Spot the difference watercolour sketches

Back in 2017 I posted a painting that I’d done of ‘Café aux tours a Notre Dame’. The painting was based on my then recent trip to Paris and some photographs that I’d taken whilst there. I signed off that post by vowing to return to the subject another day. Fast forward a few years and, a short time ago, I received an inquiry about that particular painting. Looking back at it now however, while I’m still intrigued by the subject matter, I’m not particularly proud of the painting itself:

Cafe Aux Tours de Notre-Dame, Paris

The inquiry was, however, sufficient motivation to revisit this scene. 

I quite like the challenge of revisiting a view that I’ve painted before. At it’s best, I think it can be a great way of marking progress. To me, it does seem reasonable that taking the many intervening brushstrokes of experience and bringing them to bear on a previously painted subject should be a reasonable way of benchmarking the progress you’re making. For this particular challenge, I knew that I wanted to change some elements but part of my brief was a composition that featured both the café and Notre Dame – so I was committed to working with the same overall features.

As I’m really enjoying my sketching at the moment, I thought I’d start off with a sketch to see how I might correct some of the compositional elements that I dislike in the original painting. Here’s my first A5 sketch:

Watercolour sketch 1/3 of cafe aux tours a Notre Dame by John Haywood
Sketch 1

I quite like this sketch, and the difference made by removing the van of the original in favour of some figures. I don’t however like the rather static line of heads that cut across the image. I thought I’d do another sketch, but this time to have the waiter facing towards the viewer:

Watercolour sketch 2/3 of cafe aux tours a Notre Dame by John Haywood
Sketch 2

Again, I enjoyed this sketch, but still felt I was struggling with the figures. This time, while there was a little more variety to the figures, there still seemed to be a row of intimidating figures, all facing forwards, looming towards the viewer. Third time lucky then:

Watercolour sketch 3/3 of cafe aux tours a Notre Dame by John Haywood
Sketch 3

This was an attempt to combine the parts that I like from the previous two! While I still don’t feel I got the figures as I’d like them, I do like the overall composition of this one.

What I’m much more pleased about however is the general ‘feel’ of these three sketches. As is so often the case, I think that these little studies have a spontaneity, energy and directness about them that it would be great to bring to my more ‘finished’ paintings.

No promises but I’ll hopefully have something a little more substantial to show on this next week.


It would be remiss of me not to acknowledge the recent passing of the great watercolour artist Charles Reid on Saturday 1st June. I have a number of his publications and, though not an artist that I’ve been influenced by as much as some others, I have learnt a great deal from studying his work and his approach. He had an eminently distinctive and expressive style, the influence of which I see in many watercolour artists today. Since I started painting in earnest, I’ve been struck by how kind, generous and supportive the overwhelming group of people are that make up the watercolour community. This somehow makes the passing of one of it’s elder statesmen all the more poignant.

Thoughts on Spot the difference watercolour sketches

4 thoughts on “Spot the difference watercolour sketches”

  1. I prefer the third one, John. I like the light coming in under the awning on the left – more believable for me – and the waiter’s positioning seems to create some tension between the groups of people on either side of him. If it was me I’d put a little more detail in the figure on the far right and lighten them a tad.

    1. Thanks Graham – I think the third one is the closest I’ve got to what I’m after – but still not quite there yet! I’ll definitely take your comments on board when I’m working on my next variation on this theme! Hopefully I’ll have something that I’m sufficiently pleased with to send out soon!

  2. Hello John. I so agree with you about repeating paintings…some people never do it but I’ve always enjoyed the challenge too. I find it particularly interesting to try the same painting in a different medium as well, not something you’ve been tempted to try yet! I do think the exercise worked well for you and I do prefer the last one and agree that moving the van worked well. I do wonder where the women were that day? A long colourful skirt could have been added I think!
    I too feel very sad about the death of Charles Reid. They have one of his original watercolour portraits up at Windrush Gallery and it made me gasp it was so wonderful.
    Happy painting

    1. Hi Carole and thanks for this, I do admire you for trying the same scene in different mediums! I find painting in watercolour quite challenging enough without trying to complicate thinks even more with a different medium – I’m already struggling enough as it is! Talking of struggling, I must also apologise for the gender imbalance in my paintings! I’ve developed a lazy shorthand when it comes to figures that is biased towards men in jackets! I definitely need to practice more female figures and promise to try to redress the balance! I’ve only ever seen reproductions of Charles Reid’s work but it has such a wonderful directness about it! He certainly leaves behind a wonderful legacy in his work and the many people that he has taught and inspired. All the best Carole

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

Shopping Basket

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website.