I promised a change of scene in my last post but I must confess to only achieving half of that promise. I did manage to leave behind Dieppe for a while, opting instead to move back to Barcelona. I was, however, unable to shake my rapidly developing obsession with sun shades! I like to think it’s because as winter tightens its grip here in the UK, I’m forced me to seek out warmth and sunshine in my painting.

What attracted me to this particular view was the strength of the light, the shot of colour from the sun catching the leaves of the tree and the tree’s shadow reaching into the foreground.

I was a little nervous about tackling this as it reminded me of some paintings I did a short while ago that left me feeling deeply dissatisfied and frustrated! Here, as a painful reminder, are those three efforts again:

The challenge again with this view seemed to be how to capture the lightness of the tree against the darkness of the shadows.

I started off with a very loose drawing and not much of an idea of how this was going to progress. I began out by putting a warm wash of raw sienna and light red over the buildings and right down across the foreground. While this was still wet, I added in some pale blue for the sky and also dropped in a pale blue-grey mix over the foreground allowing it to mix in with the warmer colours. Once this was dry, I mixed up a dark wash of French ultramarine, alizarin crimson and burnt sienna for the background shadows and started to apply this quite thickly. I then ran clean water into this mix, some of it splattered, some done more controlled with the brush to try and suggest doors and windows. At this stage, I wasn’t at all sure how or even if this was going to work out. It felt a lot looser and more abstracted than most of my paintings to date but I loved how the paint was mixing and mingling on the paper.

I continued putting this dark wash in beneath the sunshade, trying to cut around the figures. While this wash was still damp, I started to add the tree in. I did this using a fan brush and splattering on a thick mix of a yellow. In some places, where the paper was still quite damp this bled, and in others, it stayed as more defined splatter marks. While this was drying I tackled the figures under the sunshade – trying to keep everything loose and suggestive.

At this point, I felt that the painting was coming together but it was still completely within my gift to completely muck it up! Next up was the shadow from the sunshade, the shadows across the top of the sunshade, the tree trunk, branches and then the tree’s shadows. These were all down pretty briskly as I was conscious of trying not to tighten up too much. I should also add that there was a great deal of walking backwards and forwards to get good views of this from a distance. I’m still finding zooming in and zooming out process invaluable. It helps me to keep an eye on how the whole painting is working rather than getting myself sucked into unnecessary details.

Once everything had dried, I added the odd highlight in white gouache. I felt that this was all done in a bit of whirlwind, done from start to finish in a single short session. Even after I’d decided to call it a day, I still wasn’t sure how I felt about it. It took a bit of just looking at before I began to really enjoy it. Now, it’s right up with some of my best paintings of late – not because of any technical prowess, but because it seems to capture a particular quality of light.

Watercolour of a Sunlit cafe on a Barcelona side street off Las Ramblas by John Haywood
Sunlit cafe on a Barcelona side street off Las Ramblas

Although I firmly associate this with our time in Barcelona earlier this year, this view is somehow evocative of so many places. One person has already asked me that asked me whether this is in New York. Because I really like New York, I couldn’t help but take this as a real compliment!

After having set myself up only to fail with last week’s promise, I’ve decided not to make any more foolish commitments about what I might paint next! Although I daresay that as our weather gets colder, some sunshine is still likely to feature!

9 thoughts on “Bright day Barcelona in watercolour

  1. Well I love the bottom painting. It really makes me feel the warm sunshine. The top 3 Barcelona street scenes are all good, but I personally like the third one the best. For me it personally captures that warm summer sunlight feeling.

    I really appreciate how you are documenting your process. But give yourself credit. You definitely have a great gift. And it takes tremendous courage to put your most personal part of you (your work) out there in the public domain. Thanks for the beauty, John.

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    1. Hi Tim and thanks so much for your kind and generous words, and for you encouragement! I’m so pleased that you like the paintings and the process of recording my progress here on the blog. To get such feedback really does lift the spirits and fires my enthusiasm even more! Thanks so much for taking the time to comment, it really is much appreciated!

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  2. I truly love the feeling of this painting, you are striding towards the glorious world of being loose. Yay you! I agree the stepping back is invaluable, I also turn my head to the side, it gives you even more of a perspective. I agree, I think that the person who asked if it was New York was a compliment. I take it a good sign when a painting allows the viewer to imagined a place where they have been, the artist has transported the viewer to another place in their memories or imagination. Have you tried painting entirely from memory? It is a good catalyst to leave behind erroneous details while working from your memories of the place and it also taps into your feelings of the place. Anyway, bravo!

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    1. Hi Margaret and thanks so much for this – after reading it I felt quite torn between what I liked most: the painting or your comment! I don’t think I’ve cracked it yet by any means, but I do feel like I’m edging closer the right balance of looseness and control. I like the idea of taking more of a sideways look at my paintings (I like the idea of that even before I’ve tried it out!) – as for painting from memory – I don’t think I’m quite there yet! Thanks so much for such a well informed and effusive comment Margaret – I really appreciate it!

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