Same watercolour view, different watercolour paper

After my mixed feelings about last week’s painting, I was keen to see if I could rectify some of the most niggling elements. Here’s last week’s version of my sunlit Barcelona street scene as a reminder:

Watercolour painting of a bright day in Barcelona by John Haywood
Watercolour painting of a bright day in Barcelona (take one)

I was also keen to do a compare and contrast with the new supply of Arches 300gsm rough watercolour paper that I received recently. As I mentioned in my last post, I was nervous on receiving this paper as it feels so much more flimsy than the 425gsm Saunders Waterford Rough that I’ve been painting with for most of this year. I do however like the crisp whiteness of the Arches, and the paper feels as if it has a bit more tooth than the Saunders Waterford. I’m not sure ‘having a bit more tooth’ is a particularly technical term, but it feels rougher! I noticed this when sketching out this week’s painting as the surface of the paper seemed to blunt my pencil more quickly. Also, when I came to erase a few of the inevitable mistakes, the Arches wasn’t particularly co-operative or forgiving. The lead seemed to sit deep into the surface texture of the paper.

Saunders Waterford 425gsm rough on top, Arches 300gsm rough beneath

Sadly, in my enthusiastic haste, I totally forgot to take any work in progress photos but I’ll nevertheless try to describe how I approached this differently. With my first effort, I painted the sky towards the end of the painting, which meant having to cut around a lot of rooftop detail. It doesn’t show too much in the final painting, but the cutting around the edges affected the drying time and I didn’t end up with as smooth a wash as I would have liked. The second time around, I turned the board upside down and started with the sky, aiming for a graduated wash, lighter at the horizon and darker nearer the top of the painting. My plan then was to use a bit of kitchen towel to wipe away the colour from the buildings, especially the tall one. As a plan, this failed dramatically! Although the paper stayed damp for a long time, the blue really stained the paper and didn’t lift out as I’d hoped.

With only the sky washed in I was already despairing! I quickly tried to put a wash across the buildings, but did so far too impatiently as the sky hadn’t dried so there was lots of bleeding across what were supposed to be crisp edges into the sky. I was rapidly the opinion that the Arches paper wasn’t for me and that I’ve just wasted a lot of money. Thinking now, more rationally, it’s only natural that a significantly lighter weight paper will feel as if it’s staying wetter for longer – but at the time, I wasn’t thinking particularly rationally!

I washed in over the buildings and down into the foreground where I used a mix of raw sienna and light red. Then, while still wet, I put in a bluey-grey wash of cobalt blue and burnt sienna. The next significant area that I treated differently was the trees. On the first version, I loosely washed some clear water over the area where I want to the trees to be and then started splattering different hues and tones of yellow and green onto the painting. This seemed to go on for a long time, and became increasingly scattergun and the paint spatters began to cover the entire half sheet! The second time around I used a small mop brush and, mainly using the heel of the brush, quickly scrubbed in the trees, dropping in some darker pigment here and there for some extra depth. This is when the surface texture began to come into its own. It’s lovely for dry-brush style work and leaving broken lines etc. Once the trees were in place, providing some welcome contrast, I started to feel that this painting may not be a totally lost cause!

I can’t remember the order that everything else came in, but I think it started with the shadows on the walls under the sun shades then moving into the figures. I was conscious to vary the tone of these figures much more than I originally did in the first version. Also, in the first version, the highlights of chair legs etc were all added in with gouache at the end. This time it was a bit more mixed, with only a few gouache highlights added at the end, and others, such as the chair in the foreground on the left, were painted negatively, with the chair being defined by the darks around the chair, which provides a much more satisfying result.

The rest of it came together okay, probably as I relaxed into it more, plus I felt I was becoming more accustomed to the paper at the same time that I was working on elements that I think really played to the strengths of the paper. I was conscious of trying not to overwork areas, such as the couple in the foreground, even though I wasn’t completely satisfied with them. Sometimes the risk of losing the ‘feel’ of something for the sake of accuracy isn’t worth it. At the end of this, I still wasn’t completely enamoured with it. I did, however, think that the composition and the manner of the painting was an improvement on the first version. Also, considering I got off to a pretty shaky start on this one, I felt as if I’d pulled off a reasonable rescue mission:

Watercolour painting of a bright day in Barcelona (take two)

Here are the two versions side by side for ease of comparison and, as ever, I welcome any other opinions besides my own on these two!

Oh, I should also mention that another concern I had about the Arches has been put to rest. For the time being at least. When wet, the Arches paper did cockle quite a lot more than the heavier Saunders Waterford but once it had completely dried out, it was ‘almost’ flat again. I’m certain that if mounted and with a backing board, it would be absolutely fine.

My next post isn’t due until after Santa’s been, so I’d like to take this seasonal opportunity to wish you all a wonderful, joy-filled Christmastime.

Thoughts on Same watercolour view, different watercolour paper

14 thoughts on “Same watercolour view, different watercolour paper”

  1. Pingback: A return to (watercolour) form? –

  2. It was so interesting to see your process with the new paper. Fascinating how you do it.

    I like version 2 better in general, and here is why. The whole piece seems to have a better, deeper tonal range. In photography, I would say your contrast range produces more vibrancy. This makes the people in the foreground have more substance and depth. And the extra vibrancy makes everything pop out more, to appear more 3D.

    I can’t comment too much on the sky as I don’t know what it really looked like. But the second version has a nice tonality to it. I get a feel of a little wispy clouds and some haze, like on a hot day.

    Yes, I can just say that I like #2 better. This was fun to see and read about your process. Thanks.

    1. Hi Tim and thanks so much for this, partly for your astute observations, but also because this reminded me that I’ve been through this whole dilemma (the one that I’m currently having about paper) before! When I’ve done my next comparison between the Arches and the Saunders I’ll definitely have to link back to this post! Interesting to read your points about contrast as different artists seem to use it in different ways. I am gradually trying to take into account that the strongest area of contrast will also tend to become the focal point of the image as it will draw the eye most. I thing I’m still also guilty of getting my my colours mixed up with my tone. It’s always a constant ‘work in progress’ isn’t it!

      1. Absolutely. But for me, and I am pretty sure you are the same, the learning in part of the fun. The challenge is just part of the enjoyment. Thanks again for sharing and have fun. The fall season brings more interesting light and of course lots of color. 👍

  3. I use Arch 140lb Not – but I stretch it. I like it myself as I abuse it harshly, scratching out, using sandpaper etc.and it seems to take it.
    I prefer the second painting as the main figures are bigger and you have spent more time on the background figures and furniture, but I am a natural pedant.It does draw your eye to the focal point. You’ve also lost that foreground shadow which is a great difference.

  4. I think both are worthy of being keepers but I prefer ‘Take One’ John. I have some Arches here,140lb but I’m keeping it until I get better🤣🤣

    1. Thanks so much for this Larry – much appreciated! I know what you mean about wanting to save your paper – I’ve done the same myself but am beginning to wonder if it’s just better to get started on a few smaller studies, just so you get a feel for the properties and qualities of the paper before tackling something a little larger?

  5. I preferred take 2 thought it seemed a little fresher,despite the initial struggles with the Arches paper. Just my opinion of course,but I don’t think ultra heavy papers unless using for many washes to achieve highly detailed paintings.

    1. Hi Peter and many thanks for this. I think fresher is a good description. I know freshness doesn’t always equate to speed but the first one felt like it took a lot longer to paint and felt quite laboured throughout. The second one, despite the travails with the paper came together pretty quickly and I even enjoyed painting some parts of it 😃! I think you’re right too about the ultra heavy weight papers. I might try a sheet out one day, just for fun, but I don’t think I need 300lb paper (and I certainly can’t afford for it to become a habit!) – Many thanks for your comments Peter, much appreciated.

  6. I think that the #2 painting is my favorite of the two, really like the trees and also I don’t know if you noticed, it seems to keep the eye more in your focal area. I found myself thinking after viewing the #1 painting, that you cropped your second painting, it just has a stronger focal point. I had to go back and compare both of them, and they are the same size. I agree with you, giving the Arches time and who knows you might end up really liking it. I personally don’t buy it much any more because I have found my favorite “go to” papers. I think that I liked Arches rough and when I do buy it, that is the one I get. I also agree about the price of the 300# paper, double the price, yikes! I don’t seem to mind the buckling, I am used to it and quite frankly I don’t notice it much because I work with it. Though at the beginning I have had some frustrating conversations out loud painting on buckling paper! Anyway, Merry Christmas and enjoy painting to the hilt on your Arches paper!

    1. Thanks so much Margaret, really pleased that you liked the trees more on the second one as I also thought they were much more successful than the splattered ones on the first take. You’re right about the paper too – we just need to get to know each other better which will only come from spending more painting time together! Hopefully I’ll be able to get a bit of painting in over the festive season. A Merry Christmas to you too Margaret, all the very best!

  7. There is a heavier, thicker Arches. 640 gsm or 300 lb that you can get in sheets in hot press, cold press and rough. Also blocks:

    I’m not near good enough to be wasting really fine paper like that. But using the 90 lb student grade is a waste of my time. I use the 140lb and buy locally on sale. I’m sure if you used the Arches more often, you’d get a feel for it and be comfortable with what it can and can’t do.

    I like the trees in version number two and I think the area under the umbrellas is more successful. The detail at the top of the building is also nicer. I like the sky better too, it looks more natural to me.

    Use up the rest of your Arches stash and you may find you like it.

    1. Haha thanks for this and I did look at the heavyweight Arches rough – it was more than twice the price of the 140lb and must be as heavy as a thick sheet of card! I think/hope that you’re right – I need to give myself a lot longer to play around and get used to the Arches. There’s already a lot I like about it so I’m hopeful! Thanks too for the kind comments about this latest effort – they’re much appreciated!

I'd love to hear any thoughts you have about this

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