Posts Tagged ‘drawing’

Van Gogh and the Reed Pen at DVSA!


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.



Barry’s Birds for Wood Duck magazine – April and May


These pen and ink drawings were my submissions for the April and May issues of the Wood Duck, the magazine of the Hamilton Naturalists’ Club. The monthly feature is called Barry’s Birds.


Sharp-shinned Hawk-

Pen and Ink Basics at DVSA


Spring term began this week at the Dundas Valley School of Art and I was back in the studio yesterday. Pen and Ink Basics was our theme and my keen and hard-working students put in a full day. We completed three drawings and used a different approach with each. All of our drawings were done from a diagram model that I provided at my easel.

Our focus was on light and shadow as well as fundamental pen techniques. Our pear was started with a ‘parquet’ approach. The students didn’t have to worry about stroke direction and concentrated initially on the shapes of light and shadow.

Our pear gradually became more three-dimensional as we applied principles of light and shadow with cross-hatching. Our second drawing was the hat. We started with hatching, parallel strokes, and developed the drawing with cross-hatching. I discussed the idea of ‘edge versus outline’ and you’ll notice gaps in the lines that describe the edges of our objects. These allow light to infiltrate the drawing and give it a more natural feel than a hard colouring book-like outline would achieve.

The ball cap was our final drawing of the day and stippling was our technique. We didn’t want to work too big as stippling is rather time-consuming. Over the course of the day, we looked at drawings by the masters including Michelangelo and Henry Moore and were inspired by the lessons found in their beautiful work.

We wrapped up with a look at our own work. My next one-day workshop at DVSA is called Pen and Ink with Wash and Watercolour and takes place on May 11. Care to join us?

Pen and Ink Basics Critique

Pen and Ink Studio at DVSA – Week Five!



Last Thursday afternoon was Pen and Ink Studio time at the Dundas Valley School of Art. I brought in my collection of milkweed pods. Natural forms are a very rewarding subject and the students enjoyed drawing them.

I showed a few different approaches to studying the milkweed. This is a demonstration from a past workshop. I started with a pencil drawing before adding a light wash of a sepia-like brown. When it dried, I added a second darker wash of the same colour. Once again, I waited for it to dry. The pen work was my final step.

Pen and wash demonstration by Barry Coombs

The next study is the one I worked on during the Thursday class. It was developed with local colour and then I explored it with the pen using mostly the technique of cross-hatching.

Pen and watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

Some of the students elected to use colour and others stuck with values of sepia. One of our students devoted the afternoon to her personal project and it’s coming along very nicely. I hope to post some of these projects soon!

Pen and Ink Studio Critique

Pen and Ink Studio Critique

Pen and Ink – Everyday Objects at DVSA!


Last Thursday, I was back at the Dundas Valley School of Art for a day of pen and ink drawing. Our theme was ‘Everyday Objects’. My goals for the day were threefold. First of all, we discussed the basic pen and ink techniques of hatching, cross-hatching, stippling and line weight. Secondly, I wanted the students to understand the everyday objects they were drawing in terms of basic volumes. I hoped this would help them when drawing on their own. Thirdly, we considered ‘light and shadow’ and it’s importance to making things look three-dimensional.

Lesson sheet by Barry Coombs


Our first drawing was of a toy block. The block, of course, is a cube and that’s how I started my demonstration. There are three visible planes on my cube and I wanted each of them to be a different value.

Step one of pen and ink demonstration by Barry Coombs  Step two of pen and ink demonstration by Barry Coombs

I also like to work with a ‘light to dark’ process. Using this ‘parquet’ approach to cross-hatching, I developed the drawing gradually. Eventually, I added a cast shadow. The studio is lit by fluorescent lighting and there is also light coming in from the windows. Multiple light sources don’t usually help us make things look three-dimensional. With that in mind, we decided on an arbitrary light source coming from the upper right.

Final step of pen and ink demonstration by Barry Coombs

The students did very well with their studies. Here’s a look at their toy blocks.

Toy Blocks Critique

Toy Blocks Critique

Our next subject was an empty thread spool. Where do I find this stuff? Professional secret.


We analyzed this object in terms of cylinders and cones and, once again, lit it from the upper right.

Lesson sheet by Barry Coombs

A lot of things are discussed during my demonstrations and, unfortunately, I can’t break down every step in detail. Still, we followed the same basic process that we’d used with the blocks.

Step one of pen and ink demonstration by Barry Coombs  Final step of pen and ink demonstration by Barry Coombs

Spools Critique

Spools Critique

These two studies took up most of our day. We started another drawing, of spoons, and they were coming along well when we ran out of time. If you’re in the neighbourhood, why don’t you join us on Thursday, October 13 for Pen and Ink with Wash and Watercolour at the DVSA?

Cinqueterre, Italy 1981-2


Riomaggiore by Barry Coombs

A long time ago, I had the good fortune to study in Florence for an academic year. After my return to Canada, it took years to pay off my student loans but it was worth it. During the Christmas break, a friend and I followed the sage advice of Sandro at Zecchi’s, the famous art supply store in Florence, and visited the coastal villages known as Cinqueterre. We had intended to stay overnight but dragged out the trip for several days, hiking the entire trail system and sketching everything that caught our eye.

I thought it would be timely to share a few of my Cinqueterre sketches as I’ll be heading off to Lucca with an eager and talented group next month. One of our day trips will take us to Cinqueterre.

The sketch above is of Riomaggiore. All of these sketches were done in a 9 1/2 x 13 1/2″ hardcover sketchbook. My typical practice was to lay in the drawing with pencil and then complete it with ink. I (carefully) carried around bottles of ink and ‘crow quill’ nibs and holders. Black and Raw Sienna inks were used in the Riomaggiore sketch.

Corniglia by Barry Coombs

The next sheet gives a sense of the dramatic topography of this beautiful area. I settled on my sketching stool and looked down over Corniglia. I completed the sketch in Sepia ink, turned my stool around and looked way up at San Bernardino. If you’ve been to the region, you’re probably wondering about San Bernardino. It’s not one of the five villages. Actually, it’s a hilltop hamlet and is considered to be a part of Corniglia.

Vernazza by Barry Coombs

The third and final sketch that I’ll share today is of Vernazza; Sepia ink over pencil. I loved working with a ‘dipping’ pen and I still do but, these days, I use them exclusively in the studio. Outdoors, I use various pigment ink disposable sketching pens and I’ve strongly recommended that my students bring a compact sketching kit to Lucca.

I drew and painted outdoors as much as possible while studying in Florence. However, the occasional rainy weather gave me the opportunity to sketch in the museums and galleries, including the Uffizi! I learned a lot by studying the masters through drawing whether it was figures from paintings or sculptures. I’ll show you a few of those in my next post. Ciao!


Merry Christmas!

Pull yourself together,  Mr. C. It's time to go!

Pull yourself together,
Mr. C. It’s time to go!!!

Charlevoix, Quebec – Day One


I’m back in Charlevoix for my fourth annual painting holiday. This gorgeous region of Quebec is famous for art. Where else in the world would you find a sign like this? “There are other places for this” is what the sign says and it’s right. Charlevoix has a multitude of pretty spots where you can stand at your easel or set down your stool. There is absolutely no need to paint on the railroad tracks. Usually.

Today, we worked in our local village of Les Eboulements and most of the group concentrated on sketching. I think a day of sketching is a great way to start the week. Do a lot of looking  and get a feel for the place.

After lunch in our studio, we had a look at the work from the morning. The biggest challenge was a familiar one; angles and perspective! I did a short review of the use of a measuring stick before we headed back out into the field.

Those nasty roof-lines continued to cause trouble so a quick plein air meeting was called to address the problem. I did a bit of sketching over the course of the day and used my drawings to illustrate some of the ideas we were focusing on.

We held our Critique in the comfort of the studio. It was a pleasure to see a mix of sketches and watercolours. I have a feeling that we’ll be seeing more watercolours over the next few days.

Monday Critique

Drawing Boot Camp – Light and Shadow – Day Two


We started our second day of Drawing Boot Camp-Light and Shadow with a brief review of our work from Day One. The subject of our first drawing exercise was a single apple. Our materials were the same as those of Day One; a 2B and a 6B pencil and a measuring stick. Erasers were not used.

Our next drawing exercise was of a white jar. It’s shiny surface gave us a chance to consider reflected light and it’s relationship with direct light. Also, this plain old jar was a good challenge in terms of proportion.

Towards the end of the exercise, and to the huge relief of all, I distributed kneaded erasers. I firmly believe that the overuse of erasers is a hindrance to drawing. I have often observed students scrubbing away frantically at every single line they put on the paper and getting absolutely nowhere. First of all, one should strive to draw with a light touch. Secondly, your preliminary and planning lines are useless if they are constantly wiped off the sheet. Go easy on the erasing.

We took a break and looked at a few books of master drawings. Thoughtful study of the masters is not only instructional but a great pleasure. We discussed the Cours de Dessin, an influential academic drawing course first published in the 1860’s, by Charles Bargue. I have a copy of the 2003 reprint. The very classical Bargue approach had a huge impact, as unlikely as it might seem, on Vincent Van Gogh.

We wrapped up our Boot Camp with a drawing of apples in a bowl. I enjoyed our Boot Camps and hope that everyone learned a lot. I’m considering a series of drawing classes for this fall. Anyone interested?


Drawing Boot Camp – Light and Shadow


Last month, I gave a two-day class called Drawing Boot Camp-Proportion and Perspective. Yesterday, some of the same students and several new ones convened at my studio for the first day of Drawing Boot Camp-Light and Shadow. Everyone was issued a sketchbook, a 2B and a 6B pencil, a measuring stick, clips and a support board. Erasers were checked at the door.

We started off with a five-value grey scale. It gave us a chance to get to know the pencils and paper and to practice tip and side shading.

Our next project was a cone. A triangle was drawn on the sheet. A curved line was added from the lower left to the lower right corners. We did the drawing in steps, stopping to discuss some of the principles of light and shadow.

Our second exercise began with a line drawing of a cube. At first, we didn’t look at an actual cube. I drew a cube from memory, in line only, at my easel while I reviewed basic two-point perspective. Once we’d commenced to shade, the top plane was left as untouched paper and the two side planes were developed as two distinct values.

That’s when I put a white cube on a piece of white board under a lamp. It helped us to establish the cast shadow. Following that, a background was introduced. Then, our final step, we graded several of the planes, making them less flat and giving a more natural feel to the drawing.

It was time to work from direct observation. I placed four identical cylindrical bottles, made from brown cardboard, on the platform under the lamp. Each student selected a bottle that showed an interesting balance of light and shadow.

We completed four projects over a very full day of drawing. Day two of Drawing Boot Camp-Light and Shadow is next Wednesday. Stay tuned.