Posts Tagged ‘plein air art workshops’

Plein Air Toronto 2017 – Last Two Days!


Click on our First Three Days if you somehow missed the last post. Day four of Plein Air Toronto 2017 was Thursday of last week and the weather, which had been tricky all week, took a turn for the worst. I made arrangements for us to sketch in pen and ink all day long and without any concerns about rain. The catch was that our plein air artists were going indoors for the day. We met in the morning at the Gardiner Museum, which is dedicated to historic and contemporary ceramic art.

It’s a beautiful museum but it’s difficult to gather the entire group at once for a demonstration or critique. I handed out a prepared sheet showing basic pen techniques in the morning. Later, I gathered a small group of pen and ink novices and sketched a Pre-Columbian figure as I discussed my thoughts.

It was a great day and don’t forget the excellent restaurant when you visit the Gardiner. Friday was yet another challenging weather day. However, I don’t have almost thirty years of experience for nothing. We met at University College on the lovely downtown campus of the University of Toronto.

The College has a large interior courtyard surrounded, on two sides, by wide colonnades. We were high and dry and had plenty of subject matter through the arches. Even the arches themselves attracted the eye of our artists.

I brought in some examples of pen and watercolour studies, done on the U of T campus, to get the morning started. As the group worked, I began a watercolour of my own for a change. Several of the new students expressed interest in my approach and process. I began with a sketch to resolve a composition and then drew it up on a sheet of watercolour paper.


I wasn’t able to finish the piece by the end of the day as I had teaching responsibilities. I pulled it together later in my studio.

Enough about me! Let’s have a look at our day at University College.

Eventually, it was time for our last critique of the week. The skies cleared just enough and we gathered one more time. What a great group! I thank them all for their cheerful participation and also thank you for following, commenting and liking the posts. Plein Air Toronto will be back next year. Now, for a look at the work from Friday.

University College
Critique a

University College
Critique b

Plein Air Toronto 2017 – First Three Days!


One week ago, the 2017 Plein Air Toronto participants gathered at the Arts on Adrian studio in the west end. We introduced ourselves and I gave a demonstration that considered several common elements of the urban landscape we’d be painting for the next five days. We also discussed colour; green, in particular.

Following our meeting, we headed down to the Sunnyside Pavilion which is on the beach of Lake Ontario.

The Pavilion is a lovely place to sketch and paint, inside and out.

We put in a good day’s work and met inside the Pavilion for our first critique of the week. Click on an image for a larger version.

Sunnyside Pavilion
Critique a

Sunnyside Pavilion
Critique b

We met onsite at Riverdale Farm on Tuesday morning. It was a blustery day with a few showers but there was ample overhead shelter for us. This urban farm is bordered by a park on one side and a historic cemetery and chapel on the other. There’s lots of great subject matter to choose from including the charming cafe across the street.

I had prepared a demonstration ahead of time. My subject was the cafe and my painting was a value study in cool greys. I discussed my process and the importance of developing an eye for value.

Colour can be added to a study like this by gently ‘glazing’ washes over the appropriate areas. The grey washes should be completely dry before proceeding.

The group wandered around a bit to find their spots and then settled in. I kept a few of the newer folks back to talk about basic drawing and the use of a measuring stick to assist with perspective and proportion. I’ve developed a Drawing Checklist over the years and it can be very useful.

The little bit of rain didn’t deter us. It was a very productive day and we found a private and quiet spot for our critique.

Riverdale Farm
Critique a

Riverdale Farm
Critique b

Wednesday promised to be a day of sunshine and we chose historic Spadina House as our location. We met in the parkette between Spadina House and Casa Loma for my demonstration. I used an approach I call shape-reading, direct painting without any preliminary pencil drawing. Challenging but fun and very instructive. As I painted, I chatted about my thoughts and decisions.

We made the most of our sunny weather and gorgeous painting site.

It was a beautiful day and the paintings were equally lovely. Stay tuned for our final two days of Plein Air Toronto 2017. Coming soon!

Spadina House
Critique a

Spadina House
Critique b



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!

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

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!










Siracusa, Sicilia – We’re here!



Our tired group arrived in Siracusa last Thursday. We settled into our charming boutique hotel, Hotel Gutkowski, which faces the sea. We made our way to a local restaurant for our Welcome Dinner before finally getting a good night’s sleep.


Friday was mostly a recovery day and the group enjoyed a free morning. In the afternoon, we met a local guide and enjoyed a walking tour of the Ortigia, the old town of Siracusa. We wandered the narrow streets and visited the beautiful Piazza Duomo. At the end of the tour, we found ourselves by the harbour. Boat tour, anyone? Why not?



Puppet Sign


Saturday was our first full day of sketching and painting. We started off with my demonstration at the hotel. I discussed several of the common visual elements we would be encountering during our stay. After the demo, we headed to the Duomo.

Watercolour demonstration sheet by Barry Coombs

I always suggest that the participants find a shady spot. As you can see, some really paid attention.

Gillian at work

George at work

Joel and Sandra at work

Joanne and Elizabeth at work

We regrouped at the hotel at the end of the day for our first critique. Everyone enjoyed seeing each other’s initial impressions of Siracusa.

Saturday Critique a

Saturday Critique a

Saturday Critique b

Saturday Critique b

On Sunday morning, I led the group through the Ortigia and crossed a bridge to the mainland part of town. I knew of a special little harbour that is home to many of the small traditional fishing boats. I set my easel up there for my demonstration. I showed the group how I approach a drawing with lots of ‘planning lines’ before I added watercolour. The name of the boat is Felicia and my little study is now in the private collection of it’s fisherman owner.

Boat with eye


Fishing Boats

Watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

Shady spots weren’t hard to find. This little harbour was a lovely spot to paint. Can you see the painters under the far wall?

Harbour with painters

We weren’t the only ones painting!


Forgot your sketching stool? Don’t worry about it. The local fisherman were gentlemen and provided a comfortable perch for one of our painters.

Barb and Chair

Once again, it was back to the hotel for a look at our work. Tomorrow, we’re off to the baroque towns of Ragusa and Noto. Stay tuned!

Sunday Critique a

Sunday Critique a

Sunday Critique b

Sunday Critique b





SM de Allende, Mexico – Sunday and Monday



We convened at our studio, the Salon Aldama, on Sunday morning. I did a sustained watercolour demonstration which I completed in a little under an hour. My demos aren’t always so long but I wanted to take the group through a process. Also, I talk throughout my demonstrations, sharing my thoughts and decisions. Sunday morning, I discussed everything from basic brush-handling to soft-edge technique and colour mixing.

Watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

My subject may seem a bit unorthodox. It’s a view from our hotel parking lot. It has several elements, however, that we see from day to day in SM de Allende.

Our Sunday painting site was the park; Parque Benito Juarez. The park is a lovely green space surrounded by picturesque villas. It’s also adjacent to the outdoor public laundry where several of the students settled in for the morning.

Marie, Nancy and Elizabeth at work

Karen at work

It was back to our hotel for critique at the end of the day.



The focus of my Tuesday morning demonstration was on several of the things we see and deal with as artists every day in our ‘en plein air’ watercolour workshop. Flowers and foliage, stones and walls.

Watercolour demonstration sheet by Barry Coombs

Our site was Plaza San Antonio, a quiet square off the beaten track, with a church and a small park. There’s a school across from the church and the attentions of the charming and well-behaved kids are always a treat. Everyone found a shady spot and got to work.

Nancy at work

Carolyn at work

Marlene at work

Joan and Fiona at work

Another great day and another critique. Lots of nice work! Everyone has been working hard and we all looked forward to our free day on Tuesday.



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.



IMG_4943   IMG_4947IMG_4982


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.