I’m always wary of tackling iconic views, or famous buildings, even when they’re in the background like in this Barcelona painting with La Segrada Familia in the distance. This is one of those subjects that I’ve had my eye on for a while, but sometimes you’ve just got to wait until the moment feels right. What I liked about the view wasn’t so much La Segrada Familia, but the wonderful trees and the fabulous filigree of their shadows.

Here’s my first attempt at the scene:

Watercolour painting of La Segrada Familia, Barcelona, by John Haywood
Shadows outside La Segrada Familia, Barcelona (version I)
I’ve shown this large so that you can see quite how paint spattered the entire painting is! I did an initial wash across the sky and down into the foreground. As soon as the sky had dried, I tried to put in the silhouette of the La Segrada Familia as simply as possible and then, before it had dried, I started to tackle the distance trees. I did this by splattering paint onto the paper, constantly changing the colour mix, and letting everything run and mingle together. I quite liked this approach, letting the paint and the colours do the work, and also seeing how the collateral splatter marks added to the overall texture of the painting. It did however take what seemed like an age to build this up.

When I did eventually get onto painting the tree trunks and branches, I once again went in too dark too soon. I tried to improve this later, by dry-brushing over some bits of the tree trunks with a little gouache – but this always felt more of a rescue job than a planned and considered approach of how best to capture them.

When I stepped back from this, there was much that I liked about it… but also much that niggled me too.

I thought I’d try to do another version, with the aim of painting looser, and also to focus more on the strength of the light and the shadows cast by the trees. I also decided to abandon the splattering approach if favour of painting the trees in a more direct wet into wet approach. In contrast to the first painting – which I wasn’t purposefully dragging my heels on – this painting was done very quickly! In my initial wash, I was mindful of keeping it nice and light in the foreground. When it came to painting the foreground trees, I tried to keep it a bit lighter in the mix, and try to apply the paint with more of a dry brush for a bit more texture, over which I could then go in again with a darker mix if necessary.

Watercolour painting of La Segrada Familia, Barcelona by John Haywood
Shadows outside La Segrada Familia, Barcelona (version II)
For those of you that follow my adventures on Instagram , you may already have seen these two paintings posted side by side. What is different however in the two images here, and why for all the joys and immediacy of Instagram, this website and blog are where I call home, is that I have much more control over how much of the images are uploaded. The ones I posted on Instagram were quite harshly cropped (this admittedly is probably down to user error!) losing both the top and bottom of the image. The images here are shown in full, so you can see much more of the foreground shadows, and see that I hadn’t accidentally decapitated the magnificent spires of La Segrada Familia:

The Instagram verdict based on people’s comments on these two is quite split between which one people prefer, with the second ‘brighter’ attempt probably edging it. I’d say that this is also a fair reflection of my own view, to the extent I feel a bit conflicted when asked to say which I prefer. Happy to hear other people’s thoughts on these two and, in the meantime, I’ll be scouring my archives for my next subject.

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25 thoughts on “Barcelona’s La Segrada Familia in Watercolour x 2

    1. Thanks so much for this and I agree about the warmth of Barcelona! I’m seriously beginning to think that I’m going to have to revisit this much sooner than I’d planned!

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    1. Thanks so much for this Rukshana – much appreciated and, along with many of the other comments, I’m feeling a strong case for doing this again and trying to capture the best of both!

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  1. I really like being able to view them here I see what you mean about the foreground on the first one having been cropped. I used to cut off a lot of my paintings in IG until I learned how not to! It was so disconcerting when I felt that I couldn’t control it. After viewing these paintings again, the second one is my favorite.

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    1. Thanks Margaret – I do know how to avoid the cropping issue but, as this was also the first time that I’ve put two images up simultaneously, I must have had a rush of blood to the head in all the excitement! Still very frustrating and disappointing!). Glad you like the second one but there’s no real consensus – it seems to be very much ‘in the eye of the beholder’ – which is probably just as it should be! Thanks Margaret

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  2. i enjoyed reading about your experience with this subject John. We were there in April, and took many photographs, This is on my to-do list, so will be interesting to see what I make of it. Sadly could not work on the spot at the time

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    1. Thanks David – i found it a truly wonderful city to visit and really inspiring visually (as you can probably tell by the fact I’ve painted little else since we were there at Easter!)

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    1. Wow, thanks Louise for you kind words – I really appreciate you taking the time to comment (and it’s absolutely fine to prefer the first version – I still like it too!)

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    1. Thanks so much for this Sarah – really appreciate your comments. It’s really interesting to me that I spent a lot longer painting version 1, and version 2 I pretty much dashed off by comparison, yet my first effort appears to be the more spontaneous. Thanks so much Sarah

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    1. Thanks so much Rebecca – really appreciate this and, from looking at some of the comments that have come in – it would appear the ‘jury’s still out’ – I’m not sure I can face trying this subject again (at least not in the near future!) but I’m pleased that these two have generated a bit of debate! Thanks again Rebecca

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