Posts Tagged ‘Art Workshops’

San Miguel de Allende, Mexico 2017



Hola, amigos! We’re back in beautiful San Miguel de Allende. We arrived last Thursday afternoon at the Posada de la Aldea and our first group event was a delicious Welcome Dinner. On Friday morning, I led an orientation walk around town so that everyone could get their bearings. The group had the rest of the day on their own.

Our first day of sketching and painting was Saturday. We met at 9am sharp in a shady spot in the hotel courtyard for a lesson/demonstration. The plan was to work in the courtyard for the day. I discussed subject selection and simplification.

The courtyard has plenty of charm and our artists were not short of inspiration.

We wrapped up the day in our studio with a critique.

Saturday Critique a

Saturday Critique b

The lovely local park, Parque Benito Juarez, was our painting site for Sunday. We met in our studio for my demonstration prior to walking over to the park. I wanted to prepare the students for some of the creative challenges they would encounter and foliage was the first priority. I also discussed some architectural elements.

Another great day followed by an enjoyable critique.

Sunday Critique a

Sunday Critique b

We decided to throw caution to the wind on Monday and paint in the Jardin, the main square. There are lots of people but there is plenty of shade, as well. Before we went up to the Jardin, I gave a demonstration in our studio. Arches were on the menu.

It’s very pleasant to return to our studio at the end of a sunny day outdoors. Our Monday critique went extremely well. Tuesday is a free day; shopping, exploring and relaxing. We’ll be back at it on Wednesday morning. Hasta luego!

Monday Critique a

Monday Critique b

More from San Miguel de Allende, Mexico!


Watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

We were back at our studio on Wednesday morning. Our plan was to paint at the Instituto de Bellas Artes, a beautiful and historic building with a lovely courtyard surrounded by lots of arches. As you can see, I presented a few ideas about arches to the group.

Following my demonstration, we headed up to the Instituto and settled in to work. The Instituto hosts an excellent art and music school. As well as this guitar-making workshop, there are frescoes  and studios throughout.



Nancy at work


NIck at work


Kate at work

It turned into a surprisingly windy day! Not everyone finished their work but that wasn’t so much due to the wind as it was the ambitious choice of subject matter. It took quite a while to sort out the perspective of the arches for some of our painters. Still, it was another good day and we enjoyed the critique back at our studio.

Wednesday Critique a

Wednesday Critique a

Wednesday Critique b

Wednesday Critique b

I’ve been leading workshops here in the month of March for a dozen years or so. On occasion, we get a thunderstorm overnight or in the very late afternoon. This year, we experienced a meteorological rarity; rain and cool temperatures during the day. On Thursday, I had hoped to paint in the Parque Guadiana, a quiet and peaceful spot. Due to the weather, I changed the plan. I started off in the studio with some more thoughts about foliage. After that, I suggested the group stay close to home and they did. Some worked from the inside of the hotel and looked out windows at their subjects.

Watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs


The hotel cat stayed dry and the rain didn’t last long but the plan stayed the same. Have a look at the work from Thursday.

Thursday Critique a

Thursday Critique a

Thursday Critique b

Thursday Critique b

The sun was shining Friday morning and we walked up to Parque Guadiana right away. It’s a sweet spot; a garden-like park surrounded by gorgeous villas. As it happened, we weren’t the only painters in the park.


Stew and Frances at work


Marike at work



It was a very pleasant day and the last scheduled painting day of our workshop.

Friday Critique a

Friday Critique a

Friday Critique b

Friday Critique b

Saturday was another day of freedom for our participants. Shopping was on many agendas but most spent some time working on their paintings and drawings, as well. We got together in the studio for Final Critique late in the afternoon. Each artist chose three works and told us a bit about them and why they’d selected them. It was a great way to wrap up our workshop.

Thanks for following our creative adventures. I now give you, in alphabetical order, the Class of 2016!


















Gibsons School of the Arts – Day One!



I boarded a ferry in Horseshoe Bay last Sunday, setting out on a new teaching adventure. I arrived 45 minutes later at Gibsons, on the beautiful Sunshine Coast of British Columbia. I’m teaching all week at the Gibsons School of the Arts, leading a workshop called ‘Creative Watercolor: Imagination, Colour and Composition’.

On Sunday night, I met the students at a ‘meet and greet’ in a lovely local home. Monday morning, we convened at the Arts Building in the bright and spacious studio.


This is a watercolour workshop and is comprised of a series of exercises, each with it’s own goal. My first demonstration dealt with a basic ‘soft edge’ technique that will become the ‘building block’ of all our paintings. Following that, I discussed drawing and presented our first exercise which was based on an inukshuk. The inukshuk originated with the Inuit and was a pile of stones in a human shape. Here in BC, people love to make their own versions on the rocky beaches although they don’t necessarily resemble a human being.

Preliminary drawing for watercolour exercise by Barry Coombs

Our exercise took a ‘step by step’ approach. The drawing is very important and I darkened my pencil lines to stress the need to create clearly defined shapes. Think of a stained glass window or even a colouring book!

The students chose their own colours and tried to apply the ‘soft edge’ technique to every shape in the painting. I worked on my demonstration throughout the day and called the group over from time to time to discuss various ideas about brush-handling and technique.


Watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

It was a full day! Some of the students are primarily acrylic painters and the techniques were a new challenge. The process was new for most of the  watercolour painters, as well. Everyone followed the steps of the exercise and we wrapped up with a look at the results.


Monday Critique

Grand Manan Island – First Two Days!



Let me tell you about the Birds and the Bees. We’ve got a great group of painters this week on Grand Manan Island. Some are less-experienced than others and that’s the case for most workshops. I decided on our first morning, yesterday, to give some of my demonstrations for all participants and some for the newer painters. The new guys are getting some ‘back to basics’ and that became B2B and that became the Bees. The more experienced painters, who don’t need the basics, head off to paint outdoors right away and they are now the Birds. Some start the day as a Bee and take flight as a Bird later on.

We met at our studio yesterday, Monday morning, and after a talk with the Birds I discussed a few fundamentals with the Bees. We practiced basic soft-edge techniques and I suggested a simplification exercise that would give them experience without becoming too boring.

Watercolour demonstration sheet by Barry Coombs

Over the course of the day, everyone worked outside for at least a few hours. I visited the Birds where they were perched along the shoreline in North Head and offered them some feedback.

Stewart at Work

Artist at Work

We reconvened in the studio at the end of the day and had our first critique. I looked at the Birds and the Bees separately.

Monday Critique - Bees

Monday Critique – Bees

Monday Critique - Birds

Monday Critique – Birds

This morning, Tuesday, we met again in the studio. A thunderstorm raged outside for an hour or two and I discussed guidelines about painting water and reflections.

Watercolour demonstration sheet by Barry Coombs

Water can be a tricky subject but there are principles, based on observation, that can help. Our group paints outdoors and we don’t use materials like masking fluid so we try to solve the problems with our paint, brushes and paper.

Both Birds and Bees attended the demo and, when it wrapped up, we headed to Woodward’s Cove to paint. Woodward’s Cove is one of the island’s largest harbours and we knew there would be lots of water to challenge us.


Well, we ran out of water but not until mid-afternoon. The tides are spectacular in the Bay of Fundy and this harbour drains completely twice every 24 hours. The painters managed to find lots of subjects, including water, and we had a productive day.

Britta at Work


Aleda at Work


John at Work


Our critique was back at the studio. We looked at the Bees and the Birds separately again but it won’t be long before we start to mix them up.

Tuesday Critique - Bees

Tuesday Critique – Bees

Tuesday Critique - Birds

Tuesday Critique – Birds

Watercolour Painting on BC’s Sunshine Coast!


Original watercolour by Barry Coombs  BLUE CHEESE

Have you planned your summer painting holiday yet? If not, join me for a week in beautiful British Columbia! I’ll be teaching a one week studio watercolour workshop at the Gibsons School of Art from August 17-21. Gibsons is a short drive and ferry ride away from Vancouver.

We’ll be working in the comfort of a bright and spacious studio. Participants will follow a traditional process leading to well-designed, vibrant paintings. The spectacular scenery will inspire our main watercolour project. A spirit of play and interpretation will be combined with a structured approach that draws upon memory and imagination as well as sketches and photo references. Drawing, value, composition and harmonious colour will be emphasized, as well as sound watercolour technique.

Lessons will be demonstrated and discussed clearly, making this workshop an exciting, enjoyable, and positive learning experience.

For full details, please click here.

Plein Air Toronto 2015 – First Three Days!


Last week, from Monday to Friday, I led an outdoor watercolour painting workshop in the parks, gardens and historic sites of Toronto, Ontario. I’m posting late due to some internet trouble but I hope you’ll still enjoy our adventures.

We met on Monday morning in my west-end studio. I often start an outdoor week with a general demonstration intended to cover several of the common elements encountered by artists working outdoors.


Watercolour demonstration sheet by Barry Coombs

After the demo, we headed down to the lakeshore and painted near the restored, though currently unused, Joy gas station. Everyone settled in to paint and draw. We had a large picnic shelter handy in case of rain but the weather cooperated.


Karen at work

Lynn at work

Phil and Polly at work

Evelyn at work

It was a great start to the week and we wrapped up with our critique.

Monday Critique A

Monday Critique A

Monday Critique B

Monday Critique B

Thunderstorms threatened on Tuesday so we met at St. Mike’s College on the beautiful downtown University of Toronto campus. There’s a lot of overhead protection on the site but, good fortune prevailed, and we had another sunny day with no rain.


You can say that again! St. Mike’s College is in the middle of urban Toronto but a pair of Red-winged Blackbirds were nesting and the male attacked artists and other passersby all day long when they got too close. No damage done, though.

This American Robin was also on her nest. She was very well behaved.

American Robin on nest

I discussed pen combined with watercolour and used a ‘show and tell’ approach. We looked at some past demonstrations and discussed the techniques before getting to work.

Evelyn at work

Katie at work


Laura, Elizabeth and Barb at work

It was a productive day and we had a lot to look at when the the time came for our critique.

Tuesday Critique A

Tuesday Critique A

Tuesday Critique B

Tuesday Critique B

Tuesday Critique C

Tuesday Critique C

Spadina House was our site for Wednesday but it doesn’t open until noon. We set up for the first two hours in the parkette between Spadina House and Casa Loma. I took the opportunity to use one tower of Casa Loma as my subject. I discussed the underlying volumes in architecture and even foliage. Cubes, cones, cylinders and spheres. My proportions aren’t all accurate and I omitted the chimney but the point of the demo was well received.

Wedb  Watercolour demonstration sheet by Barry Coombs

At noon, we entered the gardens surrounding Spadina House. It’s a lovely spot with plenty of shade and a great variety of subject matter.




Unfortunately, my camera battery died before critique. I took our photo with my iPad and it’s a bit dark. Still, the quality of the work is evident. Stay tuned for more watercolours and drawings from Toronto. I’ll be posting Thursday and Friday soon.

Wednesday Critique

Wednesday Critique

Grand Manan Island – Day Two!



It was a cool and overcast start to our second day. That might sound unpromising but it gave me the perfect opportunity to do a sustained demonstration in the studio. I painted on two quarter sheets (11 x 15″) of Curry’s 200 lb., cold press watercolour paper. I offered ideas about colour and value. We have several students who have experience with oil and acrylic but are fairly new to watercolour so brush-handling and soft-edge techniques were presented, as well.


There’s a lot of interest in pen and ink drawing in the group. I did this sketch of floats at the Museum on Monday. Hatching and cross-hatching are the techniques I’ve used.


North Head was our ‘en plein air’ painting site, just minutes from our studio. The harbour is a busy place and home to a real variety of fishing boats.


You can even find a windbreak, if needed.



Eventually, the sun came out!



We returned to our studio for the critique at the end of the day. I encourage the students to pursue their interests within the general frame of the workshop. A big part of my job is to help them find their individual voice.



Painting and sketching weren’t the only things on our agenda. We met for a lovely dinner at the well-known Compass Rose Inn. I think this picture is worth a thousand words. Yum!TuesLobster

Grand Manan Island 2014 – Day One!



You’ll find lots of different boats in the harbours and waters of Grand Manan Island but, to find one of these, you’ll have to go to the dollar store. I used this toy boat as my subject for a demonstration of basic pen and ink techniques this morning in our studio. We were studio-bound due to inclement weather.

The pen and ink practice paid off as we drove to Grand Harbour and visited the fascinating Grand Manan Museum for the rest of the day and drew from the exhibits. Our hospitable hosts were MJ Edwards, Curator/Director and a prominent local artist and cheerful and helpful Holley Sturgeon, Summer Student Staff.


The Museum collection focuses on local history and the range is quite extensive. The fishing industry is well represented, of course. Many of the students drew in the Allan Moses Bird Collection. Mr. Moses was an avid birder and early advocate of protection of the breeding habitat of Eider Ducks. His taxidermy skills contributed to this extensive collection, which includes a Passenger Pigeon.




At the end of the day, we thanked the Museum staff and headed back to the studio for our critique. Have a look at a selection of the work. Tomorrow, we’re going to sketch and paint in North Head.








Plein Air Toronto – Last Two Days of a Great Week!


Lilies - PleinAirTO2014  Chapel - PleinAirTO2014

We enjoyed beautiful sunny weather for the last two days of our Plein Air Toronto week of sketching and painting. Our site for Thursday was Riverdale Farm and the adjacent Toronto Necropolis.

Several of our participants were working outdoors for the first time this week. The monuments and stones in the cemetery are good practice for combining architectural forms with foliage. I chose a few stones for the subject of my demonstration and threw a small wrench into the works, using a flat angled brush and a ‘swatch-like’ approach to the study.

Watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs - PleinAirTO2014

I also presented a short illustrated talk about creating a focal point in a painting. We discussed three key elements; colour, contrast and structure. We looked at two paintings from the Renaissance. The first was the Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci and the second was the Wedding Feast by Pieter Breughel the Elder.

Between the Necropolis and the Farm we had all kinds of subject matter from which to choose. Everyone loves to see the critters on the Farm but not everyone goes down the hill to the lower ponds. Part of it is a wildlife sanctuary and is home to amazing creatures like this Black-crowned Night Heron.

Black-crowned Night Heron - PleinAirTO2014

Horse - PleinAirTO2014  Flowers - PleinAirTO2014

Farmhouse - PleinAirTO2014

Kim at Work - PleinAirTO2014

Jane at Work - PleinAirTO2014  Debbie at Work - PleinAirTO2014

We found a quiet spot for our critique and were able to look at all of the work at once.

Thursday Critique - PleinAirTO2014

The painting spot for Friday was Edward’s Gardens and the Toronto Botanical Garden.

Edward's Gardens - PleinAirTO2014

I brought along a few books to show before I demonstrated at my easel. We looked at the watercolours of three very different artists; Paul Cezanne, John Singer Sargent and Charles Burchfield. In particular, we studied the way they each approached foliage.

My demonstration was painted with a 1″ flat angled brush. I used a ‘light to dark’ and ‘big to small’ approach as I attempted to convey ideas about simplifying foliage.

Me at Easel - PleinAirTO2014

Willow - PleinAirTO2014

Watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs  - PleinAirTO2014

I don’t restrict the artists to a small area for the painting day. I define my ‘patrol area’, and let them search for their inspiration within those broader boundaries. The ‘patrol area’ is usually fairly large so there are lots of potential subjects. Edward’s Gardens has flower beds, groomed parkland and a ravine with the Don River running through it.

Elizabeth at Work - PleinAirTO2014

FriLaura  Fountain - PleinAirTO2014

From the ravine - PleinAirTO2014  Gardens - PleinAirTO2014

Peggy and Debbie at Work - PleinAirTO2014

A few of our artists weren’t able to attend on Friday but here’s a selection of the work from those who did. Not all are finished and several of them are studies, as opposed to sustained works. Some may be destined to be ‘worked up’ in the studio.

Peggy - PleinAirTO2014  Judy - PleinAirTO2014

Evelyn - PleinAirTO2014  Pat - PleinAirTO2014


Laura - PleinAirTO2014

Debbie - PleinAirTO2014

Jane - PleinAirTO2014

Elizabeth - PleinAirTO2014

Thanks go out to all of the participants and I’m grateful to those of you who follow and comment. Over the years, I’ve had many comments on this blog from Lois B. I don’t know Lois personally but she’s been a loyal follower for a long time. She said that she’s never been to Toronto and probably won’t get the opportunity so she’s enjoyed the travelogue. Lois, this final photo is your postcard from beautiful Toronto, Ontario!

Toronto - PleinAirTO2014

Plein Air Toronto – Days Two and Three


PleinAirTO2014  Northrop Frye - PleinAirTO2014

Yesterday, we visited the downtown campus of the University of Toronto. Our main site was the St. Michael’s College and Victoria College vicinity. As you can see, there’s a very creative feel to the campus. The gentleman on the left is the famous literary critic and theorist, Northrop Frye.

We started off the day with a discussion about combining pen with watercolour. In this demonstration, I did a pencil drawing first and watercolour second. The pen work was the final step.

Step one of pen and watercolour by Barry Coombs - PleinAirTO2014  Step two of pen and watercolour by Barry Coombs - PleinAirTO2014

More rain! We expected a wet day and we got it. St. Michael’s College, however, has ample overhead protection and plenty of subject matter. We were able to start painting and sketching in the open but, eventually, moved to shelter.

Judy at Work - PleinAirTO2014

Evelyn at Work - PleinAirTO2014

After lunch, I demonstrated an approach to watercolour sketching that works well on a wet day. It takes forever for washes to dry, so I paint the basic component shapes first and leave spaces between them so they don’t run into each other. Can you see the white lines? Sooner or later, the first shapes are dry enough to add some details such as stonework. The Italian flag was one of many international flags hanging in a courtyard.


Our critique took place under cover. Given the space, we broke it up into three batches.

Tuesday Critique - PleinAirTO2014

Tuesday Critique - PleinAirTO2014

Tuesday Critique - PleinAirTO2014

Tuesday Critique - PleinAirTO2014

Black Creek Pioneer Village, a wonderful historic site, was our venue for Wednesday. It’s a great place to paint and the weather actually cooperated. My morning demonstration sheet dealt with questions and ideas that had surfaced over our first two days. I also discussed a few things that were particularly relevant to our site.

Watercolour demo sheet by Barry Coombs - PleinAirTO2014

Wednesday Demo - PleinAirTO2014

We settled in for a full day of sun-drenched sketching and painting, enjoying the sights, sounds and smells of this nostalgic remnant of a bygone rural Ontario.

Pat and Jane at Work - PleinAirTO2014  Tinsmith - PleinAirTO2014

Window - PleinAirTO2014  Laura at Work - PleinAirTO2014

Horse and Wagon - PleinAirTO2014

Elizabeth at Work - PleinAirTO2014

Sheep at Work - PleinAirTO2014

Everyone seemed tired but happy as we convened for our daily critique.

Wednesday Critique - PleinAirTO2014

Wednesday Critique - PleinAirTO2014

Wednesday Critique - PleinAirTO2014