Watercolour painting of a bright day in Barcelona by John Haywood

(Yet) Another bright day in Barcelona

With the festive season now in full swing, I’m finding precious little time for painting. Anytime I do get, I’m still drawn to much sunnier scenes than we’re currently experiencing here in the UK. This is another Barcelona view which has been on my ‘to paint’ list for a long time but I’ve never quite felt up to it. It also felt like a challenging contrast to last week’s painting. I was really happy with that contre jour painting, in which so much was lost in the shadows but knew I had to avoid trying to replicate something similar again! This brightly lit image does have some lost elements but it’s mainly crisply lit in full sun.

I managed to get a few work in progress shots along the way – ever hopeful that I may be documenting a masterpiece!

Bright day in Barcelona – outline drawing
Bright day in Barcelona – first wash
Bright day in Barcelona – adding the sky
Bright day in Barcelona – sort of finished…

At this point, it was sort of finished and, as I often do, I left it on the easel for a while so I could mull it over some more.

On reflection, I think my loyalties were torn in this painting and I didn’t make a sufficiently clear decision about what interested me most about it. It probably should have been the foreground figures and the bustle under the umbrellas, but I was also torn by the particularly striking tall building. I really compromised any chance of communicating this building however with my choice of composition. By leaving the foreground so clear, which I hoped would lead the eye in and be a restful place, I actually restricted my options for conveying the height of the building. Then there’s the delicious ornateness of the top of the building. I really liked this aspect of the scene and thought I handled it in a relatively loose fashion that I was okay with, but I still feel it competes with other areas of the composition. I’m not sure how, but I think if I was to try this again, I’d need to find a way of making this much more of a supporting part. I imagine this would be a case of trying to be much lighter of touch and tone, painting this looser and in a much more suggestive manner.

After much mulling, I decided that at the risk of completely ruining it, I should try to rectify some of the things that were really niggling me. These niggles were mainly focussed on the figures beneath the umbrellas. I think I’d made these too dark and too uniform in positioning, tone and colour. My repair job started with a careful and thorough soaking of the area. Once the paper had absorbed the moisture I used some kitchen roll to try to lift out some of the pigment. This didn’t work as much as would have liked, but it did lighten the figures and the shadow area. Once this was done I was able to go back into the figures with some colour, especially those that I was trying to indicate as being nearer to the foreground. This did immediately give the painting a bit of a lift. Encouraged, I also added a standing figure in the background to break up the monotonous line of seated heads. Finally, using a little white gouache for some highlights,  the umbrella posts and to suggest some chairs and chair legs catching the light under the awning:

Watercolour painting of a bright day in Barcelona by John Haywood
Watercolour painting of a bright day in Barcelona

I think these minor adjustments significantly improved the painting and, while I don’t think that this ranks in quite the same class of some of my more recent efforts, I’m pleased that I persevered.

Having identified a few clear ways in which I think this could be tackled again, and hopefully improved upon, I daresay I’ll find it hard to resist the temptation to try this one again!

Oh, in other news… in an effort to ring in the changes, I’ve just taken delivery of some new paper! For the past year or so, I’ve been painting on Saunders Waterford 425gsm rough paper. As I’ve often heard others extol the virtues of Arches, I’ve decided to try it out and have opted for the 300gsm rough. It feels very flimsy by comparison to the 425gsm Saunders Waterford so I’m expecting a lot more cockling than I’ve become accustomed to. The surface does, however, appear both rougher and brighter than the Saunders Waterford which I’m hoping will suit my approach.

Saunders Waterford rough 425gsm (top) and Arches rough 300gsm

I really hope that I do get on with this paper because, in a typically ‘cutting my nose off to spite my face’ approach, I ordered two packs of half imperial sheets in order to qualify for free postage! Great if I love it, but a huge false economy if I don’t and find I’ve spent in the region of £25 to save myself £5!

I’d love to hear other people’s experiences and opinions of either of these two papers or indeed any other paper recommendations that anyone may be willing to share.

Thoughts on (Yet) Another bright day in Barcelona

15 thoughts on “(Yet) Another bright day in Barcelona”

  1. Pingback: Same watercolour view, different watercolour paper –

  2. I think this is my favourite of your paintings! I do wonder if it could do with a little more spatter on the ground at the front? Lovely work though! I love both those papers but find it harder to lift paint off the Arches than the SW which has a softer surface I think. I don’t stretch paper either but if it’s a ‘goody’ I wil flatten it with damp teatowel and heavy books afterwards. Happy Christmas

    1. Wow Carole thanks! I know that you’ve probably seen more of my paintings than most so to get such a ringing endorsement is lovely – thank you! The spatter on the ground at the front (and indeed all over!) is more by accident than by design! When I was painting the trees – I dampened down the paper and then started to flick and splatter paint on. This was supposed to be a bit more isolated but ended up going everywhere! A happy accident maybe!? Thanks too for your tip on the paper – I’ve not tried that before. Do you dampen the back/unpainted side of the paper before weighting it down? – thanks Carol – happy Christmas to you too!

      1. Well to flatten the paper I lay the painting painted side down on a very clean laminated board I keep for the purpose. Then I dampen a thin cotton teatowel and lay it over the back of the painting…I then add a couple of sheets of kitchen roll tho I don’t know quite why! I guess it’s to keep it all just damp. Then I find my heaviest books, usually decorating and gardening ones!, and lay those on top. I then leave it for about 24 hours but probably best to check it after about 12 as the damp has been known to leak thru a little, and soften edges. Then when I take the weights off it is always flat and I just leave it to dry on a flat surface. I do this regularly as I find if I stretch paper it all becomes a little ‘precious’ and makes me less free with the paint.
        Hope that helps. Best to try it out on a ‘failure’ if you have any first.
        Happy painting,

        1. Thanks so much for this Carole – fortunately I have plenty of failures so will have lots of opportunities to try this out and hopefully master it! I’ll let you know how I get on and thanks again for the top tips, I really appreciate it. Happy painting over the festive season!

  3. I’ve never used Saunders but I have tried Fabriano and a new paper called Stonehenge, both for workshops on recommendations from the instructors. Didn’t like either of them. I still come back to Arches. I am branching out from cold press to hot press and rough in the Arches. I use blocks, not sheets so the buckling isn’t so much of an issue.

    I see you are continuing with your umbrella theme.

    1. haha, how very frustrating to have used papers recommended only to find you don’t get on with either of them! What weight of arches are you using? Reminds me that I do have a smallish block of Arches. I did a sketch on it some time ago and remember really liking the surface and how it took the paint. I need to reserve judgement until I’ve done five or six paintings on it. As for the umbrellas, yes – the more I try to avoid them, the more I’m drawn to them! Thanks for your feedback on the papers, much appreciated

      1. The covers say 300 g/m2 or 140 lbs.

        I generally don’t use sheets.

        I use blocks with glue all the way around the four sides so I don’t have to stretch or worry about buckling. They come in various sizes and configurations, about 20 sheets per block. I prefer them because they are easy to transport to and from class or use plein air. I don’t need a lot of other things like boards, tape and clamps to manage the paper. The blocks are a bit pricier but I prefer the convenience and stock up during sales. As long as you wait for your painting to dry completely there is no buckling.

        I’ve used mostly the cold press which has the green cover but have also tried the hot press (pink) and rough (orange).

        I must say it was how the paper took the paint that I preferred in comparison. I really didn’t like the Stonehenge at all (I think this is a “Cheap Joe’s” brand, an American retailer). I wasn’t impressed with Fabriano either. The Arches hot press, cold press and rough all take the paint a bit differently, but I still prefer the Arches in any of these surfaces to the other brands. I occasionally use painter’s tape and I can remove it from the Arches no problem, but the Fabriano was iffy and the tape tore the surface off of the Stonehenge, so just another mark against those two. I can’t imagine what masking fluid would do to it. I’ve used masking on Arches and it’s come off just fine, no damage whatsoever.

        Arches does make a 300 lb very heavy paper but I believe it only comes in sheets and is a lot pricier than the blocks so I’ve never used it. I’m not good enough to waste that kind of paper on “practice”. Their pads aren’t as heavy as the 140 lb (I think 90 lb) so I don’t even bother, plus there is the hassle of taping them to a board etc.

        I won’t be wasting the Fabriano or Stonehenge blocks. I’ll be removing the sheets and cutting them down to make journals for sketching and such. I make my own using a “circa” punch and circa discs. They allow me to take out, insert and rearrange pages. Plus I can make journals any size I want using any paper I want.

        1. Thanks for this and sorry for taking so long to reply. Great to get such a strong experience based endorsement for the Arches. I’ve got loads of sketchbooks of different types and qualities of paper (although I don’t do nearly enough sketching in them!). I do like the idea though of having a paper that I really get to know and bond with! Hopefully the Arches may be that paper but only time and more painting will tell!

  4. I can see why you are pulled between the building and your intended focal are, the building has an apparent grandeur appearance. As to paper, I really appreciate the heavier Saunders as opposed to Arches, buckling with 140# doesn’t deter me but I do expect my paper to lay completely flat afterwards. I have found that Arches doesn’t remain flat enough for me. I was buying 300# for a while but the cost makes me pause because I go through a lot of paper. I have found several brands (140#) that does lay flat though I would have to go back to take a look.

    1. Aarrggh – on reading this I’m already regretting my bulk buy of Arches! I did think about the next weight up but that was 640gsm and double the price! I’ll just have to give it a try and see how I get on. I’m not in anyway minded to start stretching large sheets of paper though! I may well have to chalk this one down to experience! Thanks Margaret, I’ll be sure to let you know how I get on!

      1. Oops sorry but I am very picky about paper laying flat once I am finished. Who knows it might be a paper that you’ll like and don’t mind the occasional ripple. I do buy all kinds of paper, as long as the reviews are good. I don’t bother with stretching paper, I have done it a few times and I still had to deal with buckling. I am used to it but I do expect my painting to lay flat once dry. My personal favorite is Lanaquarelle, the texture is quite beautiful. I can’t wait to hear what you think about Arches!

        1. I’m with you on the paper laying flat once it’s all dried out – especially if it’s something that might end up mounted and framed. The Saunders 425gsm has been great for that. I’m not familiar with Lanaquarelle as a brand but shall keep an eye out for it. I think I need to allow myself a few disasters with the Arches before I make any sweeping judgements. Thanks Margaret

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