Watercolour painting of Las Ramblas, Barcelona, by John Haywood

Barcelona’s Las Ramblas in watercolour

I received some new brushes the other day, three Da Vinci Cassaneo Wash brushes that I ordered from the Society for All Artists (SAA). I’m vaguely familiar with the organisation but think that this is the first time that I’ve ordered anything from them. The service and delivery etc was all great, as was the price for the brushes which seemed to be the best around. The SAA is a membership organisation so along with my order, I also received a full catalogue and a copy of the SAA magazine which I’ve been perusing with great interest.

I was particularly pleased to see a little demonstration/exercise from Jem Bowdon, a watercolour artist that I greatly admire. Jem has a wonderful way with skies and the arrival of the magazine, along with my new brushes, seemed more than just pure co-incidence. After all, it’s been a very long time since I did a big sky painting – and it would be a great way of testing out the new brushes! I followed Jem’s approach – which does involve getting your sky washes prepared in advance and then, once you’ve started, working with considerable speed! There’s such a delicious immediacy about working like this – plus a large degree of uncertainty as to whether it will work out or not, which you often won’t know until the very end and after you’ve added some land in for the sky to relate to. The motive again was based on one of Jem’s paintings.

A Jem Bowden inspired watercolour painting by John Haywood
A Jem Bowden inspired big sky painting

I really enjoyed painting this, partly because it took me back to the work of Edward Seago – whose astonishing work was the inspiration for me starting my own watercolour adventures. What I found particularly interesting was the realisation that whilst I love this style of painting, and greatly admire artists such as Jem, it doesn’t feel like ‘me’. It’s the first time in a quite a while that I’ve used another artists’ work as a basis for a painting and it felt a little strange to be trying to paint like someone else! That’s not to say I don’t like the finished painting – in fact I’m already thinking about doing another larger version – just that I don’t feel that’s where I’m at with my painting at the moment.

So, having given myself a little time to get acquainted with my new brushes, I decided to proceed with another Barcelona painting, this time of a bustling scene on the famous Las Ramblas. I was drawn to this by the strong shadows of the umbrella, and the spacing of the figures that I felt added depth. I was a little uncertain of how to tackle some elements, but was keen to try to maintain the sense of vim of last week’s painting. Here’s the outline sketch that started everything off.

Las Ramblas outline sketch

I should have, and shall try in future, to take more work in progress photos but to be perfectly honest, this painting felt like the watercolour equivalent of white-water rafting; once I’d started, I didn’t feel I could stop or take a break until I was completely out in the clear on the other side! When I did eventually stop to draw breath, this is what the other side looked like:

Watercolour painting of Las Ramblas, Barcelona, by John Haywood
Las Ramblas, Barcelona

While there’re are elements that I like about this painting, I can’t help feeling that it’s one of those were the enjoyment of painting it outweighs the end result! Yes it may be more ‘me’ than the earlier landscape painting, but I’m not sure whether I like it that much more for that alone!

Seen as a stepping stone on a journey, rather than in isolation, I like the direction I’m heading in, especially with simplifying scenes such as backgrounds. I also feel I’m getting better, or at least more confident at groups of people rather than treating each figure individually.

I definitely think that there’s better to come around the corner and I hope it’s just a case of holding my nerve, and a lot more patience – something that’s sadly never been one of my strong points!

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