A few weeks ago, when I was experiencing one of my periodic / all too frequent watercolour painting dilemmas of: ‘what should I paint? In fact, why do I even bother painting’ – I wondered whether there’d be any value in revisiting some of my favourite paintings from the past to paint them again. If I recall correctly, my plan had been to use my original painting as the basis for a new painting, rather than referring back to the original source material. My hope in this was to reboot a painting that I know I like, but hopefully, paint it differently based on everything that I’ve learnt in the interim. I do still like this as an idea, but I hadn’t realised quite how impractical it is too.  At the moment, most of my ‘favourite’ paintings are currently under wraps in storage and, while not totally inaccessible, it’s certainly sufficiently inconvenient to be off-putting!

I had in mind a painting that I did following a trip to Barcelona back in 2017. It was a wonderful holiday, I totally fell for Barcelona and it has been the inspiration for many paintings. In my mind, I could vividly recall painting this particular picture and could still ‘see it’ clearly. For this exercise then, I did refer fleetingly to the original photo, but mainly as an aide-memoire rather than something to ‘copy’.

My plan was to paint the scene again without referring at all to the original painting, or indeed any photos of it, and then to compare and contrast. To make it a little more interesting, there was one fundamental difference.

My first painting was a half sheet, painted on 280lb/600gsm Saunders Waterford rough. This was from a pack that I’d ordered in error. I usually paint on 140lb/300gsm and the 600gsm paper feels like card in comparison! Don’t get me wrong, it’s lovely paper and, as I discovered can take an absolute soaking, but it’s also crazily expensive!

My new effort was going to be painted on a quarter sheet of 140lb / 300 gsm Saunders Waterford Rough High White (my current paper of choice) that had been stretched on a Ken Bromley Perfect Paper Stretcher. I’ve been using my Ken Bromley quarter sheet and half sheet stretcher for all of my recent paintings and have been thoroughly enjoying the stretched surface for painting on – even if the results don’t often feel any better than many of my un-stretched paintings!

First up, my latest effort:

Watercolour painting of a cafe in Barcelona by artist John Haywood
Watercolour painting (rebooted) of a cafe in Barcelona

To be compared with my original effort of December 2017

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

And, side by side:

I can’t deny that, on seeing these two side by side for the first time, I’m a little disappointed! Somehow my new painting doesn’t look two years’ worth of painting better than the original – as I had hoped it might! 

I am however trying to convince myself to overlook this as there’s still much I like about both paintings. My current negotiating position is that the first one was ahead of its time, and the second one may be slightly behind my painting ability curve – so in real terms, the difference is perhaps more like one year rather than two… which at my age is barely the blink of an eye!

It is fair to say that both were painted very differently – and I’m pleased that both still evoke quite vividly a particular memory. I’d be interested to hear if others have any preferences between these two takes on the same scene?

A mount within a mount

Returning the theme of Ken Bromley stretched paper versus non-stretched paper, one of my quibbles was the fact that all of the mounts that I already have cut to ‘non-stretched’ size would now be redundant. Using the paper stretcher means that I lose about and extra 12mm on each edge of the painting, compared to just taping my paper down with masking tape.

This hasn’t been troubling me too much of late, mainly because I don’t really feel that I’ve painted anything worthy of putting a mount around. This changed last week with my view of an Anvil Cloud over Brighton Marina. This was painted on a quarter sheet that had been Ken Bromleyed. I think I’m going to get this painting scanned in rather than using my phone to photograph it (which is what most use for most of my photographs) as so far, I’ve struggled to get a decent representation of it (that’s my excuse anyway!). I was, however, keen to see what this may look like in a mount.

Fortunately, the ‘interior left-overs’ from my half sheet paintings are large enough for me to use for this size of paper, to create a double mount. It was more by luck than judgement that when I created the new mount, that it seemed to work pretty well to just sit inside my original mount with the larger window. I appreciate that this could sound very confusing for something that really is quite simple. Here’s picture then that I hope will help to make sense of my babbling:

A mount within a mount

Hopefully, you can see from this how much painting I lose around the edges by using the paper stretcher.

I usually only use a single mount but, for these slightly smaller paintings, this does mean that I have the option of recycling some of my existing mounts alongside some of my leftover mount-board, to create what I think is quite an elegant mount that will hopefully complement some of my future paintings!

24 thoughts on “Barcelona watercolour painting rebooted

  1. John, really appreciate your gentle ability to gracefully take my usual harsh comments in such a polite way.. For some reason I still have the urge to ‘stick with you’ though we often disagree. I hope you’ll allow me to continue with my comments? I do not come by them with a lack of knowledge, and I have extensive experience. Having followed you now for some time I feel such a strong urge to encourage you for an feel you are hoping to ‘succeed’ but are lost in ‘feeling comfortable’ in your pursuit of following the path of artists of the 19th C. It’s your ‘comfort zone’ but if you want to become better, to sell your art now and in the future, that is one huge loosing scheme! You seem to have a few’followers’ who are of the same mind,unfortunately, and they urge you on. We all love ‘praise’ but it is only worth the education of those ‘followers’ who are able only to understand the same 19th C artists! Praise is only valuable when those who give it understand a broad spectrum of art; have an art history understanding or perspective of ART.
    How often when I was a Docent in a major museum with continued education in all eras of art, did I hear at least one person in my audience state: “I don’t know anything about
    ART..but I know what I like!”. That translates to only liking those things with which you are familiar. PEriod. I am NOT going to learn anything NEW and DIFFERENT so help me god! You are painting in a 19th Cent.way, trying to sell your art to those few people who ‘know what they like’ and that’s a very limited audience!
    As long as you just try to perfect that which is 19th cent in a 2020life style, your audience is limited to say the least! When you out of fear…and it IS just that…you FEAR to try anything new, colors included, you are looking down the wrong alley! It is not just about what I want vs what you want…but if you waste your time being afraid to grow,instead repeating the same old stuff in a vain attempt to learn…what? Your drawing ability is excellent but it needs to expand to the nest step, notmerely repeating the same old thing over and over. Painting the same scenemore than once is good but to never really show any new learning from the last version,just adding yellow is hardly ‘learning’. As I said, yellow leaves is NOT in anyway adding SUNSHINE to the whole painting! Assign a tiny shadow of onefigure, is NOT sunshine; adding no evidence of sun shining on at least one side of the buildings but leaving them all grey, is NOT sunshine! It is FEAR of Color! This is NOT learning but FEAR! There are wonderfully ways to paint greys using COLORS! Interesting greys! If you choose to paint in black and white only at least use VALUE!
    It’s obvious that you want to grow but your skills but you are so afraid to upset your apple cart you fail to learn anything.
    You definitely have talent but are so afraid to experiment is is tragic!
    I had several days of ‘John days’ here in St Louis…cold very grey and today very foggy. I am affected by this weather very much! I think that is one thing holding you back! It does me! I desperately must come up with a successful painting to use for my Christmas card…NOW! I now have to have them printed since my list is too long for individual paintings…and have not even thought of what to buy for Xmas gifts and get them mailed!I am experimenting with new ways of painting loosely so it’s tough! There are so many books available to help you learn color that there’s no excuse to say you aren’tinterested…you’re just afraid! You might as well just do ink drawings!
    Think about all this and don’t be Offended i am just trying to get you involved and interested in what’s out there besides the 19th cent…at least artists then DID understand color in a big exciting way! please don’t just hide behind ‘I (only) know what I like! There are lots of tutorials about color, you have no excuse!
    I only mean the best for you, Marge

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    1. Hi Marge and many thanks for this. I appreciate that you wish the best for me – however I feel that we fundamentally disagree what that ‘best’ is! only a few months ago you were emploring me not to paint for judges, critics, buyers (real or imaginery!) or readers of this blog. Now you’re emploring me to paint for a wider audience, where no doubt riches beyond my wildest dreams lie – if only I could shake of my obsession with the 19th Century way of painting! Bolder colours, a freer form of expression, shake off the shackles of fear that are holding me back! Wow, you’re not leaving many stones unturned in your critical assasination!
      Today, I found myself halfway through a painting and realised that I wasn’t concentrating on the painting, I was concnetrating on how to reply to your message to me. How could I possibly word it, what could I say to make you see from my perspective. To be perfectly honest I was angry and annoyed. Not because I think you’re right. I think, as I always have – that you have your opinions, to which you’re perfectly entitled. As I am mine. What made me annoyed was that I wasn’t able to enjoy the pursuit I feel passionate about because I was trying to figure out how best to respond to you, to somehow make you realise that what you think might be best for me – isn’t what I think is best for me. I was annoyed that I mind was focusseed on writing to you, rather than painting. I actually have precious little time for painting – so to find myself sidetracked in such a way has caused me to stop and think.
      By all means, follow my progress or lack thereof. I shall, for a while continue to publish your comments – they may be of some interest to other readers, but I shall not be responding to them as fulsomely as I have to date. If you think I’m wasting my time, then so be it. You may well come to the conclusion that you’re wastiing your time too in trying to ‘convert’ me.
      For me to waste further time trying to explain or justify myself when you steadfastly refuse to acknowledge any other path to artistic fulfilment other than the one that you prescribe is utterly futile.
      So, I wish you well Margery – I’m sorry that we could see eye to eye, but I don’t think anyone could accuse either of us for a lack of trying! All the best, John

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  2. Today in the USA is called BlackFriday and is noted by merchants as the 1st day of Christmas shopping. While some buy into that promotion, I just look out my ample windows and see a ‘John painting” . Dreary greys and black trees! No wonder you are always crying ‘depression’. But this week you surprised us all with ‘shimmering yellow’…and I spy the merest touch of blue too! So CONGRATULATIONS! I remember how joyful you felt maybe a month ago when you, again were depressed, and you broke the ice and painted that lovely loose tree on a hill! Now THAT was worthy of congratulations! Your Barcelona painting, I hope, is a forecast of the future? On one of your precious scraps of paper left from ‘stretching’, try a small exercise and see what happens: Wet the paper then add splotches of colors, the brighter the better, and let them bleed into eachother and enjoy the results! Have FUN, don’t be so serious, and see what explodes, free at last to just enjoy the beauty of WC without any ties to reality or preconceived ideas, just
    FUN! The beauty of WC is it’s transparency and the magic of what happens when you cease trying in vain to control it but allow it to live its own life of freedom! Some colors behave better than others, like Opera Pink, Quinaqcridone gold, Aureolin yellow, Cobalt teal, Quin purple and cascade green, all my favorite Daniel Smith colors. These hues have lives of their own and do magic things when they touchdown on paper and water! But one thing disturbs me in your painting; yes there is yellow trying to free itself from a dismal, depressing background of GREY! Yet you call it a ‘SUNNY DAY’? Where is the SUN on the buildings,, the contrast of shadows cast and the reality of sun shining on a ‘living’ background? The tree wears it’s fall color but the sun doesn’t shine anywhere else? PLAY with your colors, try to experiment with new ones and enjoy!
    You’ve made 2 experiments now and enjoyed both, take more steps forward instead of retreating into the shadows of life encouraging your state of depression and self doubt! You made a move in the right direction this time, take the next step quickly now and congratulations!

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    1. Hi Margery and thanks for this – always a surprise bonus when I get a thumbs up from you! I do have a few bright colours in my palette, some cad red, yellow and orange but I prefer to use them only for highlights or accents. If I wanted to paint brightly colourful paintings in the manner that you suggest, I would do, there’s certaintly no one stopping me! I just choose not to. They may be your thing, and that’s great, I’m pleased for you. They’re not however my thing.
      I’m also sorry if I’ve conveyed a sense of depression too often. I think I’ve been clear that I sometimes get a bit down, or despondent about my painting. I see this a totally natural consequence of trying to get better and applying myself consistently over time. Sometimes you feel goog about what you’re doing, sometimes you don’t. I know myself well enough to know that painting in bright colours is not what is going to help me improve either my painting or how I feel towards my painting. I will, as ever, continue to paint what I feel like painting in the way I want to paint it, using the colours I want to use, interpreting the scene in a way that I choose to interpret it. I really don’t see why this should trouble you so much?

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    1. Hi Carol and thanks so much for this, I really appreciate it! The softer edges were definitely something that I was aiming for and I really like your description of them ‘allowing the action to escape the boundaries’ – Thanks so much!

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      1. Welcome! It was my first observation when I saw it. As I continued to read your post I would scroll back and look at it again, it seemed different each time, and maybe the guy moved? A little? This painting will make a wonderful print, ever changing each time it is seen. That, is an excellent achievement for art! Well done!

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      2. Thanks so much again Liza – your comment is almost convincing me that I really should consider doing prints. So far I’ve steadfastly refused to do them in favour of only doing ‘originals’ – thanks so much for the encouragement! 🙏🏻😊

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  3. Version 2 of Barcelona is a lot less static than version 1 and I particularly like the figure approaching. It actually reminds me of a freeze-frame just after an explosion but before the shrapnel hits our unwitting hero – but here it’s an explosion of light (and I don’t suppose he felt the photons). Incidentally, is yellow on monochrome to become a new theme? (I’m thinking of the tram and this one).
    The double mount looks very sophisticated and is something I’ve meant to do in order to give my own work a bit of class. I’d better put my words into action. Your scene looks most serene (and thanks for rubbing out the pencil in the sky – though you could, of course, also extend the cloud to the south rather than trying to remove the reflection. Only saying….) I’d buy it if it were about 3/4″ bigger all round!

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    1. Hi Rob and thanks for this – I had’t intended yellow on monochrome to be a theme of any sort, but now you come to mention it….
      Now that I have seen these two side by side. I’m tempted to paint this view again but to try to correct some of the things in this most recent version that niggle me a bit – mainly in relation to the seeming mass of figures under the awnings. That said, I’ve already mentally decided what I’m going to paint next so it may have to wait for another time.
      Glad you like the double mount and of course I look foward to seeing how yours look with similar! I did actually think about extending the cloud, but decided that, if I really felt the need, that I’d prefer to just paint it all over again rather that risk ruining this one! I’m still planning on getting the painting scanned in to see if I can get a better representation of it. Obviously if I do paint this again, I’ll paint it 3/4″ bigger all round, just in case! Thanks Rob

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      1. This may be totally irrelevant but… I scan my paintings on my printer scanner in halves or quarters and then stitch them together using a free download snappily called “Image Composite Editor”. No doubt you already have photo software that will do the same.

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      2. What is this printer/scanner thing of which you speak? I”m afraid I possess neither a printer or a scanner and, probably to my shame, I don’t use any photo software! If truth be told, I’m still struggling to come to terms with the 20th Century advancements, let alone 21st Century developments! (I think this is why I enjoy painting in watercolour so much!) – Apologies if I’m a cause of any embarrassment!

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    1. Hi Kim and thanks so much for this, I really appreciate it. I’m afraid I don’t really have any fixed number of layers. For this particulary painiting, it was done quite simply, the sky and water were done first as a single wash, out of which I blotted with a tissue the lighter edges of cloud in the sky and in the reflection. Once dry, I sprayed where I was going to paint to cloud, just to help soften a few of the edges. Once that was done, I just worked from light to dark (starting with the very distant background hills, then the top of the wall leading into the painting, finally adding in all of the very dark silhouetted elements. I don’t know about you but sometimes thinks seem to come together quite simply and naturally. Other times, it can feel like such a battle! Thanks so much for commenting Kim, it’s much appreciated.

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      1. Thank you for sharing ☺ You’re using some techniques I’ve never thought about, so it’s interesting getting som insights from you ☺ Lately it’s been feeling like such a battle doing watercolour. I feel like I’m loosing my touch. I hope it comes back at some point ☺

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      2. Thanks Kim – I hope you stay with the watercolour painting! From my experience, it often feels like you take two steps forwards, only to take one step backwards and that progress is often hard won! I sometimes find it helpful to compare what you’re doing now, with what you may have done when you first started – this sometimes feels like a better barometer of progress than comparing week by week when improvements may feel barely noticeable. Thanks so much Kim

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  4. I really like the rebooted version, it makes me feel the evolution of your techinque without changing your style. For me, in my humble opinion, it’s a very very big achivement: you had changes but at the same time you maintained your own unique characteristic. I mean, if I’m in a art gallery and see the first or the second without comparison, I can certainly say, with no doubt “This is John Haywood”.
    This encurages me to keep painting, results will come, maybe earlier than I expect! Thanks John!

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    1. Hi Luca and thanks so much for this – your perspective on this has really cheered me up! Also, I’m delighted that you’re encouraged to keep on painting, I’m sure that the results will come sooner than you might expect!

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