Posts Tagged ‘watercolor’

Grand Manan Island 2019 – Final Two Days!

27/08/2019

THURSDAY
Instructor: Don’t paint in the sun!
Students: Why are you painting in the sun?

Good question. We were at Ingall’s Head on Thursday and it was another brilliant day. I set up to demonstrate with a flat angled brush. I chose a spot where the students could enjoy the shade of a hauled-up fishing boat. And yes, I was in the sun. This allowed my washes to dry very quickly so I could work on the somewhat complicated subject rapidly. Of course, I faced the usual challenges and drawbacks of working in the sun. First of all, there is the issue of personal comfort. In addition to that, the bright sun dries the washes in your palette, necessitating constant re-mixing. It also bleaches the painting as you work so that your darks don’t look dark enough, compelling you to make them too dark in order to be able to see them.

The flat angled brush is fun to work with and a good way to free up your brush-handling. I always edit and simplify to some degree but with this sketch I eliminated an entire window. I did so to save time. The students are always itching to start painting.

What about those darks? I’m not immune to the problems of working in direct sunshine. My demonstration is on hot press paper, which made things even worse. It didn’t really absorb the paint and my washes dried even faster. Trouble ensued! After I’d stopped painting and the students got to work, I reworked the shed interior. It had been too dark and the shapes had been rough. My touchup adds interest to the dark interior.

Once again, there was a lot of variety in terms of painting subjects. Charming sheds, fishing boats, docks in various states of repair and the drydock, which is the only place on the island where the boats are guaranteed not to move up and down with the tides or suddenly depart on a fishing mission as the woeful painter ponders a partially finished watercolour of an uncooperative boat.

The air-conditioning and shade of our studio at the Grand Manan Art Gallery were very welcome at the end of the day. The gallery is one of the most important components of island cultural life. That’s Garrett Travis on the porch, this year’s summer student who is doing a great job of keeping things running smoothly.

Critique time!

Thursday Critique a

Thursday Critique b

FRIDAY
Grand Manan Island has a wealth of excellent painting spots. We had only five days together and it was up to me to choose a spot for our final day. Several of the students, in conversation over the course of the week, had indicated a desire to paint a lighthouse. The most famous and spectacular lighthouse on the island is the Swallowtail light. There are two prime viewpoints. One is from above the peninsula that hosts the light. The other is from Pettes’s Cove.

I demonstrated at the studio. First, I tackled the view from the cove. I started with wetting most of the sheet before touching in colour for the sky and water. This preliminary wash covered the entire sheet with the exception of the white area of the lighthouse, which I carefully avoided. I dried the sheet with the studio hairdryer and continued to add shapes, working ‘light to dark’ and ‘big to small’.

Watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

Next, I discussed the other view of the Swallowtail. As you can see, I kept it simple and focused on the relative values of the main shapes and colours.

Watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

Off we went! The students were free to choose their viewpoint. I visited back and forth as the day progressed.

Friday was a busy day. We wound up the painting portion with our usual critique at the studio.

Friday Critique a

Friday Critique b

After taking a few hours to refresh ourselves, we met once more at the Compass Rose Inn for a yummy Farewell Dinner. Following the meal, we re-arranged the tables and chairs for our Final Critique. Each student presented three paintings completed during the week and commented a bit on their experience. It’s always a rewarding way to wrap up our time together.

Time marches on, they say. It’s hard for me to believe that I’ve taught on Grand Manan Island for twenty-nine summers. I plan to be back for the thirtieth anniversary in 2020. Care to join us?

 

 

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Pen and Watercolour – More Texture and Composition at DVSA!

03/06/2019

Last Thursday, I was at the Dundas Valley School of Art to lead my fourth and final one-day workshop of the spring term. Two weeks prior, I’d presented a workshop of the same basic theme but our still-life was a collection of rusty and dusty gas cans. On Thursday, we worked from an equally interesting group of worn and distressed objects. Do you know what they are? If you live in a coastal area, you probably recognize them as fishing floats.

My demonstrations were similar to those of the first workshop. Our basic process was to draw with pencil, paint with watercolour and then add ink. Along the way, we used different materials and techniques to create texture. Soft-edge techniques, wax, dry-brush and other ideas were presented. We began with a practice sheet of swatches and experiments.

You may have noticed that our still-life has a lot of white in it. The four whites enclosed by the blue area on the sheet below are all different from each other; some warmer and some cooler.

Our next step was a sheet of studies of individual objects.

We’ll take a closer look at the old cork net float from the sheet above. Note the pen work on the edge of the object. Texture isn’t present only in the ‘interior’ of the object. What is done on the edges is very important.

Eventually, we had a look at the study sheets created by the students.

Study Sheets

We cover a lot of territory in these workshops. Following lunch, I discussed some basic thoughts about composition, including the rule of thirds. Our goal was to create a composition and work on it for the afternoon. Each student selected and composed an area of the still-life.

Also, I talked about some common problems in compositions such as run-on lines, edge issues, kisses and spatial relationships.

The rest of the day was spent working diligently and thoughtfully on the work. As usual, not everyone finished their piece but these workshops are about learning and taking ideas away for future use; process over product. Here are the works in progress:

Thursday Critique a

Thursday Critique b

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

 

 

 

Watercolour Boot Camp at DVSA!

07/05/2019

The watercolour world is a very diverse one. Many watercolour teachers impart their personal ‘style’ and not necessarily the basics of the medium. Even those who teach beginners go about it in vastly different manners. Some use exercises out of how-to books. Some base their lessons on play and craft; using salt, saran wrap and credit cards. Is there a right or wrong way? Individual adult students may well respond to one approach with more enthusiasm and understanding than another. Is there a satisfying balance to strike? How much can a beginner learn in 20-30 hours?

I’ve always tried, as best I can, to teach the fundamentals of painting in watercolour. Over the years, I’ve taught a lot of dedicated beginner classes but almost all of my classes now are designed for the intermediate or more advanced student. Recently, I had an urge to return to the basics from my teaching point of view. I proposed a one-day workshop at the Dundas Valley School of Art and I was pleased that if filled up quickly. Last Thursday was the big day!

The workshop was designed for those with prior watercolour experience who hadn’t painted for a while and also students who felt they needed more training in the fundamentals. I promised a series of exercises based on the key traditional watercolour techniques which include brush-handling, mixing and applying even and graded washes, creating soft edges and more. Have you ever watched an entertaining watercolour demonstration video, tried to do it yourself and realized that a lot of very basic elements weren’t discussed. Why did you keep getting blossoms? Why did you have so much trouble mixing darks? Why did everything run together (but not in a good way)? What is perfectly obvious to the experienced artist/teacher is often neglected when delivering a lesson or demonstration.

I attempted to address those little things that can make a big difference. It won’t be possible to describe everything in this post but I’ll give you an overview of our day.

We started with a discussion about materials and mechanics. I had requested absorbent, cold press watercolour in the material list such as Arches or an equivalent. Not Canson or Strathmore. The paper had to be suitable for the techniques I’d be presenting. Mechanics is the term we use to describe how we organize our tools and materials and work space. I’m right-handed and my palette and water container and paper towel are on my right side. I can’t imagine having my water to my left, reaching and possibly dripping all over my painting as I go back and forth from the container to my palette. I see students do it, though. I see students who’ve formed a lot of bad habits and it holds them back.

Finally, we applied paint to paper. Our first goal was to create an even wash without streaks or blossoms and it takes practice and thought. Watercolour is a thinking medium that does not reward dabbling. It’s also much more physical than folks realize. How do those tiny grains of pigment and binder behave when mixed with water and touched to paper?

We practiced and kept it simple. On the first sheet, I also discussed  mixing greys and blacks with only primary colours. I don’t have grey or black in my palette. I mix them. As a matter of fact, we stuck to our primaries for most of the day and it’s the best way to learn about colour and the potential of your palette. I use Da Vinci paints and my primaries are Aureolin (Mixture), Rose Madder Quinacridone and Cobalt Blue. I also discussed brush-handling and lifting excess paint with a ‘thirsty’ brush. I pointed out a few ‘what not to dos’, as well.

Our next exercise involved creating a small painting based on my diagram and on even washes. The colour theme was cools and warms. We tried to paint even, unvaried washes in each shape and one shape wasn’t supposed to run into another. Kind of like a colouring book or stained glass window.

A real building block technique of watercolour painting is the soft edge that is created when wet touches wet. Wet in wet painting is often taught on a grand scale. The entire sheet is soaked first and colour is added into the water. I don’t start beginners off with that. We worked on a small scale and ‘injected’ darker colours and values into lighter areas, while wet. Again, it takes planning, practice and, very important, timing! The students made swatches on one side of their sheet and worked on a small image, based on rectangles, on the other side. They attempted a wet in wet, soft edge transition in each rectangle without letting the rectangles run into each other. Patience!

Later in the afternoon, I talked about mixing whites. I don’t have white, an opaque colour, in my palette. I use the white of the paper and very light tints on it to create cool and warm whites and off-whites.

Many aspiring watercolour painters hope to work ‘en plein air’ one day. With that in mind, I also discussed greens and how to mix a variety of greens starting with primary blue and yellow. It’s easy to start with a green right out of the tube like Pthalo but it’s important to know how to vary your greens. I have Pthalo Green in my palette and generally use it to add intensity to greens I’ve created from yellow and blue.

It was a long day and everyone applied themselves with energy and thoughtfulness. There was a nice buzz in the studio as we wrapped up, which was gratifying, and the feedback was good. Still, there were several things I didn’t touch on. We ran out of time and didn’t deal with graded washes over a larger area. Maybe, this fall I’ll have to offer a part two?

More from San Miguel de Allende, Mexico!

01/04/2019

Everyone was refreshed from our day of free time as we met in our studio for my morning demonstration on Wednesday. Our plan was to paint inside the lovely Bellas Artes with it’s cool arcades and tranquil atmosphere. And it’s arches. I used my demonstration to dramatize the feeling of looking into a sunlit space through an arch. I kept my palette simple; cools and warms.

For once, we had no shortage of shade. Most of the students were ready to tackle arches.

Let’s see what happened with those arches! Remember to click on a critique image to view a larger version.

Wednesday Critique a

Wednesday Critique b

Thursday was our last full day of painting. Our plan was to leave on Friday morning for Mexico City (more about that later). We had a lot on our agenda on Thursday so I decided not to offer a demonstration in order to give the group an extra hour of painting time. We walked up to Parque Guadiana, a quiet and pretty park in a residential neighbourhood.

At the end of the day, we gathered at our studio for our Final Critique. I started out by looking at the Thursday paintings and followed that with a selection of work from earlier in the week. It was a nice way to look back on our painting time together.

Thursday Critique a

Thursday Critique b

Wait a minute! What the heck is that bird doing there? One of our painters took a metalworking class while she was here and this was her chance to show us the result.

Thursday Critique c

That was it for our supervised painting days and for our stay in beautiful San Miguel de Allende. My next post will be from Mexico City where we will visit the famous home of Frida Kahlo; Casa Azul.

 

 

 

 

Hola from San Miguel de Allende, Mexico!

26/03/2019

I’m back in beautiful SM de Allende with a great group of watercolour painters. We arrived on Thursday and enjoyed our Welcome Dinner at the hotel. Friday was a relaxing day. I led most of the group on a tour of the town and the afternoon was free time for painting, shopping or just taking it easy.

Things got serious this morning (Saturday). I gave a demonstration at the hotel, reminding everyone of the importance of value and pattern.

Following that, most of the group worked on the hotel grounds for the day. The courtyard is lovely and spacious and our rooms were close at hand. It’s a good way to start as we sort out the practical elements of ‘en plein air’ watercolour painting.

It was a good start to our workshop. We convened at 5pm sharp for our first critique. Click on a critique image to view a larger version.

Saturday Critique a

Saturday Critique b

I gave another studio demonstration on Sunday morning. This street scene was quickly drawn from memory. I discussed a ‘big to small’ process and varying washes to add interest. Also, we discussed what colours work when painted over other colours and what doesn’t work. For example, I can’t paint a green door over a red wall without getting a very dull result.

After the demonstration, we headed to Parque Benito Juarez and it’s a lovely spot for painting. The park is very green and surrounded by attractive residences and hotels. Just up the road from the park is the outdoor public laundry. No-one was washing clothes today.

It’s hot here but lovely in the shade. I discourage the painters from painting in the sun. A pleasant day in the park wound down and we returned to our studio for the critique.

Sunday Critique a

Sunday Critique b

I left the hotel early on Monday and walked up to Plaza San Antonio, a quiet square with a brilliant white church. I set up my easel and prepared for an onsite demonstration and I was ready to go when the students arrived.

The square has a large shade tree with a view of a street dropping down. I pointed out the importance of checking angles carefully in order to make the perspective believable. After we discussed that, I painted the scene with a flat angled brush. It was a very complicated subject so I stressed simplification as I took them through my process.

Everyone sought out shady spots and got to work.

It was nice to cool off in our studio at the hotel at critique time.

Monday Critique a

Monday Critique b

Tuesday is a free day. Shopping, sightseeing and even more painting was on the agenda. We’ll be back at it tomorrow morning in sunny San Miguel de Allende.

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

Winter Wednesday Watercolour Class at DVSA – Week Six!

23/02/2019

Ataulfo mangoes from Mexico. That’s what those yellow things are. A few of the Wednesday evening students were unfamiliar with them so I thought I’d identify them right away. They’re delicious.

It was week six at the Dundas Valley School of Art last Wednesday evening. Our Mexican theme was a stark contrast to the freezing rain and icy sidewalks and roads outside. I reviewed, as I often do, some soft-edge and brush-handling techniques. I’m very pleased with the progress of this group of painters. I don’t think they need a lot of new ideas but generally require quick refreshers and time to solve the painting problems posed by the still-life. Teaching art at this level (intermediate) is mostly reactive, not prescriptive. This is not a beginner class with a pre-planned lesson every session. Therefore, on the first evening, I don’t know exactly what I will teach on the sixth evening. I need to get to know the group in order to respond to their needs.

During the three hours of our class, I circulate and keep an eye on things but I don’t constantly hover. They need to think for themselves. Also, I constantly urge the students to pace themselves by stepping back from their work frequently. Painters need to keep their eyes fresh. It’s very helpful to walk around and see what your fellow painters are up to, as well. We learn from each other in these environments. Every class winds down with a constructive critique. The critique is a very important learning tool and critiques have been a key element of my teaching practice since day one, about thirty years ago. Enough about that, here’s the work from Wednesday night.

Wednesday Critique

Winter Wednesday Watercolour Class at DVSA – Week Five!

15/02/2019

Two wintery weeks had gone by since our last class at the Dundas Valley School of Art. Class had been cancelled last week due to a snow day and it was a close call again this week. Fortunately, Wednesday evening was a go and everyone was able dig out their vehicles and get to the school.

I kept it simple and fairly brief to start off the evening. I offered a quick review of soft-edge techniques and a few thoughts pertinent to our still-life. Painting time is what this group needed; time to solve the problems and enjoy the process.

The students made excellent use of the extra few minutes. I was very pleased with their progress and told them so. One of the students remarked on the overall improvement since week one. I agree and it’s a result of their attentiveness, thoughtfulness and hard work.

Wednesday Critique

 

Winter Wednesday Watercolour Class at DVSA – Week Four!

31/01/2019

The bottles were empty for the Wednesday watercolour students at the Dundas Valley School of Art. Not even half full, unfortunately. Spirits were high, however, and we used our bottles to continue practicing soft-edge techniques. I did a quick review of the basic approach and then applied the techniques with a few studies.

The bottles were first painted by adding dark values to the lighter overall shape while still wet. When the first washes were dry, I added the smaller, darker shapes. These are very clear in the green bottle on the left where the darker shapes all have distinct, crisp edges. In the two brown bottles, I ‘feathered’ some of the edges of the darkest shapes, using a damp brush. This varies the edges of the small, dark shapes and gives the bottle a somewhat more natural appearance. The blue studies, bottom centre, illustrate the feathering technique.

This group of students all work thoughtfully and follow a sound process. Practice swatches, small studies and colour testing all lead to more successful watercolour paintings. Have a look and remember to click on the critique image to view a larger version.

Wednesday Critique