week, the students are a balanced mix of ‘regulars’ and new. By ‘regulars’, I mean students who have done at least two prior still-life courses with me, more than that in some cases. Although this class is not intended for novices, most of the new students have no prior experience with observational work but have taken other watercolour classes at some time.

How does an instructor handle a group of students with various levels of skill and experience? First of all, in the world of non-credit adult education, this is the norm. I’ve been teaching adults for thirty-two years and this has always been the case wherever I’ve taught. So, back to the question.

Last week, I didn’t know the new students at all. My demonstration dealt with the fundamental issue of observational work. Find the light! Also, I briefly touched on soft-edge techniques. We got started and, as I walked around the studio, observing and offering feedback, I quickly grasped the skill levels of the new students.

The thing about traditional, observational work is that watercolour technique is only a partner to the basics of drawing and understanding light and shadow. It’s very challenging to new students especially if they don’t have much of a background in drawing. As I walked around, I felt that all of the new students were able to draw the subject competently. The general grasp of light and shadow was less accomplished but that’s often the case with much more experienced students. This is why I chose the topic for the first demonstration last week.

I started the second class with a demonstration for the whole group. You can see it on the left side of the sheet. A bit of everything was discussed; light and shadow, the value and colour relationships between the various objects and soft-edge technique. Then, I asked the ‘regulars’ to get to work and I kept the new students with me for a few more minutes. The right side of the sheet illustrates my talk about creating soft edges, a core watercolour technique. After this supplementary lesson, the new students got to work.

Back to the question again. This is one way that I deal with a group of students with various levels of skill and experience. I do other things, as well. I suggested that the new students consider a sheet of studies of individual objects rather than tackling a full composition, for example. Also, I constantly stress process over product. To the new student, their first four evenings of still-life painting are merely an introduction to the process. It’s a learning experience. The regulars continue to develop their observational and watercolour skills as well as their grasp of colour and composition, also a learning experience.

I’ve enjoyed the first two evenings. Everyone has worked hard. Our attendance was diminished a bit by a winter storm but we still had a lot to look at for our critique at the end of the class. The critique, by the way, is a critical part of the learning experience but not the only opportunity to learn. The engaged students will learn a lot from each other as they walk around during breaks and look at the other paintings in progress as well as during the critique. I offer constructive critiques and I emphasize that the critique is not a competition but an opportunity to learn from the feedback given to every participant.

I’ve written a lengthy post now and only scratched the surface about adult studio-based art classes. Before we look at the paintings from last night, I have a question for you. How much do you value critiques in the art classes you’ve taken? Please, comment.

Wednesday Critique


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8 Responses to “Winter Wednesday Watercolour at DVSA – Week Two!”

  1. Fran M. Says:

    First, thank you for sharing your valuable lessons with your followers, Barry. And thank you for making critiques an important part of each and every class, a practice that is not offered by all instructors, I might add! Personally, I believe that every student is entitled to receive an evaluation on his/her learning progress. Critiques done in a constructive manner serve to reinforce effort (doing one’s best), foster a continuation for learning, and promote an appreciation for one’s work or the work of others. Plus, who doesn’t like heading for home feeling happy and satisfied with the teacher’s positive comments and helpful suggestions for improvement?

    • Barry Coombs Says:

      Hi Fran, Thanks for your comment. I agree with you completely. Also, I believe that the critique at the end of the class summarizes the time together and gives a sense of structure to the overall experience. At times, I’ve noticed that students drift out early from classes that don’t offer critiques. Cheers, Barry

  2. grandidea Says:

    Critiques are essential! In them you can learn what to think about, what to look for and what to build on. Your demos and critiques set you apart as an exceptional teacher. And your encouraging bent that brings your students back year after year.

  3. William Brisland Says:

    My experiences of having critiques have been extremely positive and I learned a lot about where improvements can occur. Sometimes when painting one can’t see the wood for the trees getting in the way. One comment that stuck with me is: Get up and stand back and take a look at what you are doing every so often as it can make you see the balance of your work which can’t be seen up close.
    Your critiques where I have attended your workshops have always been positive and constructive Thank you Barry!

    • Barry Coombs Says:

      Hi William, Thanks for commenting. The suggestion to get back from your work is very important. It’s also one of the most difficult things to ‘enforce’. Cheers, Barry

  4. Nick Says:

    Another positive comment on critiques. Your critiques set you apart from other classes at DVSA. I am always surprised that you can find something different AND positive to say about our work. No other teacher has come close.
    The critiques are one thing that my non painting wife always managed to get to during the San Miguel workshop. She said that she learnt things from them.
    Keep the critiques!

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