Porto Venere… Don’t Tell Anyone

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.


#portovenere #italy #cinqueterre #berntx #crashboomzip #painting #art #artatx #austinartists

Porto Venere

Porto Venere (study)| 9” x 12” | Oil on Canvas Paper

This composition has been on my short list for awhile, so I’m very excited to have put brush to canvas finally. The subject matter is a photo I took from the hillside in Porto Venere, Italy. The power of the sun shining on the church tower with the beautiful blue water in the background was an ideal setup for this piece. It kinda painted itself.

I’ve done a number of practice (studies) pieces in the past to get an idea of what I need to consider prior to tackling a larger composition. It’s extremely helpful to get a sense of proportions, values, and start thinking through edits that will make the piece work regardless of what’s in the photo or real life. My problem with doing a study is that I always end up getting sucked into the details – I just can’t help it – so they drag on and I lose the value of doing a practice piece.

To solve this problem, Porto Venere was time bound to 2 hours after the block-in was done. I literally ran a stopwatch to ensure I stayed true to the spirit of the study and focus on the compositional core elements, not the fine details. It forced me to make quick decisions and gave the piece a more painterly style, which I like and will try to incorporate into the full-size painting.

#portovenere #italy #cinqueterre #berntx #crashboomzip #painting #art


Vernazza | Oil on Canvas | 18” x 24” 

Vernazza Harbor

It’s hard to declare any of the hundreds of bucolic coastal towns of Italy “the” iconic Italian coast, but Vernazza makes a lot of those lists for good reason. Granted, the crowds make it down right awful, but the windows of time outside of the hordes, or better yet beyond the tourist season entirely, show how perfection can be achieved. When it comes to painting, however, it gets a bit intimidating.

The reference photo is from a lookout along the from Monterosso al Mare to Vernazza, a beautiful stretch of the Cinque Terre that affords stunning views of the coastline, vineyards, and even some live music along the way. As we neared Vernazza on a cloudless day, the late morning sun lit up the colorful boats of the small harbor. It just had to be painted! 

Vernazza, Italy
(Cinque Terre)

The challenges with this composition were varied and steep. I actually started it in early April, then had to set it aside for a month because it wasn’t progressing as I wanted and a breather can help recharge the artistic part of my brain in ways that sheer obstinance cannot. 

To be clear, it’s very unlikely I will ever paint another landscape from this angle, i.e. from hillside looking down at a steep perspective. Aside from all the unusual shapes it creates and skewing of details that you simply don’t see from a more familiar horizontal angle, it’s really hard to create a painting with depth when THERE IS NONE! I rarely yell in these posts, as I tend to be pretty even tempered and patient, so yelling isn’t part of my communication style, but in this instance I had to yell at myself after I came to the realization after having spent numerous sessions and countless hours on this painting that the reason I was having trouble creating depth was because there was virtually none. When you look down on a landscape at this angle, you absolutely kill the depth because there’s no reference in the distance. Hell, there isn’t even a horizon line, which means many of our painterly tricks to create depth as the scene recedes are non existent. 

Despite the compositional challenge, I’m pleased with the outcome and I love the wide range of colors. And to some degree there is “depth” to the composition, namely in the dark shadows of the boats on the shallow harbor sea floor as well as the buoys floating on the water, helping guide the viewer around the painting. They look like they’re floating on a sea of blue-green, and, well… believe me, they are. Go see for yourself one day.

Aperitivo Time!

Painting | Oil on Canvas Panel 11” x 14” 

I’ve had the privilege of spending multiple vacations in Italy and am of the opinion that it is simply one of the most fantastic places in the world. The people, food, wine, traditions and, of course apperitivo time! 

Final painting of Aperitivo Time
Aperitivo Time!

This particular scene is from a street in Lucca, Italy. The reference photo is earlier in the evening, just when the street lights go on, but I pushed the timing back a few hours so the lighting was more prominent. And just like magic, it was apperitivo time – break out the Aperol and snacks! If you don’t know what I’m talking about, rather than stumble through an explanation, just Google it yourself and promise yourself that one day you’ll go experience it first hand. Now back to the art…

This was another session to work on street scenes with people milling about their business (see the previous composition on this topic here, Lilliputian Italian Evening Painting). Ironically, the people were the easiest part of the composition, as the rest of the street and buildings took a lot of rework and adjustments along the way. Not sure why, but sometimes things don’t go smoothly. The other challenge was the surface of this particular canvas board. I had to really load up paint on the brushes in order to make progress, which was due to either the very toothy surface or the fact that it was very absorbent – this canvas board really drank down paint. 

This piece is also meant to be displayed in softer, yellow lighting. It was an experiment that I haven’t purposefully tried to do in the past, but the result is pretty cool. See the side-by-side comparison below, one with “normal” lighting, the other under the yellow/orange soft light. I feel like it adds to the mood and to some degree makes the street glow. 

Progression gallery below shows the block-in, early color layout, and final composition.

Lilliputian Italian Evening Painting

Italian Evening | Oil on Canvas Paper | 6 x 8

I’ve been working on a large seaside landscape piece for the past week and ran into a brutal reality… people! The focal point is a group of brightly colored boats sitting on very saturated blue green water, which has been enough of a challenge in and of itself. I had made good progress on that part of the composition and then realized how many people were in the photo along the harbor walkway. Initially, I thought I’d simply wave my artistic license wand and exclude them, but came to the realization that it would be very creepy and vacuous without people enjoying the sunny day.  

Here’s the problem – I can’t paint people!

The large landscape is on temporary hold while I figure this out; I’ve bounced over to this small piece as a way to practice painting Lilliputians. 
This is an evening landscape, I have no idea where, but I’ve declared it to be Italian, which aligns with my current artistic needs. I kept things loose and painterly, but tried to leverage high contrast values to emphasize the lighting on both the building walls as well as the light spilling out of the restaurants. The people were put in last, and I’m pretty happy with the outcome, although I used 5 or 6 different brushes to figure it out.

One thing about painting people into a landscape – it will make you remember to step away from the painting repeatedly to see if they look “right”. To look at them up close is a real horror show – oddly shaped legs, disproportionate torsos, and some of the worst wardrobe decisions ever made. But step back 6 feet and they look fine. 

There are also some areas of the window sills and exterior wall faces that were done with a palette knife, wet into wet paint, which worked well in terms of giving a realistic, aged look. 

Some notes on color mixing:

  • Green awnings = cobalt teal + variations of yellows including cad lemon yellow, cad yellow deep, and cad yellow light. Darker areas are a more traditional mix of ultramarine blue + cad yellow deep + alizarin.
  • Orange red exterior walls = another wide range that used burnt sienna, cad red medium, cad yellow light, and ultramarine blue. 
  • Lights = exterior lights leaned more towards Naples yellow and a touch of cad red light and white. Interior lights utilized the outside lighting mix plus cad yellow light. 

Lastly, I finally remembered to spread the palette around the entire painting to balance the hues. This was especially true across the vertical faces of the building exteriors, giving the scene a better sense of continuity. 

Thanks for reading!