So many people urged me to go to Venice ~ I am so glad I did! The light, people, action ~ all were magical like no other place on earth. The experience is one I will take with me forever.
So how to capture such an experience in a painting? In Venice I found myself fascinated with the light and shadows of people moving along the cobbled stone walkways. A constantly ebbing and flowing movement of shapes, colors and light. Nothing stationary but the timelessness of the place itself.
So how to capture the feeling of movement, timelessness and magic?
I took a stab at it on this little painting. I have included some detail pics of the painting, as the palette knife work got quite involved. I think the texture conveys as much of the feeling as do the colors.
With so much to see and do in Venice, I didn’t even try to bring oil paint. I couldn’t imagine myself carrying wet paintings on the train, on foot or even a water taxi! I did take my watercolor palette and sketchbook. And of course my Iphone.
Arriving on the afternoon train, the light was perfect for photos. Fascinated with back lit shapes against the Grande Canal, I took a series of photographs.
One thing I have learned on this trip is that the camera over-exposes the highlights and under-exposes the shadows. I have been going through all my pics and adjusting the highlights, darker. And lightening the shadows.
All this adjusting has made me more sensitive to values. Lights and shadows set the stage for color to function in a painting.
In this painting, I wanted to express my fascination with the shimmering light on the Grande Canal. I love the play of light shapes between the people, boats and pilings. This movement made every moment magical. To me this is what is so stunning about Venice ~ the magic of being there in the moment.
How to capture this shimmer in a painting? I started with this question and a panel I had toned previously with a cool, neutral, mid-value gray. A little of this blue gray still peeks through in the painting.
The palette is very limited, using my neutral cool gray and Yellow Ochre, Ultramarine Blue and of course, Fastmatte Alkyd White. Toward the end I added touches of Alizarin Crimson for the darker shadows. And hints of Cadmium Lemon in the sparkling lights.
Converting a Hazard into Sparkle
The biggest potential danger in working this composition was in letting the figures along the sidewalk on the left become too prominent, thereby causing a conflict with the gondola on the the canal.
Instead of becoming too prominent, these figures stop the eye from moving off the canvas. Rather they create a triangle for the viewer to move along the sidewalk, back along the canal, a few distant boats and back to the gondola.
I didn’t think about this compositional element helping with the shimmer. Yet looking at it now, I see the same mystery of moving shapes as I felt standing there on the bridge. The magic of being there was in feeling the movement, light and shimmer. Not knowing what twinkling shape will move next.
It’s a little like which came first ‘the chicken or the egg.’ We think of dreams as those inexplicable things we have when we are sleeping. Well what if dreams were more than that? What if dreams are those inexplicable yearnings we have throughout life?
Painting dreams does not have to be in the literal sense of making a painting that looks like the dream you had last night. Painting dreams may actually look more like a life time of painting from the heart.
Letting each yearning out on paper, one by one, creates a magical life.
So much of life is planned out ahead of time. We become executors of the plan. This works well for many things~ except that our hearts get executed in the process!
What if there is one thing you can do for your heart that would make all the difference in the world? What if you took your heart on a painting adventure? Let your heart show you where to go?
How I Did it
Last fall when I painted Tuscan Sun, my head was swimming with questions.
How could I afford to spend an extended period of time in Tuscany without working? It seemed impossible. That’s why I painted Tuscan Sun.
Watercolors are fluid like dreams. I was working and didn’t have time to set up the studio to paint in oil. Instead I grabbed a small watercolor palette, two brushes and a few small pieces of Arches Watercolor paper and took them to work with me.
Now I am not a watercolorist. I took a class in college, then picked it up again when I went to France. I wasn’t trying to make a finished painting. I simply wanted a way to explore my dream ~ to bring it to life on paper.
During lunch I set up my palette, a cup of water and painted. I painted several more because I didn’t like the first ones. When I got home from work, I threw them all in a drawer and forgot about it.
I didn’t know my dreams were percolating in that drawer. I just thought I had painted some bad watercolors!
Six Months Later
When my Tuscan dream materialized, it took me all day to find the painting stuck down in a drawer. When I found it, I also found watercolor postcards from two years ago that I’d painted in France. One French postcard grew into a whole series of Abstract Floral Paintings. This showed me the artist I thought I’d lost 3 decades ago is alive and well, regenerated and better than when I left her.
When one touches the paper with a brush full of fluid color dreams flow. Something intangible is suddenly real on paper. An adventure in possibility begins with one small stroke. One by one the strokes accumulate. The heart beats a little louder. It reverberates inside setting dreams in motion.
Page by page the brush strokes take on a life of their own. Then one day we recognize our heart in them ~ unmistakably our own.