Posts Tagged ‘still-life painting’

Winter Wednesday Watercolour Class at DVSA – Week Four!

15/03/2020

Last Wednesday, I was back at Dundas Valley School of Art. It was the final evening class in a short series of four. My demonstrations on the first three nights had focused on various fundamentals of process and technique. What to do for the final evening?

I decided to paint a small work (7 x 6″) from start to finish. I followed a forgiving light to dark and big to small process. I worked quickly and discussed my thoughts and decisions as I painted. I completed it in about 32 minutes thanks to a handy hair dryer. I rarely do a whole painting as a demonstration but, once in a while, I think the students can benefit from seeing all of the steps.

Something clicked. This group has been a pleasure to work with and their progress over four short evenings has been remarkable. Click on the critique image to view a larger version.

That’s it until spring term. The schedule is up in the air right now due to the coronavirus. Most of us will be spending much more time at home for the next while. If so, paint a lot and stay well!

Wednesday Evening Critique

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Winter Watercolour Classes at Arts on Adrian – Week Three!

11/03/2020

Cabinet of curios? Treasure Chest? Ye Olde Antique Shoppe? Whatever you want to call it, this still-life offered a variety of opportunities for the watercolour students.

The Sustained Saturday group was first up. I discussed the subtle colours of the still-life; earthy browns and varied greys. Brasses and coppers. I restricted myself to primary colours (yellow, red and blue) and used the three of them to mix all other hues. Why did I do that? Try it sometime. You’ll learn a lot about colour and your palette if you limit yourself to the primaries. Also, your colours will tend to harmonize more successfully when you employ less of them.

As usual, I urged the students to zoom in on an area of interest. I never suggest that they paint the entire still-life. As they work on their thumbnail compositional studies, I walk around the studio and offer my thoughts. The group enjoyed the still-life and their pleasure is evident in the day’s work.

Sustained Saturday Critique

My demonstration for the Tuesday class focused on the same ideas. I showed them the demo sheet from Saturday, as well.

The Tuesday afternoon group also responded enthusiastically to the subject matter. I’m amazed at what they can achieve in three short hours.

Tuesday Afternoon Critique

Currently, I’m planning spring classes and they’ll be posted on this blog in a few days. I’ll send out my usual email notification, too. Of course, the coronavirus may ultimately affect the spring schedule and I’ll address that when I promote the classes. In the meantime, wash your hands and stay well!

Winter Wednesday Watercolour at DVSA – Week Three!

06/03/2020

Thanks for all of your comments about the value of critiques last week! I think that most of us consider the critique to be an indispensable element of an art class.

I chose these colourful gift bags for our still-life at Dundas Valley School of Art on Wednesday evening. First of all, the colours are cheerful. Secondly, the broad, flat planes allowed me to deal with applying even, ungraded washes for my demonstration. I painted the overall shape of this green bag first and strove to keep the wash consistent and without streaks or blossoms.

Following that, I continued to develop the bag, guided by a light to dark and big to small process. I used soft-edge techniques to show value transitions on the ribbon.

It was only our third class (one more to go) and I’m pleased with the progress already. There’s a lot to deal with in the world of observational painting; drawing, composing, grasping light and shadow, brush-handling and more!

Wednesday Critique

Winter Wednesday Watercolour at DVSA – Week Two!

27/02/2020

Last night, I was at Dundas Valley School of Art for the second evening of a four-week watercolour class based on the still-life. As I mentioned last week, the students are a balanced mix of ‘regulars’ and new. By ‘regulars’, I mean students who have done at least two prior still-life courses with me, more than that in some cases. Although this class is not intended for novices, most of the new students have no prior experience with observational work but have taken other watercolour classes at some time.

How does an instructor handle a group of students with various levels of skill and experience? First of all, in the world of non-credit adult education, this is the norm. I’ve been teaching adults for thirty-two years and this has always been the case wherever I’ve taught. So, back to the question.

Last week, I didn’t know the new students at all. My demonstration dealt with the fundamental issue of observational work. Find the light! Also, I briefly touched on soft-edge techniques. We got started and, as I walked around the studio, observing and offering feedback, I quickly grasped the skill levels of the new students.

The thing about traditional, observational work is that watercolour technique is only a partner to the basics of drawing and understanding light and shadow. It’s very challenging to new students especially if they don’t have much of a background in drawing. As I walked around, I felt that all of the new students were able to draw the subject competently. The general grasp of light and shadow was less accomplished but that’s often the case with much more experienced students. This is why I chose the topic for the first demonstration last week.

I started the second class with a demonstration for the whole group. You can see it on the left side of the sheet. A bit of everything was discussed; light and shadow, the value and colour relationships between the various objects and soft-edge technique. Then, I asked the ‘regulars’ to get to work and I kept the new students with me for a few more minutes. The right side of the sheet illustrates my talk about creating soft edges, a core watercolour technique. After this supplementary lesson, the new students got to work.

Back to the question again. This is one way that I deal with a group of students with various levels of skill and experience. I do other things, as well. I suggested that the new students consider a sheet of studies of individual objects rather than tackling a full composition, for example. Also, I constantly stress process over product. To the new student, their first four evenings of still-life painting are merely an introduction to the process. It’s a learning experience. The regulars continue to develop their observational and watercolour skills as well as their grasp of colour and composition, also a learning experience.

I’ve enjoyed the first two evenings. Everyone has worked hard. Our attendance was diminished a bit by a winter storm but we still had a lot to look at for our critique at the end of the class. The critique, by the way, is a critical part of the learning experience but not the only opportunity to learn. The engaged students will learn a lot from each other as they walk around during breaks and look at the other paintings in progress as well as during the critique. I offer constructive critiques and I emphasize that the critique is not a competition but an opportunity to learn from the feedback given to every participant.

I’ve written a lengthy post now and only scratched the surface about adult studio-based art classes. Before we look at the paintings from last night, I have a question for you. How much do you value critiques in the art classes you’ve taken? Please, comment.

Wednesday Critique

 

Winter Wednesday Watercolour Class at DVSA!

22/02/2020

I was back at Dundas Valley School of Art on Wednesday for the first evening class of a series of four. The group was a very balanced mix of ‘regular’ students and new (to me) ones. All have some experience in the watercolour medium but not all had done a lot of, or any, prior observational still-life painting. Everyone was keen, however, and I’m looking forward to the next three classes.

Finding and preserving the key light may be the most critical element of observational and representational work. It’s always challenging in a studio lit with numerous fluorescent tubes. I always place a lamp with a strong bulb over the still-life and that’s the light source we try to heed. The fluorescent lights confuse the issue but, alas, we need them to see what we’re doing. At the start of the class, and once in a while throughout, I’ll turn off the overhead tubes for a few minutes. This helps everyone see the important light much better and always enhances the still-life.

My demonstration focused on finding the light and also on creating interest in the shadowy areas of the objects. I like to emphasize the positive but the right side of the sheet shows a few examples of ‘how not to draw’. I’d already presented my more positive drawing approach briefly in the mortar and pestle study on the left.

There are a lot of objects in my still-lifes but I never recommend that the students paint them all. I suggest that they choose an area of the collection and do a thumbnail compositional study before enlarging it on their watercolour sheet. With several students new to this experience, I also suggested that they forget about composing and painting a group of objects but create a sheet of individual studies. Some chose this route and I think that the focus on practice over product will make the class a more successful learning experience for them.

I enjoyed the evening and the enthusiasm of the group. Stay tuned for their efforts over the next three Wednesday evenings. As one of my DVSA colleagues says, “practice makes progress”!

Wednesday Critique

 

Winter Watercolour Classes at Arts on Adrian – Week Two!

12/02/2020

I was back at Arts on Adrian in Toronto this week for Sustained Saturday and Tuesday afternoon classes. The organic objects in the still-life are things that I have rarely or never used. Ya Li pears are the pale yellow fruits. The green vegetables are chayotes, a type of squash from Central America. I liked setting them off with the carved wooden objects and thought that the still-life had a bit of a Mexican mural look.

The ornate carving posed the greatest challenge so I addressed it with my demonstration. Do you ever try to read my notes in the top right corner of the demo sheets? This sheet shows four bullet points:
• simplification
• editing
• creative licence
• reverse values

We almost always discuss simplification and editing. Creative licence is closely related. What can we do to make the painting work best? Reversing the value is an idea that I employed with some of the decorative carving. I didn’t write down ‘negative painting’ but I used that, as well.

I reversed the values in the upper part of the vase on the left. That way, I didn’t have to painstakingly paint around all of the light ‘lines’. In the barrel in the middle, I used a negative approach and painted around the lighter areas. I know, I know! Masking fluid is available at art stores. Well, it’s not something I use and I don’t promote it in my classes. We try to solve the problems with the basic tools; brushes, paint. Add a lot of analysis and thought to that short list.

The still-life offered many opportunities. I suggested that the students zoom in and find a composition. Also, as interesting as the wooden objects were, I felt they should be used to bring out the light on the pears and squashes as much as possible.

Our usual Saturday crowd was somewhat diminished in number but we had a very pleasant day. One of our regulars, Karen, had to leave early but I photographed her lovely painting before she packed up.

Watercolour by Karen W

As for the rest on Saturday, here are the results. Click on a critique image to view a larger version.

Sustained Saturday Critique

I started the Tuesday class with a look at the Saturday demonstration. We discussed it in general and then I offered a closer study of the areas show here.

Watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

The Tuesday students responded to the still-life with enthusiasm and did very well. Not everyone was able to finish but I was quite pleased with their work.

Tuesday Afternoon Critique

Winter Watercolour Classes at Arts on Adrian – Week One!

15/01/2020

This is a very dramatically-lit photo of our still-life for the Saturday and Tuesday classes. Maybe, the unusual lack of snow in these parts made me long for some white in my visual world. Come to think of it, I hadn’t presented white objects for quite a while so it seemed to be a good idea. Also, white objects make us focus on values, of course, and so it was a great way to kick off the winter classes.

First of all, let me show you a few close-up views of the still-life. I always recommend that the students select an area of the still-life as opposed to doing the entire thing. As you can see, there were many potential compositions to choose from.

On Saturday, I discussed colour options for making objects look white. In addition to that, I talked about observation and distinguishing direct light from reflected light. The white of the paper may seem like the best option for the areas of direct light but we considered some others. The three vertical swatches show cool, warm and neutral options for off-whites (as well as darker values of each).

The dark rectangle on the upper left has a whitish area within it. This closer look will show you faint hints of colour that give the white a nice glow. I created it by wetting the area. While wet, I randomly touched in some very diluted yellow, red and blue. Here’s a closer look:

This is the work from the Sustained Saturday class. Click on the image to view a larger version.

Sustained Saturday Critique

On Tuesday afternoon, we first looked at the demonstration from Saturday. Then, I began a new sheet with a few variations of our theme. In the pitcher on the left, I used a blue/violet combination for the shadows. In the small pitcher on the right, I deliberately exaggerated the dark shadow areas and I varied the wash quite a bit. I wanted the students to feel comfortable, if not courageous, when adding interest to large areas of shadow.

I had a full house on Tuesday afternoon and there was a nice energy in the studio. I think it shows in the work they accomplished! Same suggestion; click on it for a better look.

Tuesday Afternoon Critique

 

Fall Wednesday Watercolour Class at DVSA – Final Week!

22/11/2019

I wanted a cheerful subject for our final class this fall at Dundas Valley School of Art and these colourful peppers fit the bill nicely. Warm colours such as red, yellow and orange can be tricky to work with; particularly when one mixes the darker values. With that in mind, I talked mostly about colour mixing to start things off. Also, I took a shot at a red pepper and discussed the steps including the initial drawing, soft-edge washes and some useful brush-handling techniques.

I’ve enjoyed the group this term and been very pleased with their progress. During our critique on Wednesday evening, I pointed out that a successful painting isn’t judged solely by the ‘realistic’ rendering of the individual objects. A successful work is the sum of it’s parts. The skill to render a pepper realistically can be learned with practice. Creating bright, colourful paintings like the students did is no mean feat and not to be under-rated.

As usual, remember to click on the critique image to view a larger version. Thanks for following along for the past eight weeks! Thanks to you, this blog received it’s 280,000th view the other day.

By the way, the still-life served another important role; delicious stuffed peppers prepared by Aleda O’Connor! Check out her website.

Wednesday Critique

 

 

Fall Wednesday Watercolour Class at DVSA – Week Seven!

16/11/2019

We had our first big snowfall earlier this week in southern Ontario. I thought this still-life might suggest warmer climes. Whether or not it did, the watercolour students at Dundas Valley School of Art enjoyed it. I didn’t do a demonstration on Wednesday evening. Instead, I reviewed the demos from the first six classes and discussed the elements of the still-life. This approach gave the students more painting time than usual and they responded very well.

Progress continues to be made. I stress that the whole painting be considered. All of the relationships within the frame of reference will affect the outcome. In particular, that means the backgrounds must be considered. On Wednesday, several different treatments of the background were implemented; warm colours, cool colours, light values, darker values, geometric, and graded washes. Which do you think work best?

As usual, click on the critique to view a larger version. Thanks for following!

Wednesday Critique

Fall Watercolour Classes at Arts on Adrian – Week Three!

13/11/2019

The rusty and dusty objects visited Arts on Adrian in Toronto last Saturday and yesterday. It’s a more complex arrangement than I’d used last week at Dundas Valley School of Art as the AonA students are quite experienced so I increased the challenge. Also, the Sustained Saturday group has a whole day to paint.

I suggested that the students zoom in on the still-life for several reasons. When you zoom in, the shapes get bigger within your frame of reference. The shapes can take on a somewhat more abstract quality, as well, especially when you crop them. Here’s an example:

With that in mind, I did a compositional sketch focusing on one area. I made a few alternations and I used a 3×4 format. Many watercolour blocks and sheets are 3×4 (12×16″, 18×24″, etc). Shouldn’t your compositional sketch be in the same format as your paper?

These weathered old things have a lot of texture so I discussed a few ways to create texture with watercolour. Soft-edge techniques can work. So can the use of other materials such as wax. I brought in some very cheap stiff bristle paint brushes and they work very well for creating texture with a drybrush approach.

I was pleased that the students enjoyed the still-life very much. They put that pleasure into their work and it really shows! Remember to click on a critique image to view a larger version.

Sustained Saturday Critique

Tuesday Critique