Posts Tagged ‘value study’

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

 

Interpret Your Photos in Watercolour at DVSA – Weeks Three and Four!

30/01/2020

WEEK THREE

Wednesday Critique-Week Three

These are the small watercolours that the students completed during the third evening of our four-week course at Dundas Valley School of Art. Also, you can see their four-value studies. I allowed them a lot of painting time but still introduced a few new ideas.

One of those ideas was the notan. Notan is a Japanese word and it means ‘light dark harmony’. A notan is usually a two-value study of the essence of the subject. White and black. I found some excellent information about notans at two websites: drawpaintacademy.com/notan/ and virtualartacademy.com/notan/

Here is a photo I took in Vermont and a notan I made from it. I used pencil and a black marker. You can see a basic grid and you’ll note quite a few little adjustments to the composition.

In addition to that, I talked about other approaches to four-value studies. We’d done ours in watercolour and used ‘sepia’ washes. They can also be done with pencil or markers or just about any medium that works for you.

I did one from a photo that one of my Toronto students had brought in for the one-day workshop last winter (are you reading this, Emilia?). In this case, I used grey and black markers and here are the steps I took:

Courtesy of Emilia

 

  

As you can see, I made some very strong decisions about this composition. I’ve edited a lot and re-arranged the lamppost to better effect, I think. Remember that I’m interpreting the photo and not simply copying it!

We had another discussion about colour mixing, as well as a few tips for painting foliage. The students completed the work shown above and we looked ahead to week four.

WEEK FOUR
We kicked off the evening with a look at the photos the students proposed to interpret for their final project. Several of the group had done homework and I commend their enthusiasm! This work included notans and even some small colour studies.

My goal for the final class was to give them as much painting time as possible. Still, I had two things I wanted to present. First of all, I took a few minutes and showed the gang a book by eminent Australian watercolourist, Robert Wade. His book is entitled Painting More Than The Eye Can See. It’s full of excellent ideas about watercolour process and creative license. You can see how well-worn my copy is.

As the students worked, I provided them with some information regarding copyright, moral rights, the ethics of painting from photos and other related issues.

We covered a great deal of material in four evenings. One student said that her only complaint was that the course was too short. I think she may be right. The next time I propose the course, I’ll probably ask for six or eight weeks.

It was a very nice group and I’ll conclude with a look at the work they did during our final evening. Not everyone finished as we only had a few hours but they all followed a thoughtful process that, with practice, will really bring their photo reference to life!

Click on any critique image to view a larger version.

Wednesday Critique-
Week Four

 

Interpret Your Photos in Watercolour at DVSA – Week Two!

17/01/2020

Last March, I offered a one-day workshop at the Arts on Adrian studio in Toronto. The theme was to better understand the process and potential pitfalls of working from photographs. The day went very well and I expanded it to a four-evening course and offered it this winter at Dundas Valley School of Art.

We started a week ago Wednesday. I didn’t post the first class because we spent a lot of time looking at a PowerPoint presentation that I’d prepared. First of all, I showed a selection of watercolours from masters of the medium that were all painted without the aid of photographs and, of course, they were quite impressive. Then, we looked at photos that I’d taken and some that were submitted by students. Our goal was to identify potential problems, elements in the photos that would not necessarily work in a painting. We also analyzed the photos in terms of composition, light and shadow and colour.

Our overall goal is to transform the photo reference into something special and not simply copy it verbatim. We began by creating a four-value study from a photo during the first class. This is one of my photos and it’s unremarkable although the subject has potential.

I started by selecting an area of the photo in a proportion of 3 x 4 units and drawing a grid over the selected area. I chose 3 x 4 because so many of our standard watercolour blocks and pads are 3 x 4 (9 x 12″, 12 x 16″, 18 x 24″).

Using the grid, I transferred the image to a watercolour sheet. The new image is larger than the gridded photo but it’s in the same proportion of 3 x 4. This small watercolour study is 6 x 8″. It was completed with four values. The lightest is the white of the paper. The light and dark middle tones and the dark tones were mixed with a combination of Burnt Sienna and Cobalt Blue.

Detail isn’t important in the study; simplification is the key. Four values create a strong pattern.

The students began their studies on the first evening but didn’t complete them. We continued with them during the second class. Click on the image to view a larger version of their studies.

Wednesday Critique

The students brought in their own photos for the second class and we had a thorough look at them. Each student picked one and started a four-value study. That experience will reward them with the next step which is a small watercolour painting in full colour.

We discussed a few other things on Wednesday such as mixing greens, browns and greys. Next week, I’ll catch you up with their paintings from their own photos. Also, I’ll be offering some more thoughts on how to effectively interpret your photos in watercolour.

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 Wednesday Watercolour Class at DVSA – Week One!

03/10/2019

It’s pumpkin time in southern Ontario and that means that fall term is underway at the Dundas Valley School of Art. I teach a class called Watercolour: Concept and Technique on Wednesday evenings. It’s an intermediate level class but I always like to start with a few fundamentals. Last night, I discussed value and light and shadow. Our class is still-life based and a solid grasp of these concepts is of key importance to observational painting and drawing.

I kicked things off with a demonstration of a value study. I did a pencil drawing and then mixed a brown wash with Cobalt Blue and Burnt Sienna. I applied the wash everywhere except where I saw direct light hitting the still-life. This simplifies and unifies the subject and creates a pattern in the painting. We also start to feel an emerging three-dimensional quality.

The students got to work following the demonstration. While they worked, I painted another small demonstration and called them over to see the successive steps. This time, I began with a wash of the same two colours but it includes a lot more  Cobalt Blue and appears as a cool grey. Once again, the areas of direct light were left untouched and remain the white of the paper. The ‘panels’ of the squash were painted one at a time, which allowed me more control as I created soft-edge transitions. When the grey washes were completely dry, I glazed thin washes of local colour over the relevant areas.

 

This is a rather old-fashioned way to paint a watercolour and was employed by many of the early English watercolourists hundreds of years ago. All approaches and processes have their pros and cons. This method is very helpful to the student who strives to understand value.

We got off to a good start and I’m looking forward to our next seven Wednesday evenings at DVSA. Please, click on the critique image to view a larger version.

Wednesday Critique

Grand Manan Island, New Brunswick 2019 – Our First Three Days!

20/08/2019

Last week, I led an ‘en plein air’ watercolour workshop on beautiful Grand Manan Island in the Bay of Fundy. This is the twenty-ninth summer that I’ve taught on the island. Our group of workshop participants was a nice blend of repeaters and first-timers. We got to know each other on Sunday evening over a delicious dinner at the lovely Compass Rose Inn.

MONDAY
It was a gorgeous sunny morning and we met in North Head Harbour. I demonstrated in the shade of a large boathouse. My goal was to encourage everyone to spend the day on smaller, quicker watercolour studies rather than settle into a sustained piece right off the bat. With that in mind, I’d prepared a small cardboard frame for each painter. The inside dimension is 4×6″, the size of a postcard.

I worked at my easel. My demonstrations are, in a sense, illustrated discussions. I rarely complete a finished work as a demonstration. My goal is to show a process and discuss it’s benefits. I worked in the 4×6″ format and didn’t do a preliminary pencil drawing. Straight in with the brush! I told the group that I would not criticize them for inaccurate proportion or perspective. I wanted to see what attracted them to the subject; it’s essence. Simplification and editing were stressed. Each painter was asked to do a minimum of two vertical and two horizontal small works over the course of our first day.

Another thing we talk about every morning is the availability of coffee and lunch and, very importantly, the location of the closest washrooms. Eventually, the painters explored the harbour, found their spots and got to work.

Grand Manan is a busy place. Rockweed was being harvested just off the shore as we painted.

I’ll never complain about the sunshine but there is a time for a shady break. Our friend, Kirk, opened up his shed and revealed a whole other range of colourful maritime subject matter.

At the end of the day, we headed to our studio for a critique. This is the first year that we’ve been hosted by the Grand Manan Art Gallery and our liaison, David Ogilvie, made us very welcome.

It was a productive day and I managed to display all of the work together. Click on any critique image in this post in order to view a larger version.

Monday Critique

TUESDAY


The morning was damp and overcast so I gave a demonstration in the studio. I knew the sun would be out soon and it was only day two; a good time to discuss value. Years ago, I painted a watercolour of the now ruined Ross Island lighthouse in my playful quasi-modernist style and donated it to the Permanent Collection of the Grand Manan Art Gallery.

Ross Island Light by Barry Coombs

I drew up the image the night before, simplifying it a great deal. Using a combination of Burnt Sienna and Cobalt Blue, I mixed up three values of a ‘sepia’ wash. Paper white was reserved for the lightest areas, followed by the light and dark middle values and, finally, the darks. This process establishes a light direction as well as a pattern in the image. While working ‘en plein air’, a value study can be very useful if not essential. It’s not necessary to spend forever on it or even to paint it. A quick pencil sketch will often suffice.

Demonstration done! Sun shining! We jumped in our vehicles and went to Woodward’s Cove. The harbour there offers all kinds of great painting material. The group spread out a fair bit but I knew where they all were and enjoyed the exercise as I visited and gave feedback throughout the day.

I’ve conducted outdoor critiques many times over the years but the comfort and proximity of the studio prevailed this week. It was back to the gallery in nearby Castalia at the end of the day, where we broke up the critique into two groups.

Tuesday Critique a

Tuesday Critique b

WEDNESDAY
Seal Cove was the venue for watercolour painting on Wednesday. This popular site still hosts several old sheds that were once used to smoke herring; a key industry in the island’s past. I demonstrated onsite and chose to show an approach I call ‘shape-reading’. As usual, it was an opportunity to look at a subject and discuss a sound process and anticipate potential challenges or problems. The demo was optional as many of the experienced participants had witnessed the approach in other workshops.

Following that, I gathered the participants who were new to my workshops and taught them how to tackle proportion and perspective with a measuring stick. All of those weathered buildings and docks demanded careful consideration of angles. The weather was fine again and another successful day was underway.

Critiques are always constructive and a big part of the learning experience. As you can see, the sheds were by far the most popular subject. The weather forecast looked good (they were givin’ fine, as the locals say) for Thursday. The plan was to paint at Ingall’s Head. Stay tuned!

Wednesday Critique a

Wednesday Critique b

 

 

Pen and Ink Basics at DVSA!

21/04/2019

Spring term is underway at the Dundas Valley School of Art. I’m scheduled to teach four one-day workshops and the first took place last Thursday. Pen and Ink Basics is exactly as it sounds. My goal was to introduce the students to the core techniques of pen and ink drawing. We used sketching pens for this workshop as it cut down on overturned bottles of India ink and allowed everyone to focus on the techniques.

It’s not all about technique, however. I simply cannot teach drawing without discussing fundamentals and principles. The most important for us on Thursday was ‘light and shadow’.

Before we started our first pen and ink exercise, I worked at an easel and presented a few ideas about ‘light and shadow’ and it’s effect on basic volumes. Next, we started on our first drawing; a pear. The students worked from my diagrams/models. Remember that our goal was to gain some fluency with the techniques. The day was not about creating original works of art. I demonstrated the steps one at a time.

Where does one begin with a pen and ink drawing? First of all, we decided to use cross-hatching as our technique. That was all very well but what direction should the lines follow? I presented an approach that I call ‘parquet’ and you can probably tell where I got the name. The initial work with the parquet approach looks very mechanical and the emphasis is on overall shape and value rather than stroke direction.

As you can see, the first step was only the beginning. We continued to develop the drawing until it gained a three-dimensional quality. We talked about edge versus outline as well as other considerations.

In total, we did three drawings over the course of the day. Our second exercise was the ball cap and we used stippling as our technique. Our final drawing was the teapot. We combined cross-hatching (although not with parquet) with line variety.

The students were keen and brought a lot of energy to the projects. We wrapped up with a look at the drawings. Click on the image to view a larger version.

Thursday Critique

Winter Wednesday Watercolour Class at DVSA – Week Seven!

10/03/2019

Last Wednesday, I was back at the Dundas Valley School of Art for our seventh class. We should have wrapped up the term by now but our wild and wintery February has us doing makeup classes. Makeup classes, however necessary, can be attendance killers as the students didn’t schedule for them initially. I was very pleased, therefore, when all but one were able to attend. I appreciated, also, that our missing artist called in to say she wanted to be with us but was unable to do so.

I’d promised to discuss painting even washes, with no (intended) variation. I spent a few minutes on that before making a quick analysis of how the various objects received the light.

I continued to stress a sound process involving a thumbnail sketch as well as lots of colour testing and even a few simple studies of the objects. The students continued to work diligently and thoughtfully and their progress is evident. Don’t forget to click on the critique image to view a larger version.

Wednesday 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