Posts Tagged ‘still-life drawing’

The Dramatic Pen at DVSA!


I was at the Dundas Valley School of Art yesterday, joined by a full studio of enthusiastic art students. The title of the workshop, the Dramatic Pen, refers to the use of black and white ink on a toned or tinted paper. This practice goes back a long way. We looked at a book of German drawings and I’m showing a few here from the great Albrecht Dürer.

The paper colour in the German drawings varied from grays to blues, greens, deep reds and exciting purples. The tone of the paper, regardless of colour, acts as a middle tone. The colour of the paper often dramatized and enhanced the subject.


The tools of our trade were fairly simple. Pigment ink pens in black and white were used. The white pen is a Uniball Signo broad. I would have preferred a somewhat finer nib but it was unavailable at our local art supply store. The black pen is a #8 Pilot drawing pen. Our paper is Canson pastel paper, purchased in a pad.

We kicked off with a discussion of basic volumes and principles of light and shadow. This gave us a chance to try out the pens and work on our cross-hatching technique. Note that the white is reserved exclusively for areas of direct light.

Our next project was of a garlic and each student was issued one. The creases in the skin of the garlic helped us decide on line direction. Here are two steps of my demonstration:

The students selected the paper colour of their own choice. They did a great job with their garlics. If you click on any of the critique images, you’ll see a larger version.

Garlic critique a

Garlic critique b

Our final drawing was of a beautiful Henry Moore sculpture. Wait a minute! That sure resembles a dog chew. No offence intended to the great Henry Moore. The organic quality of the dog chew made it a good subject. Have a look at two steps of my demonstration. I added a bit of stippling to this study.

Once the comments about dog chews died down, everyone applied themselves to the task at hand.

I’m offering one more workshop this spring; Introduction to Portraiture in Pen and Ink on Thursday, June 14. Stay tuned!


Pen and Ink Studio at DVSA – Week Seven!



NUTS! The students screamed in unison when I showed them the subject for our pen and ink drawings yesterday at the Dundas Valley School of Art. Well, I’m exaggerating. They always wonder what will emerge from my bag of tricks and they’re forever keen to test their skills.

We covered a lot of ground yesterday. Let’s start with my demonstration. I drew a dish in pencil.

Step one of pen and ink demonstration by Barry Coombs

Next, I added some nuts. Two in the dish and one in front of it. I decided on a light source coming from the upper right. Look at the little study on the bottom right of the sheet. This helped me simplify the light and shadow pattern on my subject.

Step two of pen and ink demonstration by Barry Coombs

Those messy pen lines on the upper sheet are a result of another demonstration. The students asked me for my thoughts on using a traditional metal nib with a bottle of India ink. We’ve been using disposable sketching pens for our drawings in class. No muss, no fuss! The traditional tools can be messy. Spills. Heartbreaking blobs in the middle of a drawing you’ve spent hours on. So, the disposable pens are fine for our learning process. However, the metal nib, used thoughtfully and with care, can give a drawing a special quality.

The next image shows my setup and tools. The paper is Strathmore Bristol, vellum surface. The nib is a School 56 and it’s in a wooden holder. My ink is Speedball Super Black India Ink, my favourite! The wide mouth and base help prevent spills. The white tester card helps prevent blobs. I test the pen every time I dip it in the ink before I touch my drawing. I also clean my nib every 5 minutes or so with paper towel and an organic nib cleaning fluid (spit). Oh, and there’s my demonstration again with most of the ink work completed.

Step three of pen and ink demonstration by Barry Coombs

The students enjoyed the nuts.

Pen and Ink Studio Critique

Pen and Ink Studio Critique

Before I sign off, let’s take a moment to look at some of the personal projects. The sunflowers are a work in progress by Vicky. This is a full sheet of watercolour paper and she’s using calligraphy dipping nibs. I took this photo at the start of the class yesterday so there’ll be a lot more to see next week.

Pen and watercolour by Vicky

Pen and watercolour by Vicky

Here’s another drawing by Val. It’s a small piece, approx. 9 x 12″, and she’s combined pen with watercolour.

Pen and watercolour by Val

Pen and watercolour by Val

That’s it, in a nutshell! There’s one more week of Pen and Ink Studio at DVSA. I’ll be offering four one-day pen workshops this spring and they’re already posted on the DVSA website. Join us!

Pen and Ink Studio at DVSA – Week Six!


Every Thursday afternoon this winter, I meet with my dedicated students at the Dundas Valley School of Art for Pen and Ink Studio. I offer a project every afternoon and the students have also been working on personal drawings which combine pen with wash and watercolour. The students are always curious as to what I’ll bring in and I always try to surprise and challenge them. I don’t know what I’d do without dollar stores and thrift shops!


Our colourful trumpets were a cheerful subject and quite a few questions arose as we drew them. We discussed ellipses, in particular, as well as a sound planning process. I’d already erased my pencil ‘planning’ lines before I photographed the demonstration shown below but there were a lot of them! The study in the lower right corner is an analysis of light and shadow on the trumpet.

Step one of pen and watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

I started with the pen before adding watercolour to this drawing and I added more penwork after the watercolour had dried. I left a few paper-white highlights, as well.

Step two of pen and watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

The students did very well with the trumpets. One was particularly chuffed although she didn’t want to toot her own horn (she gets credit for the joke).

Pen and Ink Studio Critique

Pen and Ink Studio Critique

Val brought in two drawings that she’s been working on. The upper one is done with stippling and a grey wash. The lower drawing of objects on a beach utilizes a mix of pen techniques with watercolour. Lovely work, Val!

Pen and Watercolour Projects by Val

Pen and Watercolour Projects by Val


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 Studio at DVSA – Week Four!



I dipped into my treasure trove of drawing subjects yesterday and found an entire ancient realm of castles. Albeit, castles with the names of American resorts. They offered a great opportunity to discuss ideas about handling architecture with pen and ink.

Step one of my demonstration shows some a wet-in-wet wash over a pencil drawing. The wet wash was a combination of Raw Sienna and Cobalt blue, mingling in places to create a grey. The red roofs were added after the first wash dried.

Step one of pen and watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

I did a lot of work on the demo with the pen. Note that before I spent time on any details, I tried to establish the main shapes of light and shadow. We didn’t have table lamps available to light our castles, so we all tried to imagine a single light source. I decided upon a light source from the upper right.

Step two of pen and watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

The castles look complicated but they were a lot of fun to draw. The students did very well. We’re still missing a few holidayers but expect them back in the studio at the Dundas Valley School of Art next week.

Pen and Ink Studio Critique

Pen and Ink Studio Critique

Pen and Ink Studio at DVSA – Week Three!



Don’t wake up the cats! Yesterday, at the Dundas Valley School of Art, we focused on stippling and the cats were perfect models.

Have you ever tried stippling? I call it the personality test. Some people love it and find it very relaxing. Others…. Stippling is done with the tip of the pen. Basically, it’s an accumulation of tiny dots that gradually become shapes of ever-darkening values. It requires patience and it can be time-consuming. Also, one needs to preserve the white of the paper for the light areas. Stippling can be combined with other techniques. Yesterday, we concentrated on stippling on its own.

Stippling demonstration by Barry Coombs

The students all did a drawing of a cat. They also continued working on their personal projects. It was a good pace and the projects are coming along very well. We have a small Pen and Ink Studio group this term and a few are on their winter holiday at the moment. Maybe, the quieter studio was a bonus. The cats slept through the entire afternoon.

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?

Sustained Saturday – Watercolour Plus!


Still LIfe - WinterSat2/2013StillLIfe

I rearranged and added some new ball caps to the pile for the Sustained Saturday students. You may recall these caps from last Tuesday’s classes.

My talk and demonstration covered the same general topics. Simplification of form and soft edge techniques were the main focus. Again, we discussed some different ways to approach this challenging subject.

Watercolour Demonstration by Barry Coombs - WinterSat2/2013

If you’ve followed the Sustained Saturday posts, you may have noticed that there is almost always a pen and ink drawing surrounded by the watercolour paintings. The dedicated pen and ink artist is Trish Leacock. She had to leave a bit early yesterday so I thought it was time to feature her drawing. Trish uses cross-hatching to gradually develop the values in her drawings and, as you can see, she also enjoys to play with her design.

BALL CAPS  by Trish Leacock

by Trish Leacock

Hard to believe but that’s the last Sustained Saturday until the Fall term. As May rolls around, most people are preoccupied with gardening and cottages so I don’t usually offer any Saturdays after the end of April.

I’ll miss the enthusiasm, energy and good humour of the Saturday regulars. I’ll miss their solid watercolour paintings, as well.

Sustained Saturday Critique

Sustained Saturday Critique

Pen and Ink Basics – Wednesday and Saturday


It’s been a busy week. First of all, I’d like to welcome new followers and thank those of you who’ve taken the time to comment. Now, to the matter at hand.

I gave a workshop called ‘Pen and Ink Basics’ twice this week; on Wednesday and Saturday. The students did three drawings and followed a step-by-step approach. Each drawing was started with pencil and completed with pen. Pigment ink or pigment liner drawing pens were used.

Our first exercise was started by drawing a triangle with pencil. We then added a curve to the bottom corners of the triangle, converting it into a cone. We created an arbitrary light source from the upper left of the cone. Step One shows swatches of pen strokes that create an overall tone in the core and cast shadow areas. It looks a bit like a parquet floor, doesn’t it?

In Step Two, the cast shadow and the cusp area of the cone are darkened by cross-hatching. New swatches overlap the earlier ones.

The final step shows a broken line on the left edge of the cone. The cast shadow has been darkened at the ‘point of contact’ with the surface plane. It’s not easy to ‘blend’ gently with the pen and it takes a lot of practice. I’ve tried to blend the left and right edges of the dark cusp to make the cone appear natural and three-dimensional.


For our next exercise, each student received their own small still-life; a bowl with a walnut, an almond and a pecan. Two steps of my demonstration are shown below. We started with hatching (parallel strokes) and used it to develop the light and shadow. Gradually and patiently, darks and detail and texture were developed.

A sleuth of bears joined us and volunteered to pose for our third and final exercise. We used a very similar process but tried different variations of cross-hatching.

Everyone was pooped by the end of each day. The exercises were challenging. Each had three basic components.

1) TECHNIQUE: Variations of hatching and cross-hatching were the key techniques. Stippling (dots) and line weight were also explored.

2) LIGHT AND SHADOW: The students did not have lamps to light their subjects. A single light source had to be imagined and applied consistently to each drawing. A sense of three-dimensional form was the goal and this was probably the most demanding element of the workshop.

3) PROCESS: We started with the big shapes in order to establish a convincing sense of light and shadow. As mentioned above, darks were developed with patience. Detail and texture are very important but great care was taken to preserve the areas of direct light.

The students selected their favourite drawing of the day for our critiques. They did good work but, more importantly, I hope they’ll take these ideas home with them and practice often in their sketchbooks.

Wednesday Critique

Saturday Critique


Sustained Saturday – Watercolour Plus


Still-life - FallSustSat-2012

Autumn is definitely in the air in this part of the world. There’s not much colour in the trees yet but the cool, bright days are very pleasant. The first Sustained Saturday class of the fall term took place in my studio yesterday. Many of the Saturday students are regulars and it was nice to see everyone again.

Almost all of the participants worked in watercolour. One artist drew with pen and ink; hence the word ‘Plus’ in the title of this post.

My demonstration sheet may be deceiving as each of the gourds was painted with a different approach and none of the steps are shown. I’ll try to show some steps in a post later this week.

Watercolour Demonstration by Barry Coombs - FallSustSat-2012

Everyone felt that the day flew by. I hope that’s a good thing. Either way, I was very impressed with their work. Our next Sustained Saturday will take place on the 20th of October.

Sustained Saturday Critique - FallSustSat-2012

Sustained Saturday Critique