Posts Tagged ‘watercolour lesson’

Winter Wednesday Watercolour at DVSA – Week Two!


Last night, I was at Dundas Valley School of Art for the second evening of a four-week watercolour class based on the still-life. As I mentioned last week, the students are a balanced mix of ‘regulars’ and new. By ‘regulars’, I mean students who have done at least two prior still-life courses with me, more than that in some cases. Although this class is not intended for novices, most of the new students have no prior experience with observational work but have taken other watercolour classes at some time.

How does an instructor handle a group of students with various levels of skill and experience? First of all, in the world of non-credit adult education, this is the norm. I’ve been teaching adults for thirty-two years and this has always been the case wherever I’ve taught. So, back to the question.

Last week, I didn’t know the new students at all. My demonstration dealt with the fundamental issue of observational work. Find the light! Also, I briefly touched on soft-edge techniques. We got started and, as I walked around the studio, observing and offering feedback, I quickly grasped the skill levels of the new students.

The thing about traditional, observational work is that watercolour technique is only a partner to the basics of drawing and understanding light and shadow. It’s very challenging to new students especially if they don’t have much of a background in drawing. As I walked around, I felt that all of the new students were able to draw the subject competently. The general grasp of light and shadow was less accomplished but that’s often the case with much more experienced students. This is why I chose the topic for the first demonstration last week.

I started the second class with a demonstration for the whole group. You can see it on the left side of the sheet. A bit of everything was discussed; light and shadow, the value and colour relationships between the various objects and soft-edge technique. Then, I asked the ‘regulars’ to get to work and I kept the new students with me for a few more minutes. The right side of the sheet illustrates my talk about creating soft edges, a core watercolour technique. After this supplementary lesson, the new students got to work.

Back to the question again. This is one way that I deal with a group of students with various levels of skill and experience. I do other things, as well. I suggested that the new students consider a sheet of studies of individual objects rather than tackling a full composition, for example. Also, I constantly stress process over product. To the new student, their first four evenings of still-life painting are merely an introduction to the process. It’s a learning experience. The regulars continue to develop their observational and watercolour skills as well as their grasp of colour and composition, also a learning experience.

I’ve enjoyed the first two evenings. Everyone has worked hard. Our attendance was diminished a bit by a winter storm but we still had a lot to look at for our critique at the end of the class. The critique, by the way, is a critical part of the learning experience but not the only opportunity to learn. The engaged students will learn a lot from each other as they walk around during breaks and look at the other paintings in progress as well as during the critique. I offer constructive critiques and I emphasize that the critique is not a competition but an opportunity to learn from the feedback given to every participant.

I’ve written a lengthy post now and only scratched the surface about adult studio-based art classes. Before we look at the paintings from last night, I have a question for you. How much do you value critiques in the art classes you’ve taken? Please, comment.

Wednesday Critique


Winter Wednesday Watercolour Class at DVSA!


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


Winter Watercolour Classes at Arts on Adrian – Week Two!


I was back at Arts on Adrian in Toronto this week for Sustained Saturday and Tuesday afternoon classes. The organic objects in the still-life are things that I have rarely or never used. Ya Li pears are the pale yellow fruits. The green vegetables are chayotes, a type of squash from Central America. I liked setting them off with the carved wooden objects and thought that the still-life had a bit of a Mexican mural look.

The ornate carving posed the greatest challenge so I addressed it with my demonstration. Do you ever try to read my notes in the top right corner of the demo sheets? This sheet shows four bullet points:
• simplification
• editing
• creative licence
• reverse values

We almost always discuss simplification and editing. Creative licence is closely related. What can we do to make the painting work best? Reversing the value is an idea that I employed with some of the decorative carving. I didn’t write down ‘negative painting’ but I used that, as well.

I reversed the values in the upper part of the vase on the left. That way, I didn’t have to painstakingly paint around all of the light ‘lines’. In the barrel in the middle, I used a negative approach and painted around the lighter areas. I know, I know! Masking fluid is available at art stores. Well, it’s not something I use and I don’t promote it in my classes. We try to solve the problems with the basic tools; brushes, paint. Add a lot of analysis and thought to that short list.

The still-life offered many opportunities. I suggested that the students zoom in and find a composition. Also, as interesting as the wooden objects were, I felt they should be used to bring out the light on the pears and squashes as much as possible.

Our usual Saturday crowd was somewhat diminished in number but we had a very pleasant day. One of our regulars, Karen, had to leave early but I photographed her lovely painting before she packed up.

Watercolour by Karen W

As for the rest on Saturday, here are the results. Click on a critique image to view a larger version.

Sustained Saturday Critique

I started the Tuesday class with a look at the Saturday demonstration. We discussed it in general and then I offered a closer study of the areas show here.

Watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

The Tuesday students responded to the still-life with enthusiasm and did very well. Not everyone was able to finish but I was quite pleased with their work.

Tuesday Afternoon Critique

Fall Watercolour Classes at Arts on Adrian – Week Three!


It’s pomegranate season! I’d been keeping an eye on quality and prices for the past week or so and the creativity stars aligned in time for our Saturday and Tuesday classes. Cézanne loved to paint pomegranates and that’s good enough for me.

I talked mostly about colour selection on Saturday. The study on the upper right shows cast shadows on three different surfaces; a green plate, a gold fabric and a white fabric. Notice how the colour of the cast shadow relates to the colour of each surface.

I discussed the lessons from the Saturday demonstration with the Tuesday students, as well. In addition to that, I did a few studies and varied the washes using soft edge techniques.

The students paid attention to my offerings but didn’t need me for inspiration. Maybe, they channeled their inner Cézannes. They certainly made the most of our annual still-life of juicy pomegranates.

Sustained Saturday Critique

Tuesday Critique

Wednesday Watercolour at DVSA – Week Two!


Ceramic objects were our subject at the Dundas Valley School of Art last Wednesday evening. I’d given thought to the work from our first class and decided to focus my demonstration/lesson on two things; mixing middle tones and simplification. The prerequisite for this class is ‘some prior watercolour experience’. As such, some of the students have a fair bit more experience than others but I have no problem with reviewing a few basics.

The less-experienced watercolour artist often has trouble with mixing the middle tones and their paintings can look washed out. Starting with primaries, I offered my thoughts. Next we turned our attention to simplification. Simplification of form is not a technique; it’s a concept. It’s very closely allied to chiaroscuro (light and shadow). My little studies are painted with a single value mixed from Cobalt Blue and Burnt Sienna. I didn’t paint the areas where I observed direct light striking the objects. Can I get any simpler? Can you see and understand the basic objects?

Many of the students spent time on small studies before embarking on a painting. That took time and not many of them were able to finish their work by the end of the evening. It was time well spent, though!

Learning can’t be rushed. We’ll see more resolved images over the weeks to follow. I saw a lot of good things on Wednesday evening.

Wednesday Critique

SM de Allende, Mexico – Wednesday


Watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

We headed out of town on Wednesday to historic Atotonilco. I knew what was in store and that was lots of domes, towers and belfries. My demonstration had two main themes. First of all, I discussed the basic volumes that make up an architectural form. Can we analyze the tower in terms of spheres, cones, cylinders and cubes? Doing so gives us a greater understanding of the subject and also leads to my second theme; light and shadow.

The light changes over the course of the day and, if the sun goes behind a cloud, shadows can’t be seen at all. Understanding the forms we’re painting helps us light the forms effectively.

The cathedral and ruins at Atotonilco are quite spectacular. It’s a quiet town and only about twenty minutes away from SM de Allende. We hopped in our taxis and got there in no time.




It’s a very popular spot with my students and you can see why. As usual, we gathered back at the studio for our critique.



As we wound up our critique, thunder crashed and the skies opened up for about 30 minutes. Soon, the sun was back out and we were treated to a fabulous double rainbow. Another great day in San Miguel de Allende.




Tuesday Watercolour Class – Week Three!


Tuesday Still Life

We devoted our first two weeks to light, shadow and value and it was time to add some colour to the mix! Observation of light and shadow  is still important, of course. It always is. These objects, however, were lit primarily on the lips and handles, leaving large planes of middle values and some reflected light.

My demonstration involved the use of wax to indicate reflected light. Also, I employed soft edge techniques to vary the planes and add visual interest. Someone asked a question about the handles and one of my handles turned into a question mark. Go figure!

Tuesday Demo by Barry Coombs

The results are a lot of fun to see. By the way, our maple leaf is not a strident symbol of Canadian nationalism. It’s more like an autumn weather thermometer. I thought it had entered the studio on the bottom of someone’s boot but later discovered it had dropped out of a sketchbook.

While you’re in the neighbourhood, take a look in the sidebar. My 2015 painting holidays are posted. Two additional trips are in the works, as well. I’ll be teaching on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia in late August and plans are underway for a return to Italy next fall.

Tuesday AM Critique

Tuesday AM Critique

Tuesday PM Critique

Tuesday PM 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

Sustained Saturday Watercolour Class- Citrus!


Still Life - FallSustSat2/2013

Sangria, anyone? I was just about to start my demonstration this morning when one of the students suggested that we could convert the still life into a sizable vessel of sangria. Artists!

I wanted to talk about three main things; ‘wire frame’ drawing, mixing different values of warm colours and reflections. Sometimes, I communicate my thoughts in a more complete image and other times I get the ideas across with a work sheet like this. It’s not a very glamorous demonstration but it seemed to have the desired effect.

Watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs - FallSustSat2/2013After the demo, everyone rolled up their sleeves and got to the task at hand but I wasn’t finished with them yet. I waited 45 minutes or so and called the group together. We walked around the studio and looked at everyone’s thumbnail sketches. I notice that the students who work out their compositions and their ideas at the thumbnail stage are often quite successful with their paintings.

Anyway, here’s the work from today. They definitely earned their sangria.

Sustained Saturday Critique

Sustained Saturday Critique

Sustained Saturday – Gourds and Pumpkins!


Still LIfe - FallSustSat1

I couldn’t deny the Saturday students the pleasure of painting a traditional autumn subject so I reorganized the still life from last Tuesday’s classes.

My demonstration was similar to those from Tuesday, as well. The core and cast shadows of the gourds were painted with grey. Paper white was left untouched for the lightest areas. Once dry, I added local colour. First, the lightest colour and then the darker stripes.

Watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs - FallSustSat1

Watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs - FallSustSat1

This was the first Sustained Saturday class of the Fall term. Many of the regulars were back. Everyone was happy to see their painting pals and, as always, were very welcoming to the new folks. A nice culture has evolved at the studio over the years. We work hard, support each other and have a lot of fun. The work was terrific. Here it is!

Sustained Saturday Critique - FallSustSat1