Pastels painted in Venice

As a matter of record, I’ve been meaning to make this post since returning from Venice, in April of 2016.  But it’s taken awhile.  Here are all the pastels I painted while I was in Venice this past winter.  My wife has written elsewhere about our trip, and has her own blog for her own work.  This blog entry is all about the work I did while I was in Venice for three months.  I have already written a post about the first half-dozen or dozen pastels, so I’ll try not to repeat myself too much here.

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This is the first painting I did in Venice.  It’s the bridge to Sant’Elena, where we stayed.  I worked on a piece of handmade paper that I had pulled myself in preparation to our trip.

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Then I did a painting on handmade paper of the bridge going from Giardini to the Riva dei Sette Martiri, near sunset.

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I’m not entirely sure of the order in which I painted these pieces at this point.  The earlier post is sure to have it more correctly, since it was done at the time.  This one is of one of the smaller side canals, with gondolas.  This one might have been done on a half sheet of Fabriano watercolor paper, I’m not sure.

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I did this one on oval handmade paper.  I had my son Michael build me an oval papermaking frame.  The scene is the Grand Canal just at the Rialto Market.

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This view was one we stumbled upon in our walks.  That’s the Salute church in the background, and a gondola stand in the foreground.  Handmade paper.

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Everybody’s favorite painting, this one is on handmade paper, and it’s of the tide coming in over the steps along the waterfront at Giardini, I’m pretty sure.

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At the end of January there is a costumed boat regatta down rio Canareggio, and we attended, taking many many photos.  I couldn’t resist doing this rather large painting, from a half sheet of Fabriano.  That’s me in the red cape.

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This lady was one of the costumed figures we saw in San Marco during Carnivale.  She was actually just returning to her rented apartment after posing all morning, and we happened to get a shot of her, and her friends.  Their apartment was right next to the Contarini Palace, with the fabulous Scala Bovolo, and I vowed to make a panting of the scene.  I used a half sheet of Fabriano for this.

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These are then studies for the painting of the Bovolo.  These figures all rented the apartment, and we hope they enjoyed seeing themselves painted in like this.

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Another study, again on handmade paper.

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And using a full sheet of Fabriano paper (something like 20″x30″), I put them all together in one painting.

Now to move on to cover the pastels painted from mid-February to mid-April, when we returned home.  In general, I used the larger sized paper; 8.5×11 or 11×17 just wasn’t enough anymore.  All along, my tools had been a choice of handmade or commercial paper, and a selection of pastels.  I started my drawings with graphite sticks and conte crayons.  I used soft pastels that I had bought over the years.  There were pastel pencils for detail work.  There was a specially made range of blues that I had made right before coming to Venice, and then left at home, so our friend Marie Matthews graciously collected them for the studio before coming to visit.  And my wife brought a selection of pigments for her use with watercolor medium, as she is learning all about handmade paint, and I used several pigments with an acrylic binder to make specific touches to the paintings.  The fixative I used was acrylic, diluted and sprayed on with a mouth atomizer (portable, efficient, and cheap).  And those are the ingredients of all of the paintings I painted in Venice.  Now that I am at home, and back to my regular studio, I can paint in any medium on any surface, but for traveling with luggage weight and size limits, I restricted my materials to the most lightweight and portable ones I could think of.

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A trip to San Pietro yielded this wonderful courtyard, with a gnarled tree and a well-head I just couldn’t resist.

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A chance view down a random canal made a fascinating subject.

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Our friend Marie volunteered for many photos, and I actually painted her several times.

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I thought it particularly ironic that there is a gift shop in the vestibule of San Marco, so I stole a picture of Christ and the money changers to paint above the hawkers and buyers.

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Our grandson Connor  was a constant delight at three years old.  Here is is, chasing pigeons in a campo.

Again, sorry this is so tardy, but I have better things to do than talk about my paintings – namely, paint more paintings.

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Pastel Painting – The Scala Contarini Del Bovolo during Venice Carnevale

During Carnival this year, I hosted an artist friend of mine, Marie Matthews for a couple of weeks at my rented apartment in Venice.  Marie and I went down to San Marco almost every morning to photograph the costumes.  These costumes are very elaborate, and take their wearers months to make, in most cases.  Most of them adhere to the styles of the 18th Century, tho there are some variations (for instance, a man dressed all in silver, portraying a time traveller).

One morning, when all of us – myself, Marie, my wife and our grandson – got up before dawn and went down to San Marco, Jeanne and Marie decided to go off on their own after the sun rose and the costumes drifted away, while I took Connor back to the apartment.  They wandered all around, Marie in her costume, Jeanne with our camera, and had several adventures which Jeanne has written about here.

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One of the places they explored was the staircase of the Contarini house, which is spiral, like the shell of a snail, which is where it got its name – bovolo.  It’s a bit hard to find.  You have to turn down a narrow street that takes a blind turn, and then another narrow street which opens out on a small campo with the usual well head in the middle of it.  After taking several photos of the building and campo, they began to wander off, but met some of the very costumed figures we had just photographed at San Marco, coming back to their rented apartment to divest themselves and perhaps take a nap.  It turned out that they were Americans teaching in Germany, and were very forthcoming.  They’d been coming to Carnival in Venice for years, and always rented the apartment in the campo.  Marie, a novice at carnival costumes, took the opportunity to ask questions about their costumes, such as, “How do you get the neck drapery to stick around your mask?” “Glue gun.”  And, “Where do you get the hoops for your skirt?” “Turkey.”

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They followed the costumed figures back to the Bovolo, where Jeanne took more photos, and thus was the idea for a painting formed.

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The first thing I did was to make a pastel painting of one of the costumed figures as she unlocked the door to their house and went in.  I was enchanted by the view of the stairs behind her, and the look of invitation in her mask, tho she might well have been desiring only to be alone so she could remove the pounds of unwieldy costume.  I used a sheet of the paper I made and brought with me from home.  This painting is 8.5″x11″.

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Then I made some studies of the costumes with pastel on handmade paper, also 8.5″x11″.

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These figures were photographed on a nearby street, where they were first encountered, and so I left out the background to focus on the details of their costumes.  They were already very familiar, since I had photographed them in San Marco.  I don’t need to tell you that I used handmade paper, because you can see by the ragged edges that I made it by hand.

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The next step was to get out a full sheet of Fabriano paper – 22″x30″, and start with the graphite drawing.  At first I only sketched in the details of the staircase and the house next to it, and concentrated on placing the figures.  I had decided to use all the figures that my wife had photographed near the house, instead of sifting thru all the hundreds of photos we had taken of figures at San Marco, and perhaps including people who weren’t staying there.  This was of minor importance, as we had formed the plan of giving a print of the final painting to the costumed figures, who had kindly given my wife a card so we could contact them.

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However faint the drawing looks on the computer screen, it was dark enough for me to be satisfied with the proportions and placement, and to begin work in color.

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I started with pastel pencils, which will take an edge, and put in the details bit by bit.

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On a whim, I included a picture of Marie in the upper window, as I had plenty of photos of her in her costume.  The pose I used was taken at the top of the Rialto bridge, but that’s the wonderful thing about art – it’s better than reality.

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The painting went thru several more stages than I managed to take photos of, but the finished painting is here.  When I get home, I suspect I will do a much larger painting, to do justice to the wealth of detail I couldn’t capture with pastel on paper, but we will see about that.

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Here are some details of the figures.  The objects they are standing near are carved well heads, called pozzo in Italian.  They are everywhere in Venice, and it seems the people who own the Bovolo are particularly fond of them, because there is a collection of them in the yard.  None of them work, of course, as all the wells in Venice were capped when the city began getting its water piped in from the nearby alps.

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Here is my tribute to Marie, without whom I would never have gotten up before dawn to go take pictures.

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hello from venice, italy

I have taken my wife and grandson to Venice, Italy, for three months, and we are approaching the halfway point, which has arrived much faster than we had expected. Nevertheless, I am working at my usual rate, and have produced several pastel paintings in that time. Before I left my home in Atlanta, I made a lot of handmade paper, as well as a whole range of pastels to supplement the spotty offerings available commercially, and I brought them all with me.  So I am working on paper I have pulled myself, with some of the pastels I made myself.  None of them are framed; they’ll all be going home with me in a box, and I’ll mount and frame them when I get back to Atlanta.

Here are the ones I have finished so far.  I hope you like them.

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This is the first one I painted.  It’s about 8″x10″, and it’s of the little bridge that crosses over into the island where we are staying.  I walk across this bridge once or twice a day, at least.  You might not notice how raggedy the edges are, because these pictures were taken with the paintings resting on our back steps, and the color of the marble is similar to the base color of the paper.

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This next one is of the Salute church, across the Grand Canal.  It’s about 9″x12″.  I was standing in a station for gondolas when I looked up and down the Grand Canal, and this was the view down to my left, toward the Giudecca Canal.  I also have some material for another painting with the view to the right, which is quite different.  But that hasn’t happened yet.

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I did this one next, of the water at high tide, flooding the steps down to the canal along the Biennale walkway.  This is one of those little scenes of water and marble that no-one would notice, looking at the beautiful scenes of Venice.  It’s just a common little waterway next to a vaporetto dock.  But I liked it a lot.  In fact, as well as anything I’ve done here.

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This is a little bridge that I also cross every day, between the Giardini and the Riva de Siette Martiri.  It has four angels carved on the side, but I’m going to have to do a bigger painting of it to show the angels.  (Incidently, it’s the bridge my wife painted for her first Venice painting.)

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Then I did this one, from the Rialto market.  There are so many wonderful scenes to paint; I can’t get them all.  But I’m going to try, even if I have to keep painting for two years after I get home.

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Next I tried something on a half sheet of Fabriano paper I brought with me in case I wanted to do something larger.  It’s about 8″x20″.  I did several preliminary pastels to collect the material as the costume regatta was passing us on opening day of Carnival.  (That’s me in the red cape, by the way.)  There were hundreds of people standing all around us, and on top of the next bridge, and I was delighted to leave them all out.  Carnival would be a great event to attend if only all the tourists would stay away, because they keep getting in the way of my camera.  There were about about 150 boats in the regatta, but the one with the black figures in the white masks was my favorite.

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After messing with the regatta painting for about a week, I wanted to do something really quiet, so this is what came out.  A quiet little canal, with three little gondolas passing by.  They would be coming under me as I was standing on the bridge to view this. Once again, the reflections in the water was one of my main interests in this painting.  Also, the tone of the painting allowed for a great deal of the untouched paper to show thru.  About 8.5″x11″.

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This costumed carnival figure is seen at the front door of her rented apartment as she is coming home with her friends, all of whom we photographed earlier at San Marco, posing for the cameras at dawn.  She and her friends are teachers in Germany, and they come to Carnival every year and rent this same apartment (the owners of which didn’t want to rent to us next year, because there are only 3 of us, and it’s a 5 bedroom apartment).  They came back to the apartment after a tiring morning posing, were going to have a nap, and then get dressed and go back out for the evening session on San Giorgio Maggiore, after which there was undoubtedly a ball or two to attend.  This is done on the largest paper I made, which is 11″x17″.

I’m going to begin studies for another, larger painting of these ladies this afternoon, posed in front of their apartment, which is in the same campo as the Contarini del Bovolo staircase (the famous spiral one).

I’ll have more soon.  Please let me know what you think.

Join me in Venice

I’m in Venice Italy for three months, starting just a week ago, and going all the way to the middle of April.  As you can imagine, I’m in the city of water and old buildings, light and architecture, history and romance.  And I’ve got my art supplies.  You can read about the journey itself on our travel blog, here, but the artwork I’m doing is going to be posted here on this blog, and if you feel like purchasing any of the pieces I’m making while I’m here, you can do so on our Etsy site, here.

When I decided, back in August, that I wanted to spend a lot of time in Venice, I started preparing right away.  First I made a whole lot of handmade paper, then sized and in some cases toned the paper for pastel.  Then I made a bunch of pastels, and bought a bunch more pastels.  And finally I packed them all up securely and brought them with me on the plane, along with my wife and three-year-old grandson.  My wife found a great little apartment, and we moved in just last week.  And we’ve been taking walks and accumulating photo references like mad – only a week, and we’ve got over a thousand photos already.

What interests me is the age of the city, and the non-tourist sights.  I like brick walls, peeling stucco, crazy angles.  The lagoon views are magnificent, of course, and the palazzi on the grand canal are palatial, and I’ll be painting all of them, but my exclamations of amazement come at the most prosaic moments – rounding a corner and seeing a canal full of boats and reflections, with laundry hanging right across the canal.

Before leaving for Venice, one of the preparations I made was to make a few paintings of scenes I found on Google street view (which cruises down the canals as well as the streets).

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The first of these pastels, done on handmade paper (you can tell because of the ragged edges) I then mounted down on a board and framed, then painted in the frame to extend the image.  It’s of the Rialto Bridge, which I have since seen and photographed from a number of angles, all of them including tourists, which are everywhere, even in the winter (one of the reasons I chose to come in the winter is the relative lack of tourists.  But still…).
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This second painting is likewise mounted on a board and framed.  In this case, I did two pastels, of the lower and upper parts of the buildings, and left a nice gap in the painting for emphasis.  You might notice all the women in the windows of the buildings.  Traditionally, way in the past, women were relegated to private spaces, and hardly went outside at all.  Which is one of the reasons the windows in Venice are so prominent.
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This one I call the Gondolier of Death, and it features a self portrait, and a portrait of my grandson Avery next to me.  The Gondolier is transporting a coffin, or rather a body, to Isola di San Michele, the burial ground.  It’s a rather large painting, and I did it on board, rather than handmade paper.
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This little gem is on handmade paper, and I framed it up to give to my friend Jack as a bon voyage painting, seeing as how he threw me a bon voyage party.  Here’s looking at you, Jack.
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At this point, still at home, I decided I might try some paintings on oval paper.  My son Michael had made me an oval paper screen some months back, so I used it to quickly turn out several dozen sheets of oval paper, which I then toned and sized, and used a picture of the Salute church as the subject.  The photo was pulled from street view, which I though was an excellent resource.  We actually spent some time on street view before we came, trying to orient ourselves.
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The second oval I did was rather more fancy.  It’s also of the Salute, but I spent a little effort decorating the board that it is mounted onto, using sprayed lace.

And now, to the paintings actually done in Venice.  Once we arrived, it wasn’t hard to select the first subject, because it’s the bridge to our own little island, where our rented house is.  It’s a cute little bridge, and we cross it every day on the way to the shopping area to buy our groceries.  There are only two bridges to get onto this island, and I’m quite fond of this one.  Handmade paper, of course.

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And I just finished this painting today, of the Salute again, but from the other side of the canal, rather than street view from a boat.  I really love the poles sticking up everywhere along the river.

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So that’s the start of my Venice paintings.  I will be doing many of them while I’m here in Venice, but taking home years of material to make much larger paintings back in the studio.

I hope you join me in my trip, and hope you like my pastels.  I do, and I’m having a lot of fun making them.

Swimmer series – 11

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These are some of my very latest work. And tho I’ve done half a dozen at this point, I”m not thru yet. I really like the abstract qualities of the paintings, and the way you realize you can’t trust your eyes to see. In fact, I was unable to recreate the types of images I saw when I was taking the photographs. They show the moments between things I was seeing, instead.

I’m posting these pictures because I’d like to switch them out for some less interesting paintings already at the Marietta Cobb Art Museum, and it seemed easier to let the staff see them all together in one place.

Because they’re confusing, I’m calling them by number.  They are pastel on board, and they measure 24×36, except for the last one in this list.

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this is the only painting that is oriented portrait.  we’ll call it swimmer 7

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swimmer 6

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swimmer 5

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swimmer 4

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swimmer 3

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swimmer 2

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swimmer 1.  This is the large one, 36×48.

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Beach pictures

These are pastel paintings Jim did after a trip to Hunting Island State Park in South Carolina.  They are all painted using handmade pastels on nonwoven fabric, mounted on board.  They were all taken at sunset.

Looking north.

Looking off toward Ireland.

Looking off toward Spain.

Looking south.

While he was at it, he worked on several fanciful pictures featuring the maritime forest as seen thru the cottage window.  These are pastel on paper.

The study.

The final painting.

latest works

it’s been quite awhile since i’ve updated this blog.  i’ve been very busy, 7 days a week in the studio working on this idea or that.  here is some of the work i’ve completed in the last six months.

you might notice a theme in this body of work.  that would be because in a stroke of luck, we were out walking the dogs one morning around thanksgiving, and discovered a full sized skeleton replica in someone’s driveway.  we inquired, and walked the skeleton home with us when it turned out it was a movie prop nobody wanted.  so i have a new model who doesn’t mind keeping a pose for a very long time and works for industry standard.

the following are all pastel studies on watercolor paper, roughly 24×48, give or take.

first i posed him as senor posada, a tribute to that wonderful mexican political cartoonist of the same name who popularized skeletons in the 19th century.

then i dressed him as a bride, in lovely diaphanous fabric.

then i dressed him in heavier fabric and a mitre i made, and turned him into a bishop.

and then i got out a very old photo of my model margaret, and aged her a bit with the skeleton.

and then i started on a very early idea of what i’m calling the dance of death.

it’s rather ambitious, but i envision a 30-foot roll of watercolor paper, with scenes of all sorts of people being lead away by death.  this is a medieval theme that has been done many times, and in many guises.  it doesn’t matter how rich or famous or powerful you are, you will die in the end just like everybody else, so there.

i expect t his dance of death series will take me most of the year.  as well as that, i am going to be developing a graphic novel with my wife, and this will take around eighteen months.  there’s a lot going on this year, and i’d better get back to it.