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Susan Grant Watercolors
Steps of a Painting
On this page, I want to show everyone the how I create a painting. There is a photo and
explanation for each step.  Let me know what you think!
This is a photo I took in Venice back in 2006.  I have always wanted to
make a painting showing the canals.

Venice is a collection of islands in a lagoon; a lagoon is sort of like our
inland waterways. The "streets" are canals for boats.  There are no cars
in Venice - people walk or take boats.  Gondolas are normally for tourists,
but locals use gondolas for special occasions.  I saw an newly married
couple in a gondola on the Grand Canal near the Rialto bridge; they were
probably headed to their wedding reception. (Perhaps that will be another
painting someday.)

This photo was taken off of a footbridge over a very narrow canal - you
can't see it, but there is a small piazza to the right, Campo San Moise.  
The Piazza San Marco is further to the right from this photo.
The first step for me is usually a pencil sketch - especially for a painting
this complicated.  If you are very observant, you will see that I make
small adjustments from the original photo - in this case I left out some of
the windows & doorways.

For this painting, I spent most of my time making sure I had the
perspective correct on the windows, doors, shutters and balconies.  I
probably spent about 3-4 hours on the sketch alone.

Since this painting is in watercolor, I use the sketch to trace the main
reference lines onto the watercolor paper with graphite tracing paper.  

Tracing the sketch is typical for me.  You can draw directly onto the
watercolor paper, but lots of erasing on the watercolor paper will damage
the surface and the paint will do odd things on the damaged surface. I
learned this the hard way a long time ago.
Now I have started painting.  The watercolor paper is actually made of
cotton!  The everyday paper used for books and printers and usually made
from wood fibers; there are no wood fibers in watercolor paper.  (For any
watercolorists out there, this painting is on Arches paper, 300-lb,

This paper is very heavy; it is about as thick as a Christmas gift box - this
way, when the paper gets really wet, it doesn't buckle too badly.  The
paper is taped down to a Masonite board.

I started by painting almost the entire painting with a pale yellow, then
started on the orange building on the left - my first goal was to get all
those blasted shutters to look like they were in the correct positions.  
The gondolas and gondoliers are also in position in very pale colors.
Next, I spent my hours painting in the windows, doors and shutters down
the right-hand side - again, I wanted to make sure the perspective was
making sense on how the buildings were positioned.

I have also started to get the "texture" on the buildings - down near the
water, the stucco has flaked off the buildings and the surfaces are very

If you haven't noticed my changes:  the canal is a little wider than the
photo and the buildings down the right are different colors.  I have also
left out about 25% of the windows and doors.
I think there was a football game on the TV when I "plunged in" and
painted the water around the gondolas.  Notice too, that the windows,
doors and shutters are getting darker and more pronounced.

Whew, I got the water to look like water!!  At this point, I was afraid I
got the water too dark...
Now I'm getting to all the people in the gondolas, painting in all the railings
(wrought iron and stone.)  I have been dreading doing all these people, but
they are only shapes and colors, just like everything else.  Besides, these
people don't have to look like anyone!!

Now that the dark gondolas are painted in, the water looks just fine - not
too dark.
And here is the finished painting - about 38 hours
of drawing and painting! (Most of that time was
over 3 weeks, then I put the finishing touches in
later, after I had looked at the painting for a
while.)  I usually don't keep track of the time I
invest in a painting - but since this one was so
complicated, I kept track of my hours for this one.

One of the last changes I made was to change the
yellow sky to blue changing to yellow closer to the

Also, I made the little shop on the bottom right a
bakery, with their goods displayed in the window.

By my count, there are 77 windows/doors and 21
people!  Whew, if I had known that before I
started, I might not have painted this!!
Click on this image to
see a larger version
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