Painting. Venice. Two notions that appeal to this romantic grand turista. We’ve been seeing artists sketching and painting in Venice and all over Europe this spring, setting up easels and drawing in sketchbooks, everywhere from the cobblestone lanes of the old town of Kotor to the waterfront at Venice’s Rialto markets. And I’ve been thinking about doing the same.

I’ve got a strong desire to paint watercolours. The grand tourists painted, of course, but I’ve wanted to paint watercolours since I was a child. My mother drew well — she created exquisite pen and ink pieces — and I taught myself to draw as a teen. I’ve never attempted watercolours though and only thought about learning recently when my psychiatrist uncle who paints oils swore they were easy to learn. How easy, I wondered?

Before buying a paintbox I decided to get some advice from Venetian watercolourist Nicola Tenderini, who has a small shop and studio right near Rialto markets, where he sells the pretty watercolours that he’s painted and made into prints and beautiful gifts, such as notebooks, bookmarks, and recipe books. I love his work because the colours capture Venice in all its moods and his gifts make authentic mementos that are an excellent alternative to the trashy ‘made in China’ souvenirs sold at the stalls close by.

Q. When and why did you start to paint Venice?

A. I don’t remember exactly when art entered my life, but it became important to me between the ages of 14 and 16, when I began to paint after school. I went to the Liceo Artistico Statale, the main art school in Venezia. I did very strange illustrations, a mixed of comics and art. I didn’t really like to study but when I painted I found a real expression of my energies.

Q. Did painting come easy to you?

A. To paint was easy – anybody can paint – but it is difficult to make it work for you, to gain from your work a sufficient level of money to have a normal life.

Q. Why watercolours?

A. I also paint oils on wood, and I prefer this surface, and sometimes ink on paper, or acrylic, but I like using watercolours because of the simple and primitive techniques, just water and colour. It’s an honest technique.

Q. Any tips for someone learning to paint with watercolours?

A. To be a good figurative painter, you must to be a good watercolourist, and to paint watercolours you should have a good knowledge of perspective and proportions. It’s important to learn how to draw and design with a pencil, so you can start with a good drawing, although with contemporary art painters seem to have lost these skills. The watercolour is the sum of transparent levels. All that you paint is all that you see. The error is not to complicate the painting. There should be a balance of colour.

Q. Most inspiring places to paint in Venice?

A. There are some places that I prefer to paint such as the river of Giudecca, S. Giorgio Island, Castello, and the area around Salute Church. I look at Venice through the eyes of those of us who live here. Sometimes I take photographs and paint from a photo, but most of the time I don’t because I have Venice in my mind, its colours, its shadows, its reflections.

Q. Most inspiring art museums in Venice?

A. Scuola S. Rocco, because inside there are a wonderful series of paintings of Tiepolo and Tintoretto, and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. There is also a small gallery called Holly Snapp Gallery on Calle delle Botteghe near S. Stefano where there are only exhibitions of watercolourists.

Q. Quintessential Venetian painters/paintings I should look to for inspiration?

A. There are too many paintings and artists in Venice I love: Giuseppe Cherubini or Ettore Tito or Emma Ciardi… but if I had to say one, probably William Turner when he painted Venice in watercolour. These paintings are wonderful.

Q. Best school to learn to paint in Venice?

A. The Scuola di Grafica, where you can learn the basics of drawing and design and all the techniques for painting, but it is a very serious school.

Q. Best place to buy painting supplies in Venice?

A. Gabriele Scarpa behind S. Mark Square near Bacino Orseolo. I buy all my supplies there.

Q. Best buy for beginners or travellers?

A. A small box of Windsor and Newton paints – watercolours are perfect for travellers and outdoor painting!

Nicola Tenderini Atelier e Artshop
Campo Bella Vienna-Erberia, San Polo
T: 39 0415226532

End of Article

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