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Painting a watercolour cafe scene - Sarah Stokes

Professional Winsor and Newton colours used


Ultramarine blue

Maganese blue hue

Ivory Black

Winsor yellow lemon

Quinacridone magenta

Winsor red


Round synthetic brushes, size 12 and 6


Myself and friend Heather went over to Puglia, Southern Italy this Summer to check out the

viability of an art retreat in 2025. Whilst there we visited the beautiful town of Nardo, which was packed full of gothic architecture, beautiful old doors and picturesque cafes. This photo that Heather took became the basis of a small painting that I did back in the studio.

What I loved about the scene were the dramatic shadows as well as the placement of the white umbrella and the lady in the pink dress. These would form main focal point of the piece.

I sketched the scene out as below and masked round it using washi tape.


I then created the sky using a very diluted wash of cyan and ultramarine blue. I applied it onto dry paper and was careful to cut around the buildings.

Next I mixed up a couple of warm colours to paint the building on the left; a warm grey and a

more saturated sandy shade.

I applied these colours to the building on the left. I painted onto dry paper and worked with speedto make sure that the colours bled into each other.


I then applied a similar, but lighter Sandy shade to the building on the right and an extremely pale desaturated grey to the pavement area. It was barely discernible when dry.

I then waited for the paint to dry, before building up the tones in the left hand building. Again the paper was dry, but I used a range of shades and gently coaxed them into each other to create interesting colours. I dropped a dark neutral shade into the centre building which I splattered with water droplets to create texture.


I then added shadows to the building on the right. However on reflection I felt that I had done this too soon as more work needed to be carried out on the first couple of layers. Therefore the next photo shows how I have dampened and softened the shadow colours.

Having softened and spread the shadow colours, I started to apply ultra marine blue to the

windows in the central building. As I made my way down the building I dropped black into the

blue to darken it.

Next I mixed up a range of dark colours, predominantly browns and blacks for the chairs, tables and people and dark grey/purple for the large drop shadow on the pavement. I squinted at the reference photograph so that I could see the main shapes without being distracted by the all of the fine detail. I then applied the colours with the tip of my size 12 brush making sure that I allowed some of the paper to peep through. I applied Winsor red for the dress of the central figure. Remember that these people are in the shade and so the skin tones are going to be darker than you originally imagine.

For the final part of the painting process, I enhanced the shadow areas on both the left and right buildings. Note how the building in the centre doesn’t look as dark as it did in the earlier stages now that the painting is complete. I finished off by adding details such the foliage, balcony, drain pipe, windows, railings and doors using both the size 12 and size 6 brushes.


It’s tricky to interpret a piece loosely without loosing a sense of perspective and accuracy, but try and make sure that a painting reads clearly with a central focal point. Look at the bigger shapes and leave the details until last.


Try and ensure that solid features such as doors and balconies don’t overpower a piece. I found it helpful to deliberately deconstruct certain features such as the doors by loosening the paint with water and blotting and smudging it with brushes and paper towels.

I hope that you have found some of these tips helpful!


Sarah Stokes Art Workshops & Retreats - Join me on one of my workshops in the UK or overseas retreats. Find out more via my website- Art Workshops & Retreats | Sarah Stokes Artist

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