Posts Tagged ‘watercolour courses’

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



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: and

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.

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


Fall Watercolour Classes at Arts on Adrian – Week Two!


I tried something a little different at Arts on Adrian this week. The still-life is based on the paintings of Luis Egidio Meléndez (Spanish 1716-80). A few weeks ago, I was showing some of his work to the students on my iPad. It was well-received so I formed a plan.

First of all, I didn’t do a demonstration for either the Sustained Saturday or Tuesday afternoon class. Instead, I prepared a short presentation using my projector. We looked at several of Meléndez’ paintings and discussed them.

Luis Egidio Meléndez Spanish (1716-80)

Luis Egidio Meléndez Spanish 1716-80

The students were very inspired by these striking still-life paintings and it shows in their watercolours. Several of them suggested that I do more classes with an art historical emphasis! More work for me, I guess. Fortunately, I’m a lifelong student of art history and enjoy the research.

Make sure you click on a critique image to view a larger version. You’ll definitely want to study these more closely. Also, take a second to think about Luis Egidio Meléndez. He died in poverty.

Sustained Saturday Critique

Tuesday Afternoon Critique

Winter Wednesday Watercolour Class at DVSA – Week Five!


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 Watercolour at DVSA – Week One!


I was back at the Dundas Valley School of Art on Wednesday night with a new group of eager watercolour painters. Mostly new, anyway. It was an even balance of students who’ve taken the course in the past and those who I was meeting for the first time.

As you may glean from the still-life, I went back to basics and discussed value and simplification of form. This course is based on observation of the still-life so the importance of value cannot be understated.

I was pleased with the work of the students. One of the challenges they deal with is the lighting of the objects. You’ll note that some of the paintings are dominated by light and others by shadow. This reveals where the student sat in relationship to the still-life and lamp. As such, I strongly suggest that the students select a different seat in the studio from week to week. It pays off to vary the visual experience as much as possible!

Click on the critique image to see a larger version.

Wednesday Critique

Winter Wednesday Watercolour Class at DVSA – Week Six!


Please, bear with me as I tell you about last night’s watercolour class at the Dundas Valley School of Art. Our still-life comprised of cuddly critters was a great opportunity to talk about soft edge techniques. First of all, I broke down the bear into it’s component parts (ears, arms, nose, paws). Last week, I used a very similar approach with the colourful gift bags. I painted each shape with a light wash and touched in a darker version while it was still wet. This created a soft edge. It’s easier said than done and takes a lot of practice.

One of the students completely ignored the soft edge process and developed his image with values. This was fine with me. You may recall that I presented this approach a few weeks ago. David would like to improve his understanding of value and is quite happy to devote more time to it. Later on, he glazed some colour on his piece. Look for it in the critique.

Value Study
by David Chapman

I also urged everyone to pay a bit more attention to their compositions. Their thumbnail sketches took time and it slowed them down a bit so several ‘works in progress’ are featured in our critique. Don’t forget to click on a critique image to view a larger version.

Wednesday Critique a

Wednesday Critique b


Fall Tuesday Watercolour Class – More Apples!



The Tuesday classes were back in action yesterday. They worked from the same still-life that was used for the Sustained Saturday group on the weekend. Here’s a different view of the still-life.

Back to basics was the order of the day again, especially after a long summer layoff from studio classes. In addition to that, I met some new students yesterday. Although all of them had some prior experience with the medium, I wanted to expose them to some of my ideas about drawing, value and simplification. I focused on those elements with my demonstrations.

Watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

This is the preliminary drawing for the study of the pitcher on the lower left of the sheet.

Drawing demonstration by Barry Coombs

As expected, many of the students concentrated on fundamentals and spent their time on studies. It’s valuable experience and should pay off in the months ahead. Most of the more experienced students started off with thumbnail studies, as usual, and then developed a sustained image.

Tuesday Afternoon Critique

Tuesday Afternoon Critique

Tuesday Evening Critique

Tuesday Evening Critique

Fall Sustained Saturday Watercolour Class



A funny thing happened on the way to teaching this fall. Last June, I gave up my studio in Toronto. Yesterday, I taught in the same studio.

Here’s what happened: Eight of my students collectively took over the lease on my former studio and formed Arts on Adrian. I’m now a tenant. As far as my classes go, it’s business as usual. Anyone is welcome to sign up for a class. We had a small group yesterday but, overall, enrollment is very good and the transition has been smooth. I’ve loaned all of my studio furniture and basic equipment to Arts on Adrian. I’ll tell you more about the group and their activities in a future post. I’m very grateful to them and to all of my students who continue to support me.

Watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

What is the goal of a demonstration? Usually, a demonstration shows a process or a specific technique. I often use a demo to illustrate a concept. Yesterday, I discussed several aspects of colour and composition with the students and I painted as I talked. Everyone in the class has a good watercolour skill set so demonstrating a technique or approach didn’t seem necessary. Also, it was the first class of the Fall term and ideas about colour and composition can always be refreshed.

Keep scrolling to see the lovely watercolours they created. Before you get to them I’d like to thank all of you followers as this blog received it’s 150,000th view a few days ago. Stay tuned for a busy term. Not only do I have a Fall Studio Calendar at Arts on Adrian but, in a month, I’ll be off to Sicily to lead a two-week watercolour workshop!

Sustained Saturday Critique

Sustained Saturday Critique

Tuesday Watercolour Class – Week Nine!



One day last spring, I chose not to set up a still life and gave everyone a seashell to paint. It was a very creative exercise and the students tried all sorts of ideas. The results were quite dramatic and varied; everything from traditional treatments to some exciting abstractions. Even better, everyone had fun.

Yesterday’s subject was milkweed. Natural, organic forms. The milkweed pods started out in the middle of the room as seen in the photo but, after my demonstration/discussion, each student picked one to take to their personal work table.

My demonstration sheet shows two fairly literal studies and two playful explorations. I had a short checklist from the shell class and we considered different ways of exploring the milkweed.

Watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

I don’t believe imagination can be taught but it can be stimulated. The students were intrigued by the milkweed as a subject and approached the project very thoughtfully. They came up with some wonderful watercolours.

Tuesday AM Critique

Tuesday AM Critique

Tuesday PM Critique

Tuesday PM Critique

Sustained Saturday Watercolour Class – Pomegranates!


Saturday Still Life

The pomegranates from Tuesday went into cold storage for a few days and were good to go for the Saturday group. I set them up with terracotta objects and the still life had a more monochromatic look than it did on Tuesday when they were grouped with dark green pots and vases.

Value is always of fundamental importance in painting and drawing but, possibly, even more so with a monochrome subject. How do we make dark red pomegranates stand out from the orangish pots and bowls?

For starters, keep the lightest areas as light as you can. The light hitting the top of my pomegranate is barely darker than the white paper. If I placed a terracotta pot behind it, even a shadow of middle value would be able to set off the light to real advantage.

Secondly, we have to achieve dark values for the shadow areas of these orange and red objects. That’s where blue comes in. I used Cobalt Blue to darken the values on my study sheet. Ultramarine Blue would also do the job. Blue is very powerful and gives the shadows the needed depth.

Watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

It was a full house at the studio today and it was a good place to be. Nice and warm with the smell of coffee and fresh baked goodies and crackling with creative energy and quiet jazz. Outside? Don’t ask! November was not at it’s best. We had a lot of fine work to view at the end of the day. Several of the students did more than one painting and many spent time on studies and sketches, as well. The pomegranates have done their bit and now will go to their final, tasty reward.

Sustained Saturday Critique

Sustained Saturday Critique

Tuesday Watercolour Class – Week Nine


Still Life - FallTuesWk9/2013It’s been a long, long time since I put a cabbage into a still life. I was at the grocery store, picking out the lovely tomatoes with the vines on them and wondering what to have with them, when I noticed the Savoy Cabbages. Decision made.

Watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs - FallTuesWk9/2013I didn’t want to turn my demonstration into a botanical study and aimed to ‘suggest’ more than ‘depict’. The cabbages were painted with a traditional ‘light to dark’ and ‘big to small’ approach. The big, broad leafy shapes went in first and the smaller, darker shapes last. Overall, I tried to think of the cabbage as a sphere. The light strikes it from above. The lower part of the cabbage is turning away from the light as it drops down to the tabletop. It gets darker and cooler.

Initially, the texture of the cabbages struck fear into the hearts of many of the students but nobody blinked. As a matter of fact, both the AM and PM groups became very engaged with the subject and there was quite a buzz when the paintings went up at critique time.

Tuesday AM Critique

Tuesday AM Critique

Tuesday PM Critique

Tuesday PM Critique