Paint Landscapes From Sketches, Memory, and Photographs

5 Feb 2010

Ever since my trip to Venice, Italy, last year, I have been looking at paintings of the city by 19th-century artists such as Sargent and Whistler, as well as contemporary artists such as Steve Rogers and Leonard Mizerek. I've become more aware of how these artists exaggerated color relationships, simplified complicated spaces, and composed shapes and values. I decided to respond to this new awareness by painting a studio picture using the oil sketch I did on location, photographs taken on-site, and my imagination. I created the sketch near San Stae, one of the many Venetian churches that Sargent painted.

Photograph of the location
I painted.
9" x 12" oil sketch done
on location near
San Stae church in
Venice, Italy.
The preliminary
sketch done with
diluted transparent
oxide red oil paint on
a 20" x 20" canvas.

I wanted to emphasize the abstract relationship of shapes, and my final painting deviates from the plein air sketch in many ways. Most noticeably, I changed the format from the horizontal shape of the sketch to a square for the final painting. I also increased the contrast between the cool and warm colors, heightened the bright colors, muted the dark- and middle-value colors, and used a palette knife to apply thick layers of paint that would emulate the texture of the ancient walls. I found that the palette knife really transformed the painting, and I plan to use it more often in the future. My friend Urania Christy Tarbet is sending me a set of palette knives she is now marketing because I told her how much I liked the effects I was able to achieve.

The finished 20" x 20" painting done from the plein air
sketch, the photograph, and my memory.

For more landscape painting instruction, check out our free ebook “24 Tips to Learn How to Paint a Plein Air Landscape.”

M. Stephen Doherty

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Kisu wrote
on 5 Feb 2010 8:11 AM

About 2 weeks ago I got a book of Sargent's Venetian paintings, mostly the watercolors, and noticed something I hadn't noticed before:  His compositions are generally built upon browns contrasted with blues.  

Margo5 wrote
on 5 Feb 2010 9:44 AM

Thank you for sharing this article. I think it helps to continually focus on the points you made: work on "exaggerated color relationships, simplified complicated spaces, and composed shapes and values."