Rosso e Nero (Rialto Fish Market) A painting in Stages

Rialto Fish Market
Rosso e Nero


In February 2004 my wife and I spent several days in Venice with my parents. We booked an old Venetian apartment through a website called Venetian-Rentals. It was lavishly furnished with old books and paintings. The plan for this trip was to get some fresh reference for me to do some new paintings of Italy. At the time I had no plans to paint the Rialto Fish Market.

On one particular day we checked out the fish market by the Rialto Bridge and I came across this amazing scene, full of life, movement and colour.

Painting in Stages

Stage 1. To begin with I did a 14” x 10” preparation study of the Rialto Fish Market. I drew out the composition with a B pencil on some very rough Italian hand made paper from Fabriano, 28” x 20”.

For Stage 2, I applied a mix of yellow, cadmium yellow and lemon yellow to set the right base tones for the sheeting which protects the market from the elements. The brush used was a Stratford & York size 20.

Stage 3. Once the yellow areas had dried, I made a red mix of Vermillion Hue and Cadmium Red and began to apply it wet on wet on the floor area to re-create the effect of the red tarpaulin being reflected in the wet flooring. The heavily textured paper helped to keep this part of the painting loose and fresh. The tarpaulins of Rialto Fish Market were rendered wet on dry as I wanted to have their edges clearly defined.

Stage 4. This part of the painting is where I began to form the title in my mind, Rosso e Nero (red and black).

I made up three separate colours in saucers, Vandyke Brown, Payne’s Grey and Lamp Black and began to build up washes with these stronger colours for the floor areas. The background arches were picked out using the point of the number 20 Stratford and York brush.

Stage 5. Over the years I have spent hours observing and drawing people in urban settings. I have developed a style where it is possible to identify different individuals by their stance, gesture and movement.

Drawing People

I tend to draw with the brush for each figure rather than relying in lots of pencil work, but at the same time, I don’t get too involved in too much unnecessary detail. I want the figures to appear as though they are part of the painting and yet moving through the scene.

Stage 6. It was simply a matter of painting the figures that were going to bring the scene to life. The danger is to over work them and make them look too static, so it’s vital that the brush marks are kept simple and fresh.

Stage 7. The last few figures really helped to make this scene work. The older couple look typically Venetian. They are strolling around the various stalls, looking for the right piece of fish for their evening meal. Will it be risotto or pasta for their starter? How will they cook their main meal and with what vegetables? Building up the darker areas around the figures helps to add depth and substance to the overall scenario.

Stage 8. The final painting which was sold from my 20th anniversary exhibition in 2004 to some friends of ours which I’m pleased about. I get to see the original of Rialto Fish Market every time we visit them.

I was so pleased with the finished result that we decided to publish it as a limited edition giclee print with only 20 in the edition. You can see a framed copy at my Studio & Gallery in Ponteland.

6 thoughts on “Rosso e Nero (Rialto Fish Market) A painting in Stages”

  1. Thank you for the email Alan, and thank you very much for the information in the step by step as to how the painting was painted (very helpful for us budding beginners). I have my own website and would love to put your painting on it, with the first step info then a link to your blog, would you permit me to do this please?
    Keep on painting and good health.


    • Hi Mike
      I’m pleased you have found it helpful.
      I would be happy for you to put my painting on your website. What’s the domain name so I can take a look at it first? I’ve tried the but it’s down at the moment.
      Best wishes

  2. I really admire the looseness of your painting style Alan, especially your use of vibrant colours and counter-change which I find quite remarkable and brings the painting to life.

    This is an excellent demonstration that we can all learn a lot from.
    Thank you for taking the time and trouble to share it with us.


    • Hi Ian
      I’m pleased you like it. I hope to post a few more “painting in stages”. The problem I have is remembering to photograph the painting as I’m painting it!
      I have another one on the Circus in Bath on my blog too.
      Keep painting

  3. Hi Alan, I just found your blog through Ian McKendrick via twitter and I just wanted to say thanks so much for this post. It’s so camaraderiec and generous of you to describe the process for this beautiful painting so clearly and precisely. I’ve been painting soley caracatured animal portraits for 2 years but I also love people watching/drawing. I find backgrounds daunting, I really should learn landscape painting some time. This is a wonderful guide and inspiration, so thankyou! All the best, from Oz.


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