Posts Tagged ‘University of Toronto’

Plein Air Toronto 2018 – Final Two Days!



We visited St. James Cathedral in the heart of downtown Toronto on Thursday. The cathedral grounds abut a well-treed park with lovely gardens.

I set up to demonstrate and, being day four, asked the participants if they had any pressing questions before we began to paint. The key question concerned the four-value planning studies that had been a theme all week long. It was a good question. I proceeded to paint a small four-value study. You can probably tell that I invented the simple subject but the exercise helped to clarify the process for everyone.

We enjoyed a lovely, sunny day with a fresh breeze.

The shade of the cathedral wall provided a sheltered spot for our critique.

Thursday Critique a

Thursday Critique b

One more day of painting together! We met at St. Michael’s College on the downtown University of Toronto campus. Historic architecture, gardens and public sculpture highlighted the subject matter at this charming and peaceful oasis in the city core. As usual, we met for my demonstration.

I followed up on Thursday’s ‘Q and A’ lesson with another discussion of value. Looking at a sun-dappled doorway, I sketched in pencil. Next, I determined my lightest lights and, leaving them as paper-white, I shaded a light middle value everywhere else. The participants were interested in the simplification of a complex subject. I added a bit of a dark middle value and that was enough to communicate the lesson. Later on, I added a wash to further clarify the pattern.

Once again, the weather was spectacular and everyone enjoyed the location.

All good things come to an end, apparently! It was a wonderful week of creativity and companionship. Have a look at the Friday critique.

Friday Critique

I thank all of the participants for their hard work and enthusiasm. Thanks for following us. Next stop is Grand Manan Island and that workshop starts on July 29. Care to join us? There are a few spots left. Click here for the details.


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 – Days Two and Three


PleinAirTO2014  Northrop Frye - PleinAirTO2014

Yesterday, we visited the downtown campus of the University of Toronto. Our main site was the St. Michael’s College and Victoria College vicinity. As you can see, there’s a very creative feel to the campus. The gentleman on the left is the famous literary critic and theorist, Northrop Frye.

We started off the day with a discussion about combining pen with watercolour. In this demonstration, I did a pencil drawing first and watercolour second. The pen work was the final step.

Step one of pen and watercolour by Barry Coombs - PleinAirTO2014  Step two of pen and watercolour by Barry Coombs - PleinAirTO2014

More rain! We expected a wet day and we got it. St. Michael’s College, however, has ample overhead protection and plenty of subject matter. We were able to start painting and sketching in the open but, eventually, moved to shelter.

Judy at Work - PleinAirTO2014

Evelyn at Work - PleinAirTO2014

After lunch, I demonstrated an approach to watercolour sketching that works well on a wet day. It takes forever for washes to dry, so I paint the basic component shapes first and leave spaces between them so they don’t run into each other. Can you see the white lines? Sooner or later, the first shapes are dry enough to add some details such as stonework. The Italian flag was one of many international flags hanging in a courtyard.


Our critique took place under cover. Given the space, we broke it up into three batches.

Tuesday Critique - PleinAirTO2014

Tuesday Critique - PleinAirTO2014

Tuesday Critique - PleinAirTO2014

Tuesday Critique - PleinAirTO2014

Black Creek Pioneer Village, a wonderful historic site, was our venue for Wednesday. It’s a great place to paint and the weather actually cooperated. My morning demonstration sheet dealt with questions and ideas that had surfaced over our first two days. I also discussed a few things that were particularly relevant to our site.

Watercolour demo sheet by Barry Coombs - PleinAirTO2014

Wednesday Demo - PleinAirTO2014

We settled in for a full day of sun-drenched sketching and painting, enjoying the sights, sounds and smells of this nostalgic remnant of a bygone rural Ontario.

Pat and Jane at Work - PleinAirTO2014  Tinsmith - PleinAirTO2014

Window - PleinAirTO2014  Laura at Work - PleinAirTO2014

Horse and Wagon - PleinAirTO2014

Elizabeth at Work - PleinAirTO2014

Sheep at Work - PleinAirTO2014

Everyone seemed tired but happy as we convened for our daily critique.

Wednesday Critique - PleinAirTO2014

Wednesday Critique - PleinAirTO2014

Wednesday Critique - PleinAirTO2014



Plein Air Toronto – Day One!



Stately University College was the site for day one of our week of plein air sketching and painting. Each day, we’ll visit a different park or historic site in Toronto, Ontario. University College is situated on the main campus of the University of Toronto, in the heart of the city’s downtown core.


It was a beautiful day but we were very fortunate to finish by 4 pm. Half an hour later the monsoon began. Toronto has experienced flooding and power outages this evening. Hopefully, everything will be restored for tomorrow.

How could we have known? Here are some of our artists innocently enjoying the historic architecture and the leisurely pace of summertime campus life.




Several of our artists were new to outdoor work and spent the day sketching. Most of the more experienced went straight to their watercolours. We held our critique on-site and it looks like we’re going to see some exciting work in the week ahead.


Toronto Outdoor Week – Days Three and Four


WEDNESDAY: We visited Riverdale Farm and the adjacent Necropolis on Wednesday. The farm is always a good experience. It’s right downtown and chickens peck at your feet while you’re concentrating on a sketch. I did a pen and watercolour demonstration at the start of the day. There’s a lovely chapel at the gates of the Necropolis and I’ve drawn just a section of it.

The weather has been cooperative this week and everyone settled in for a good day of sketching and painting. I even made friends with a local art critic (below right).

I visit the workshop participants regularly during the day but, sometimes, I take the time to prepare a piece for an afternoon discussion/demonstration. You can see three steps of a pen and watercolour study of a barn interior below. The first step is a wet-in-wet wash over the pencil drawing. I added some local colour and deepened the interior with the second step. I believe that’s some kind of horse collar hanging on the post but I’m definitely no authority on barnyard paraphernalia.

I did this pen work at the end of the day, just before our critique. I don’t consider it to be finished at this stage. Actually, I rarely finish demonstrations as I often dig them out of the pile at a later date and show them to another group. If they’re finished, an observer is less able to see the process involved.

THURSDAY: The University of Toronto has a large and attractive downtown campus made up of several colleges. We worked at St. Michael’s College today and it’s village-like atmosphere is very conducive to a relaxing day of art.

I thought about our first three days before planning my morning demonstration. Everyone had done well but part of my  job is to notice the less successful things and to make suggestions as to their improvement. My morning demo was a sort of worksheet, reviewing some ideas from earlier in the week as well as drawing attention to some of the current site’s challenges.

This area features a popular sculpture called “Neighbours” by Joe Rosenthal (2001). It was equally popular as a subject for sketching and painting. I thought I’d forgotten my pencils and sketched the study below with an orange pen. I mixed up three values of wash, applying the lightest first and touching in the darker values while still wet. I was going to continue this study with black pen but decided to leave it for a while. I like it’s simplicity.

We endured a brief thundershower in the afternoon, our only wet spell thus far. The back of the Pratt Library is recessed about eight feet and provided a dry shelter for us. After the rain, the Rosenthal sculpture continued to attract our painters (below left). I made a quick pen and watercolour sketch of this artist at work. It was a prelude to my Friday morning demonstration at Edward’s Gardens.