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:
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.
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.