I’ve been fortunate to paint on location in Venice many times since my first visit in 1991. A small box of watercolour paints, travelling brush and a hand made sketchbook is all you need to capture its wonderful light, mood and atmosphere. Many of my studio Paintings of Venice started off as either small watercolours on blocks or sketchbook watercolours.
On our last trip there in 2012 I recall taking the vaporetto across the dark waters of the lagoon to St Marks Square. I managed to take a few photographs of San Marco before reaching the stop. The sketchbook watercolours and photographs became the inspiration for a small watercolour “Venezia di Notte”. I decided to make a video of the main aspects of how I painted this scene which you can see on YouTube.
For those of you who are interested in painting in watercolour I’ve added the script for the video which gives you the names of some of the colours I’ve used which you may find helpful.
“I’ve sketched the main elements in pencil so the first step is to get some colour down. After wetting the paper I’m using my usual mix of Cadmium Lemon and Cadmium Yellow to provide the base colour for the artificial light that illuminates the magnificent architecture that attracts so many tourists.
This first wash covers the top half of the paper but for the bottom half I’m being more selective, leaving some of the white of the paper to indicate the lights around the buildings and their light reflecting in the water. Whist the paint is still wet, I’m dropping in some more intense colour to add variation.
Now for some Rose Madder to add depth to the night sky and warmth to the architecture. As with the first wash of yellow, I’ve wet the paper to help the colour spread easily without leaving any steaks. However I’ve left the paper is dry where the buildings are so I can paint hard edges to define them.
This colour is also being reflected in the water. You’ll see that I’m having to be more precise with the brush marks even though I am wanting the overall scene to look lively and loose. The texture of the watercolour paper helps the brush marks to retain a sense of spontaneity.
This next wash is a mix of purple with a touch of turquoise which I’m going to be using throughout the painting, not just for the sky but also for some of the architectural details. Again, I wet the paper with clean water before adding this wash. Just softening the edge of the wash with some clean water before tackling the windows with a much smaller brush. It’s worth saying that this video only represents a fraction of the time I’ve spent painting the details.
Now it’s time to use a colour which appears as black but it’s actually a mix of Paynes Grey, Purple and Lamp Black. This time it’s wet on dry. Again, I’m using a small brush to pick my way around the distinctive architecture.
I’m continuing to take my time rendering the different features of the Doges Palace. You will notice that the preceding colours of yellow and Rose Madder loose their dominance when the much darker colours are placed alongside.
These finer details are very small, occupying an area of just a few centimetres so I’m taking a little bit more time to paint them in. Having a contrast of larger, looser, bolder brush marks up against finer, more precise strokes creates further interest in the painting.
Once again, I’m taking my time, working carefully on the different elements of the painting so that they look convincing and credible when there is so much going on. Each arch is painted differently.
You will also notice a few little blobs of slightly darker yellow. This is masking fluid for the white lamps which I will rub off at the end when the paint is dry. A touch of Rose Madder to the turquoise grey adds further interest to these dark arches.
Back to the big brush and the black mix for the night sky. I’m working rapidly wet on dry to avoid streaks. Care is needed here because I’m also having to define the the left hand side of the bell tower and the tops of the buildings. Even though the brush has a decent point I have to switch brushes for the finer details.
Now a rusty red mix for the campanile, St Marks Bell Tower. First painting around the windows then working my way down the tower.
The base colours of yellow and Rose Madder are giving the effect of light as I’m picking out its features. The same rusty red colour is used again for the reflection in the water. I can afford to be more expressive with my brush strokes.
More reflections with the dark turquoise grey wash, being conscious that the water is constantly moving so the brush strokes that I’m making need to be communicating movement.
There are lots of gondolas berthed at the waters edge so these are painted using the black mix, together with their mooring poles and other details. Again small brush is required. It’s these contrasting tones, light and dark that are doing all the work.
The same colour is used for further reflections so that the water really does start looking dark and mysterious, particularly up against the light that is now starting to sparkle in the water. I’m using the side of the brush with horizontal strokes. Once again, it’s another contrast to the vertical brush strokes I made earlier.
So there you have it, Venice at night, as seen from a vaporetto”.
My Paintings of Venice continue to be very popular with my customers. Susan and I are looking forward to returning to Venice later on in 2018.