Wednesday Watercolour Class at DVSA – Week Three!

02/02/2018

If it’s a winter Wednesday evening, it’s time for watercolour painting at the Dundas Valley School of Art. As you can see, our still-life was comprised of a pile of hats. The hats aren’t particularly colourful but they were the perfect subject for the lesson I had in mind. I went ‘back to basics’ and talked about two main things during my demonstration; tone/value and brush-handling skills.

I drew my hats in pencil first. My cool grey was a mix of Burnt Sienna and Cobalt Blue. As I painted, I was very careful to leave the white of the paper for the lightest areas of the subject. I developed the bigger middle tone shapes next and the smaller dark shapes and marks came last. The brush-handling I mentioned involves the soft edge washes used to create gentle transitions such as on the crowns of the hats.

This study could be continued by ‘glazing’ washes of colour over the values. Believe it or not, this approach was widely used by early watercolourists a few hundred years ago and is still employed by some contemporary painters. I chose this lesson because I thought some of the students could use a refresher in light and shadow.

Next week, I’m going to take it a step further and discuss glazing. But right now, let’s see what the Wednesday class did. Remember to click on a critique image for a larger version.

Wednesday Watercolour
Critique a

Wednesday Watercolour
Critique b

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Wednesday Watercolour Class at DVSA – Week Two!

27/01/2018

Last Thursday, this blog had it’s 200,000th view! Thank you for following, commenting and liking. Now, what happened at DVSA on Wednesday evening?

I brought in my collection of ‘Mexican’ pots on Wednesday. Lovely, solid forms with lots of texture on their distressed surfaces. My demonstration dealt, first of all, with process. Many watercolour painters follow three basic guidelines; light to dark, big to small and soft to crisp. Add in a dollop of simplification and a sprinkle of editing and you’ve got the essence of my lesson.

It was only our second night together so I think my ‘back to basics’ approach was appreciated. Thinking back to my suggestion of week one, almost everyone did a thumbnail sketch/compositional study first. This helped focus on an area of interest in the still-life. Remember to click on a critique image for a larger version.

Wednesday Watercolour Critique a

Wednesday Watercolour Critique b

Create a ‘Cubist’ Watercolour – Followup!

20/01/2018

Last November, I taught a two-day watercolour workshop at the Dundas Valley School of Art. The title of the workshop was Create a ‘Cubist’ Watercolour. Click here if you’d like to review the post about the workshop. It was essentially a creative exercise inspired by ideas from Cubist artists, particularly Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque and Juan Gris. Other modernist artists such as Henri Matisse were discussed. The watercolour studies and paintings were developed with a very traditional step-by-step approach. Colour and composition were carefully considered. Textures were created with the use of resist materials and watercolour techniques. The results were anything but traditional. However, the paintings were colourful, playful and expressive.

Where does a student go with these new ideas following the intense two days of the workshop? I’m not always able to follow up. This time, however, I was able to do so. Two of the participants, Evelyn Cunningham and Rosemary Tannock, are involved with the Arts on Adrian studio in Toronto. Evelyn is a founding member and Rosemary is a regular participant in classes and open still-life sessions. I see them both fairly frequently and they see each other a lot, as well. Allow me to introduce them by way of their finished watercolours from the DVSA workshop.

WINE AND CHEESE
by Evelyn Cunningham

WINE AND CHEESE
by Rosemary Tannock

Apparently, I’d created a monster! Two monsters. Evelyn and Rosemary were very excited about the workshop and continued to apply their new concepts in the studio. They shared ideas and feedback with each other and sent images of their new work to me. Reports came in from their other drawing and painting friends. The two new ‘Cubists’ were telling everyone about the experience.

I decided to make the most of their enthusiasm and proposed this followup post. Evelyn and Rosemary have agreed to share their work and thoughts with you.

Why did you sign up for the workshop?
Evelyn:
To do something completely different, after a positive experience of using my left (non-dominant) hand. Also I was interested in what attracted Barry to this way of thinking.
***Note: Evelyn suffered a nasty injury to her right hand last year which has since healed. For several months, including two weeks with my watercolour painting holiday in Portugal, she worked exclusively with her left hand.

Rosemary:
Two reasons:
1) I had seen your creative and colourful watercolour cubist compositions on your blog; these captured my interest initially because of the colour combinations and whimsical form​s, but had no idea how you created them​.
2) I had limited knowledge of Cubism and previously have bypassed them in exhibitions because I did not know how to approach them.

How has the workshop influenced your work since?
Evelyn:
To my great surprise, I found breaking the conventional rules about perspective, colour and realism to be both scary and exhilarating. As a result of this workshop, my pendulum has moved back from doing the purely “Cubist” approach that Barry showed us, to trying to combine my natural painting instincts from before with giving myself permission to do the exact opposite of previous habits, in the same painting. It has resulted in some uncertainly, but a lot more fun.

Rosemary:
​In 3 major ways:
1) Your introduction to Cubism was so informative and interesting: it allowed me to better understand its philosophy, approach and its forms.
2) During the workshop exercises and activities, I realized how engaging Cubism is: from initial idea, design of thematic forms, through to colour choices and whimsicalness.
3) It is the first workshop I have ever taken that has stimulated me – drove me eagerly – to pursue and explore a specific approach independently: this approach to Cubism is artistically, technically, and intellectually engaging and challenging, while being great fun!

The new paintings since the workshop!
Now, let’s have a look at six watercolour paintings completed by Evelyn and Rosemary since the workshop. Click on any image to see a larger version.

TULIPS and TULIPA were painted during an Out of Control Tuesday watercolour session at the Arts on Adrian studio in Toronto. These sessions allow the painters to work and interact without instruction.

In TULIPS, Evelyn has utilized a planar approach and distorted the perspective of the vase. The attractive cool/warm colour system softens the angularity of the forms.

TULIPS-
by Evelyn Cunningham

Rosemary has flattened out the shapes in TULIPA and intensified the colours. Her use of the written word enhances the flatness of the painting’s surface.

TULIPA-
by Rosemary Tannock

TOYS is as playful as it’s subject matter suggests. Another planar treatment is combined with a geometric background. The warm colours evoke pleasant associations with play and youth.

TOYS
by Evelyn Cunningham

In MATRYOSHKA DOLLS, the flatness is further emphasized by the black lines. Texture and pattern add interest to the shapes surrounding the dolls.

MATRYOSHKA DOLLS
by Rosemary Tannock

Evelyn uses soft, wet-in-wet washes to create a tranquil quality in GREAT BLUE HERON; a real celebration of unspoiled nature. Almost everything has been simplified into basic shapes and planes. Only the water and, perhaps, the logs are treated in a more traditional and naturalistic manner.

GREAT BLUE HERON
by Evelyn Cunningham

Rosemary re-visits the wine and cheese theme in VINTAGE 75. This was painted as a birthday card for a lucky friend. The curves and diagonals combine with complementary colours and the dynamic result embodies the fun of a great birthday party.

VINTAGE 75
by Rosemary Tannock

Evelyn and Rosemary continue to work with ideas from the workshop! Their creative courage and spirit of adventure has impressed me and their painting pals. At times, most of us have been stuck in the painting doldrums, lacking inspiration and wondering how to deal with it. A creative exercise such as our Cubist watercolour workshop can be refreshing and liberating. We may never thoroughly embrace every new idea but good things can seep into and re-invigorate our work.

Thanks, Evelyn and Rosemary! How about some comments? I know they’d like to hear from you.

 

 

 

 

Wednesday Watercolour Class at DVSA – Week One!

18/01/2018

Last night, I was at the Dundas Valley School of Art to teach Watercolour: Concept and Technique. This course, based on observation of the still-life, is comprised of eight evenings and we got off to a good start.

I didn’t discuss or demonstrate anything to do with watercolour technique. Rather, I focused on finding a composition with a thumbnail sketch/study. Thumbnail sketches are a very helpful part of the process. They don’t have to be pretty. They’re tools; not masterpieces. I lightly sketched an area of the still-life before deciding where I wanted to focus. I framed that area with pencil lines and shaded the main shadows within it. My next step was to enlarge the thumbnail on my watercolour paper while maintaining the same proportions as the sketch.

This was a new concept to many of the students. They worked hard on their thumbnails and on transferring the compositions to their larger watercolour sheets. The process slowed some of them down a bit and not all finished their watercolours. I didn’t mind that at all. As they incorporate thumbnails into their practice, they’ll become quicker and more assured. At the end of the evening, we looked at the paintings in two batches. See you next Wednesday!

Click on any critique image to see a larger version.

Wednesday Critique a

Wednesday Critique b

 

Winter Saturday and Tuesday Watercolour Classes – Week One!

17/01/2018

Last Saturday was our first watercolour class of the new year at the Arts on Adrian studio in Toronto. I have quite a collection of bottles and, no, they weren’t all recently emptied at New Year’s Eve parties. I enjoy painting bottles and the students responded to them with real energy and enthusiasm.

As usual, I started off with a demonstration. That yellowish rectangle on the left side of the sheet was a suggestion for a wet-in-wet preliminary wash. I wet the area with water and touched in some yellow and raw sienna quite randomly. A wash like this can add atmosphere to the painting and harmonize the colours. Many of the Saturday students gave it a try.

I discussed a ‘light to dark’ and ‘big to small’ approach. In general, the first wash on a bottle covered the entire area except for a few reserved paper-white highlights. It’s like a silhouette. I like to touch other colours and values into this first wash and let them run. Next, I add middle-tone shapes to give the bottle structure and presented some brush-handling techniques to help with this process. Finally, I add the darkest (and smallest) marks to bring the bottle to life.

The students got to work. Most of them do a thumbnail study to better understand the objects and relationshiops and to  sort out their compositions.  As I patrolled the room, I notice George at work.

Hmmmm! Was that part of the still-life displayed on his camera? Let’s take a closer look.

So it was! I investigated. George was not drawing from the camera screen. He was observing the still-life with care. However, following a good look at the still-life, he photographed and enlarged an area that interested him. He then pursued his usual and traditional process and completed his thumbnail sketch from observation. Cameras, phones and iPads have made their way into studio and ‘en plein air’ practice for some time now. I approve of the way George balanced the old and the new.

If you’ve never attended a Sustained Saturday, why don’t you consider joining us soon? It’s a very vibrant day of creativity in excellent and supportive company. Here’s what they did with the bottles. Click on any critique image for a larger version.

Sustained Saturday Critique

This is another view of the bottle still-life with a different backdrop colour.

My demonstrations for the Tuesday classes dealt with the same ideas. I did develop a transparency a bit more and you can see it on the right side of the sheet where I’ve attempted to show the wooden box through the green bottle.

The Tuesday students applied themselves to the task with zeal. Remember that they have much less time to work on their paintings than their Saturday counterparts but come up with some very solid results.

There’s still a spot for you in an upcoming Tuesday or Saturday class. Check out my Winter Studio Calendar!

Tuesday Afternoon Critique

Tuesday Evening Critique

Winter Studio Watercolour Classes!

01/01/2018

Happy New Year, everyone! It’s time to start thinking about creative pursuits to warm the soul over the cold months ahead. I’ll be teaching studio watercolour classes at two venues.

ARTS ON ADRIAN
My winter calendar for classes at Arts on Adrian, in the west end of Toronto, can be viewed by clicking here. You’ll also see it under the Pages menu in the sidebar. Classes are offered on three Tuesday afternoons, three Tuesday evenings and three Saturdays (all day). Please, use the Contact form below to register.

DUNDAS VALLEY SCHOOL OF ART
I’ll be teaching a watercolour studio class at the Dundas Valley School of Art in Dundas, Ontario. Registration is done through DVSA. The details below are from the school website.

3A32 *NEW* Watercolour: Concept and Technique with Barry Coombs
17 Jan – 7 Mar, 2018 from 6:30 pm to 9:30 pm

This watercolour course is based on traditional observation of the still-life. A new and attractive still life will be presented every week. You’ll learn to observe and understand value and develop your watercolour skills and ideas. Drawing and composition will also be emphasized. Demonstrations and constructive critiques are a feature of every class. Not suitable for beginners. Wednesdays. Course Fee: $269 Limit: 15 students

Create a ‘Cubist’ Watercolour at DVSA!

04/12/2017

Just over a week ago, I presented a two-day watercolour workshop to a group of enthusiastic participants at the Dundas Valley School of Art. Our theme was a ‘Cubist’ still-life in watercolour. This is a workshop that I always enjoy presenting. If you know my watercolours, you’ll understand why. They’re based on a playful and colourful response to Cubism, the early Modernist period that I’ve always loved. Picasso, Braque and Gris were the giants of Cubist painting and we kicked things off with a discussion of their work and it’s context in art history.

At the start of the day, I asked the group to consider our project as a creative exercise with an experimental component. That may sound scary but we approached our paintings through a series of well-defined steps. Our first ‘Cubist’ project was a value study in sepia. We drew a sheet of fruit shapes, from memory, in our sketchbooks. The next step was to make a composition. The goal was to make it non-traditional and the shapes were supposed to be very distinct and strongly delineated, as in a colouring book. I provided a template of my composition for those who wanted a starting point. Others created their own designs. I worked along with the group and demonstrated each of the four steps.

These are the four steps of my demonstration. First, the drawing. Second, a middle tone wash that covers everything but some randomly selected shapes that are left as paper white. Third, a darker middle tone wash. Finally, some darks. Note that this demonstration is from an earlier workshop but it’s almost identical to the one I completed at DVSA.

  

 

This exercise helped distance us from traditional realism and made us aware of the importance of a strong pattern in our paintings.

Interesting, aren’t they? These were done on quarter sheets (15 x 11″) of watercolour paper. I recommended absorbent papers.

Our final project was a ‘Cubist’ watercolour on a half sheet (15 x 22″) of paper. We spent time on thumbnail compositions in our sketchbooks and adopted a ‘wine and cheese’ theme. Colour was discussed. I suggested that the new Cubists use two groups of complementary colours. One group could be green and red, for example, and would cover the most shapes in the painting. The second group might be blue and orange or purple and yellow. The second group would cover less area of the painting. We also used whites and off-whites and, at the very end, black. Various resist materials such as wax and rubber cement were employed. Collage is often an element of these watercolours but sometimes we run out of time.

This is my unfinished demonstration. I do a carefully planned drawing over a random preliminary wash. Early on, I try to establish my white areas and introduce some resist material. Wax and rubber cement were used in this piece.

This watercolour was completed on Saunders Waterford, 140 lb., cold pressed paper and is approximately 22 x 15″.

The prelimary wash doesn’t really show well in my demonstration. Here’s one from a previous workshop. Areas that are left unpainted become glowing whites.

Seeking inspiration from Cubism is a challenge, especially the first time. We all followed the same basic steps but there was plenty of room for personal and individual interpretation. The new Cubists of DVSA outdid themselves. They were willing to take risks and venture into unknown territory. Although not all were able to finish, their cheerful and vibrant watercolours were a treat to look at by the end of the day on Sunday. Click on the Critique image to see a larger version.

‘Cubist’ Watercolour Critique

Van Gogh and the Reed Pen at DVSA!

24/11/2017

Several years ago, I purchased a wonderful book of the drawings of Vincent Van Gogh. It’s a real doorstop and was published by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. I was particularly attracted to the reed pen drawings. Reeds, like quills, go back a long way as drawing instruments. Why did Vincent use them? The fluidity and expressive marks can’t be matched by steel nibs. Vincent was also broke most of the time and likely made his own pens.

Yesterday, I presented a one-day workshop at the Dundas Valley School of Art. I had harvested reeds from phragmites at a local wetland. The students just needed to bring their ink and paper.

I had cut enough pens for everyone ahead of time. Naturally, the students wanted the experience of cutting their own so I demonstrated and assisted with the process. Everyone made a successful pen and got through the entire day with very little maintenance.

We all tested our pens on a common sheet. We used variations of a sepia ink. Some were dark brown and some were more reddish. Vincent used different types of ink. Often, he used black ink which has since faded to brown but he also used sepia.

I handed out reproductions of some of Vincent’s drawings and we started out by copying them. I wasn’t concerned with perfect copies, by any means, but the process of trying to re-create Vincent’s lines and marks was very instructive. All of us also gained a real appreciation for his genius.

We turned our newfound skills to our own imagery in the afternoon. Everyone had brought in photographs of rural subjects. I offered a few thoughts about interpretation of photos, ‘a la Vincent’.

Following that, we drew for the rest of the day. The mood in the studio was very positive and the students remarked many times on how much fun it was to draw with a reed pen of their own making. As usual, many were pooped when we gathered for our critique but happy and satisfied.

 

Fall Saturday and Tuesday Watercolour Classes – Final Week!

22/11/2017

I was back at the Arts on Adrian studio this week. I set up a still-life with analogous colours and these interesting carved wooden objects. Brain cramp! I forgot to photograph my demonstration from Saturday. However, it was very similar to the sheet I did for the Tuesday classes which I did remember to photograph.

I used only primary colours (red, yellow and blue) to mix the ‘browns’ of the wooden objects. I followed a traditional ‘soft to crisp’, ‘big to small’ and ‘light to dark’ process. My first wash in each study covered the entire object. Second washes added structure and pattern. The thin, dark grooves were the last step.

Do you do thumbnail studies before you paint? I encourage my students to make thumbnails in order to find their composition and consider value. I’m showing two thumbnails by two different artists from the Saturday class.

Thumbnail study by George

George likes to do a sketch of the entire still-life. He then picks an area and develops the values. This is a very small study, no more than 4 x 5″.

Thumbnail study by Rosemary

Rosemary has already decided on her area of interest when she starts her study. Note that she uses a grid to help her enlarge the image on to her watercolour sheet. This study is roughly 8 x 6″. I don’t think a thumbnail needs to be any larger.

Can you pick out the watercolours by George and Rosemary in the Sustained Saturday critique?

Sustained Saturday Critique

I’ll jump right to the Tuesday critiques. Same demonstration, same still-life. My fall classes are over at Arts on Adrian. I’ll be back in January and you’ll hear about the winter calendar here. Stay tuned and thanks for following.

Tuesday Afternoon Critique

Tuesday Evening Critique

 

Saturday and Tuesday Fall Watercolour Classes – Week Three!

08/11/2017

I was very excited about this still-life of old teapots and clementines. I knew it would be a challenge for the students but I was confident that they would be up for it. I took a while demonstrating for the Saturday group. Mixing greys was one topic. Reflections were discussed and I also reviewed some brush-handling skills.

The students always work hard in the classes but they enjoy each other’s company, as well. A real community has developed over the years. It’s welcoming to new students and they’re all very supportive of each other. On Saturday afternoon, a small surprise party erupted. Trish had recently been married to her long-time partner, Jacques (they met during one of my Grand Manan Island workshops). She didn’t expect an extra celebration but she got one! She’s wearing a tiara provided by Karen and Stewart is pouring the Prosecco.

Back to work, everybody! It was a great day. I don’t know if the Prosecco stimulated the creative process or not but the work was excellent. Remember to click on the critique image if you want to see a larger version.

Sustained Saturday Critique

Here’s a different look at the still-life. Dramatic, isn’t it?

My demonstrations for the Tuesday afternoon and evening classes were very similar to the one on Saturday. I tried to condense it somewhat as they have less time to paint.

I’m really pleased with the response to the still-life. The students really relish new drawing and painting problems and the Tuesday classes were no exception. Here’s what they did.

Tuesday Afternoon Critique

Tuesday Evening Critique