Sunday, 15 July 2012

a lesson in leaving well alone

source material and colour swatches

For some time I've been meaning to do another watercolour based on photos taken on our honeymoon in Venice over a year ago.  I finally settled on a shot of some Gondoliers, waiting for passengers on the Riva del Schiavoni.  This time I stretched some grey-tinted watercolour paper, which I hoped would add a wintry atmosphere to the finished article.

the basic sketch

The painting was going to be a fairly big one, so the basic sketch for it had to be done on two pieces of A4.  Somehow if I make a sketch from a photo before doing a painting, it doesn't feel so much like painting from a photo - and it gives an opportunity for editing. When I transferred the sketch to the watercolour paper, I hit the first snag: the two halves didn't quite match up, so some sleight of hand was needed.

transferring the sketch to the paper
Because the subject is a watery one, I decided to use plenty of water in the washes - keeping them pale and building them up if necessary.  I was so busy sloshing the water on, I realised too late that I'd hit a second problem:  the paper had buckled so much that it had come right away from the tape at the top, which was supposed to keep everything in place.

some very wet washes . . . 
Panicking slightly, I considered my options: (a) chuck the whole thing away (b) cut the paper away from the board completely, re-soak and re-stretch it or (c) wait until it had dried before deciding what to do.  Sheer indecision led me to choose option (c), which was basically 'do nothing'.  Just as well, because when the painting had dried completely it was still glued perfectly flat, as though nothing had happened!

a background in search of a subject
Carrying on with the background, I added layer upon layer of pale wash to build things up without overdoing it.  At one point I realised that the gondolier who was supposed to be leaning on the rail was actually leaning on nothing at all.  I fiddled with the idea of changing the angle of his arm, but decided to leave well alone again - he could be gesticulating instead!! Much of the subject is black (gondolier's coats and trousers, and the gondolas themselves) so I began to add darker, thicker washes of various colour combinations to distinguish one area of black from another.  By the time the painting was finished, the gondoliers had about six or seven layers of paint on them . . .

Gondoliers in Winter
So here's the finished article.  True, I've taken a few liberties with San Giorgio Maggiore; the gondolier on the left is reading a book rather than texting, another gondolier is missing completely and the chap on the right has sprouted a red stripy sweater (the gondoliers do wear a variety of red-striped or black-striped tops, sometimes on top of their padded coats, and either red or black ribbons on their hats).  I'm enjoying painting figures!!

1 comment:

  1. Yes, sometimes doing nothing really is the best option! I do love this - it seems to me that the balance between background and foreground is exactly right - the gondoliers look alive and important but your eye is also drawn to the beauty of the historic backcloth against which their little personal drama is being played out. Great effort!