Posts Tagged ‘Toronto studio watercolour classes’

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

 

Cubist Watercolour Weekend at Arts on Adrian!

27/11/2019

SATURDAY
I’ve presented this workshop to many art clubs and classes over the years. For a long time, my own watercolours were based on a playful and colourful response to Cubism, the early Modernist period that I’ve always loved. Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque and Juan Gris were the giants of Cubist painting. I kicked things off Saturday morning with a slide talk about their work and it’s context in art history.

Our theme was a ‘Tuscan’ village. Here are a few examples of villages from some of the great Cubists.

Georges Braque

Pablo Picasso

Juan Gris

This entire weekend was a creative exercise with an experimental component. Almost everyone was initially out of their comfort zone but we approached our paintings through a series of well-defined steps. Our first ‘Cubist’ project was a value study in sepia. The participants had brought in photo reference of Tuscan villages. They studied the reference and selected various buildings and shapes that interested them. They drew simplified versions of these shapes onto sheets of cartridge paper. Next, they cut them out with scissors and created collage-like compositions on a new sheet of cartridge paper. The format was the same as a quarter sheet of watercolour paper (11 x 15″ or close to it). Once the compositions were resolved, they were transferred to actual quarter sheets of watercolour paper.

Four steps were taken to develop the value studies. First, the drawing. Second, a middle tone wash that covers everything but some randomly selected shapes that are left as paper white. Third, a darker middle tone wash. Finally, some darks. This exercise helped distance us from traditional realism and made us aware of the importance of a strong pattern in our paintings. A mix of either Cobalt Blue or Ultramarine Blue with Burnt Sienna was used.

I worked along with the group. Here are the two final steps of my demonstration.

  

This exercise took up most of Saturday. However baffled, the students followed the process and these are the results. Click on this image and you’ll see a larger version.

Cubist Value Studies

SUNDAY
Our next step was to enlarge the composition to a half sheet (15 x 22″). The half sheet is a different proportion than a quarter sheet, roughly 2 x 3 versus 3 x 4, so adjustments had to be made as they were drawn up.

Before we started painting, we talked about two things, colour and texture. We discussed the basic colour systems such as analogous and complimentary. We also considered using neutrals like greys and browns. I asked them to work out a palette and try to stick with it. Texture was intended to be a big part of the experience. Soft-edge, wax, rubber cement, spattering with a toothbrush and drybrush were all considered.

And we painted. I worked on my sustained demonstration while offering feedback to the group. This is my watercolour in progress.

The students plugged away all afternoon and their Cubist villages began to take shape. It was a lot of fun to walk around the studio as the colourful and cheerful images emerged out of the process. Although it was challenging, everyone followed the same basic steps and found plenty of room for personal and individual interpretation.

Only a few managed to finish but we’ll take a look at them anyway. I asked them to email me the paintings once they had a chance to complete them at home. I’ll finish mine as well and will post the results in a few weeks.

Remember to click on a critique image to view a larger version. There’s a lot going on in these watercolours and a better look is needed to fully appreciate them.

Cubist Critique a

Cubist Critique b

Cubist Critique c

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

Fall Watercolour Classes at Arts on Adrian – Week Two!

30/10/2019

I tried something a little different at Arts on Adrian this week. The still-life is based on the paintings of Luis Egidio Meléndez (Spanish 1716-80). A few weeks ago, I was showing some of his work to the students on my iPad. It was well-received so I formed a plan.

First of all, I didn’t do a demonstration for either the Sustained Saturday or Tuesday afternoon class. Instead, I prepared a short presentation using my projector. We looked at several of Meléndez’ paintings and discussed them.

Luis Egidio Meléndez Spanish (1716-80)

Luis Egidio Meléndez Spanish 1716-80

The students were very inspired by these striking still-life paintings and it shows in their watercolours. Several of them suggested that I do more classes with an art historical emphasis! More work for me, I guess. Fortunately, I’m a lifelong student of art history and enjoy the research.

Make sure you click on a critique image to view a larger version. You’ll definitely want to study these more closely. Also, take a second to think about Luis Egidio Meléndez. He died in poverty.

Sustained Saturday Critique

Tuesday Afternoon Critique

Fall Watercolour Classes at Arts on Adrian – Week One!

09/10/2019

My autumnal theme continued at Arts on Adrian in Toronto this week. I created a  challenging still-life of pumpkins, squashes and gourds with the backdrop of baskets and boxes. The first students to take it on were my Sustained Saturday group. It’s a full day of painting. The Tuesday afternoon students worked from the same still-life and I gave the same demonstration/lesson to both groups.

I also continued with the ‘back to basics’ lesson I offered to the Dundas Valley School of Art students last Wednesday evening. My focus again was light and shadow and how it can be used to create form and pattern in a painting. Observational painting and drawing is a balance between the visual and the rational, what we see and what we understand. Seeing light and shadow can be very difficult, even with a good lamp on the still-life. Squinting helps. Turning off other lights in the studio helps. Still, an understanding of how the objects receive the direct light from the lamp is crucial.

Imagine the circles in the upper row of my demonstration sheet as spherical objects, like oranges. The arrows indicate the light direction. In these cases, I’ve lit them from the upper right.  The direct light (paper-white) and the core shadow (blue-grey wash) meet at the cusp. Which ones feel right to you?

• The one on the left shows the cusp as a straight edge. That doesn’t make much sense on a curving surface. Also, the sphere is evenly divided between light and shadow. This creates symmetry and that usually makes an object look flat.
• Second from the left? The curve of the cusp is curving in the same direction as the bottom edge of the sphere and gives the light area the shape of a football. Doesn’t work for me.
• Third from the left? This sphere is lit, like the others, from the upper right and a little bit behind the sphere, which creates more shadow on the object. Backlit, essentially. Note that the curve of the cusp corresponds to the closest edge of the sphere! In this case, that’s the upper edge of the sphere. This makes sense to me.
• The final sphere is lit more from the front and the light area is larger than the shadow area. Again, the cusp curve is similar to the closest edge and, this time, it’s the lower edge of the object. It gets a check-mark, in my books.
• One last thought! Look again at the two spheres on the right with the check-marks. Note that the light on the backlit one is in the shape of a crescent. The shadow on the rightmost sphere is also in the shape of a crescent. These curving shapes help to describe the sphere.

Understanding light and shadow is a discipline. The great Italian Renaissance artists called it chiaroscuro. It takes thought and practice and it pays off. It worked for the Old Masters, didn’t it?

I didn’t insist that the students just do value studies. Earlier, I’d leafed through past demonstrations and showed them to both classes. There are many ways to skin a cat and these sheets show a few different options.

It wasn’t a bad way to kick off the season of still-life painting in the studio. As usual, the students applied themselves thoughtfully and here are the results. Click on these critique images to view larger versions.

Sustained Saturday Critique

Tuesday Critique

Spring Watercolour Classes at Arts on Adrian – Week Three!

15/05/2019

We continue to suffer through a cold, wet spring in southern Ontario. I tried to brighten things up with a colourful still-life. On Saturday, I reviewed some ideas about colour mixing. White is always challenging, especially when you don’t have any white paint in your palette. I used a mixture of Raw Sienna and Cobalt Blue for the white jar. The very diluted first wash is almost invisible but gives a warmish tint to the paper.

We had a smaller group than usual with a few Saturday stalwarts off traveling here and there. They were missed but it was still a great day at the Arts on Adrian studio.

Sustained Saturday Critique

I discussed the same colour ideas with the Tuesday students. In addition to that, I elaborated on the white jar. I used the same mixture again but took it a few steps further. This jar would look much whiter, of course, if the other darker objects were painted around it. Paint relationships and not just things!

That’s it for our spring term at Arts on Adrian! I thank all of the students and also our viewers for following and commenting. I’ll be back at Arts on Adrian in the fall. Before you go, have a look at the watercolour paintings from the Tuesday class.

Tuesday Critique

 

 

 

Spring Watercolour Classes at Arts on Adrian – Week Two!

01/05/2019

Wait a minute! Where’s the still-life? I was well prepared for the Saturday and Tuesday classes at Arts on Adrian in Toronto. I thought, for a change, I’d show you how the still-life was assembled.

Our theme made the studio interior feel more spring-like than what we could see out the window. It was a cold and wet April in our neck of the woods. Setting this up was a fair bit of work but worth it as the students enjoyed it very much. This is what they see (above) and the next image is what you see.

All set! Bring on the students. I believe that the Arts on Adrian studio matches any other in the region for lighting, facilities and general comfort. Coffee is always on, cookies lead to temptation and there’s an ensuite washroom.

On Saturday, the full day class, I demonstrated with a 3/4″ flat angled brush. I drew a bit in pencil first and worked quickly with the brush. I talked as I painted, discussing various elements of the still-life.

I didn’t insist that everyone else use a flat angled brush. Some did. Others stuck with their rounds. Either way, a lot of solid work was accomplished.

Sustained Saturday Critique

One of our students, Karen W, had to leave early to attend a wedding. Here’s her work in progress.

Work in progress by Karen W

We looked at my Saturday demonstration on Tuesday morning. In addition to that, I zoomed in on a few of the key elements of the still-life.

The Tuesday students made the most of their afternoon of painting. Here’s their work! Don’t forget to click on any critique image to view a larger version.

Tuesday Critique

 

Spring Watercolour Classes at Arts on Adrian – Week One!

17/04/2019

I’m back from sunny Mexico to some less than welcoming spring weather. All the more reason to set up a bright and cheerful still-life for the Saturday and Tuesday watercolour students. I had the still-lifes of Paul Cézanne in mind.

Cézanne developed his gorgeous, luminous watercolours with brushstrokes of pure colour over a pencil drawing. I didn’t mimic his process exactly with my demonstration but we discussed it as I painted. I never insist that the students emulate my demo but I did ask them to give it a try, even as a study for an hour or so. Saturday is a six hour class so there’s time to experiment and explore.

Most gave it a shot and a few spent the day pursuing the approach. Not everyone liked it but they’re always willing to consider new ideas.

Sustained Saturday Critique

The Tuesday students worked from the same still-life. It’s a three hour class and, at the beginning, I sensed some interest in the fabrics and folds. My demonstration, as a result, was a simplified study of a section of fabric and they found it helpful.

They don’t have a full day but they really work hard and they’re quite good at selecting and composing. Basically, they selected and zoomed in on an area of the still-life that attracted their eye. Not taking on too much gave them a better chance to resolve their work in the time available.

Don’t forget to click on a critique image to view a larger version!

Tuesday Critique

Painting from Photos in Watercolour at Arts on Adrian!

04/03/2019

I’ve never been an advocate of painting from photographs although I have done it on occasion in the distant past. Let me clarify my thought. I have used photos as reference. My ‘Cubist’ watercolours have always been inspired by memory, imagination, sketches and, at times, some photo reference. My more traditional bird drawings and paintings, however, rely greatly on my own photographic reference. However, I don’t copy photos verbatim and I don’t understand why anyone does so. Technical virtuosity and rendering skills, no matter how sublime, do not necessarily equal art.

North Head, Grand Manan
by Barry Coombs

 

 

 

 

 

White-throated Sparrow
by Barry Coombs

Many artists do work from photographs, though, and many do it well. An artist is capable of transforming the photographic reference into something personal and beautiful.

I prefer the tradition of ‘en plein air’ and direct observation and it’s mostly what I teach. As a longtime instructor, it’s been impossible to avoid the preference many students hold for working from photographs. I decided to deal with the practice by offering a one-day workshop.

The participants sent me three photos each ahead of time. I created a PowerPoint presentation so that we could look at them all together and identify potential problems. We broke it down into three categories: composition, light and shadow and colour.

First of all, we looked at watercolours from masters of the medium that were all painted without the aid of photographs. Then, we looked at the photos sent by the students. Our goal was to find the essence of the subject. In order to do so, all of the images required some serious consideration.

We looked at this lovely snowy scene from Karen W. I made a few suggestions. Eliminate or move the two trees in the lower left corner. Remove the sign or whatever it is in the same area. Lose the wire seen across the roof. Re-design the foliage to show the viewer more of the building. Re-design the trees on the left to deepen the space and suggest a pathway. Karen had a great idea and shortened the roof so it wouldn’t run off the righthand edge of the painting.

Our next step was to decide on a format. Most of our pads and watercolour blocks are of a 3 x 4 proportion (9 x 12, 12 x 16). The format was drawn directly onto the photograph and a grid was created. Then, a smaller image, in exactly the same proportion, was drawn and a four-value study was completed. Have a look at what Karen W did. Later on, you’ll see her sustained watercolour in progress in the critique image.

Gridded Photo and Study
by Karen W

Once a small study was completed, the grid was used to transfer the image to a watercolour sheet, in exactly the same proportion! The rest of the afternoon, for the most part, was spent painting. I interrupted at one point for a brief discussion of copyright and ethical issues that often arise when working from photos. Of course, if you always use your own photo you don’t have to concern yourself with these issues.

The day went very well. Not everyone was able to finish their work but all went away with a better understanding of the potential problems and pitfalls of simply copying a photograph and the many creative benefits of interpreting their photographic image. Here are a few of the photos that were used.

And here are the paintings! Click on the critique image to view a larger version. Karen’s painting is on the upper left.

Painting from Photos Critique

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright and ethics