Back to Barcelona

I committed myself to revisiting this view of La Placa Reial in Barcelona whilst I was away on holiday, and before last week’s horrific attacks. Unsurprisingly, those events did play on my mind whilst painting. Like many locals and visitors, we enjoyed many a walk on Las Ramblas and the bustling network surrounding streets and I can’t imagine the terror of being caught up in such an attack.  I was reflecting on the number of recent attacks and particularly those in Paris, London and Barcelona. All cities that we’ve spent time in as a family in the past year, London in particular where I lived for ten years and still visit regularly for both work and pleasure. Ahead of our trip to Paris, although admittedly after I’d already booked the tickets as a surprise, I recall us discussing whether it was wise to be visiting in light of the attacks. We took the view that we can’t allow ourselves to be intimidated by such events, to have our lives and the simple choices we make influenced by the fear of ‘what if’. I still stand by this, but confess to being deeply saddened by a world where a momentum of hatred, suspicion and division is undermining and threatening the values of love, tolerance and unity that I know so many of us hold dear.

Now if anyone knows an easy way to segue-way seamlessly from this, to watercolour painting, please do let me know! In the meantime, I’m afraid I’ll just have to make the enormous and incongruous leap from the state of the world, to the state of my watercolours.

I was keen to revisit this scene for four reasons:

  1. I really enjoyed painting this originally, and was pleased with the outcome.
  2. it sold quickly, so I didn’t get to spend very long with it!
  3. I wanted to try to paint it a little differently in light of some my holiday sketches and what I’ve been reading and digesting from Joseph Zbukvic’s ‘Mastering Mood and Atmosphere in Watercolour’.
  4. I thought it would be good subject to help me find my recently misplaced watercolour ‘mojo’!

When embarking on this second version, I purposefully avoided referring to any images of the first painting as I didn’t want to be overly influenced by it. I definitely wanted to work afresh from my reference photos rather than try to copy my first effort. All that I knew was that I wanted to try and replicate the relaxed and loose approach to the painting. Other than that, any similarities are accidental rather than intentional, and putting the images together side by side here is the first time I’ve compared and contrasted these two paintings.

For the first painting, I painted the sky first and then, whilst it was drying, I did the foreground wash, leaving both to dry before painting in the background buildings. These building were done in one wash and, just before drying, I ‘drew’ in some lines with clean water which left behind the darker window areas.

For my second attempt, I painted a single wash over the pretty much the entire image. I did a graduated wash from blue towards to yellowy / orange, which became a slightly deeper raw sienna-ish wash over the buildings, and flooded in some yellow where there were palm trees in front of the buildings, and then continued down into the foreground, leaving some highlights here and there for the umbrellas and figures etc. The light orange wash continued into the immediate foreground into which I added in a slightly bluey grey wash.

Here’s what it looked like after this first wash:

Work in progress, first wash
Work in progress, first wash

In his book, Zbukvic refers to the ‘mother colour’ – a colour that can be found throughout the painting that provides a harmonious unity. My attempt at this was the pale orange (made from winsor yellow and winsor red) that appears in the sky, across the buildings, through the foreground, and was even used for the flesh tones of the figures. You may also be able to see that the windows on the background buildings were created during the pencil sketch phase. My aim here was to put these in sufficiently dark in pencil that they’d show through and wouldn’t require any further tinkering with.  Unfortunately, after taking this initial ‘work in progress’ photo, I became so engrossed with painting, I completely forget to document any other stages until I’d finished!

After the first wash had completely dried, I started to wash in the background buildings, painting around the trunk of the main tree and the other trees, which I then added in wet into wet. On the first painting, these trees were added in later, using much thicker paint. I then progressed down, putting in the shadows under the umbrellas and then started to put in all of the background figures, which I tried to treat en masse rather than individually. Once these were done, I turned my attention the palm trees that were silhouetted against the sky. I knew that the palm tree on my first effort was going to be hard to better in portraying the play of light, so I wasn’t surprised that I wasn’t as pleased with the final result! I was however happy with the manner in which I’d painted it, which wasn’t too tight. The trunk was dry-brushed in after which I did some final detail work on the figures and umbrellas, before finishing with the shadows for the people and across the left hand foreground.

Here’s a larger image of the where I left it.

A watercolour painting of La Placa Reial, Barcelona by John Haywood
La Placa Reial, Barcelona (II)

I like a lot of the outcomes from where I took an intentionally different approach. I think the two different colour palettes create distinctly different atmospheres – this second one is so much warmer than the first – where the ‘mother’ features much more blue and feels much cooler.

What has pleased me most however, is that I really enjoyed painting it! After  having had such doubts about my painting recently – it felt great to be painting with a sense of joy and freedom again.

Thoughts on Back to Barcelona

4 thoughts on “Back to Barcelona”

  1. Catherine Moore

    Love how you painted this big palm. I’m not sure what kind of brush you used, but the texture is really nice. I live in a tropical place and I’m always looking for new ways to describe palms. Thank you for sharing this.

    1. Hi Catherine and thanks so much for this. The leaves of the main tree were done with a fan brush and the trunk with a round sable brush – in both cases the pigment was quite thick and I didn’t use that much water. I did this some time ago and looking at it again now, it makes me want to paint it again because I’m sure I could do it better! Thanks again Catherine.

  2. So good to hear that you got your “mojo” back 🙂 always a good feeling. I really like the overall warmth of your painting and in particular you showing the origin of that sunlight, through the trees, bouncing off the buildings, the ground and how you showed the palm tree shadows. I really like how you gave dimension to the trees by flooding (I think) some water into the mass of the trees, the expression escapes me right now but I suppose you know what I mean. Great to hear that you are back in the saddle!

    1. Thanks so much Margaret! Still feel a long way off your ‘painting up a storm’! (Perhaps I’m more in the calm before the storm territory!) but the outlook is certainly brighter than it was! Some definite rays of sunshine and glimmers of hope in this one! 😁☀️

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