Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Italy, Part 3: Varenna and Lake Como

5/12/17 water-soluble colored pencils, Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook (Lake Como from Varenna)

Lake Como and the villages surrounding it, commonly referred to as the Lakes District, was our third itinerary stop, with the town of Varenna as our home base. We had initially talked about seeing more of the lake’s towns, but we loved Varenna so much that we ended up spending most of our time there (except for a short excursion to Bellagio, which turned out to be too commercial for our taste).

5/14/17 ink, colored pencils (Varenna alley)
Shortly before I left for Italy, I had been introduced to the secondary triad palette in my colored pencil class. Italy’s landscape seemed ideal for giving it a try, so I built my colored pencil selection for the trip around the palette. My first morning in Varenna, I walked out onto our hotel room’s terrace, looked out at the view of Lake Como, and knew that the palette had been made for this scene: blue-violet mountains, lush green trees and the terracotta rooftops of the surrounding villages. I’m going to talk more about the sketch above in a separate post, but for now I’ll just say that it was my colored pencil breakthrough.

Like Positano and the Cinque Terre towns, Varenna and Bellagio are filled with steep, narrow streets and alleys. By then I had gotten used to turning my landscape-format Stillman & Birn sketchbook vertically to sketch those street views so exotic to me. The most fun to draw were the ones with buildings on both sides of a long, steep stairway leading down to the water. We spent most of our time in Varenna simply exploring the nooks and crannies of the town. Wherever we walked, I looked down openings between buildings to peek at those fantastic views that ended at the lake.

5/13/17 ink, colored pencils (Varenna town square)
We also spent time just hanging out in the town square observing the locals taking la passeggiata, catching up with their neighbors. Because of the narrow streets, motorcycles and scooters were a practical mode of transportation, and we always found lots of them parked in the piazza.

5/14/17 brush pen, ink, colored pencils

5/12/17 ink, water-soluble colored pencils (town of Varenna and Lake Como)

5/14/17 Varenna

5/13/17 Varenna

5/13/17 Basilica in Bellagio
5/13/17 water feature on a Bellagio monument

Varenna is where I sketched my first busker of the whole trip – a man playing accordion in a pedestrian tunnel. (I sketched only one other busker later in Venice. I’m wondering if Italy has laws against busking; I was disappointed not to see more.)

On our last day at Lake Como, we visited Varenna’s cemetery. Although many of the old tombstones were tempting to sketch, I chose a large one with the Italian flag next to it.

5/14/17 Varenna cemetery
5/13/17 busker in Varenna

5/13/17 street in Bellagio

Lake Como from the ferry to Bellagio

Orange trees everywhere!

Varenna cemetery

Lake Como was difficult to leave; I kept wishing we had scheduled a few more days there. But our final destination was Venice, and that’s another Italian location I had been wanting to sketch for a long time . . .

(For more photos and sketches from Italy, please see this album in my Flickr photostream.)


  1. Super sketches of the area, Tina. It was a great idea to use those sketchbooks vertically across two pages. With those views you really needed that. I had brought along narrow papers to use just for that reason. I'm glad that we chose Varenna as our home base there, Rick Steves was right about that. It had such a wonderful, peaceful feel to it. I would hit the tiny grocery store every morning during my walk and felt like a local. Glad you enjoyed it so much too. Can't wait to swap stories.

    1. Thanks, Joan! I can't wait to talk about Italy with you, too!!

      - Tina


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