Posts Tagged ‘watercolor lesson’

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


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.

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


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

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




Spring Watercolour Classes at Arts on Adrian – Week Two!


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


Winter Wednesday Watercolour Class at DVSA – Week Three!


Our colours were complementary and our focus was on soft edge last Wednesday evening at the Dundas Valley School of Art. The ability to create soft edges is a key element of watercolour painting. I showed the students how to ‘inject’ a darker value or colour into a lighter wash. Both washes are wet when they touch each other and timing is critical.

I painted several swatches, including some examples of what not to do. Then, I applied the basic technique to a few studies of oranges and the blue pitcher. This was review for some of the students and new to others. It takes a lot of practice but it’s a very important tool in any watercolour painter’s toolbox.

Practice and process. Repetition. Everyone worked hard and thoughtfully. We’ll continue to explore soft edges in the weeks to come.

Wednesday Critique

Spring Tuesday Watercolour Class – Week Two


Still LIfe - SpringTuesWk2/2014

It snowed today. The good news is that most of the students seemed genuinely pleased to see these colourful gift bags when they showed up for class. Perhaps, they suggested the spring gardens that we’re all anticipating so eagerly.

Last Tuesday and Saturday, we talked about soft-edge techniques and varying flat planes with value changes. These bags were a perfect followup to that lesson. I used my demonstrations to discuss colour, as well. Creating darker values of the different colours is always a challenge so I deconstructed my bags into their component shapes. This allowed me to paint one shape at a time and work with a variety of colours.

Watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs - SpringTuesWk2/2014

The students responded to the still life with real enthusiasm and created some very vibrant and cheerful images. Not only that, most of the snow had melted by the end of the day but then a new disaster struck. The evening class was just cleaning up and preparing for our critique when the lights went out. We all scrambled for cell phone flashlights and I dug out a few candles. Toronto has suffered an extensive power outage and, as a minor consequence, I can’t show you the work from the evening class.

Hopefully, power will be restored soon and spring will arrive to stay. In the meantime, have a Happy Passover and Easter and see you next week.

Tuesday AM Critique

Tuesday AM Critique


Tuesday Watercolour Class – Week Seven


Still Life - WinterTuesWk7/2014

We had another snow storm last night. I felt it was time to jump the gun and bring spring into the studio. There were a lot of smiles as the students came in and saw the flowers.

There were smiles on the way out, as well, but the intervening three hour classes had definitely witnessed a few sighs and groans. Flowers are hard! They’re beautiful to look at but a real challenge to paint. Especially, when you don’t paint them very often. Painting flowers is difficult because they are so lovely we don’t want to insult them. It’s hard to be objective.

I used my demonstration sheet to talk about a few things that relate to floral painting. Colour intensity versus luminosity. The supporting role of green foliage. Use of paper white. Brushwork. To draw or not to draw. Mostly, I suggested that the students think of their work as watercolour sketching and focus on process over product.

Watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs - WinterTuesWk7/2014

Well! Some of them did three of even four small works and gained a lot of valuable experience. Many struggled but enjoyed themselves and could see the potential in their efforts.

I used to follow up a night of floral painting with a still life of old shoes. The shoe paintings were always wonderful. It was a relief, after the flowers, to paint something seemingly banal. I don’t know yet if I’ll set up shoes for next week and I wouldn’t give it away even if I did. Come to think of it, sandals might be a better hint that we’re ready for spring.

Tuesday AM Critique

Tuesday AM Critique

Tuesday PM Critique

Tuesday PM Critique

Tuesday Watercolour Class – Week Five


Still Life - FallTuesWk5/2013

Welcome, new followers! Thanks for joining us. As you can see, I’ve put together a nice collection of old rusty metal cans and pitchers but It’s not the most colourful still life in the world, is it?

Watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs - FallTuesWk5/2013

The neutral colours allowed me to focus on value and related ideas. My demonstration for the morning class is shown above. It was painted quite rapidly and is rather messy but can you see what I’ve done with the relationship between the two objects? I painted over all of the white paper in the background. Also, I used only two values on the far container while the can on the right has much more contrast. Light and space!

Watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs - FallTuesWk5/2013

My demonstration for the evening class is equally messy but I cropped it in iPhoto to clean up the edges. I used the same colours for both demos; a triad of Raw Sienna, Cobalt Blue and Rose Madder Quinacridone. I varied the colour more in the morning piece and the evening image is more monochromatic.

It’s an interesting concept and most of the students hadn’t taken this approach to a painting before. We’re going to continue to discuss ideas like this in the weeks to come.

Tuesday AM Critique

Tuesday AM Critique

Last week, did you notice a few paintings in the PM Critique that looked completely different than the rest? I have a few new students who are fairly new to watercolour. I’ve been giving them exercises based on the still life but with specific goals. They’ve been doing really well. Can you tell which ones they are in this week’s PM Critique?

Tuesday PM Critique

Tuesday PM Critique

One more painting to go. Michele had to leave early last night so I photographed her watercolour separately. Here it is!

Gas Cans by Michele Perigny

Gas Cans
by Michele Perigny





Tuesday Watercolour Class – Week Seven – Child’s Play!


Still Life-SpringTuesWk7

Well, maybe these pails and shovels are child’s play for little kids at the beach but this still life posed some tough problems for the watercolour painters. One student described it as “fiendishly difficult”.

Drawing seemed to be the biggest concern with the rakes and shovels being the main culprits. I left my pencil lines quite dark. You might be able to see them well enough to understand my analysis of these objects.

Watercolour Demonstration by Barry Coombs - SpringTuesWk7

Undaunted, the students waded through sand and surf, with their buckets full of colour and imagination, and made some very exciting sand castles…er, paintings.

Tuesday AM Critique

Tuesday AM Critique

Tuesday PM Critique

Tuesday PM Critique


Tuesday Watercolour Class – Week Three


Still-life - FallTuesWk3

Shapes and colours! I started each class on Tuesday saying that I wasn’t interested in reflections or transparencies or ‘realistic’ depictions of glass. I wanted everyone to enjoy the shapes and colours and encouraged zooming in and close cropping in order to accentuate the shapes as much as possible.

There was just one other thing I suggested. If you at my demonstration sheet below, you’ll see that I’ve kept the shapes in the background very simple. I’ve even allowed them to run into each other in places. Our eyes are not able to focus on more than one area at a time so why should every object in the still-life be depicted with equal clarity?

Watercolour Demonstrations by Barry Coombs - FallTuesWk3

Almost everyone did two small paintings. It’s been a very productive and exciting start to our Fall term. In general, more risks have been taken and lots of painting experience has been gained. And, despite my advice not to ‘render’ glass, some pretty convincing bottles emerged from the exercise.

Tuesday AM Critique - FallTuesWk3

Tuesday AM Critique

Tuesday PM Critique - FallTuesWk3

Tuesday PM Critique


Tuesday Watercolour Class – Week Five


Our apples from Saturday class are back but I made a few changes to the still-life. I presented some different approaches to handling the subject. Some of these studies were done in two or three steps and some were done in one shot except for the stems which I usually do last.

TOP ROW: I used the grey value process. Step one is in the middle.

SECOND ROW: The first step (in the middle) for the apples was a light yellowish green with a darker green touched in while wet. When dry, I painted the cleft. I allowed the apple to dry again before I re-wet the entire area with clean water and touched in the red.

BOTTOM ROW: The apples in the bottom row were done in one shot (except the stems). The small amount of white paper under the cleft was dry and prevented the darker value in the cleft from running down into the rest of the apple.


Here’s a shot of me at work on the demonstration. Notice the awkward way I hold my brush. I don’t recommend it. I just started at an early age and didn’t know any better.

The students chose whichever process appealed to them. As always, it makes for an interesting critique.

Tuesday AM Critique


Tuesday PM Critique

Tuesday Watercolour Class – Week Two


I always enjoy painting pomegranates. Also, it gives me a chance to talk about reds and some brush-handling techniques. An artist can never do enough colour testing and, with watercolour, it’s important to practise your timing with soft-edge techniques.

The reds in my palette are Rose Madder Quinacridone and Permanent Red from Da Vinci. I tried them in different combinations, adding Cobalt Blue and Aureolin to create varying values and hues.

Sometimes, we paint the first wash of an object and it dries before we can touch in another colour or value. In the example below, I waited for the first wash to dry thoroughly. Then, I painted the shadow on the stem area with a darker wash and touched it’s edge in places with a damp brush.

Next, I painted a band of clean water across the upper middle area of the pomegranate. I started the dark wash on the lower edge of the water and continued it to the bottom of the object. The simplification of form creates a three-dimensional quality.


Partway through each class, I called the group over to show them some watercolours by a ‘guest artist’. Yesterday’s guest was Canadian artist Carl Schaefer (1903-95). Schaefer used a lot of soft-edge in his work but not exclusively. Often, he would build forms with repeated brushstrokes, giving objects an angular, chiseled look.

STILL LIFE WITH LANDSCAPE by Carl Schaefer (1903-95)

Here’s the student work from Tuesday. As you can see, they really applied themselves.

Tuesday AM Critique

Tuesday PM Critique