Venice Grande Canal ~ How to Capture the Sparkling Moment?

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.

Values First

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.

Grande Canal, oil, 11 x 14

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.

Painting Venice


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.

View Muses of Tuscany Painting Collection

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