Posts Tagged ‘watercolor demonstration’

Winter Watercolour Classes at Arts on Adrian – Week One!


I was back at Arts on Adrian this week. These old lanterns were the subject for the Sustained Saturday and Tuesday afternoon classes. I had a plan. The students are often quite literal/optical about the colours they use in their work. Also, they’re often stymied as to what to do with their backgrounds/negative spaces. We discussed this tendency and I laid out some steps of an exercise:
Step 1) Draw one lantern.
Step 2) Adjust the frame of reference/rectangle with masking tape. I didn’t want huge amounts of negative space so the compositions were tightened up in this manner.
Step 3) Wet the sheet and randomly touch in primary colours to create a preliminary wash. This was done only on Saturday as those students had much more time to paint.
Step 3) Break up the negative space with pencil lines into simple, arbitrary shapes; geometric or organic.
Step 4) Select a colour for your lantern. It doesn’t have to be the colour that you’re observing. Mix three or so colours for the negative spaces that enhance the colour of the lantern.
Step 5) Paint the negative spaces. Try to vary the washes.
Step 6) Paint the lantern. The lighting on the actual still-life may be difficult to understand in places so consider the underlying forms as you paint.

That’s more or less the process we followed. I strayed from it a bit as I demonstrated because I wanted to show different ideas without taking the time to complete my painting. Here are a few stages of my demonstration. In the image on the left, you may be able to make out the faint preliminary wash in the ‘white’ areas.













Our exercise had a few goals. We attempted to harmonize our colours and to be more interpretative with colour. We sought to establish an effective figure/ground relationship by painting all negative spaces first and not last as is too often the practice. Varying the washes added visual interest and, combined with trying to understand the basic forms of the lanterns, gave the paintings a more natural quality of light.

I was pleased to hear that the students really enjoyed our project. They certainly worked hard and with enthusiasm. Have a look at their work and remember to click on a critique image to view a larger version.

Sustained Saturday Critique

Tuesday Afternoon Critique


Wednesday Watercolour at DVSA – Week Seven!


I like these geometric objects as a watercolour subject as they can be broken down into their component shapes. Each shape can be painted with a soft-edge transition; wet touching wet. Soft-edge techniques have become a major theme of this Wednesday evening class at the Dundas Valley School of Art. Why not? These techniques are fundamental to the medium and were, once again, the focus of my demonstration.

The students have been working hard. Some are doing homework and it has paid off. They are becoming increasingly confident (although you wouldn’t know it from listening to them) and I like their progress very much. We have one more class to go this term. See you next week!

Wednesday Critique

Watercolour Classes at Arts on Adrian – Week Two!


The Arts on Adrian students considered this to be a challenging still-life. Lots of objects. Lots of possible compositions and approaches. I talked about a few things to start the Saturday and Tuesday classes. Many of these students are quite experienced watercolour painters and are interested in adding new elements to their work. Following the same process over and over again allows for improvement but varying the process, even risk-taking, is what gives you new ideas.

I started out with a pencil drawing. Here’s my most basic planning for my drawing.

I refined the drawing and created a small composition. Then, I wet the entire surface with clean water. While wet, I very randomly touched in the primaries; yellow, red and blue. This preliminary wash broke the ice. It crosses the lines and challenged me to work with it.

I let the painting dry completely before continuing. As I painted, I used different brush-handling techniques to vary washes. At times, I started a shape with water and added paint. Or I started with paint and gently feathered the edge of the shape with a damp brush. Other washes started with a light value and I added a darker value while it remained wet. In general, I wanted to add interest to all of the shapes in the painting.

On Tuesday, I did a bit more work on the small composition. Also, I broke down the shapes of the pitcher to show the techniques I’d employed.

I enjoyed looking over shoulders as the students worked on both days. There was a lot of energy in the studio on both days. What do think of their efforts?

Sustained Saturday Critique

Tuesday Critique

Winter Tuesday Watercolour Class – February 23!



The teddy bears were back on Tuesday and eager to pose for the afternoon and evening classes. My demonstration for the Sustained Saturday class last weekend seemed to hit the mark so I presented the same basic thoughts on Tuesday. I used ‘soft-edge’ techniques within the component shapes of the bears (and monkey). In each shape, I started with a light wash before touching in a darker value while still wet.

Watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

The Tuesday students enjoyed painting our furry friends. Many would have liked a bit more time to work on their watercolours. I’m impressed with some of the colourful and effective backgrounds conceived by some of them.

My winter classes are over at the Arts on Adrian studio in Toronto. I’ll be back in April. Next week, I’m off to San Migeul de Allende, Mexico with a lucky group of watercolour painters. Stay tuned for our creative adventures in the sunshine.

Tuesday Afternoon Critique

Tuesday Afternoon Critique

Tuesday Evening Critique

Tuesday Evening Critique

Winter Tuesday Watercolour Class – Week Eight



Can you draw a hot bubble bath? That would be the perfect spot for these toy critters. The Tuesday students couldn’t just turn on a tap, though. They had to draw and paint these guys. Also, they had to tap into their personal wells of creativity. Everyone had three toys at their own work table so they could arrange them in any way they chose.

Last spring, we had a ‘special project’ without a traditional still life in the middle of the room. Everyone had a seashell. We did it again in the autumn; milkweed pods were our inspiration. As far as I was concerned, any treatment of the subject was allowed. Enjoy the shapes and colours. Tell a story. Create a non-traditional design.

I explored a few ideas on my demonstration sheet. Some are more interpretative and others more conventional. Brush-handling is essential to all. I’ve used the brush in different ways to create soft edges.

Watercolour demonstration sheet by Barry Coombs

Imagination can’t be taught. It can be encouraged, however. Sometimes, it helps to consider your painting as a creative exercise with certain parameters. For example, the small painting on my demonstration sheet was drawn with pencil. The shapes were painted one at a time and a darker colour or value was touched into each shape while it was still wet. No shapes were allowed to run into each other. It was a good way to practice a basic soft edge technique.

FISH By Elizabeth Jay

By Elizabeth Jay

I’m showing you this watercolour by Elizabeth Jay because she had to leave a few minutes early and I wasn’t able to include it in the critique photo. I like it, too. Elizabeth used a bit of wax. She also managed to create layers of depth with her use of cool and warm colours.

I’m not sure if the students were elated or exhausted at the end of each class. Some of the results are more playful than others but it was a positive experience overall.

Tuesday AM Critique

Tuesday AM Critique

Tuesday PM Critique

Tuesday PM Critique

Tuesday Watercolour Class – Week Seven!



Black objects! Now, there’s a challenge for you and, if that isn’t enough, look at all of those reflections.

My demonstration dealt with two main things. First of all, how do you make black when there is no black in your palette? I showed two combinations that work very well. The first is a balance of Cobalt Blue and Burnt Sienna. Ultramarine Blue can be substituted for Cobalt Blue. The second is a mix of Phthalo Green and Rose Madder Quinacridone (almost any cool red will work). I suggested that the students try both on a study sheet and see which they preferred. I think it’s best and more consistent to stick with one mixture of black in a painting. In addition to that, it’s important to keep the darkest values fluid and transparent. A thick buildup of paint, as in an acrylic or gouache, will be opaque and kill luminosity.

We also touched on sharp or crisp edge reflections. These can be painted as shapes and allowed to dry before adding the colour around them. Note that the lightest area of the reflection is darker than the light on the actual object. Go ahead. Read that again. Now, you’ll see that the light on the actual orange is much lighter, and thinner, than the light in the reflection.

We didn’t discuss soft edge reflections. They’re harder to control as wet must touch wet to achieve a soft edge. Undaunted, many of the students went ahead and created some successful soft edge reflections in their paintings.

Watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

Everyone seemed to be very engaged in the challenge of mixing and applying blacks. Obtaining different values and maintaining a consistent hue was a good learning experience. Also, the presence of so much black in the still life gave the watercolours a very dramatic quality.

Tuesday AM Critique

Tuesday AM Critique

Tuesday PM Critique

Tuesday PM Critique

Spring Tuesday Watercolour Class – Week Nine


***NOTE You may have noticed that I published an incomplete post earlier. This is an update. Sorry about that! WordPress is a great blogging platform but the Publish button is too close to the Preview button, in my humble opinion. Also, a DO YOU REALLY WANT TO PUBLISH NOW? step in the process would be much appreciated and save the bother of an occasional incomplete post arriving in your mailbox. So, here we go with my updated post.

Still LIfe - SpringTuesWk9/2014

Smiles and frowns! You might think I’m talking about the emotional ups and downs of watercolour painting. I’m not. I’m talking about how ellipses look when we’re looking at them from different points of view.

I set up the Tuesday still life on an elegant round table on top of another small table. Most of the students, not all, sit to paint. The entire still life is usually below their eye level. Raising the still life raised a little blood pressure, initially, until the students adjusted to a still life at their eye level.

Tables - SpringTuesWk9/2014  Smiles and Frowns - SpringTuesWk9/2014

Ellipses are hard enough but what’s a smile and what’s a frown? Take a look at the eye level drawing of the vase in the diagram. All of the ellipses above eye level are highest in the middle and lower on the left and right ends. Frowns. The ellipse at the bottom of the vase, below eye level, is lowest in the middle. A smile. Note that the perplexed student can see the bottom of the vase in the upper drawing and can look into the elliptical mouth of the lower vase. There you go. Rudimentary ellipse theory.

I’ve exaggerated the smiles and frowns a touch in my demos. In addition to our discussion of ellipses, I used some wax as resist in these studies and focused on simplification.

Watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs - SpringTuesWk9/2014

One more week to go and spring term at my studio will come to an end. In the meantime, enjoy the watercolours from the Tuesday classes and keep smiling!

Tuesday AM Critique

Tuesday AM Critique

Tuesday PM Critique

Tuesday PM Critique



Sustained Saturday Watercolour – Rust and Dust!


Still Life - SpringSustSat2/2014

Twelve dedicated and enthusiastic watercolour painters gathered at my studio today. Actually, eleven watercolour painters and one pen and ink artist. It’s rather cold and grim outside, more like March than May, so I was a bit nervous about the response to these old metal containers. They may not be cheerful but that shortcoming, oddly enough, is what makes this a great subject. There’s nothing precious about them. They’re forgiving.

My demonstration was painted with a synthetic 3/4″ flat angled brush on Curry’s, 200 lb., cold press watercolour paper. I used three colours; a triad of Raw Sienna, Rose Madder Quinacridone and Cobalt Blue from Da Vinci. I started with a very broad pencil drawing, indicating the basic shapes but with no detail.

The first goal of my demonstration was to establish luminous lights with very thin washes and some untouched paper white. Middle values came next, throughout the image. I didn’t finish a single object and then move on to another. As washes dried, I worked into them again with darker values and tried to vary the colours. I wanted to keep the ‘look’ of the flat angled brush in the piece.

Watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs - SpringSustSat2/2014

I didn’t insist that the students follow my lead. My demonstrations are suggestions and don’t have to be emulated during the class. However, many of the students have used the flat angled brush in the past and some prefer it to the round brush. Either way, almost everyone gave it a shot.

What a day! Quality and quantity and I particularly enjoy the variety. I’ll have to wait until September to see another wall like this as today’s class is our last for a while. I don’t schedule many Saturdays when the weather warms up, as a rule, because the focus for many folks turns to gardening and cottaging. Golf, even! I may have miscalculated this spring, if you can call it a spring. Anyway, more Tuesdays classes are on the agenda in the weeks to come. Thanks for following and stay tuned!

Sustained Saturday Critique

Sustained Saturday Critique

Tuesday Watercolour Class – Week Three


Still Life - WinterTuesWk3/2014

It’s very cold out. I’m not taking my group of painters to Mexico until March so I thought I’d try to bring a little bit of a Mexico feeling into the studio.

We’re continuing to discuss ways to be more spontaneous and expressive with our watercolours. Each class, I offer a few ideas with my demonstrations. I try not to take too long with the demos and these, morning and evening, took about 30 minutes each. I’d rather do them in 15 minutes but, once in a while, a longer demo is merited. They’re not very big, about 6 x 8″ or so. As I paint, I talk.

Watercolour Demonstration by Barry Coombs - WinterTuesWk3/2014

Watercolour Demonstration by Barry Coombs - WinterTuesWk3/2014

Many of the students are really challenging themselves. It takes courage to deliberately leave your comfort zone. It also takes time for the eye to adjust to new looks. I’m really pleased with their efforts. I’m also looking forward to a mango or two for breakfast. It’s as close as I’m going to get to Mexico for a few more months.

Tuesday AM Critique

Tuesday AM Critique

Tuesday PM Critique

Tuesday PM Critique


Leisure Painter – December 2013 issue



LPcover-December2013I have a watercolour instructional article in the December 2013 issue of Leisure Painter magazine. As you can see, it’s a seasonal subject.

Leisure Painter is the best-selling ‘Learn to Paint’ magazine from the United Kingdom. Last April, the magazine featured my watercolours on the cover and with a four-page article.

Leisure Painter is available in North American bookstores and can be purchased online and through Itunes.