Archive for the ‘Sketching’ Category

Northern Mockingbird – Pen and Ink

26/01/2021

My hobby is birding. I’m quite passionate about it, as I am about art, and occasionally these two loves of my life converge. I don’t draw or paint birds very often although I tell myself that I should. I’ve taught a few workshops on the subject and have enjoyed the enthusiasm and talent that the students have shown.

I have a birding blog that may be seen here. If you’d like, have a look at the Drawings and Paintings page. Recently, I was updating the page and something moved me to draw a new bird. A Northern Mockingbird I photographed last week had been on my mind and I decided to give it a go. Then, realizing that I hadn’t posted on this blog in eons, I thought I’d scan the main steps and tell you a bit about my process.

The Drawing Board

I’ll start with the tools of the trade and my initial process. I work from my own photographs, which can be limiting because my camera skills are pedestrian. Still, once in a while I luck out and I had a nice image of the Northern Mockingbird (NOMO from here on). I duplicate the photo on my computer and convert the duplicate to black and white so I can better see the values. I grid the photo for accuracy. In this case, I wanted the drawing to be about 3/4 the size of the photo so I created a smaller rectangle of the exact same proportions and then gridded it. I work with a soft 2B pencil for all of the preliminary drawing. The softer the pencil, and lighter the touch, the easier it is to clean up the drawing later on with a kneaded eraser.

Evaluating the photograph at the outset is very important. Is anything unclear or confusing? In this case, I edited out several branches. Another concern was the bird’s tail. NOMOs have very long tails and the tilt of the body foreshortens the tail as it’s pointing slightly towards the viewer. I liked the pose, despite the potentially misleading tail position, and went ahead with it.

Step One

Next, I begin work with the pen and ink. I work with a traditional dipping pen. The Speedball nib is inserted into a holder. My ink of choice, since my teen years, is Speedball Super Black India Ink. I won’t bore you with every detail but I’m careful with how I dip and handle the pen to the point of ritual. Something works. I haven’t had a tragic blob in a long, long time. Note the ‘test’ sheet under the pen and pencil, though. It’s an indispensable tool. Note, also, the crumpled, ink-stained paper towel on the left. I’m obsessive about keeping my nib clean.

Tools of the Trade

I’m versed in many basic pen techniques and have taught them for decades. On my own, I have a few favourites and cross-hatching has always been foremost. My second step with the drawing is to explore the forms and, critically, to identify areas of the paper that will remain white. Stroke direction is fairly intuitive although I generally try to describe the underlying planes. The whole drawing is addressed once with these directional strokes (hatching). The cross-hatching comes next.

Step Two

Step Three is an effort to develop the relationships between the values. For the most part, the different areas are cross-hatched once only so the newer strokes overlap the original strokes just once. Yes, I’m patient. This step starts to show the different values in the plumage of the NOMO. This species displays a lovely, subtle range of greys and blacks with a brown eye. In a monochromatic drawing, these elements can only be suggested.

Step Three

In Step Four, I do a lot of work on the darks and blacks. While remaining as true as possible to plumage details, my goal is to give the drawing the strength and vitality of this beautiful, living creature. I don’t rush Step Four and take lots of breaks.

Step Four

Eventually, after long looks from several feet away, I call it a finished drawing. The unresolved look of the upper branch, still at Step Two, is deliberate. The drawing is approximately 7 x 8″. It’s on Strathmore Bristol paper, vellum surface.

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LOCKDOWN DRAWINGS

24/08/2020

I’ve been doing a lot of pen and ink drawing during the pandemic. I use a traditional dipping pen with Speedball nibs, Speedball Super Black India Ink and, for some of the drawings, acrylic ink. Cross-hatching is the technique I employ. Cross-hatching with a pen has been one of my favourite creative activities since childhood. It relaxes me and allows me to gradually develop a range of values.

Lockdown Drawings reference photo

The starting point for these drawings is a rather ordinary photo I took of a back alley in Hamilton, Ontario. The cast/core shadow pattern had attracted me. I refined an overall shape from the pattern in the photo.

Lockdown Drawing #1

Each drawing is a variation of the shape and stays within it’s confines except for the occasional wandering line; a fairly obvious analogy of my behaviour during the lockdown.

Lockdown Drawing #2

My goal was to explore the infinite variety of options within a limited shape. Tonal gradations and the internal geometry of the shape are key concerns. The subtle gold lines in #2 are drawn with FW Artists Ink Gold, an acrylic ink.

Lockdown Drawing #3

Lockdown Drawing #4

Gold ink is used again in #3 and #4. These reproductions do not show the reflective quality of the gold ink. The originals definitely profit from the ‘gilt’ shine.

These are small drawings, approx. 8×8″. To date, there are sixteen drawings in the series.

Fall Watercolour Classes at Arts on Adrian – Week One!

09/10/2019

My autumnal theme continued at Arts on Adrian in Toronto this week. I created a  challenging still-life of pumpkins, squashes and gourds with the backdrop of baskets and boxes. The first students to take it on were my Sustained Saturday group. It’s a full day of painting. The Tuesday afternoon students worked from the same still-life and I gave the same demonstration/lesson to both groups.

I also continued with the ‘back to basics’ lesson I offered to the Dundas Valley School of Art students last Wednesday evening. My focus again was light and shadow and how it can be used to create form and pattern in a painting. Observational painting and drawing is a balance between the visual and the rational, what we see and what we understand. Seeing light and shadow can be very difficult, even with a good lamp on the still-life. Squinting helps. Turning off other lights in the studio helps. Still, an understanding of how the objects receive the direct light from the lamp is crucial.

Imagine the circles in the upper row of my demonstration sheet as spherical objects, like oranges. The arrows indicate the light direction. In these cases, I’ve lit them from the upper right.  The direct light (paper-white) and the core shadow (blue-grey wash) meet at the cusp. Which ones feel right to you?

• The one on the left shows the cusp as a straight edge. That doesn’t make much sense on a curving surface. Also, the sphere is evenly divided between light and shadow. This creates symmetry and that usually makes an object look flat.
• Second from the left? The curve of the cusp is curving in the same direction as the bottom edge of the sphere and gives the light area the shape of a football. Doesn’t work for me.
• Third from the left? This sphere is lit, like the others, from the upper right and a little bit behind the sphere, which creates more shadow on the object. Backlit, essentially. Note that the curve of the cusp corresponds to the closest edge of the sphere! In this case, that’s the upper edge of the sphere. This makes sense to me.
• The final sphere is lit more from the front and the light area is larger than the shadow area. Again, the cusp curve is similar to the closest edge and, this time, it’s the lower edge of the object. It gets a check-mark, in my books.
• One last thought! Look again at the two spheres on the right with the check-marks. Note that the light on the backlit one is in the shape of a crescent. The shadow on the rightmost sphere is also in the shape of a crescent. These curving shapes help to describe the sphere.

Understanding light and shadow is a discipline. The great Italian Renaissance artists called it chiaroscuro. It takes thought and practice and it pays off. It worked for the Old Masters, didn’t it?

I didn’t insist that the students just do value studies. Earlier, I’d leafed through past demonstrations and showed them to both classes. There are many ways to skin a cat and these sheets show a few different options.

It wasn’t a bad way to kick off the season of still-life painting in the studio. As usual, the students applied themselves thoughtfully and here are the results. Click on these critique images to view larger versions.

Sustained Saturday Critique

Tuesday Critique

Grand Manan Island 2019 – Final Two Days!

27/08/2019

THURSDAY
Instructor: Don’t paint in the sun!
Students: Why are you painting in the sun?

Good question. We were at Ingall’s Head on Thursday and it was another brilliant day. I set up to demonstrate with a flat angled brush. I chose a spot where the students could enjoy the shade of a hauled-up fishing boat. And yes, I was in the sun. This allowed my washes to dry very quickly so I could work on the somewhat complicated subject rapidly. Of course, I faced the usual challenges and drawbacks of working in the sun. First of all, there is the issue of personal comfort. In addition to that, the bright sun dries the washes in your palette, necessitating constant re-mixing. It also bleaches the painting as you work so that your darks don’t look dark enough, compelling you to make them too dark in order to be able to see them.

The flat angled brush is fun to work with and a good way to free up your brush-handling. I always edit and simplify to some degree but with this sketch I eliminated an entire window. I did so to save time. The students are always itching to start painting.

What about those darks? I’m not immune to the problems of working in direct sunshine. My demonstration is on hot press paper, which made things even worse. It didn’t really absorb the paint and my washes dried even faster. Trouble ensued! After I’d stopped painting and the students got to work, I reworked the shed interior. It had been too dark and the shapes had been rough. My touchup adds interest to the dark interior.

Once again, there was a lot of variety in terms of painting subjects. Charming sheds, fishing boats, docks in various states of repair and the drydock, which is the only place on the island where the boats are guaranteed not to move up and down with the tides or suddenly depart on a fishing mission as the woeful painter ponders a partially finished watercolour of an uncooperative boat.

The air-conditioning and shade of our studio at the Grand Manan Art Gallery were very welcome at the end of the day. The gallery is one of the most important components of island cultural life. That’s Garrett Travis on the porch, this year’s summer student who is doing a great job of keeping things running smoothly.

Critique time!

Thursday Critique a

Thursday Critique b

FRIDAY
Grand Manan Island has a wealth of excellent painting spots. We had only five days together and it was up to me to choose a spot for our final day. Several of the students, in conversation over the course of the week, had indicated a desire to paint a lighthouse. The most famous and spectacular lighthouse on the island is the Swallowtail light. There are two prime viewpoints. One is from above the peninsula that hosts the light. The other is from Pettes’s Cove.

I demonstrated at the studio. First, I tackled the view from the cove. I started with wetting most of the sheet before touching in colour for the sky and water. This preliminary wash covered the entire sheet with the exception of the white area of the lighthouse, which I carefully avoided. I dried the sheet with the studio hairdryer and continued to add shapes, working ‘light to dark’ and ‘big to small’.

Watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

Next, I discussed the other view of the Swallowtail. As you can see, I kept it simple and focused on the relative values of the main shapes and colours.

Watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

Off we went! The students were free to choose their viewpoint. I visited back and forth as the day progressed.

Friday was a busy day. We wound up the painting portion with our usual critique at the studio.

Friday Critique a

Friday Critique b

After taking a few hours to refresh ourselves, we met once more at the Compass Rose Inn for a yummy Farewell Dinner. Following the meal, we re-arranged the tables and chairs for our Final Critique. Each student presented three paintings completed during the week and commented a bit on their experience. It’s always a rewarding way to wrap up our time together.

Time marches on, they say. It’s hard for me to believe that I’ve taught on Grand Manan Island for twenty-nine summers. I plan to be back for the thirtieth anniversary in 2020. Care to join us?

 

 

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

20/08/2019

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

 

 

Pen and Watercolour – More Texture and Composition at DVSA!

03/06/2019

Last Thursday, I was at the Dundas Valley School of Art to lead my fourth and final one-day workshop of the spring term. Two weeks prior, I’d presented a workshop of the same basic theme but our still-life was a collection of rusty and dusty gas cans. On Thursday, we worked from an equally interesting group of worn and distressed objects. Do you know what they are? If you live in a coastal area, you probably recognize them as fishing floats.

My demonstrations were similar to those of the first workshop. Our basic process was to draw with pencil, paint with watercolour and then add ink. Along the way, we used different materials and techniques to create texture. Soft-edge techniques, wax, dry-brush and other ideas were presented. We began with a practice sheet of swatches and experiments.

You may have noticed that our still-life has a lot of white in it. The four whites enclosed by the blue area on the sheet below are all different from each other; some warmer and some cooler.

Our next step was a sheet of studies of individual objects.

We’ll take a closer look at the old cork net float from the sheet above. Note the pen work on the edge of the object. Texture isn’t present only in the ‘interior’ of the object. What is done on the edges is very important.

Eventually, we had a look at the study sheets created by the students.

Study Sheets

We cover a lot of territory in these workshops. Following lunch, I discussed some basic thoughts about composition, including the rule of thirds. Our goal was to create a composition and work on it for the afternoon. Each student selected and composed an area of the still-life.

Also, I talked about some common problems in compositions such as run-on lines, edge issues, kisses and spatial relationships.

The rest of the day was spent working diligently and thoughtfully on the work. As usual, not everyone finished their piece but these workshops are about learning and taking ideas away for future use; process over product. Here are the works in progress:

Thursday Critique a

Thursday Critique b

Pen and Watercolour: Texture and Composition at DVSA!

20/05/2019

Last Thursday, I was at the Dundas Valley School of Art to present a one-day workshop. Our primary goal was to combine pen and watercolour to create interesting textures and apply them to this unique still-life. There are many ways to create texture with watercolours. Some of the more contemporary processes can involve the use of salt, saran wrap and scraping with credit cards. We did experiment with wax as a resist material, but I focused more on what the paint itself could do and on brush-handling. Wet touching wet and it’s polar opposite, drybrush, were discussed. We started out by trying the different ideas on a work or study sheet. This allowed for experimentation and play.

Next, we all painted a sheet of studies of some of the objects in the still-life. The first step was pencil drawing followed by watercolour.

The final step was the pen. Many artists prefer to do the pen work first and then ‘tint’ the drawing with watercolour. I favour doing the watercolour first followed by the pen. Neither approach is right or wrong. One way may suit a certain goal more than the other.

Here are the studies created by the students.

Thursday Critique a

After lunch, we talked about selecting a composition from the still-life and began work on a sustained piece. My demonstration shows how I zoomed in and cropped an area of the still-life. Also, I created a ‘background’ from my imagination and memory.

Pen and watercolour is a great combination whether you use it in your sketchbook or for more sustained work. The students all would have liked a bit more time to work on their efforts. I take the blame for that. On Thursday, May 30, I’ll be back at DVSA for another day entitled Pen and Watercolour: More Texture and Composition. There will be a different, but equally interesting, still-life and I guarantee more time to spend on the sustained compositions. In the meantime, have a look a the work and don’t forget to click on any critique image to view a larger version.

Thursday Critique b

Watercolour Classes at Arts on Adrian – Week Two!

31/10/2018

The Arts on Adrian students considered this to be a challenging still-life. Lots of objects. Lots of possible compositions and approaches. I talked about a few things to start the Saturday and Tuesday classes. Many of these students are quite experienced watercolour painters and are interested in adding new elements to their work. Following the same process over and over again allows for improvement but varying the process, even risk-taking, is what gives you new ideas.

I started out with a pencil drawing. Here’s my most basic planning for my drawing.

I refined the drawing and created a small composition. Then, I wet the entire surface with clean water. While wet, I very randomly touched in the primaries; yellow, red and blue. This preliminary wash broke the ice. It crosses the lines and challenged me to work with it.

I let the painting dry completely before continuing. As I painted, I used different brush-handling techniques to vary washes. At times, I started a shape with water and added paint. Or I started with paint and gently feathered the edge of the shape with a damp brush. Other washes started with a light value and I added a darker value while it remained wet. In general, I wanted to add interest to all of the shapes in the painting.

On Tuesday, I did a bit more work on the small composition. Also, I broke down the shapes of the pitcher to show the techniques I’d employed.

I enjoyed looking over shoulders as the students worked on both days. There was a lot of energy in the studio on both days. What do think of their efforts?

Sustained Saturday Critique

Tuesday Critique

Vermont 2018 – Our Last Day was Friday at Glover!

09/10/2018

One more to day to go and the weather was beautiful! One more demonstration, as well, and I decided to offer two basic approaches to painting clouds.

In my first study, all the shapes were drawn in pencil first. I left a fair bit of paper white on the puffy clouds but used an off-white wash in the ‘background’ clouds. Washes were allowed to dry before new ones were applied. The puffy clouds were painted one at a time. I started them with either clean water or a pale wash and touched in the darker values while wet. Very step by step and it took about fifteen minutes or so (using a hairdryer sped things up).

My second study took about four minutes. Cloud shapes were loosely indicated with light pencil marks. I wet the sheet with water overall but left dry patches for the white of the clouds. The light blue went in next and the darker cloud values followed.

The two different basic approaches were appreciated by the group. Of course, there are probably as many ways to paint clouds as there are actual clouds but one has to start somewhere.

Our painting site was the town of Glover and it was full of Vermont character with a wonderful general store and Red Sky Trading. A short stroll took some of our painters into the rural countryside. The colours were out in their glory and it was another fulfilling and creative day.

A shady spot

A not so shady spot

Feeling the Bern!

All good things come to an end, as they say. This was our last day and we had an evening itinerary. First, however, we returned to the Ski Hut Studio to look at our work from Friday. Remember to click on a critique image to view a larger version.

Friday Critique a

Friday Critique b

Friday Critique c

On Friday evening, we enjoyed a fine Farewell Dinner at the Highland Lodge. Heidi, Chad, Brittany, Arnold and the whole team had looked after us very well all week long and our dinner was a great way to wrap up. There was musical entertainment, as well, and Heidi sang a song to our group of watercolour painters. It was the John Denver classic, ‘Leaving on a Jet Plane’.

After dinner, it was back to the studio for our Final Critique. Each artist selected three works to show us and it was a nice way to summarize and recall our endeavours together. Several of the group stayed on Saturday and explored even more of the Northeast Kingdom but our workshop was over.

Thanks go to all of our participants, the staff at Highland Lodge and the very friendly Vermonters we encountered every day. Thank you for following! Next stop is from March 21-31, 2019 in beautiful and safe San Miguel de Allende. Care to join me for a painting adventure in Mexico? Click here to view all of the details!

Vermont 2018 – Thursday at Craftsbury Common!

09/10/2018

Another morning and another demonstration in the Ski Hut Studio. The weather was fine and our plan was to paint at Craftsbury Common, which features a lot of charming white buildings. Well, we didn’t have any white paint so what would we do?

The white of the paper can be used, of course, but sometimes it needs a little help. I discussed ways to very lightly tint the paper to create warm, cool or neutral whites. Also, we looked at how to mix whites in shadow.

White can also be enhanced by context. For example, a black roof and shutters can help make a wall in shadow look whiter.

I wrapped up the demonstration and off we went to Craftsbury Common for a very pleasant day of sketching and painting.

We had a few unexpected art critics from nearby Sterling College.

It was a relief to enjoy such good weather. Still, critiques are best held indoors so, at the end of the day, we convened at our Ski Hut Studio. I was very pleased to see the progress made over the week to date. There’s one more day to go. Stay tuned!

Thursday Critique a

Thursday Critique b