Another Adventure with Artist Tim Clark

May 2007

Every artist dreams of painting in Venice, a city with scenery that has inspired more artists that any other city in the world, and a city that owns more valuable works of art than most countries.  If painting in Venice is the first dream, then the second would be painting all around Italy, a country that gave us an incredible number of great masters. 

After a rewarding experience painting the big island with artist Tim Clark two years ago, Hawaii 2006,   I jumped at the chance to continue learning from him in Italy.  If you read the Hawaii story, then you will know that I am quite a fan of Tim’s, fully believing that artists like Tim could rescue art from money grubbing conspirators who have been filling galleries with blank canvases, canned excrement, pickled sharks, and unmade beds while convincing people who are educated beyond their intelligence that such rubbish is not only art, but also is a good investment.

Starting from home in Bedfordshire at 3 AM on Wednesday, 9 May, a two hour train ride took me to London Gatwick Airport, and EasyJet took me to Venice.  For a change EasyJet really was easy, but I could see that they are still working hard to change their name to more applicably “DifficultJet”. (More about this later)  At the Venice Marco Polo Airport I took the first bus to the nearby Mestre train station in my next leg to Bologna where I had planned to join the Tim Clark Art Group. 

 The lady at the information counter had told me to take the number 3 bus apparently for a good reason, I should have waited on it, especially since 3 is my lucky number, But why wait? The number 15, which I could see also went to the station, was already sitting there, so I jumped on it.  Forty five minutes later, after stopping at every bus stop in Mestre, we finally reached the station, and I surmised that the number 3 may have been a better choice.  But, Hey!; I did get a tour of Mestre, a city where everyone who used to live in Venice now lives because they can’t afford a house in Venice, the second most expensive city in the world (London is number one.).  The train left for Bologna 10 minutes later, and there was no problem getting a good seat with no reservation.  I haven’t always been so lucky.  Now I just needed to make sure I didn’t fall asleep on the train, have my passport and wallet pinched, and wind up in Napoli.

 I had done no research for this trip since it was a guided event. Besides, I wasn’t here for touristing; I was here to paint.  All I needed to do was show up at the Art Hotel Commerciante at Piazza Maggiore in Bologna, Italy to join the group who had come from New York. 

 My first question on arriving at the Bologna station was whether to take a bus, taxi, or just walk to the hotel. Being a firm believer in learning the local transportation systems, and hating to deal with Italian taxi drivers, I explored the idea of walking.  I posed the question to a young lady in the tourist bureau at the station, and without hesitation she not only told me to walk but also handed me a map and marked the route for me; it was a good move, giving me my first orientation to the city as well as a good look at ground zero. It would have been a mistake to take a taxi, robbing me of important information, not to mention the (usually) negative first experience of the taxi drivers (true of most countries). It is such a wonderful gift when tourist bureaus do really nice things for tourists, and it sets up such a positive mood for a visitor.  The Italians impress me in many tourist related ways, like water and drinks in machines at the airport that cost less than what you can buy on the streets. (At most airports, e.g. LAX, vendors have a license to steal from the tourists.)

 The process of building a mental map when arriving anywhere for the first time fascinates me.  At time zero, one often has no image whatsoever of a town, and the only knowledge at this point is information gleaned by looking at paper maps.  As one gradually enters new live, three dimensional images of a town and integrates them with information provided by a map, a sense of familiarity, comfort, and security evolves as the map develops in the brain.  Eventually, a complete mental picture of a town allows one to move around freely and add information even more easily. 

 Walking to Piazza Maggiore, the main town square was easier than finding the hotel after getting there, since it was tucked into a small alley, Pignattari, on the opposite side of the cathedral that I chose to circumvent in the wrong direction. After all, I had a 50/50 chance of getting it right.  To make matters worse, circumventing the cathedral doesn’t get one directly to Pignattari Street.  I would never have guessed the hotel would be so close to the cathedral.

Bologna Cathedral and Art Hotel Commerciante next to the cathedral

 Zeke, my room mate for this trip, had arrived about an hour earlier and was already in the room.  We had agreed to be room mates with the understanding that we both would likely need ear plugs to survive each others snoring.  (We were right about that.)

 I had just enough time to unpack before joining twenty serious artists for our first demonstration by Tim.  There were no amateurs in the group, with some being art teachers and some being full time professionals.  Artists this good coming to Italy to learn from Tim provides a clue as to his reputation among the group, some of whom have been painting with him for many years. We had a few hours before dinner and the square provided an immediate subject for painting in every direction.  Tim began by setting up his easel in the middle of Pignattari Street over looking the square leading me to ask, as usual, “Why did he set up here?” With all the stuff I could see in the square this would have been the last place I would have chosen to begin.

 Within a few minutes a Carbinieri (police) car pulled up and I could see us spending the next two weeks painting the inside of an Italian jail for blocking traffic.  But in typical fashion, an immediate rapport seemed to form between Tim, who really loves Italians, and the police and everyone were laughing as Tim sheepishly moved his easel out of the middle of the street. He had homed in on an arch across the square draped with curtains and shadows.  I began to see why he had chosen this spot for the demo.  As the demonstration proceeded and seeing what he had in mind, I pulled out my study book and did a 4”x5” painting of the scene in 15 minutes that turned into one of my favorite paintings of the entire trip.  Once again I rediscovered that the ability to “see” a good composition in the making was one of the most important skills for an artist to develop. “Composition is not just important, it is everything.”

Piazza Maggiore, Bologna Italy, my first study of the trip

 Our first dinner in Italy set the standard for the culinary segment of the trip. It was appropriately held in I. Carracci Ristorante, in the Baglioni Hotel, which is probably the most expensive hotel in Bologna.  Tim told us that he had planned a light meal for this night, since one of the main reasons for choosing this place was to see the original Carracci frescos on the ceiling.  The evening began with a drink of the region in the hotel lobby, where Tim offered a prize for anyone who could provide Carracci’s first name, which was Aniballe (no one knew)). He then related a story of his stunning one of his professors by knowing the answer to the question, only to be scolded for mispronouncing it. (It sounds nothing like Annabelle.)  Then we moved to a room where we could dine while admiring Carracci’s ceiling frescos before beginning the meal.  (Aniballe’s brother, Augustini was also an artist.)

 We began with a salad and a pasta dish, which could, itself, have been a full meal. This was accompanied with fresh bread that we dipped in olive oil and vinegar and a bottomless glass of wine that was refilled every time I took a sip. I have no idea how much wine I drank, but it was a lot. Then came a second pasta dish that was even tastier than the first.   

It pays to examine the menu closely to determine when and what the main course will be.  I have never understood this Italian meal psychology.  The waiters kept returning to offer second and third helpings of delicious pasta.  I pitied a few people who continued stuffing themselves with pasta because, as I knew by now, waiters would eventually bring out a sizable helping of the best lasagna I have ever eaten, followed by a dessert and coffee.  This was, in fact, what is considered light fare in Italy when compared with a few meals we had later that essentially had this beginning before the really serious eating even started.

 Being stuffed with three courses of pasta and a gallon of wine, forced me to walk around Bologna for another hour, which was good except for the fact it was now 1 AM leaving about five hours for sleep.  This night was also a prototype for the remainder of nights that ended at 1 AM and started up again at 6.

 Remarkably, even though Zeke and I had no alarm clock for the entire trip and relied on our on body clocks to wake us at 6 or 7 AM each day we were never late.  Wakeup calls that we ask for rarely seemed to produce any useful results.  During the first day I painted at two different painting sites that I had selected the night before.  I chose an excellent spot looking down one of the narrow side streets leading off from the square.  By noon the light had changed totally and it was good time to stop. I made the mistake of hurriedly adding on some shadows from memory that I should have done in another session.  I learned the true virtue of patience in pleine aire painting the first day.  Water color is still unpredictable for me. Sometimes when I am forced to rush, I get the best results and sometimes when I have forever, I overwork the painting until it looks like crapp.  I think that many watercolorists rely a lot on luck and statistics.

Near Piazza Maggiore


For lunch we all gathered and shared about 10 different kinds of pizza.  We had stuff on pizza that I have never seen on pizza.  It was so good that one would never guess that pizza was actually invented in the USA.

 In the afternoon I painted the scene shown in the first figure, where I had predicted paintable shadows later in the day.  Pleine aire painting seems especially useful in helping you discover things that you don’t know you don’t know.  Having first studied perspective at the age of 7 and thinking I had a reasonable working knowledge, I attempted to paint the church towering above me, which requires three point perspective. I discovered that painting this perspective was far from obvious, and guessing points did not prove very satisfying.  The cardinal rule is that parallel lines meet at infinity at points known as vanishing points.  When you are looking at infinity, any line parallel to your line of sight will converge on the point you are looking at, so it is relatively easy to locate a vanishing point for the lines that are parallel to the ground.  It is not so straightforward for lines that are perpendicular to the ground, because, in fact, the true vanishing point for such a line is straight above your head. (If you have a hard time accepting this, go to Las Vegas and observe the light projecting from the Luxor casino. Here the brightest light on earth can be seen from miles around projecting from the top of the pyramid to infinity. No matter where you are, the light seems to go to a point right over your head, i.e., the vanishing point.)  Looking at that point and deciding where it goes on your sheet of paper is a bit befuddling. 

My interpretation of the Hotel and Cathedral-An interesting exercise in three point perspective


I could see in my digital camera image that a vertical vanishing point lay somewhere outside the image boundary, and I soon realized that where it would be depends on the lens in the camera.  It took several days of thinking and diagramming to work this out well enough to feel relatively comfortable in painting scenes like this one that require accurate perspective information. 

 Laying out a drawing from a photograph or a digital camera image automatically incorporates perspective, and guess work in pleine air painting can rarely match laying it out carefully either in this way or graphically.  Artists who use the digital camera image to do the layout are automatically working with three (or more) point perspective, whether they intend to or not.  Needless to say, painting the cathedral towering immediately in front of me proved to be a truly useful and challenging exercise.  One cannot do serious painting in Italy, where arches and towers are a major subject, without a somewhat advanced knowledge of perspective.

 By nightfall I had begun some soul searching, wavering between excitements about all there was to paint and humiliation knowing that I would never reach the level of so many artists who had painted here before, not to mention the fact that Tim makes painting look so easy.  (The Italian word for this is spretzaturra, i.e. doing something with great finesse and making it look easy.)

 On Friday, after a demonstration on perspective we all set out to finish paintings we had begun the day before.  I didn’t feel so bad after Tim explained that he had taken and taught year long courses in perspective.  By noon the square was filled with people participating in a celebration of some sort. I had become a favorite tourist subject for ladies to place next to their kids in a photograph.  A few of them tried talking with me, and since I didn’t know if they were complementing me or criticizing, I just smiled and said “Gracia”.  By the time I packed up at 11 AM the square was a zoo.

 As we mounted the bus, everyone was wishing we could stay in Bologna another day, and we headed for Pisaro, a small town on the Adriatic Sea. We stayed in Hotel Vittoria, which was probably the most memorable hotel of the entire trip. In addition to a view of the sea from our fifth floor private balcony the bathroom sported the most unique shower I have seen yet, with rings that sprayed you from head to toe simultaneously.  After breakfast we visited the local art gallery to see the destination work of Bellini, Crowning of the Virgin. This painting had changed the entire world of art in the 13th Century, taking on a photographic appearance including single point perspective, characters that look real, a complex background and even a landscape.  It hung in a room that contained other paintings of the same period that by comparison looked like they had been done by fourth graders. 

 We ended the day with a somewhat major dinner that had about 10 courses and left me with the need to walk a few miles before turning in at midnight for another five hours of sleep. The five hour nights of sleep were becoming an unavoidable habit.


Bellini’s Crowning of the Virgin. This painting is one of the earliest to take on a photographic appearance including single point perspective, characters that look real, a complex background and even a landscape.


 We had Saturday morning to paint, which turned into one of those mystical, twilight zone events.  Zeke and I had wandered away from the main park next to the hotel to avoid a big celebration that was beginning. (It seems like everywhere you go in Italy they are having a big celebration of some sort.)  Our first priority was to find a shady spot to set up and hope that it faced something worth painting. Running out of time, we stopped at a nice, secluded, shady alley that looked upon a draped, abandoned carousel. 

As I began to paint, I wished that the carousel was populated with kids, so I mentally undraped it and drew in some kids from imagination.  My imaginary horses and kids were not awful, but not really satisfying either.  It was nearing time to pack up, and I had another unfinished painting to add to my stack. At that moment, a man walked up to the carousel and undraped it. Within moments the carousel was buzzing with kids and music.  I took a final photo of it as we left with the idea of redoing the painting with real kids.  After looking at how good Zeke’s painting turned out I wished I had, like him, left the draping on.  But then, maybe if I had the kids would not have shown up?  Within the hour we were boarding the bus and heading for Urbino.  


The scene when Zeke and I started.       


     The scene as we prepared to leave. 

Urbino is a medieval city built on a mountain top and hometown of Rafaello. Around every corner lies a painting spot that is better than the perfect one you just saw.  Our hotel San Domenico sat immediately next to a large church, which to my great surprise seemed to share a wall with the hotel. We could look straight into the church through large windows in the hallway. Actually, the scene from our room was a painting scene, itself, and I though surely one of us would go for it before leaving Urbino.  We spent two days and nights painting and wandering the narrow streets.


View from the hotel window in Urbino

 After a quick lunch at a sidewalk café next to the hotel, Tim sat up his easel for a demonstration and painted the scene looking down the hill along the main street.


Painting scene for demonstration in Urbino


 Then everyone charged off to find his own scene to paint.   In a place like Urbino one has the urge to continue walking and looking for the absolute best place.  I had so little of the Urbino map in my head that I stopped after passing a few great scenes and painted what turned out to be a biology center and the post office.

 We were back at the hotel by 7 for a special dinner at the La Trattoria Del Lione.  This meal began with a wide variety of hors d’oeuvres that were typical of the region. The chef described each of them including cheeses that would not be found in other parts of Italy.  They could have stopped at this point, but this was just the beginning of another over-the-top meal with about 10 courses; we ate until midnight.

 A few people had walked all over the town and had found spots that overlooked the town.  After a reasonable climb, we found ourselves with a perfect view of the town that could be painted from a nice secluded shady spot with virtually no tourists.  Strangely enough the place was populated with a dozen neighborhood cats.  There I did the first painting of the trip that I really liked.  This time I held off completing the painting with a plan to return later when the light would be perfect. The scene with hundreds of medieval buildings packed together on a hill, backed by mountains, gave me a certain peaceful feeling, and I believe that I managed to capture that feeling in the painting. I looked at this scene for hours before realizing that the large building just to the left center of the picture below is the church that was attached to our hotel. In a flash my mental map of Urbino neared completion.


View of Urbino from a hill at the edge of town.


A great water colorist would not have included so many windows, but I like it anyway.

The next day, Sunday, we were treated to a Mother’s day lunch, which turned out to be another 10 course Italian dinner.  Much more of this, I feared, and we would not be able to squeeze through some of the narrow streets around town.  After lunch we visited the Palaice Ducal, to see a destination painting by Rafaello, “The Quiet Woman, el Muta”, or Urbino’s Mona Lisa.

 I had walked over most of the town during the previous nights, and I used Monday morning to walk around during the day, spending the last thirty minutes doing a painting from the highest point.  I needed to learn to be more focused. Some people were doing great pieces of doors, pots, cisterns, bicycles, and columns. Me? I still had to paint the whole damn town with a thousand windows. I was like a man in the buffet, who put everything there on his plate.  Tim suggested that I try painting left handed for a while without my glasses so that I would be forced to leave out details.  People have pointed out that Monet began to paint in the impressionistic style when his eyesight went south.

 I was beginning to relearn the importance of designing a painting to contain rhythm and movement that would draw a viewer’s eye along a selected path through the painting through an interesting focus.  I have always relied upon instinct to tell me if a scene can be used to produce a good painting.  There is a certain feeling, a pleasing feeling that I sometimes get when looking at certain scenes.  If the feeling is strong enough and if I can capture what it is in the scene that gives me that feeling then a good painting will emerge.  There are explanations why looking at some scenes elicit good feelings as well as why some scenes lead to bad feelings.  If a scene has certain visual characteristics then viewing it can bring about pleasing feelings.  It is important for an artist to understand what these elements are and to exploit them to produce great paintings. 

 Tim emphasized the importance of not only embracing what is out there but how to enhance what is out there by making artistically pleasing adjustments in the scene.  If one understands what makes an artistically pleasing composition, one can discover the artistic elements and rhythm in a scene and complete the picture by removing certain things that take away and adding or rearranging some of those that can further improve the painting.  That is, don’t just copy what you see; use what you see to help create a painting.  A painting can and should be much more than a copy of the scene.  This approach opens up potential painting sites that may not have been painting sites, and I began to see potential paintings around every corner. 

 “If you can’t love what you see, then don’t paint it.”

 The scene in the next figure is an example of beauty that moved me, suggesting that it forms the basis of a good painting.   Enhancing the elements that move me and down playing the ones that don’t can produce a painting that is stronger than the photograph, maybe even more moving than the scene itself.  Achieving that is the job of the artist. 


A nice scene for painting in Urbino. What makes this scene artistically appealing?

The focus in this scene is the door or the flowers near the door.  The focus could be the door itself, especially if I chose to paint it open or to add a figure entering it.  An open or closed door carries much symbolism.  The shadows in the scene combined with the light patterns guide the viewer’s eye through the scene and direct it to the flowers.  Notice how rays of light and shadows actually point to the focus. You cannot look at this picture without concentrating on the flowers.  The left side of the scene is less important and contrasts nicely with the right, including contrasts in colors, complexity, value, and temperature that moves the viewer from left to right. These can be exploited and emphasized in a painting. The shadows create a nice energizing, zig zagging rhythm that can be exploited to give life and movement to the scene.  Simplifying or losing unimportant details could improve the scene, for example removing or at least rearranging the chairs would probably improve the painting.  One should decide how to treat the dark foliage on the left. These now hide a mysterious dark stairway that could be interesting.  But be careful not to introduce two foci, since having more than one focus is usually like having no focus. In the distance, the painting can include atmosphere and the hazy mountains that the photograph could not record because of the limited dynamic range. (I could see these clearly by eye, and you can just barely see them in the photograph above the distant green foliage.) 

With watercolor it is important to plan everything from the beginning, since mistakes are difficult, if not impossible to cover up.  There are a lot of simple rules and details, and I kept finding that I would remember one too late to incorporate, for example, like leaving something white somewhere near the focus, even if it is not obvious in the scene itself.  I needed a checklist like airline pilots use to make sure the doors are closed before taking off (or even something worse).

 I created the following checklist.  (With the caveat for the purist that one of the rules is, of course, that all rules have exceptions and can sometimes be broken for effect.)

 Watercolor Design Checklist to be read before putting down any paint.

1. Locate the focus of the scene and plan to place it in a Golden circle, i.e. in one of the one third corners of the picture (one third from the edges of the picture.)  Don’t put it in the middle of the painting.

2. Leave some white, somewhere preferably near the focus.

3. Paint some atmosphere. (Best done early when the paint is still wet.

4. Look at the whole picture, not just specific elements; look for rhythm.

5. Warm sky, warm shadows, cool sky cool shadows.

6. Choose what to emphasize and don’t forget it.

7. Make some contrasting elements.

8. Long verses short.

9. Contrast verses low contrast.

10. Wide gaps verses narrow gaps.

11. Matt background verses bright foreground.

12. Simplicity verses complexity.

13. Bright figure against dark background, light figure against dark background.

 14. Make some use of negative space; paint the dark negative space around a light object. Create an object out of a combination of negative and positive space.

15. A single wash, untouched looks freshest.

16. Don’t glaze with opaque paint.

 Sometimes keeping up with all these rules is like patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time.

 There are some places in the world that give me such an inexplicable warm feeling that I am sad to leave. Urbino is certainly one of them.  We were on our way to Ravenna for a two night stay by noon on Tuesday. We made a brief stop in the town of Fabriano and visited the Fabriano paper factory, who gave us a special tour of the hand made paper and watermark museum. We observe paper being made by hand and then stocked up on hand made paper.  It occurred to me that this could be a tourist trap, but I was delighted when we purchased hand made paper at a much lower cost than we would have paid in the US. We bought out the museum’s entire stock of hand made paper, a total of 61 sheets at a cost of about two dollars a sheet and divided it among the group.  A couple of people elected to try the Fabriano Esportatzione paper, a very expensive (like $30 plus per sheet), hand made paper that is the ultimate in watercolor.  At the other extreme a few people bought the less expensive machine made Fabriano blocks of paper.

 Arriving in Ravenna in the late afternoon, we checked into the Hotel Central Byron.  After a pizza dinner and a gallon of wine I walked for an hour before turning in at 1 AM.  It is hard to beat a midnight walk in a medieval town.

 Tuesday began with a visit to the cathedral to see some of the most spectacular mosaics in Italy.  The proximity to the salt air of the sea made frescos impractical so the Christians here resorted to mosaics, producing some of the best in the world.


Mosaics in the Ravenna Cathedral


 I spent the afternoon painting in the Piazza del Popolo, or people’s square.  In pleine aire painting, when you think you have everything perfect (I had a nice shady spot, protected by a sign in one side, a nice scene to paint, good lighting, with no chance of it changing too drastically) winds so strong came up that had me hanging on to the easel with one hand and painting with the other while half of my stuff blew away.  

A few men hung over my shoulder for what seemed an unusually long time, then one of them leaned over, complemented me and added, “Watch your wallet.”  My wallet had worked its way about half out of my back pocket and had become an easy target for even an amateur pickpocket, which we had all been warned about.  I suppose he never knew if I was thanking him for the complement or for the advice.


Piazza Del Popolo, the People’s Square 

The next morning I did my first day walk around town and visited Dante’s tomb before heading for the bus to Venice.

 Our plan to get to Venice soon after noon was squashed by an accident on the motorway that left us sitting still for over an hour. Since just about everyone on the bus was drawing in his sketch book, there was no complaining. Give an artist a pencil and paper, and he can sail through time, totally in his right brain, with little awareness that a delay is in progress.  People were sketching anything in sight that interested them. I spent half an hour drawing the curtains on the bus window and the back of Susan’s hat. We pulled into Piazza del Roma, the last place one can drive a car in Venice, around 4 PM.  

Our baggage was transferred from the bus to a boat, and the rest of us mounted two boats and headed for the hotel on the most scenic route through the canals that one could imagine.  What a way to see Venice first! The reality that everything in Venice moves on the water (or on foot) becomes clear.  Compared with my last entry into Venice, which was in a heavy downpour, this was like heaven. Sometimes it’s really nice to have everything taken care of by someone else.

Five artists with the master arriving in Venice


 We painted for four days in Venice mixed in with a few gallery visits and great meals.

 Our accommodation in Venice comprised a suite of sorts, with two rooms, a sink and bidet in each and a shared bath in the Hotel La Fenice.  To my delight this had once been the home of the great Venetian artist Leonardo Lotto, one of my favorites. (If Titian had not had such good press, we would all appreciate Lotto more.)  My room had a rather strange retractable bidet and sink built into a closet, which set the scene for a truly dumb mistake on my part.  While preparing to go out, I started a thermos of coffee to take along using the only electrical outlet available for the operation which, unfortunately, was above the sink, where I was washing my hands and face.  In one careless movement I turned a thermos of near boiling point water over my right hand.  Aside from hurting like hell for an hour or two and having to deal with huge blisters, a loss of a few square inches of skin and embarrassing questions, the injury failed to deter me from my usual routine.  In fact, painting took my mind entirely off my hand.  In two weeks it had healed completely.

 Among the great artistic features of Venice are reflections, which double the viewing pleasure; you get the scene twice with some interesting variation in the second image.

Reflections give you a two for one view. This was the first scene I painted during this Venice trip.


Later I realized that I had not seen the curve in the walls. I think that would have made it a better composition. Also, I plan to paint it again and add in the boat.

During one composition demonstration, after choosing to eliminate a pole that interrupted the flow through the scene, Tim commented, “It’s like a hot dog poked into a donut”.  I jokingly added that he had left out the three plastic drink bottles floating in the canal.  “ I didn’t see them,” he remarked, “and if you did, you have a problem.”  Okay, I asked for it, didn’t I?

 On the second morning, a group of us who just couldn’t get enough met at 6 AM and headed for St. Marks Square. It was really nice to see the square nearly empty of people. I sat up an easel and began painting the tower just as the sun was moving across it.  The lighting was changing so fast I made a plan for shadows and worked on the rest.  At 9 AM I suddenly realized that everyone had packed up and gone except for me and the place was swarming with tourists.  A major argument was taking place next to me between two vendors fighting over space.  It seems that I was sitting in a space that one of them had hoped to use.  In a foreign country when you hear someone yelling “Hello” at you, you know they want something from you.  This guy wanted me to move.  For some reason, his Italian competitor was taking up for me and explaining that I did not have to move since I was there first. Since I was essentially ready to quit anyway, I made the poor guy’s day by packing up and moving out of his spot.


Painting in St. Mark’s Square from 6 AM


My Rendition of the Tower in St. Marks Square

St. Mark’s Square at 9 AM

A visit to the gallery on the square provided a nice break, and especially significant was the John Singer Sargent in Venice show that happened to coincide with our visit. We could drool over the masterpieces of Sargent and see how he chose to treat the beauty of the city.  I left there inspired to try some of the things I saw in his work.


A Watercolor by John Singer Sargent in the Sargent in Venice Show


One of Sargent’s Paintings of the Rialto Bridge


 During the afternoon and also on the following day we painted in Campo St. Barnaba, a square I had discovered during my last visit to Venice.  I was delighted to find that this square was also a favorite painting spot of Sargent.  As I was painting, a large group of students entered the square and set up behind me to paint the same scene. Oh, my God! What if these kids out do me?  During the afternoon we traded looks at each others work.

Painting in Campo St. Barnaba. That is my easel at the end of the line of kids.  A few, after seeing my painting turned and tried the same scene.



Painting from Campo St. Barnaba.  I have a little work to do to catch up with JSS, I’d admit.

With about an hour remaining before the evening critique, I packed up and headed for the hotel.  It doesn’t take long to blow an hour in Venice.  I blew 15 minutes with an aborted short cut across the Grand Canal by tragetto ( a sort of gondola taxi that takes you straight across the canal for one euro), because the tragetto wasn’t operating.  The second distraction came as I passed Ruth and Rooney having a glass of wine at a sidewalk café. (After painting all afternoon, I couldn’t turn down a glass of wine).  With 15 minutes remaining we upped our walking pace when Ruth suddenly mentioned the Tintorettos in St. Stefano’s Church as we passed it; so we used our last 15 minutes admiring Tintoretto’s work.  Seeing the Tintorettos was worth sitting at the back of the critique.  Besides, of the over 100 magnificent churches in Venice, this was the only one I entered during this visit.

 We enjoyed two more of those amazing Italian dinners, one of which was in Ristorante Graspo de Ua near the Rialto Bridge.  The restaurant is run by one of the most celebrated Venetian Chefs and is rated one of the best in Venice.  (How he and Tim got to be such good buddies is beyond me.)  Afterwards a few of us walked to the Rialto Bridge to see first hand where Sargent had set up his easel to paint the bridge in the work shown above.

 Our last dinner together was at the Taverna La Fenice, the restaurant of our hotel.  We had what was called the Doge’s dinner, a sampling of traditional Venetian food.  By now since we had all become comfortable with each other, the five men decided to put on a short skit.  All wearing dark glasses, we introduced ourselves as the Fabulosos.  Four hummed a background while the fifth produced what amounted to a rap verse commemorating the trip.  We did this on the sidewalk part of the restaurant in front of God and everybody. 

 An idea of the flavor of the song can be extracted from two of the verses that I created for the piece.  (I am afraid I couldn’t recall the other verses.) 

(Background by four of the guys)  “Ba Ba BaBoom Boom Boom Boom, …… Ba Ba BaBoom…..”

 (Two of my verses)

 “Being in Venice is like being in heaven.

We can paint….24/7.”

 “Tim says, ‘Jim, don’t paint the bits.

You can paint that lady but don’t paint her…………..ankles.”’

 Fortunately everyone seemed to have so much wine in them by this time that they still let us finish dinner with the group.

 On Sunday, 20 May, we mounted speedboat taxis and headed for the airport.  The speedboat ride is a great way to finish off a trip to Venice.


Leaving Venice by Water Taxi-This is essentially a superhighway.


 One of the most delightful experiences of the trip was seeing how much people in the group had grown to know, to like and to enjoy each other.  Normally, I find small clicks and tribes forming in such a group. In this case, each person seemed completely open to sit and converse with every other. It really did not matter which seats were empty at breakfast and dinner tables, I always felt welcome to sit anywhere and always enjoyed socializing with whoever was there.  While it is true that we had our art in common and could always discuss art, I felt there was more. We just simply had a lot of interesting people here.

I forgot to mention one other rule in watercolor that applies especially when painting with Tim Clark.

Rule 1-TC- Hide your erasers. Tim teaches that one should either draw it right the first time or else learn to accept what you draw the first time; don't erase it.  The day we painted in Campo St. Barnaba, Tim made his rounds to look over the various painting efforts. When he got to Zeke, he ask to see his eraser.  When Zeke complied and handed over his eraser, Tim tossed it into the canal.  All of us should strive to learn a bit of Tim's spretzaturra.

A year later, artist friend, Ruth Baderian, who was on this trip, sent me a print of the following painting that she had completed based on a photograph she had taken of me and another artist, who we all call Rooney. I don't know how biased I may be since I am in the painting, but I think it is truly a masterpiece.

Rooney and the WWT by Ruth Baderian, watercolor on paper