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Tuesday Watercolour Class – Week Four


This is the other side of my still-life from last Saturday’s class. I wanted to use it again so the Tuesday students could enjoy the annual challenge of the gourds and pumpkins.

In Saturday’s post, I promised to show more of the steps in my next demonstration. I’ve included three sheets of studies in this post. They should give a broad sense of my process.

Since my student days, I’ve learned a lot about watercolour painting from looking at watercolours in exhibitions and books and trying to analyze them. Look carefully at the following studies and try to understand what I’ve done. Can you tell where I’ve allowed wet to touch wet, for instance?

Step One

There are so many ways to paint. Four of the studies shown in Step One were started using grey, stressing the values of the objects. The green gourd was done directly with light and dark green.

Step Two

In Step Two, I glazed a thin, yellow wash over the object in the upper left corner and a bit of orange over the long, horizontal gourd. Also, I’ve added a few stripes to the green gourd. Was the green gourd wet or dry when I painted the stripes?

Step Three of Watercolour Demonstration by Barry Coombs - FallTuesWk4

Step Three

Step Three shows more stripes and local colour. When I paint over the grey areas, I apply the paint very gently because I don’t want to disturb the grey underneath. I’ve left some things unfinished so that all steps of the process are visible.

Take another look at my Saturday demonstration. Only one of the four studies was done with the grey/value approach. Can you tell which one?

Some of the students tried the grey/value approach and others went straight to colour. Some did study sheets, others did full images and some managed both.

Tuesday AM Critique - FallTuesWk4

Tuesday AM Critique

Tuesday PM Critique



Tuesday Watercolour Class – Week Two


First of all, I’d like to thank all of you for following my blog. I reached 60,000 views a few days ago. If I had a nickel…

Last week, our Tuesday classes focused on ‘shape-reading’. No pencil drawing was done prior to painting and the edge of the image wasn’t taped. Most of the students completed two small works.

This week, I did some very basic planning with light pencil marks. I used only straight strokes of the pencil. I wanted to give the brush a strong role in the painting. Before painting, I taped off a ‘frame’. Also, I left varying amounts of paper-white throughout each image. We discussed ‘mark-making’ with the brush and ‘feathering’ the edge of a shape or mark with a slightly damp brush.

Our emphasis on completing two small works during the three-hour classes has had some positive results. The students are gaining more pure painting experience and taking a few more risks than usual.

Tues AM Critique

Tues PM Critique

Tuesday Watercolour Class – Week One


It was back to school for the watercolour painters on Tuesday. I always wonder what to present on the first day after a long layoff. I chose the ‘shape-reading’ approach to watercolour sketching. Only the brush is used; no pencil drawing first.

Shape-reading can be an adventure (that lime on the left developed a life of it’s own) but that’s a big part of it’s appeal. No time is invested in the creation of a thumbnail sketch or a preliminary pencil drawing.  The formality of a  neat masking tape ‘frame’ is omitted. I suggested that no more than an hour be spent on each piece. As a result, the artist may feel more free to take a risk or two. Happy accidents can lead to new ideas.

My morning and evening demonstrations are on the same sheet of Saunders Waterford, 140 lb., cold press paper. The paper is unstretched and clipped to a support board. I used a #7 round brush.

The groups responded very well to the challenge. Almost everyone tried ‘shape-reading’. Some worked a bit bigger than I suggested but, overall, it was an enjoyable and rewarding exercise.

Would you like to be a part of this? There are a still a few spots left in the evening class and nine great weeks of watercolour to go!

Tuesday AM Critique

Tuesday PM Critique


More from Newfoundland


by Barry Coombs
gouache on paper

We’re home from our summer wanderings. After the workshop ended, we had several days to enjoy Newfoundland. Our first priority was to visit Duntara and the Yellow House that was home for us in June of 2011. I started my series of gouaches in Duntara.

Duntara is now on the cultural map of Canada. Our friend, Catherine Beaudette, has opened Two Rooms, a charming space which combines contemporary art with displays of traditional artifacts.

Catherine Beaudette and Myself in Two Rooms

Keels is just down the road from Duntara. No single photo can do justice to this scenic outport. Keels was our favourite sketching spot last year and it was great to be back.

On the way back to the Sherwood Suites and Motel in Port Rexton, we stopped in for pizza at the Bonavista Social Club in Upper Amherst Cove. The Club wasn’t open yet last summer so this was our first visit.  We were overwhelmed with not only the delicious and fairly-priced food but the friendly, welcoming atmosphere. I can’t recommend it highly enough.


Our ferry was cancelled and we had to drive across the island, approximately 600 km, to the other departure point at Port-aux-Basques. Our setback did have a silver lining, though. We visited Gros Morne National Park and it is truly spectacular. That’s the Lobster Cove Head  Lighthouse above.

Below is the view from the deck of the Cat Stop Pub in Norris Point. The Cat Stop is currently my favourite pub in the entire world. Quidi Vidi beer on tap and weather-watching at it’s finest. Life is good.

We made it all the way across the island and didn’t hit a moose; no mean feat in Newfoundland. They’re here in numbers, as the evidence suggests.

Thanks for following. Fall term starts soon in my Toronto studio. Check out the calendar and join me.


Trinity Bight, Newfoundland – Day Four


We gathered at our studio, the English Harbour Arts Centre, for a demonstration of pen and ink with watercolour. Yesterday, I’d prepared the watercolour and I added the ink today.

Some of the group stayed in English Harbour and others went to the nearby village of Champney’s West . It’s difficult to choose between these lovely sites.

English Harbour

Champney’s West

Before lunch, I did another demonstration (I didn’t do a demo yesterday as I was too busy picking wild blueberries for my breakfast granola). This one was a ‘shape-read’ in watercolour. No pencil drawing was done on the sheet,  just straight in with the brush.

After the demo, everyone settled in for the afternoon. This is a very hard-working group.

We started our critique a bit earlier than usual because we had plans for the evening. Once again, we looked at the work in two batches.

Thursday Critique – First Batch

Thursday Critique – Second Batch

That was it for the painting day. Our first event of the evening was a visit to the Mill Road Studio where we received a tour from artist and teacher Stephen Zeifman. Stephen offers week-long courses at his hilltop studio and we enjoyed seeing his work and hearing about his program. I’d sign up just for the view.

It was time for dinner and the  Two Whales Cafe, a wonderful vegetarian restaurant, hosted a seating just for us. The food was delicious, the conversation was animated and, finally, a tired group bade their goodnights. Until tomorrow.




Trinity Bight, Newfoundland – Day Two


We met at our studio, the English Harbour Arts Centre, this morning. I usually start the day with a demonstration but today I gave a presentation on the Newfoundland watercolours of George Campbell Tinning. Tinning was a Canadian war artist in the Second World War. He visited Newfoundland in 1949 and painted a series of watercolours. These works were exhibited last summer in Bonavista and we saw the show. I bought a catalogue produced by the Moose Jaw Museum and Art Gallery of Saskatchewan, Tinning’s home province.

Port de Grave, Newfoundland, 1949
by George Campbell Tinning
Private Collection

Tinning’s gutsy and honest portrayals of Newfoundland inspired everyone. After the talk, we set off to paint in the historic town of Trinity. The weather cooperated perfectly and we enjoyed a pleasant and productive day.


We headed back to the studio at the end of the day for our critique, which we did in two batches. Not only did we enjoy looking at the paintings but we’ve started to exchange stories of our experiences with the locals.

Newfoundlanders have a great reputation for friendliness and kindness and it’s well earned. One of our painters has been offered free accommodation in a picturesque fishing village and has also been invited to the local Friday night community party.

We had a flat tire repaired by two complete strangers (Glen and Ches), one of whom extracted a four-inch spike from the tire before patching it expertly. They were  generous and charming throughout the rescue mission.

Tuesday Critique – First Batch

Tuesday Critique – Second Batch


Grand Manan Island – Days Three and Four



It rained yesterday. All day long. Fortunately, we have the use of a spacious, well-furnished community hall as a studio. Sometimes, the hall is used for Provincial Court and, on Saturdays, it’s home to a good number of vendors at the Farmer’s Market. We’d rather have been outdoors but we got in a good day of work.

Some of you have become familiar with the simplification exercise that I often present during my workshops. As a matter of fact, some of you have promised to try it on your own. Everyone gave it a shot yesterday and here are the results:

We had the group over to dinner in the evening at beautiful Seawall Cottage.  Aleda prepared Chicken Marengo, a dish that was first prepared for Napoleon after he almost lost a battle. It was delicious and I’m quite sure that Aleda wasn’t commenting on our struggles with watercolour.

It was foggy this morning but dry. Our destination was Dark Harbour but we started with a demonstration at our cottage. This demo dealt with several elements of the Grand Manan visual experience such as the little boats known as dories.

Dark Harbour is on the west side of the island. It was almost high tide and still foggy when we arrived. The fog tends to roll in, lift for a while, and then thicken up again. But, it didn’t rain and it got sunnier as the day went on.

As the tide receded and the sun peeked though the fog, the pickup trucks began to descend upon our peaceful painting spot. The dories here are used for dulsing, gathering the edible seaweed for which Grand Manan is well known. Dulse is collected from rocks that are exposed at low tide and it’s brought back to be dried in the sun.

Critique was back at Seawall Cottage. Dories were definitely the subject of the day.

Charlevoix, Quebec – Final Two Days


Thursday Critique

I’ll mark Thursday morning in my calendar for one reason. I didn’t do a demonstration for the group. This a fairly rare event for my workshops but I’d spent quite a bit of time on my Wednesday demonstration and covered a lot of elements. Also, although we only had a fifteen minute drive to Saint-Irenee, time is precious and I wanted our artists to have as much of it as possible.

It was another good day of painting and, as you can see from the work above, several of the group chose the tidal flats as their subject. After critique on Thursday night, we made the quick drive down the hill to Saint-Joseph-de-la-Rive and dined at the lovely Auberge de la Rive.

What do you present in a demonstration on the final day of a workshop? I thought about it long and hard and decided on an outdoor ‘shape-read’ watercolour sketch. Straight to the brush with no preliminary pencil drawing. Why did I choose this approach? I was concerned that our artists weren’t spending enough time on ‘warming up’ with sketches and studies at the start of each day.

I used my timer for the demo and limited it to twenty minutes. Then, we headed off on the beautiful Charlevoix backroads and found some charming spots.

Many of our painters used the ‘shape-read’ approach. Can you tell which ones from a look at our Friday critique?

Friday Critique

All good things come to end. Our thanks, once again, to our hosts and the staff at the Auberge de nos Aieux in Les Eboulements. Everyone was cheerful and helpful, as they are year after year. The studio is a wonderful feature. We gathered at the top of the stairs for a group photo.


Charlevoix, Quebec – Day Two


Rainy days are not very welcome during a  week of plein air painting. We, however, have a secret weapon. It’s our bright and roomy studio with a lovely view.

Several of our participants are new or fairly new to the plein air experience. With that in mind, I decided to present my simplification exercise as an indoor project for the morning. It starts with a sketch which is then transferred, in pencil, to a sheet of watercolour paper. Then, each shape is painted separately with watercolour.

This exercise always looks easier than it actually is. It has many benefits but, most of all, it demands simplification and it’s fun to do. After lunch, we headed down to Saint-Joseph-de-la-Rive, on the St. Lawrence River. We’ll visit again on a sunny day.

Back at the studio, we enjoyed looking at (almost) everyone’s attempts at the simplification exercise.

Tuesday Critique

Marla Panko at Burlington Art Centre


Two worlds collided for me recently when I visited Marla Panko‘s wonderful exhibition currently on view at the Burlington Art Centre.

The first world is the rich and rewarding tradition of modernism and, in particular, Cubist painting.  I’ve been a passionate admirer of the Cubist artists since my teen years. Why? I can’t necessarily explain it but it spoke to me immediately; love at first sight.

Cubism was iconoclastic and I compare it to my other favourite period, the early Renaissance. Solidly structured  compositions and (in the later Cubist era) richly patterned colours and bold use of black and white. Most of all, both periods were a new way to interpret the world and are visually beautiful art forms supported by exciting ideas and concepts.

A Cubist painting rarely sets out to please or mollify the viewer. More often, it challenges one’s comfortable notions about art and it’s role in our lives. So, why do the words structure and clarity come to mind, as well as those of Ms. Panko’s exhibition title ; meaning and order? The artist expresses the apparent contradiction well in the following quote from the catalogue:

“I am guided by the desire to make visual sense of the complex world around us – to find meaning and order within the disconnected elements and discarded fragments of modernity.”

by Marla Panko

The second world is  the Dundas Valley School of Art, where I taught for many years. Marla is a popular, long-time faculty member at DVSA. Dundas is a pretty town just west of Hamilton, Ontario. It’s regional school, DVSA, has made a huge positive contribution to many creative lives over five decades or so.

The BAC has done a thoughtful and tasteful job of installing the exhibition. Everything rings true with not a note out of place. Ms. Panko’s primary media are acrylic and collage. The works vary in size from the nine small collages that comprise THURSDAY JOURNAL to the larger acrylics. UNITED Z, shown below, is a mixed media relief.

I won’t attempt to say much about the work. First of all, the catalogue, shown above, contains an excellent essay by Elaine Hujer. Secondly, even fine words are no substitute for actually viewing the exhibition. Go see it.

by Marla Panko

The BAC is located at 1333 Lakeshore Road, Burlington, Ontario and can be contacted at (905) 632-7796. The exhibition continues until August 7, 2012.