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In this article we are going to look out how you can paint a loose Impressionist view of the Gondola in Venice.
I will show you how I went from the below reference photo to the finished painting ready to frame and hang on your wall or offer for sale.
The reference photo was taken after a passing storm this July on our recent European trip. As always when I come across a great subject like this I make sure I take as many photos as I can from every possible angle. I probably ended up with about one hundred photos from walking up and down the Grand Canal just of the Gondolas parked as you see them.
This painting is available as a new course in the Learn To Paint Academy. It is 5+ hours of painting where you get to see every brush stroke. Click Here For Details
To complete the painting I will be using the standard color palette we typically use in the Learn To Paint Academy:
- Ultramarine Blue
- Alizarin Crimson
- Yellow Ochre
- Lemon Yellow
- Titanium White
As I am painting in oils I will be using Liquin as the medium for thinning the paint down and ensuring it flows a little easier. Liquin dries fast allowing me to work back into the painting the next day with ease.
You could of course use any medium you prefer with oils. The painting can easily be completed in acrylics, water mixable oils and gouache following essentially the same steps.
For brushes I will be using mostly flat brushes. Typically I have three sizes:
- Large Flat Brush (Appx 1″ width)
- Medium Flat Brush (Appx 1/2″ width)
- Small Flat Brush (Appx 1/4″ width)
And I usually have two of each size. I use one for the darks and one for the lights to save me having to clean the brushes while filming.
For the painting process I will be using the Moore Method of Painting which is the primary approach we teach at the Learn To Paint Academy.
We will be following the three basic steps in our process:
1/ Drawing in the Big Shapes
2/ Blocking in & Establishing the Values Pattern
However in this painting I will deviate from our usual approach of blocking in with our darkest darks first and then working towards the lightest tones. I did this intuitively mostly because the Gondolas are the darkest shapes and I wanted to get everything else established with the block in before tackling them.
We begin then with the drawing in of the big shapes.
One of the key skills I try to develop in our students at the Learn To Paint Academy is to be able to see the big shapes and to be able to place them accurately on the canvas. This does not mean doing a perfect drawing of them. Instead we just want to get the big shapes in the right shape, size and location on the canvas.
In this case the big shapes are the three Gondolas, the grouping of the buildings on the other side of the Grand Canal, the Sky and the water of the Canal.
I established the horizon line first. It’s not the true horizon line but is the most dominant horizontal line being the distant embankment of the Grand Canal. From there I placed in the outline of the buildings, followed by the Gondola shapes.
In the online course I spend time analysing the photo reference and highlighting the lines in the Gondola shapes. It is important to get this clear in your mind first. I suggest sketching them out in your sketchbook a few times before trying to draw them in paint.
Note – I have printed the photo reference on to a 5 x 7″ photo paper. I then hold this right next to the canvas where I am completing the drawing. This is a technique I learned from artist Robert Hagan and has proved to be a great help as you are not having to turn your head back and forth to look at the photo on a computer or iPad etc.
With the drawing of the big shapes complete I now move on to the block in phase.
As mentioned I am deviating from my typical approach which I might do for a landscape of blocking in darks to light. Instead I am starting the block in with the buildings in the background.
One thing I should point out is that I have made the buildings larger than they appear in the photo which brings them closer to the viewer of the painting. This was conscious decision as the camera always distorts the depth and size of objects in the distance. From my sketches done on location I knew that the way the eye sees the subject is with the buildings a little more dominant than how they appear in the photo.
I start blocking in the distant buildings using muted grey tones. A large storm had just passed through and there was still a lot of grey haze in the air. Remember that your greys are just different combinations of the three primary colours. If you are not clear about how to use greys and how to mute tones then I highly recommend taking our Colour Mixing Course in the Learn To Paint Academy.
Note – When painting in grey tones you want to avoid using too many neutral tones. It is always best to use both cool and warm greys which will give the painting a more dynamic range. See above.
Next I block in the water. This is done with a muted green tone. Its a simple mix of Ultramarine Blue with a little Yellow Ochre and a little Lemon Yellow. I paint it slightly darker in the foreground and progressively lighten it off as the water mass moves off into the distance.
The sky is Ultramarine Blue with a little grey in it. Darker in the top and getting lighter lower in the sky.
With the sky, buildings and water all blocked in I turn my attention to the Gondolas.
The Gondolas are all painted in black. It’s a tradition started after the second great plague in Venice to honor those who passed. We don’t use black though. Instead we mix our darkest dark which is Ultramarine + Alizarin Crimson and a little Yellow Ochre.
I’m using a medium sized flat brush. Drag your brush along the length of the Gondolas. Your brush marks are important in the development of the forms of the objects in a painting.
As we get the darks in for the Gondolas it highlights the need to now go back and work on the water. Especially in the foreground. The strong darks of the Gondolas makes the water look to pale in the foreground. Always remember colour is relative and the way we see colour is influenced by the colours and values around it.
In the image below you can see that I have darkened the reflections of the Gondolas and the water. At the same time I am layering over these darker tones with some lighter tones just to keep it visually interesting.
With the Gondolas and foreground water now more developed I switch my attention back to the buildings.
If you look at the Gondolas and water mass you will notice that all of the colours are fairly cool in temperature. The buildings in the background give us the opportunity to introduce some warmer tones.
Here I am adjusting the tones with some darker values and some lighter. Note also how little detail I have put into the background buildings. Just a few marks for doors, windows, columns etc. You don’t want to overly detail the buildings as they will compete for attention with the Gondolas.
As the painting develops I continue to work on adding more details into the Gondolas. And using the water I can adjust the shapes of the Gondolas where needed.
In these final stages my goal is to bring everything into balance. A process of calibration if you like.
The finished result when framed is a painting that will look great hanging on any wall.
The Venice Gondolas is an iconic scene that millions of people around the world have visited. Those that haven’t had the good fortune to visit though will also be familiar with the scene making it a painting that will be sure to be popular.
This article gives you an overview of the process of painting the Venice Gondolas step by step.
There is obviously more to the painting that can be explained in a blog post like this which is why we have filmed the entire painting which is now available as an online course.
The course shows you every single brush stroke taken to complete the painting. And you will also get a number of other photos of Gondolas in Venice so you can create your own paintings of this great subject.
Follow the link above for the details.