Waterolour painting of an entrance to the Park de a Ciutadella, Barcelona, by John Haywood

A return to (watercolour) form?

Some of you may recall from last week’s post that, in the true tradition of poor artists, crafts or tradespeople, I was placing the blame of my recent frustrations firmly on my choice of paper. I was pleased then to receive a new supply of Saunders Waterford. In the past I’ve used the ‘regular Saunders Waterford rough’ and, one of the things that attracted me to Arches was the brighter whiteness of the paper, which I felt would give a greater sparkle to my paintings, particularly in any drybrush passages. On ordering this new batch of Saunders Waterford, I selected the ‘High White’ paper, which I hadn’t previously realised existed!

Here’s photo showing the two different types of Saunders Waterford alongside the Arches:

Top: Saunders Waterford high white. Middle: Arches. Bottom: Saunders Waterford (regular)
I’m sure many of you will appreciate the challenge of photographing slightly different shades of white, so you may just have to take my word for it that the Saunders Waterford High White is the ‘white-est’ of the three!I seem to recall that when I first switched to Arches, another attraction was what I perceived to be a slightly rougher surface, something again that I felt would suit my style of painting. In fact, I wrote a post quite some time ago describing my first reactions to the Arches: Same watercolour view, different watercolour paper
As my analysis is going to be particularly subjective, I feel that in the interests of fairness and balance, I should provide links to the respective voices of both Saunders Waterford and Arches so that anyone interested can compare what the manufacturers have to say.So, with a quarter sheet of Saunders Waterford 300gsm High White Rough all taped up, I spent an absolute age trying to figure out what to paint!  I leafed through packs and packs of reference photos, eventually landing on a Barcelona view that I’ve long considered painting, but never quite felt up to it. Even after sketching it out, I was feeling very doubtful about my prospects of success. The scene was very busy with details which I was conscious would need stripping back, and I also felt needed to add in a lot of figures to make it work too. First up is the finished effort, followed by an outline description of how I painted this scene.
Waterolour painting of an entrance to the Park de a Ciutadella, Barcelona, by John Haywood
Entrance to the Park de la Ciutadella, Barcelona

I first washed in a diluted raw sienna across the lower part of the sky, followed immediately by a diluted cobalt blue across the top of the sky, allowing it to bleed and run into the raw sienna. While still damp, I started to drop in a variety of greens to suggest the distant trees and greenery, and then a very feint bluey purple to indicate some distant buildings above the treetops. Still working my way down the page, I started to strengthen the wash, also being mindful to keep the line irregular for where the foliage meets the path, so that I could later use these to suggest people in the distance, and also cutting around the plinth in the middle of the path.

Next came another wash to cover the mid-distance into the foreground, and then a light blue-grey wash for the tarmac of the road. This was all done pretty quickly and I recall really enjoying how the paint was behaving on the paper. It did feel different to the Arches, the paint seemed to ‘stay alive’ for longer – although to be fair to the Arches, I was also conscious that I was working ‘wetter’ than of late, carrying much more moisture in my brush.

By the time I’d finished completely covering the page with the first wash, the sky had dried and I mixed up some thick, juicy greens and, using a small mop brush, began to loosely suggest the foliage of the trees in the foreground. I was conscious of not trying to paint each leaf or each tree, but to try to paint the overall mass of trees, returning to the palette frequently to vary the colour combinations and the tone. This took a few minutes before I got into the swing of it, after which my main concern became not overdoing it, I still needed lots of sky to show through to create the light and the shadows that make the view.

Now that the bottom half of the painting had dried, I mixed up a darker ‘tarmac mix’ to put over the top of the road and to create the zebra crossing, which was a bit hairy but I tried to paint it with a certain amount of boldness rather than giving in to the temptation of being too tentative. And that was it for all of the main features. Changing brushes, I started to add in all of the figures, focussing more on creating a sense of people and activity rather than being overly prescriptive. This stage also included adding in the dry brush tree trunks. Although this paper doesn’t feel quite as rough as the Arches, it’s plenty rough enough to achieve some drybrush. Finally, came a switchback to a big mop brush and decent quantity of bluey/mauve shadow and then loosely throwing in the shadows from the figures and trying to capture the dappled light across the path and the road.

I think the fact that I’ve been willing to ramble on in such detail about this painting (at the expense of boring the reader I daresay!) is an indication of how much I enjoyed painting this, and how pleased I am with the outcome. I think it captures the light and atmosphere well and has a real sense of energy about it which I’m really chuffed with. After the recent few weeks of uncertainty and dissatisfaction with my efforts, it feels like a wonderful breath of fresh air to feel so positive about a painting!

Thoughts on A return to (watercolour) form?

12 thoughts on “A return to (watercolour) form?”

  1. Pingback: Watercolour sketches to watercolour paintings

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  3. Not sure about anyone else but I love reading through the steps of the process. I followed along quite well, popping back up to the top to study the painting again and then read the next step.

    I had heard of using Raw sienna in the sky instead of Yellow ochre or other yellows because it doesn’t go green. Not sure about that but I like the look. Your people still amaze and motivate me. I am putting more people in my paintings, trying to be brave.

    Just as you have found your paints and your brushes, you have found your paper. I think the Saunders rough high white is your muse. It is your comfort zone. It frees you, allows you to just paint.

    1. Hi Mary and thanks for this! so pleased you liked the brushstroke by brushstroke explanation, I really appreciate it. I’m not so sure that Raw Sienna is any less likely to go green in those sky mixes – I thought the main thing to avoid was trying to mix the sienna (or ochre) and whatever blue you’re using with any brush contact. If they run together on the paper with water, it can be fine. When my mixes go green, is usually because either the paper, or the washes aren’t wet enough so I end up going back in with my brush and indavertently turn everything green!
      Such wonderful comments about my people too! I still think figures are a constant work in progress for me, but I feel I’m getting less less intimidated by them as time goes by! As for the Saunders Waterford, I really do hope you’re right! I’m definitely going to stick with it for a while to see if I can really prove the point!

    1. Hi Graham and many thanks for this, much appreciated! It makes a change as quite often when i try to let the cobalt wash run into the raw sienna wash, I end up fiddling with it and it usually ends up turning green instead of into a nice graduated wash!

  4. Hi John…well I think this is my favourite painting of yours yet…it looks both atmospheric and still nice and fresh and also professional…good job!. I thought of contacting you earlier after reading your last post about your frustrations with your paper. I have been having just the same thoughts as you. I have just tried using my Arches Rough 140lb and found it a difficult surface to use. Also the paint seems somehow to,’sink in’ too much so that the washes looked really dull to me. I realised Imuch prefer the Saunders Waterford Not and have always bought the high white since they brought it out…yeah what a difference. Also, I have today ordered some just 90lb weight SW as having a really poor spell some time ago that’s all I wanted to spend and I just loved it…the paint looks fresher and livelier to me and is lovely to work on. I don’t stretch is as it makes it a bit too precious…I just flatten it after if I want to frame it.
    Sorry to ramble on but know you enjoy feedback…keep it coming!
    By the way if you go on Facebook I have a FB art page where you can see my art, using different mediums this year. It’s Carole Rogers Art. Do have a look. 😱

    1. Hi Carole and thanks so much for this! I’m obviously especially pleased that this may be your favourite of mine to date! Really interesting too to learn of your experiences and opinions of Arches and Saunders Waterford. I think I’ve really persevered with the Arches but, on balance I don’t think many of my favourite paintings have been painted on Arches. I’m going to stick with the Saunders Waterford for a while to see how I get on (I fully expect this particular painting to be an unexpected high point after which there’ll be discernable dip!). I’m afraid I’m not too good on Facebook (it’s the platform that I enjoy least of all to be honest!) but I have been to look at your page and it’s great to see your work on there too! I’m following you now too so will be nice to keep up to date! Many thanks Carole – and here’s to our continued enjoyment of Saunders Waterford!

    1. Hi Andrea and thanks so much for this. I’m so pleased that there’s some motivational aspect! It’s also a timely reminder to me to make sure that the pleasure outweighs the frustrations! Thanks again Andrea!

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