New year’s resolution watercolour painting

Without wishing to start off on a bleak note, I’m fully anticipating that 2020 is going to be a tough old year. This is primarily for personal reasons that have nothing to do with painting, but is nevertheless the main motivation behind one of my new year resolutions to ‘sort out some holidays’.

There are two reasons for this:

  1. It’s always nice to have things to look forward to
  2. Left too late, even the process of organising holidays can become a cause of stress (not to mention even greater expense!)

Now I’ve already got my Alvaro Castagnet watercolour masterclass sorted, which is obviously great, but that’s not until May!

This post is my mini celebration of a trip that we’ve just booked to Valencia early in April for Easter. So far we’ve only booked the flights but that alone is a cause for great rejoicing and anticipation!

Even though I’ve probably visited Valencia more than most other places in Europe, I still don’t feel I know it well. This could also be due to my increasingly unreliable memory too, but I definitely haven’t visited Valencia since I picked up my brushes again so I’m really looking forward to returning and seeing it through my watercolour lens.

To whet my visual appetite, I did a quick search for some images of Valencia with a view to doing a quick celebratory painting. Here’s the image that struck a chord with me, of Valencia’s Plaza de la Virgin:

Plaza de la Virgin reference photo

First I did a black and white print out of this, which I then worked into with my Copic marker pens and white gel pen.

Mono print out worked into with Copic markers

This was about trying to simplify the image into some more basic shapes, knock back some of the details and decide the main areas of focus. Once I’d done this, I used this image to do another sketch, this time from scratch but again using the copic markers and white gel pen:

Freehand sketch with Copic markers

I can’t deny that I really like both of these treatments, and each one seemed to move me further away from the original reference photograph. I’m also enjoying doing these sketches because as I’m playing around with them, I’m thinking about how will I tackle the view with paint. What colours, what effect, will that particular element be best with a hard edge or a soft edge. All of the images that follow were based purely on these black and white sketches. Once I had these, I didn’t refer back to the original source photograph.

Here’s the ‘finished’ painting:

Plaza de la Virgin (1)

I say ‘finished’ because, although there are parts of this that I really like, I couldn’t help but think that I could do it better.

The parts I particularly liked were the buildings in the background and, generally the loose indication of any architectural detailing. What I felt let it down a little were the figures, perhaps too large an expanse of emptiness leading into the picture, and a slight over reliance on the use of some titanium white for the odd white shirt and highlight around the place. Here’s how I got on with my second take, starting with the all-important preliminary sketch:

Next up was the first wash. I was keen to get a better colour unity on this painting than on the first. For instance, on first painting, the building the left is an entirely different colour to any of the other buildings. This was done purposefully to indicate the bright light that was falling on it, but this time round I wanted to convey the bright light, but also that the building was perhaps built of similar materials to the other buildings. I also wanted to leave more of the white of the paper for highlights / white clothing etc rather than trying to ‘recover’ these later using white paint.

First wash applied

Once dry, I started to strengthen the buildings in the background leaving the original wash in some places to indicated where the light was hitting. This passage carried on down the right hand side to where I wanted to loosely indicate some figures in the immediate foreground.

Adding the darks, and a wash across the foreground

While this was drying, I put a pale blue wash over the ground area and started to put in the architectural detailing on to the building on the left and, as it dried, the background buildings.

At this point I started to move a little more fluidly around the painting depending on which areas were dry and what took my fancy. I did paint in some lines on the floor that I thought would help lead the eye in, and create a sense of it being constructed of large polished tiles or blocks of marble. My plan was to paint in the vertical lines, then overlay them with some horizontal ones that would also help with the sense of perspective.

Parallel lines… (oops!)

It did all begin to look a little too harsh and distracting however so I ended up softening the whole effect. While not perhaps as I’d originally intended, I was quite pleased with how it eventually turned out, and I definitely think it makes for a more interesting foreground than on the first painting.

Here’s the final version of ‘Place de la Virgin, Valencia’ (take 2):

Watercolour painting of the Plaza de la Virgin, Valencia, by artist John Haywood
Plaza de la Virgin, Valencia

The figures were all done as loosely as I felt able, along with the main street lights. I was pleased to have retained the white of the paper for these elements as it gave me more flexibility for how I treated them, leaving some areas bright white and knocking some back with a colour or some shadow. Finally came the shadow across the very front of the foreground and then the shadows of the figures, lampposts etc. After this, I did use the odd bit of titanium white for the odd hightlight, but I was able to be much more sparing and discerning than in the first version.

And, for ease of comparison, the two side by side:

I do like aspects of both these paintings but I think that the second one is the more ‘complete’ of the two in terms of composition and treatment. As ever I’d be delighted to hear what others may think about the relative merits or otherwise of these two paintings!

I have really enjoyed the processes behind both of these. I’m particularly encouraged by the initial sketches (that in the past I usually forego in favour of just getting on with some painting). I found the sketches enjoyable to do, helpful in my planning my paintings and even rewarding just to look at in their own right! It’s also been great just spending time looking at a view of Valencia!

It’s wonderfully exciting to be able to look forward to visiting Valencia again and I’m especially looking forward to finding myself stood on exactly the same spot that this week’s painting is based on!

Until next time… or, thanks to Google translate, Hasta la proxima vez!

Thoughts on New year’s resolution watercolour painting

14 thoughts on “New year’s resolution watercolour painting”

  1. Pingback: Valencia watercolour revisited

  2. Pingback: That holiday feeling…

    1. Hi Carsten and thanks for this, so pleased you like the sketches! It’s early days but I’m really enjoying this approach. If I can get a similar sense of energy into the paintings as in the sketches I might really be on to something!

      1. I always tought that my sketches are so much better than my final watercolors and this is probably because I feel more brave and blithe when it is only a sketch. This was the main reason for me to try “direct watercolor” – no use of pencil, using the brush from start. I still think that most of my sketches are much better than the final watercolors but after following this path for more than 2 years now I feel it is getting better. My biggest problem was to make mistakes – now I think I should not care about the mistakes – I try to be happy with them and they are probably the best thing to learn from. My next step was to paint from memory, if necessary with a little thumbnail beside for the composition. Anyway, your watercolors are beautiful and atmospheric and I am always happy to discover something new from you in the Reader. Happy painting! 🙂

        1. Hi Carsten and thanks so much for this. I think that finding a happy medium between our sketches and our ‘finished’ works is a challenge for so many of us. I think you’re making great strides with your direct painting – I’d be lost without my pencil outline and, as for painting for memory – I wouldn’t stand a chance!

  3. Two things:
    1. I LOVE that you are focusing on the positives for the upcoming year. Knowing you have good things ahead moves you through those troubled spots. I’ve got to try that!
    2. I LOVE the art process you used when starting with the image you found. I usually shy away from using photography/images that aren’t mine. But you have shown me how to take an already existing image and using it as inspiration. Inspiration not to duplicate but to create a unique piece. Thanks!

    1. Thanks so much for your kind comments, they’re much appreciated. Like you, I usually shy away from using another person’s photography as a source for my own work but this approach makes it feel a little more ok! I’m also going to try the same approach with some of my own photography too as a means of simplifying the imagery! So pleased you found the post helpful and thanks so much for taking the time to comment!

  4. I love all your drawings and paintings John but the second version of the painted scene is my favourite of the two. I think the figures being slightly more prominent in the second works better. And well done for getting yourself booked onto an Alvaro Castagnet workshop!! At present I can only dream of attending such a workshop…

    1. Thanks so much for the comments about the painting Evelyn, all much appreciated! As for the Alvaro Castagnet workshop – it came completely out of the blue and I still find myself pinching myself every now and then to make sure I’m not actually dreaming!

  5. Ah!Some color at last!While I have no interest myself, in doing such large expanses of landscapes none drawing or painting, and I personally like more intimate, personal…and colorful scenes, I still feel that “less is more” applies in all.A couple things really smacked me in the face about this drawing/painting so I went back to look at the original photo to resolve my confusion. Sure enough, there it was! Recalling Gary Tucker’s admonition re scenes like yours,, both near and far heads should all be on the same level, I was disturbed about the size difference betweenThe man on the left and the two on the right and also, why the ‘tram tracks’ stopped suddenly and last, why those white windows on the tower in the background. First, Imistook tram tracks for STEPS which introduced a different perspective! Then the white ‘windows are the street lights! Although I still feel the man in shorts on the left is too large compared to the closer 2 men on the right, I think theSTEPS need more 3-D definition’ to be less confusing. I think you disguised that ugly ‘building’ on the right nicely. Perhaps by shortening the street light slightly it might lessen my confusion a bit about it being what it is not? As I look at the crowd in the photo, it has too many people doing different things perhaps, walking bikes etc so your simplification helps. I like the 2 men on the right adding to the dark shadow but still think they need size and space balance with the single figure on the left.
    I was a tickled by Luca’s comment about the man in short pants; It’s below freezing here inSt.Louis yet I see all kinds: fat men in short pants and women bundled up in down or fur! I guess it takes all kinds?

    1. Hi Margery and thanks for this. I’m familiar with the rule of thumb about heads being on the same
      level and always try to have this in mind when painting crowd scenes but the different levels made this a little more challenging! Even looking back at the original photo I can see at least 3 different levels that people’s heads are on. Temperatures here are around freezing in the mornings and I’m still wearing shorts on my bike ride to work! Hopefully when we go to Valencia we’ll be in for some warm and sunny days!

  6. Both of them are beautiful John, the first one could be see as the winter version (except for the man in short pants on the left) and the second one the summer version. In fact there are different carteristics that I love, the first one has more reflective and “calm” atmosphere, those builidings are wonderfully loose-sketched. Instead the second one has more energetic and sparkling atmosphere, I really love the warmer light and all those peopole makes me feel the “motion” of the scene! You nailed it!

    Thanks for sharing and buenas vacaciones!

    1. Hi Luca and thanks so much for your kind comments about these two paintings! Someone else that saw these two at the weekend said something similar about the same view at different times of day. So pleased you like them and really appreciate you taking the time to comment!

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

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