Watercolor Painting:Venice Canal Demonstration

I have just posted my latest watercolor painting demonstration. It is a painting of a narrow Venice Canal.

I love traveling to Venice and even though I have only been there twice now. The last time for about 12 days, I know I will be going back their again. There is something about the place that I just love.

While I was in Venice last year I sent a group email out to my friends and students and thought I would include in here just for some light reading:

Subject: Benvenuto da Venezia (Welcome from Venice)
Date: Mon, 3 May 2010 06:07:56 +1000

Hello folks,

I hope you don’t mind this group email but I figured it was the best way to let you all know what I have been up to in magnificent Venice.

It is now Sunday night (2nd May) here so I have been here for 6 days. So far I have painted 4 watercolors, one sketch and one pen and ink painting. Oh and did I mention that I have walked half way around the world and taken about 3000 photos! There are just so many wonderful things to paint here – the biggest problem is deciding where to start! Actually about a third of the photos are of street signs so that in the future I will be able to work out the location of each scene.

I arrived last Monday night after about a 30+ hour trip. Not fun but at least uneventful. I had been on tenterhooks for days before I left, not knowing if the flight would be cancelled or not. In the end all I had to put up with was a 5 hour delay which got me into Venice at 7pm instead of 2pm, really a non event for me considering what other people had to go through because of the volcano disruption.

The next morning I headed off with my backpack and determination to walk all over Venice- it turns out Venice is a lot bigger than I first thought, so after 12 hours of walking I had only seen a very small part of it – oh I did pick up a couple of blisters on the way and my calf muscles felt like I had them climbing Mt Everest! Needless to say, despite carrying a heavy backpack all over the place I did not get a chance to get any of my art gear out. Actually I did find a place of which I thought I would do a Pen and Ink sketch but made the mistake of just seeing what was around the corner and never could find the original spot! I think I took about a 1000 photos on day one!

It is very easy to get lost in Venice, because of its multitude of narrow streets and alleyways, but at the same time it is very easy to find your way back to the key tourist spots of San Marco (St Mark’s) and Rialto ( Rialto Bridge) as there are signs with arrows to each of these locations everywhere.  But finding a little out of the way corner again is another problem!

From the time I got here the weather forecasts kept predicting rain after a few days but I was lucky as the rain held off until today (day eight) – though it is supposed to rain from now on. So I put off any visits to museums because I knew the rain was coming. Hence tomorrow I will head off and be a regular tourist and will leave my painting gear behind (as you all know watercolor and rain just don’t mix). Today I was doing a painting of one of the canals when it started to rain so finished it off under cover of a local church or some such building – I was approached by one of the local art teachers (specializing and printing and etching) and we had a good discussion for about 10 minutes about watercolor and materials. He spoke little English and I had less Italian but between us we could make ourselves understood. I think meeting new people like this is one of the great pleasures of painting plein air. I also had a nice chat to a lady from Slovenia. While all this was going on someone was playing some beautiful Italian music on a piano and flute – heavenly!

After day one I have been taking less and less photos, my feet have become accustomed to many hours of walking and I have now done a few paintings (nowhere near as many as I had planned – but I already have enough photos to keep me busy for a long long time). While doing my pencil sketch of one of the plaza’s here a school group turned up and I had a very large crowed around me. I quickly stopped worrying about whether or not my work was any good and just concentrated with handling the challenges of painting outdoors.

I haven’t seen a lot of other artists painting here. It is actually a bit difficult to tackle the more iconic scenes as there are just too many tourists and the narrow streets, which I intend to do a series of when I return. I would have been totally blocked some of these narrow streets if I set up my easel – definitely would get me arrested at the least I think!

Today, once the rain hit, I headed off with my camera and got some wonderful photos of reflections at San Marco and in many of the narrow Venetian streets and alleyways. For once San Marco was not a sea of tourists as they all headed for cover, but there was just enough to give me some great reflection scenes.

I have learned a few things about Venice since I have been here which I thought you might be interested in:

1.       How do the  Water Bus Captains know when they have reached a pier? When they run into it!

2.       Women with babies spend more time lifting their prams over the bridges than they do pushing the pram. If I stopped to help every woman I saw with a pram I would not see Venice.

3.       If you ask where the toilet is and the restaurant does not have one they just point somewhere down the street.

4.       Fruit is actually quite cheap here.

5.       If you walk around with a camera around your neck they just assume you are not Italian and they speak to you in English (most but not all). So much for spending 6 months trying to learn to speak Italian!

6.       If the Venetians started charging people for taking photos of their beautiful city they would be way richer than they are now.

7.       Dogs a very popular in Venice and most people clean up their dogs poop but not all so you still have to keep an eye on where you are stepping.

8.       It is easier to buy a beer or wine in Venice than it is to get a coffee. It seems anyone can sell you a beer or wine but not all sell coffee. Tonight I had pizza at a Pizza Bar which sold beer and wine along side of Coke but did not sell tea or coffee. The Italian’s make the best coffee I have ever tasted by the way.

9.       You could probably paint the same little canal every day for a month and have a different painting each time.

Well that’s about all for me for now. I look forward to seeing you when I get back in about a week’s time.

Arrivederci! From Venice.


PS: please excuse the rambling and any typos as I am a little brain dead at the moment and can’t bring myself to have another read of this.

Well that is it for my little story. I hope it was of some interest to you.

If you would like to see my demonstration now just click on this link: Watercolor Painting Demonstration of a Narrow Venice Canal

Happy painting,

Joe Cartwright


Watercolor workshops how to tackle one: part 4

Taking Notes

By all means take notes during a workshop, especially if something the tutor says really strikes a chord with you, but don’t do it at the expense of really looking at “how” the tutor is painting.  Otherwise you will miss important information which you’ll regret.


Tutors usually will give some critiques of your work as you go along.  If you are lucky the tutor will be happy to critique work you’ve done prior to the workshop.  I have found this to be very beneficial but before you go and start taking paintings out of frames so you can take them to your workshop, first make sure your tutor will be happy to provide you with a critique!

After the workshop

In my early days of painting with watercolor I once attended a workshop, that I did very well at, but found after I got home, my work actually went backwards for a couple of months.  It was only after I realized that I had tried too hard to change my style to that of my tutors rather than just taking the bits I learned that suited me and left the rest.  When I realized this my work immediately took off.  I went back to my core style but added the bits from the workshop that worked for me and I never looked back.  I haven’t run into this problem again since spotting it.

Don’t take it too seriously!

You should have fun at these workshops.

Remember if you concentrate on learning then your skill will continue to improve after the workshop is long over.  Why not enjoy your time during the course and if something goes wrong don’t get too fussed but just go on with the rest of the workshop.  If you are doing a full week workshop, there will be highs and lows.  You can’t help this, just take this extra knowledge and move on.  The more you paint the more success you’ll have, you will however have a lot of failures along the way, that is life, but these failures are also beneficial, if you make sure you learn from them!

A positive attitude is vital if you are going to enjoy your time at a watercolor workshop!

So enjoy the watercolor painting you do at the workshop.  Don’t dwell on paintings that didn’t work out and acknowledge what went right and what you have learnt. Enjoy your new friendships with fellow students.  With this attitude you should get the most out of your course and be happy to attend more workshops in the future.

I hope this information is of some value to you.

Watercolor workshops how to tackle one: part 3

Workshop materials

Every now and then you will be sent out a workshop required materials list only to discover when you get there that it is very out of date to what the tutor is currently using.  This happens when a tutor has been with the same organization for many years and has forgotten to give them an updated list to distribute to new attendees.  For this reason, try to check with recent past students of this tutor if they found the list they received was up to date.

For watercolor painting it is very important to have the right paper, paints and good brushes. Quite often you will have the colors the tutor has or one that can be a useful substitute e.g. if the tutor recommends Winsor and Newton Aureolin (a cool yellow) then you could replace it with another cool yellow if you have one.  If you tutor paints with very big brushes and you have tiny ones you will have trouble painting  his work, if your watercolor paper is of poor quality  (some I have seen acts just like blotting paper because they had so little sizing) you’ll have a great deal of difficulty.

Reference images

Check whether or not you are supposed to bring some of your own reference material or if the tutor is going to supply everything.  If the tutor wants you to bring some of your own it’s well worth your while to do so. Again past students may be able to help with this.

Workshop paintings

When working on your workshop paintings keep an eye on how your own work is going.  You should not get concerned if other students work is better than yours. Attendees at watercolor workshops have very different experience levels and usually there are always some people better at watercolor painting than you and some that are worse – if not for all the paintings done, then at least for some.

Remember, it’s not the quality of the work you produce during the workshop that counts but the amount you learn that will allow you to produce improved work after it’s over.

Continue to: Watercolor workshops how to tackle one: part 4

Watercolor workshops how to tackle one: part 2

When you get to your workshop try to find out where in the room your tutor will be working and try to get a location as close to him as possible. At one workshop I spent so much time chatting with old friends that by the time I set up my gear I ended up at the very end of quite a long room – needless to say at the opposite end to where the tutor was working.  I had to keep walking backwards and forwards if I had a query about a section of his painting.  Not a useful handicap when painting with watercolors!

Throughout the course keep in mind why you’re doing it.  I have found that spending a few minutes each night writing down what I learnt from the day really gave me a sense of progress and this may be of use to you as well.

Don’t be scared to ask questions.  I can’t recall having a tutor that wasn’t willing to answer questions, and even though they must exist, you would have found this out in your preliminary research.  It would not hurt for you to prepare a list of questions you’ve had on your mind before starting the workshop and then you can get these answered.  You don’t want to be on your way home when you realize there was a question you had forgotten to ask your tutor.  I suggest you don’t hit your tutor immediately with a string of these listed questions but instead ask them one or two at a time as you work through the week. It’s quite likely that a number will be answered anyway through the course of the class.

Don’t ever hesitate to ask a question because you think everyone will wonder if you are just too inexperienced, or some other self depreciatory thought.  Just go ahead and ask your question. That is why you’re there and why you paid your money.  The tutors expect it – unless you are a rank beginner but still went ahead and booked into a workshop for advanced students, it’s not a good idea to do this by the way!

Quite often when you ask one of your “silly” questions someone else will come up to you later and say: “Gee I’m glad you asked that question, I was wondering the same thing myself!”

Keep your mind on learning.  If you produce some good paintings along the way then that is a bonus. It’s the extra knowledge that you want to take away with you, that is important first and for most.

Continue to: Watercolor workshops how to tackle one: part 3

Watercolor workshops how to tackle one

Attending watercolor workshops can be a lot of fun and also very positive for your watercolor painting development.  However sometimes people don’t get as much out of a workshop as they would could or would like.

I have attended quite a number of workshops mostly for watercolor but also for different media and I also run my own workshops so I hope this information may be of some benefit to you. However, in the end one has to make up one’s own mind about a particular course as no one can give individual advice without knowing all of one’s circumstances. Hopefully the topics I list here can help you with your choices.

If you want to do a workshop to improve your current skills with a particular medium, which is probably the main reason most people decide to do a workshop then the topics I’ll cover should help you get the most out of your course.

Your first step would be to look for a tutor whose work you like and want to know more about.  You should ask around to find out just how he or she runs their workshops, do they demonstrate a whole painting all the way through and then you go off to have a go at it yourself; do they do it step by step with you doing each step before they move on to the next one, is reference material provided, how do they handle questions, critiques, etc. Do they advertise their workshops as being for beginners, intermediate or advanced?

By collecting this information you will able to make an informed decision as to whether or not this tutor is for you.

Continue to: Watercolor Workshops how to tackle one: part 2