I'm doing a little workshop at the Brooks Museum tomorrow afternoon--here's the plan.
Vedutisti in your city:
In this lesson, the artist will learn a process of watercolor painting similar to one used by the Venetian artist Canaletto(1697-1768). These paintings, called vedute, are highly detailed cityscapes featuring landmarks from cities, often depicted in one-point or two-point perspective. The artist will
- Choose a point-of-view and subject matter for a vedute painting.
- Translate their perception of a cityscape to a line drawing.
- Organize a palette that mimics that of the artist Canaletto and will discuss how vedutisti would have selected and mixed colors for their paintings and how they would have used different values to create a sense of depth.
- Use a variety of watercolor techniques to create their own vedute.
- Practice the following vocabulary:
- vedute: city-scape paintings, often including major landmarks in the city.
- vedutisti: artists who paint vedute
- linear perspective: a form of perspective in drawing and painting in which parallel lines are represented as converging so as to give the illusion of depth and distance.
- point-of-view: the point from which a scene is observed.
- orthogonal line: the name of the line that recedes to a vanishing point in a drawing that uses linear perspective.
- vanishing point: the point on the horizon line to which the receding parallel lines diminish.
- value: the lightness or darkness of a color
- saturation: the amount of pigment in a color
The artist will need the following materials--
- archived images of landmarks (sketches or photographs)
- tracing paper
- watercolor pencils and a limited palette of watercolors including three primaries and one neutral brown.
- water cup, small palette to mix color, tissues, paper towels, sponges, small brushes
PREPARATION: The artist will begin by choosing a significant landmark in his or her own city, either by choosing from a small archive of photographic images, or preferably by choosing from a selection of sketches made of that landmark in preparation of this activity. The artist may choose a location that represents his or her city--in Memphis this could be anywhere from Beale Street or South Main to the Brooks Museum. Alternately, the artist may choose a location that represents the cityscape with which he or she is most familiar--for example, a easy to access location on campus.
- Select a point-of-view in which streets, paths, buildings, or waterways recede toward a vanishing point along orthogonal lines. Emphasize elements commonly used in compositions that take advantage of linear perspective.
- Use images of Canaletto’s work as a guide, pointing out orthogonal lines and vanishing points in each image.
- The artist will translate his chosen scene into a line drawing. This can be done by placing a piece of tracing paper over the chosen photograph or sketch and heavily tracing the basic outlines of the composition. Line was one of the most important elements of design used in vedute paintings for many reasons. Many vedute paintings were reproduced in the form of an etching--a printmaking technique in which only line could be used to create a sense of depth in a composition. The artist should transfer his tracing paper drawing to a sheet of paper, either by tracing over the drawing that has been made, or by using a grid-technique (if the student is already familiar with that concept).
- Brilliant colors like the ones we find easily today were much more rare before the industrial revolution. Because brilliant pre-mixed colors were very rare, artists like Canaletto relied heavily on line and value to create a lively composition. The artist should use a limited palette of watercolor pencils to lightly indicate where certain colors will be used in their composition. Care should be taken to use the lightest touch of the watercolor pencil at this stage--in watercolor it is always easier to add more color than it is to remove any.
- Once a light indication of color has been applied to the composition, the artist can begin using very small drops of water on areas where a moderately large field of local color will be applied. After a small area is wet, the artist can take a little of the pigment from the tube or pan watercolors and use it to create a wash. Go slowly and have a tissue or paper towel ready to erase any rogue drips or unexpected bleeds. This is a process that can require a bit of patience. This is a good time to remind the artist of the difference between the process of creating a shadow by adding a darker value or complementary hue and the process of creating a bright color by layering the same pigment over itself or saturating that pigment.
- When the artist is satisfied with his or her painting, lay it flat to dry. Then the artist can create subsequent versions of the veduti using the same tracing paper sketch and trying different color application techniques or different types of watercolor paper.
- Experiment with adding figures in different places of your painting, paying attention to how their scale changes depending on where they are standing.
- Experiment with how the clouds are drawn and painted or with how the composition changes depending on how much sky is included in the composition.