Porto Venere, Italy | 20” x 30” | Oil on Canvas
Earlier this year, I did a quick study of this composition and instantly loved the bones of the work. Sometimes you get a sense for a painting right away and you just know it’s going to be fun to paint!
The original study can be found in this previous post, Porto Venere (study), which was much smaller, 9 x 12” on paper. It was clear that the key elements to this piece were lighting and linear perspective.
The values in the photo are crap (midday, washed out), so it required some improvisation and memory recall from the day I was actually in Porto Venere. I wanted to make sure the sense of the very bright sun was captured in the light and shadow contrasts, but still find a way to make the rooftops surrounding the main tower look interesting and not entirely washed out. To help get an idea of what good looks like, I referenced some works by Kanna Aoki (https://www.kannaaoki.com), who has a great talent for capturing the essence of bright sunny days in San Francisco.
The linear perspective is always a challenge (albeit a fun one) when dealing with cityscapes, but this piece was all about the tower. I took the reference photo from the castle on top of the hill upon which the town is built, so my vantage point was above the tower, but getting the lines right was still very important to convey the size of the building. The trickiest part, however, was the dome. Rather than try and explain the myriad ways it tripped me up, go ahead and try to draw just that part of the building. Too many lines and curves for a mere mortal to tackle.
There was also a wonderful Bob Ross moment as I experimented with the tower. I was mixing some orange color options on my palette and decided to quickly lay down a little paint on the canvas with a palette knife. The intent was to simply dab a little on the canvas, but my hand slipped and spread a big splotch! That happy accident, turns out, gave the impression of old time stucco, or whatever these old buildings are crafted from, and I loved the texture and realistic result. Nowhere else on the composition did I use a palette knife technique, so it helps add complexity to the piece and focus the viewer to the tower.
Last note is the use of reflections of the landscape in the water, which is not in the reference photo. I redid the water numerous times, and each time I used a variation of blue without reflections it dominated the painting and became a distraction. The reflections, I think, give a lot more depth and perspective, which I’m happy with, but one day I’ll have to learn how to do muddled reflections so the water doesn’t look so still.
If you get a chance to go to this part of Italy, stay in Porto Venere and avoid the crushing crowds of the Cinque Terre. Just don’t tell anyone else – it’s a wonderful place because it’s still a bit of a secret.
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