Posts Tagged ‘painting holidays’

San Miguel de Allende, Mexico – Another Successful Workshop!


We’re back home, safe and sound, after another wonderful ten creative days in San Miguel de Allende. Last Tuesday was a free day. On Wednesday morning, we walked up to Plaza San Antonio with it’s striking white church.

I brought my easel along to do an on-site demonstration. We could see the mountains beyond the buildings that surrounded the square. As usual, I discussed my thoughts and decisions as I painted.

It’s always advisable to paint in the shade, especially in Mexico! Fortunately, Plaza San Antonio has plenty of shade and much to paint.

We had a great day and finished off with a critique at our studio. Sadly, we’re down to nine painters. One of the students had to cut her painting holiday short because of a business trip. Aren’t careers a nuisance?

A few of the students followed my lead and painted the same view I did with my demo. That’s not something I recommend necessarily but there are many ways to learn and absorb ideas from an instructor.

Wednesday Critique a

Wednesday Critique b

We met in our studio again for my demonstration on Thursday morning. There had been quite a demand for a figure demonstration and I bowed to the requests. My two figures were both started with pencil. Using a cool grey wash, I painted the shadows on the gent to the left. When the washes were dry, I glazed on the local colours. I started directly with local colour for the lady on the right and left a fair bit of paper white to suggest light. I let the washes dry before adding the penwork.

One of my favourite painting spots in SM de Allende is the Instituto Bellas Artes. It’s a shady and peaceful art and music school. Our students settled into the spots of their choice while listening to relaxing live guitar music. Later on, the musical program changed to piano emanating from an upper floor studio.

Another treat at Bellas Artes are the many murals painted by past instructors and students.

We thanked Bellas Artes for hosting a soothing and inspiring day of painting and sketching. It was time for critique, once again.

Thursday Critique a

Thursday Critique b

Alas, Friday was our last day of painting together. We strolled up to Parque Guadiana, a tranquil park in a pretty residential neighbourhood. I did a brief demonstration at my easel. It was really an illustrated review of some of the things we’d discussed to date. Once the students settled down to work, I painted two small works that took about 45 minutes each. I later showed them to the group and explained my thoughts and process.

Friday critique was held in our hotel studio.

Friday Critique a

Friday Critique b

Our painting time had come to an end but we had one more event to celebrate on Saturday; Final Critique. It’s a chance to summarize our time together. Each student selects three of their works and tells us a bit about them and their overall experience. Here is the SM de Allende Class of 2017 (in alphabetical order)!









Let’s not forget our missing painter, now attending a conference in India.


That’s all, amigos. I’m grateful to this year’s participants for their good nature and hard work. Thanks go to Jim Nikiforos of Air Transat Travel for his efforts and to those of you who have liked and commented on our adventures. Hasta luego!

Plein Air Toronto 2016 – Day One!


Last Monday morning, my annual Plein Air Toronto workshop, a week of sketching and painting in watercolour, began at the Arts on Adrian studio. I had a prepared a demonstration dealing with basic approaches to painting skies and clouds.

Studio Demo

Skies are always a challenge, especially in watercolour. I had painted a few sheets ahead of time and I completed one sheet while the students watched. By the way, the sky in the upper right corner is upside down!

Sky in watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

I also brought in a few books. We took a careful look at skies painted by some of the great English watercolour painters of the past as well as some by the American, Winslow Homer and Canadian artist, Frederick Hagan.

Here are some more sky studies I showed to the group. Some have been created with a soft edge (wet into wet) process and some are a combination of soft and crisp edges. Some were done in one step and others took two or three steps to complete.

Sky in watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs  Sky in watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

Sky in watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

Sky in watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

Sky in watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

Sky in watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

It was time to head out of doors and the Sunnyside Pavilion on the shore of Lake Ontario was our destination. Upon arrival, we settled in for the rest of the day.


Sarah at work  Evelyn at work

Barb at work

Marian at work

Ian, Wendy and Olwen at work

Emily at work

It was a great start to our week. At the end of the day, we gathered for our critique and discussed our plan for Tuesday. Stay tuned! Our activities from last Tuesday and Wednesday are coming soon.

Monday Critique a

Monday Critique a

Monday Critique b

Monday Critique b



Taormina! Week Two of our Sicilian Painting Holiday.


fri b

fri a

Whether you look up or down, Taormina is gorgeous. We had an easy travel day from Siracusa last Thursday as it’s only a few hours to Taormina. Upon arrival, one of the participants said “We’ve gone from the charming to the spectacular”. This is not a criticism of Siracusa. It’s a great city. Taormina, however, soars above the sea and spectacular is certainly not an understatement.

Friday was a free day except for a guided walking tour in the afternoon. One of the most important sites we visited is the Greek Theatre.

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fri c

It was back to work on Saturday. We walked to the local park and it was a perfect place to paint. The park was founded by Florence Trevelyan from the UK. Look her up! It’s a fascinating story.

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I set up for a demonstration and discussed foliage. Given our surroundings, it seemed like an appropriate subject. I had a little help with my demo, by the way.

Sat a

Watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

The group enjoyed the day very much. Aside from the lovely gardens, the park features Victorian follies and fabulous views of Mount Etna.

sat b

sat e

sat d

sat f

sat g

Following a very pleasant day of sketching and painting, we headed back to our hotel for an outdoor critique.

Saturday Critique a

Saturday Critique a

Saturday Critique b

Saturday Critique b

We strolled up to a quiet piazza on Sunday morning. I demonstrated with a 1″ flat angled brush. It was a peaceful and lovely spot. We were minutes away from shops and restaurants but it felt like a private outdoor studio.

Watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

sun d

sun b

sun g

sun c

sun e

sun c

sun f

Our critique at the end of the day was enhanced by a glass of almond wine, a Sicilian specialty. It’s been a wonderful trip so far and there’s still lots of painting time ahead of us. Thanks for your comments and likes.

Sunday Critique a

Sunday Critique a

Sunday Critique b

Sunday Critique b

Ragusa, Noto and more from Siracusa!


Ragusa c

Monday was the day for our trip to the splendid baroque towns of Ragusa and Noto. We started with Ragusa and followed our knowledgeable and entertaining guide, Francesca, from site to site before enjoying a traditional Sicilian lunch.

Ragusa a

Ragusa b

Noto was our next destination. It’s absolutely gorgeous with it’s honey-coloured stone.

Noto a

Noto b

Noto c

Tuesday was a painting day and our transport picked us up at 9am for the short drive to the archeological park. The weather was somewhat threatening and a few raindrops fell as I demonstrated at my easel. Sometimes, a simple and quick demo is just the ticket so I finished up so the group could get to work. Guess what? We had a great day. It was cloudy and there was distant thunder a few times but no rain.

ap a

ap d


ap c

It was back to our room at the Hotel Gutkowski for a look at the work.

Tuesday Critique a

Tuesday Critique a

Tuesday Critique b

Wednesday didn’t start off well. The winds were high and the waves were higher and it was raining on and off.



I decided to spend part of the morning presenting a sustained demonstration at the hotel. I worked back and forth on two sheets of figure studies. The first sheet portrays a group of fishermen that I photographed during our boat cruise. I apologize for the terrible photo of step one. I drew the group with pencil and followed that by painting in the shadows with a cool grey wash. When that dried, I added the local colour. For the final step, I developed the drawing with pen and ink.

Watercolour demonstration sheet by Barry Coombs

Watercolour demonstration sheet by Barry Coombs

I used a few different approaches on my second sheet. The drummer was done with a brush pen.

Watercolour demonstration sheet by Barry Coombs

It happened again! It was a very blustery day but didn’t rain much and the sun broke through several times. However, it was our last day in Siracusa so most of the group took some time off  for shopping and even for a performance at the puppet theatre. We also had to pack. Thursday was to be an easy travel day but we still needed to prepare for our next stop: Taormina!










San Miguel de Allende, Mexico – Final Critique!


Mexico - Class of 2015

Here they are; the class of 2015! Thanks go to Stewart and his tripod for our group photo. Last Saturday, we wound up a wonderful ten-day watercolour workshop with our Final Critique. Everyone made a selection of their work and spoke about their experience one at a time. The artists and their work are shown in alphabetical order.

Thanks for following our adventures and commenting and liking the posts. Planning for 2016 is already underway. Do you want to be on the ‘interested’ list?
















SM de Allende, Mexico – Thursday and Friday!



This may seem like a rather humble portal. It’s the entrance to the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes. Let’s take a look inside!

IMG_5442  IMG_5438


Td  Te



Serene, shady and beautiful; the Instituto is a wonderful place to paint. I’d made arrangements for us a few days prior and on Thursday we invaded.

Anticipating a lot of arches, I did a demonstration in our studio at the hotel before we left for the Instituto. I discussed drawing and perspective; most of my planning lines are still visible. The washes were developed with a ‘big to small’ process. My first wash covered the whole sheet. My second wash covered everything except the light exterior wall. I darkened the architecture a step at a time. Then, I painted the door and planter right over the shadows.

Watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

Once at the Instituto, it wasn’t difficult to find comfortable painting spots and lots of attractive subjects. We settled in for the morning.

Fiona at work  Paula at work

Barb at work  Joan at work

Paula at work

Karen at work

In addition to all of the other perks of this excellent painting site, a fabulous lunch spot was steps away; just across the street in it’s own shady courtyard. We all enjoyed the delicious food, great service and ambience of Cafe Contento.


It was a downhill walk to our hotel for our tired painters at the end of the day. As usual, we convened in the Salon Aldama for our critique.



Friday was our last day of painting as a group. I arranged to do the demonstration in a spacious, sunny upper room at our hotel. The huge windows offer a great view of the town. I wanted to wrap up with something a bit different so I chose a flat angled brush and did very little preparatory drawing; basic shapes only. I talked about my process and decisions as I worked. This watercolour involves a degree of artistic licence and a lot of simplification.

Watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

Our venue was a small, peaceful park, Parque Guadiana, not far from the hotel. It was a productive day. I’ll leave you with the critique and I think you’ll see that the students worked very hard and improved during our time here. One more post to come, though! Stay tuned for our Final Critique.










SM de Allende, Mexico – Wednesday


Watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

We headed out of town on Wednesday to historic Atotonilco. I knew what was in store and that was lots of domes, towers and belfries. My demonstration had two main themes. First of all, I discussed the basic volumes that make up an architectural form. Can we analyze the tower in terms of spheres, cones, cylinders and cubes? Doing so gives us a greater understanding of the subject and also leads to my second theme; light and shadow.

The light changes over the course of the day and, if the sun goes behind a cloud, shadows can’t be seen at all. Understanding the forms we’re painting helps us light the forms effectively.

The cathedral and ruins at Atotonilco are quite spectacular. It’s a quiet town and only about twenty minutes away from SM de Allende. We hopped in our taxis and got there in no time.




It’s a very popular spot with my students and you can see why. As usual, we gathered back at the studio for our critique.



As we wound up our critique, thunder crashed and the skies opened up for about 30 minutes. Soon, the sun was back out and we were treated to a fabulous double rainbow. Another great day in San Miguel de Allende.




SM de Allende, Mexico – Saturday



I’m back in lovely San Miguel de Allende for my annual ten-day watercolour workshop. We arrived late Thursday night and took it easy yesterday. This morning, I took the group behind the hotel for a demonstration.

What do the following two images have in common? My watercolour study is an extreme simplification of the view on the right. SM de Allende is rich in detail but colour and light are paramount. I’ve used basic blocks of colour in this little study. Restricting the shapes to blocks prevents me from overworking it and getting distracted by ‘realism’. It also keeps my focus on my goals of establishing a pattern and colour harmony. Remember this is only a preliminary study but it can be an important step towards a successful sustained composition.

Watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs IMG_4940

Everyone settled in to work for the day. We stayed on the hotel property and there was no shortage of spectacular subject matter.



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After a lunch break, we got back to work.

Stewart at Work  Nila at Work


It was a brilliant day and we wound it up with a critique in our studio, Salon Aldama. The work was terrific and a great start to our workshop.




Lucca 2014 – Week Two!


Everyone enjoyed the two day break on Saturday and Sunday. Saturday was a special day for me as I met Erin Hill for the first time. Erin is from Australia and we’ve followed each other’s blogs for a long time. We realized last week that we were both in Tuscany, leading groups of artists. Erin brought her gang in to Lucca on Saturday morning and we all met in the Antiteatro.


I had a few jobs to do over the weekend. I never stop looking for good painting and sketching sites, particularly ones that offer shelter from inclement weather. Also, I prepare for lessons and demonstrations. Rain was in the forecast for Monday (it never happened, fortunately) so I visited a covered section of the wall. I made these two watercolour sketches to give the group some ideas about incorporating the arches into their compositions. On Monday morning, we talked mostly about simplification, editing and value.

Watercolour demonstrations by Barry Coombs

After our discussion/demonstration, everyone hiked into the nearby Porta San Pietro area and got to work. I spent most of the day hanging around the group to offer feedback. Occasionally, I wandered up and down neighbouring streets with my camera and it’s not difficult to find interesting and charming subjects.



IMG_3044  IMG_3043

IMG_3036  IMG_3042


Another great day winds down and we have another critique at the Hotel Rex.





As a little something different, I had issued everyone with a blank watercolour postcard in the morning. They were all asked to complete a postcard over the course of the day. We looked at them after the regular critique and held a People’s Choice vote. The winner was Dottie! Her postcard is third from the right in the bottom row.


Tuesday was our day to visit Cinqueterre, the famous ‘Five Lands’ on the Ligurian coast. It was mostly a day of sightseeing as we took the train to Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare before boarding a boat to the fascinating and historic town of Portovenere. Still, a few of our dedicated artists managed to do a bit of sketching.




Our final full day of painting was Wednesday and we marched up to the Villa Guinigi Museum. The museum has wonderful arches which allowed us to paint indoors or out without worrying about rain. However, our  good fortune continued and it was a beautiful precipitation-free day.

I gathered the group together for a pen and watercolour demonstration. I had done the watercolour portion in two steps several days prior. It was ready for me to work in some pen while the group watched and asked questions. With the first step, I’d established the light and shadow with a cool grey wash mixed from Cobalt Blue and Burnt Sienna. When that was dry, I’d ‘glazed’ local colour over the appropriate areas. I used a drawing pen with Sepia ink for the line work.

Photo courtesy of  Evelyn Cunningham

Photo courtesy of
Evelyn Cunningham

Step one of pen and watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

Step two of pen and watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

Step three of pen and watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs


IMG_3081  IMG_3076

Our critique at the hotel featured an exciting mix of sketches and more sustained watercolours. Everyone has made strides since we arrived in Lucca.





Thursday was a free day and we held our Final Critique in the late afternoon. After that, there were a few hours to pack and prepare for our return trip before enjoying our Farewell Dinner at a very nice local restaurant.

It was a great trip and our wonderful guide, Paola Romano, helped keep everything on an even keel. She certainly made my life much easier. Everyone contributes to a successful painting holiday. Our group was punctual, thoughtful, hard-working and inclusive. Thanks go out to all of them and to you for following and commenting. Grazie mille!

Lucca 2014 – Trips around Tuscany



I probably don’t need to tell you where this photo was taken. We visited Pisa last Wednesday. It’s not far from Lucca and we had our own bus for the day. We met a local guide, Francesca, who gave us an informative tour and then we sketched for an hour or so before lunch. After the usual lengthy and tasty lunch, we had free time for sketching and exploring before our departure.


On our way back to Lucca, our driver Giuseppe detoured to Torre del Lago. Puccini wrote many of his operas in an old watch tower converted into a villa.

Thursday was a painting and sketching day in Lucca and we spent it at Villa Bottini, a peaceful walled park. There was plenty of subject matter inside and outside the wall and it was a very productive day.



It was back to the Hotel Rex for our critique at the end of the day. Most of the work was from Villa Bottini but you may recognize a few images from Pisa, as well.






Yesterday was Friday and our destination was Montecatini Alto, a gorgeous hilltop village not far from Lucca. Our first day of bad weather was looming and it fulfilled it’s nasty promise. After a few hours, our artists sought shelter in cafes as strong winds and heavy rain swept through Tuscany. The restaurant that hosted our group lunch opened it’s doors to us and many sketched from inside the historic old building. We had to cut our day a little bit short when the tempest returned in the afternoon but it was a comfort to hop onto our own bus which waited nearby.







Saturday and Sunday are free days. Most of the group are off on day trips to Siena, Barga and even Bologna. Plans to take the train to Florence have been compromised by a rail strike. In typical Italian fashion, the strike is scheduled to last only twenty four hours or so but the timing is terrible for those who had booked visits to the Uffizi and the Accademia.