Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Last Tuesday, we visited Kew Gardens and Beach in the east end of Toronto. It’s a lovely, shady spot with gardens, sporting facilities and lots to paint. One of the highlights is the Gardener’s House.


I wanted to discuss some basic thoughts about foliage and it’s relationship to architecture. As you can see, I set up my easel in the beautiful sunshine. If you’ve ever attended one of my outdoor workshops, you’ll know that I don’t advise painting in the sun. It’s very hard to see what you’re doing and the watercolour dries more quickly than desired. In this case, I wanted the paint to dry quickly so I could illustrate my ideas without taking too much time.


Watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

Watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

Following the demonstration, I joined some of the new students for a discussion of perspective and the use of a measuring stick. Familiarity with a measuring stick can help us understand the angles of buildings.


We had a special guest on Tuesday. Jay Holobach is an artist from Nashville, Tennessee. He’s spending a lot of time in Toronto this summer and I thought I’d extend some good old Canadian hospitality and invite him to paint with us for the day. Jay works in oils and our watercolour painters enjoyed his company and his work.

Jay Holobach

Kim and Katie at work

Phil at work

Elizabeth at work

Speaking of things Canadian, what better spot for our critique than a hockey rink! Nice boards for taping our paintings and sketches and the sun on our backs. Several hundred puck marks set off the work to great advantage.


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Tuesday Critique a

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Tuesday Critique b

We don’t often paint downtown but we did on Wednesday! The Roundhouse was our venue and it hosts the Toronto Railway Museum and Steam Whistle Brewery. Not only that; the Roger’s Centre (home of the MLB Blue Jays), the landmark CN Tower and the Ripley’s Aquarium surrounded us.

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I wanted to discuss pen combined with watercolour. Many of the regular students have seen my approach to pen and watercolour so I let them get to work. I gathered a smaller group of the new students and took them through the steps of a drawing of this building.

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Step One – pencil and wash

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Step Two – Colour

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Step Three – Pen

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I photographed the steps on my iPad and showed them to the rest of the group as I did my rounds over the course of the day. In addition to that, I completed two more sketches with pen and watercolour.

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There is no shortage of subject matter at the Roundhouse. The trains and buildings were very popular with our artists.

Watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs 0

Watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs 1

Watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs 2

We found another good critique spot at the end of the day. The Don Station building provided a convenient wall and lots of shade. After critique, we headed to a nearby restaurant for dinner and drinks and a chance to get to know each other. I hope you’re enjoying our Plein Air Toronto week. Look for my next post a few days from now.

Watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs 3

Watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs 4

Wednesday Critique a

Watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs 5

Wednesday Critique b


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Last Monday morning, my annual Plein Air Toronto workshop, a week of sketching and painting in watercolour, began at the Arts on Adrian studio. I had a prepared a demonstration dealing with basic approaches to painting skies and clouds.

Studio Demo

Skies are always a challenge, especially in watercolour. I had painted a few sheets ahead of time and I completed one sheet while the students watched. By the way, the sky in the upper right corner is upside down!

Plein Air Toronto 2016 – Day One!

I also brought in a few books. We took a careful look at skies painted by some of the great English watercolour painters of the past as well as some by the American, Winslow Homer and Canadian artist, Frederick Hagan.

Here are some more sky studies I showed to the group. Some have been created with a soft edge (wet into wet) process and some are a combination of soft and crisp edges. Some were done in one step and others took two or three steps to complete.

Plein Air Toronto 2016 – Day One!   Plein Air Toronto 2016 – Day One!

Plein Air Toronto 2016 – Day One!

Plein Air Toronto 2016 – Day One!

Plein Air Toronto 2016 – Day One!

Plein Air Toronto 2016 – Day One!

It was time to head out of doors and the Sunnyside Pavilion on the shore of Lake Ontario was our destination. Upon arrival, we settled in for the rest of the day.


Sarah at work   Plein Air Toronto 2016 – Day One! 0

Plein Air Toronto 2016 – Day One! 1

Plein Air Toronto 2016 – Day One! 2

Plein Air Toronto 2016 – Day One! 3

Plein Air Toronto 2016 – Day One! 4

It was a great start to our week. At the end of the day, we gathered for our critique and discussed our plan for Tuesday. Stay tuned! Our activities from last Tuesday and Wednesday are coming soon.

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Monday Critique a

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Monday Critique b



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Last Thursday, I taught the fourth and final workshop in a series at the Dundas Valley School of Art in Dundas, Ontario. Pen and ink and pen combined with monochromatic washes and watercolour were the media explored in these workshops. On Thursday, our goal was to learn a few ideas and approaches to drawing people.

I spent some time discussing the basic proportions of the figure and the head and provided some handouts to the students. Our first drawing was of a standing man and we all worked from a photograph. I reviewed my approach to drawing which includes a lot of light, planning lines. Then, I added a monochromatic wash, a mix of Burnt Sienna and Cobalt Blue. The wash was applied to all areas of the figure not receiving light. The light areas were left alone; the untouched white of the paper.

Step one of pen and wash demonstration by Barry Coombs

The pen adds detail and definition. It deepens the darker areas. We took a few steps to introduce the pen work to the image, starting with a quick review of the basic techniques.

Step two of pen and wash demonstraton by Barry Coombs

The students worked on their drawings for quite a while. No need to rush. Proportion, light and shadow, the clothing: there was a lot to consider!

Standing Man Critique

Standing Man Critique

Our next drawing was of a walking woman. We took a different approach. After the pencil drawing, the local colours were applied directly. The watercolour washes were allowed to dry before starting with the pen.

Pen and watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

Most of the students would have used another half hour or so to good advantage but time ran out. Finished works of art, however, were not the goal of the workshop. These were learning exercises and intended to introduce each participant to a few sound approaches to drawing people.

Walking Woman Critique

Walking Woman Critique

Thanks for following for the last month. I’ll be back at the DVSA next fall with a new series of workshops dedicated to pen, wash and watercolour. Have a look at their website for details.

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I was back at the Dundas Valley School of Art yesterday to teach the third workshop in a series of four. Our first two days focused solely on pen drawing and yesterday we added wash and watercolour to the mix.

Photo of drawing subject by Barry Coombs

Our first subject was two cardboard gardening containers. I provided this photograph to each student. I’d taken care to light the objects so that we could focus on values. After drawing the objects in pencil, we added a monochromatic (one colour) wash to the overall areas of shadow. When the wash was dry, we worked with our pens and added much more information about the forms.

Pen and watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

Our second exercise was particularly interesting. I gave each student a small figurine of a teddy bear. We talked about the drawing aspect of the exercise including proportion and light and shadow. This time, we didn’t have a photograph of well-lit teddy bears to work from. We decided on a light direction, upper left or right, and analyzed the forms of the bears and how they would receive the light. Our goal was to make the bears look three-dimensional.

Drawing lesson by Barry Coombs

We did this drawing in four steps. Sorry! I didn’t have time to photograph all of the steps. First: we drew the bears in pencil. Second: we painted a blue-grey middle value wash in the shadow areas of the bears and allowed it to dry. Third: we painted the local colours. For example, the green shirt and the blue overalls. Our final step was the pen. We used it to enhance the shadows and add texture and detail.

Pen and watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

My goal was to introduce the students to a few ideas about combining pen with wash and watercolour. My hope was that they take home a good experience and apply it to their own sketching and drawing. It was an enthusiastic group and we had lots of fun while working hard on the projects. Have a look at what they created below. Next week, I’ll be back at DVSA for the fourth and final workshop in the series; Pen with Wash and Watercolour – Drawing People!

Cardboard Pots Critique

Cardboard Pots Critique

Teddy Bears Critique

Teddy Bears Critique

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I was back at the Dundas Valley School of Art today to teach the second in a series of four one-day workshops. Last week, I taught Pen and Ink Basics and most of the students were back today to explore natural forms with their pens.

We follow a step by step approach to our drawing exercises. Today, I brought in objects for the students to draw. Our first challenge was a garlic. I discussed the process on an 18 x 24″ pad at an easel. We then gathered around a table where I presented a smaller pen demonstration in steps.

Drawing lesson by Barry Coombs

Our second drawing subject was a seashell. I have quite a collection so each student had their own shell. Once again, I explained our approach at the easel, touching on key elements such as light and shadow and proportion.

Drawing lesson by Barry Coombs

We concentrated mainly on hatching and cross-hatching today. Stroke direction and edge were discussed. In general, we work from light to dark so the dark ‘stripes’ on the shell were one of the last things I did.

Pen and Ink – Natural Forms at DVSA

What a hard-working bunch! After completing two drawings, and with only half an hour left in the class, I gave them each a walnut. I didn’t do a demonstration but asked them to think about all of the ideas we’d considered thus far. Have a look at a selection of the day’s drawings.

I’ll be back next Thursday to teach Introduction to Pen with Wash and Watercolour. I think the class is full but sometimes there are cancellations so, if you’re interested, contact DVSA.

Pen and Ink-Natural Forms Critique

Pen and Ink-Natural Forms Critique

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