Thursday, May 25, 2017

Italy, Part 4: Venice

5/18/17 ink, water-soluble colored pencils (The canal and bridge outside our Venice flat)

I’m still ambivalent about Venice. On our visit in 2006, we spent too few days trying to see too many museums and other wildly popular attractions, so all I remember of it was fighting crowds, being lost and feeling frustrated. We wanted this year’s visit to be different, and it definitely was – except for San Marco Square, we avoided all high-traffic areas – and yet I can’t say I wholeheartedly love Venice. A sinking city of canals where boats serve as buses and stunning architecture is on every corner: It’s hard not to be fascinated by such a place, and I was. And yet I wanted it to be easier to appreciate all that old beauty and history. Maybe we just didn’t stay long enough to get past the confusion of vaporetto routes and mazes of narrow streets. Or maybe we were just getting tired at the end of our 18 days abroad.

One thing I did very much appreciate was staying in a flat in a quiet campo in the Dorsoduro neighborhood, which is off the beaten tourist path. A nearby art college brought lots of young people carrying portfolios back and forth through the campo, which gave the neighborhood a creative, youthful energy. Literally a few steps from our flat was a tiny art supply shop (I bought a small box of colored pencils there, just on principle)!

5/17/17 Santa Maria Della Salute and Grand Canal from the Accademia Bridge

5/17/17 Basilica di San Marco
One day we ventured out to San Marco Square, perhaps the single-most crowded spot in Venice at any given moment. Of course, I was ambivalent, but like an urban sketcher lemming, I was also driven to make the iconic sketch. Compared to the mobs seen at high summer, we experienced only the “shoulder” crowd – I actually found a space on the steps opposite Basilica di San Marco.

This is the scene I was trying to see (sketched above):

This is the scene I saw most of the time:

 Although I don’t regret going to San Marco and making the sketch, it was a relief to retreat to “our” ‘hood, and that’s where we both spent many happy hours sketching and photographing the quieter parts of Venice. In particular, I enjoyed going around to the back sides of buildings where all the wires and antennae were tucked away from the postcard views.

5/16/17 Dorsoduro neighborhood
5/18/17 Dorsoduro neighborhood

5/16/17 "Our" campo in the Dorsoduro neighborhood

A minor canal was just outside our flat, so I sketched it twice from different angles. One of my fondest memories of Venice was sketching the commuter traffic in and around the canal (sketch at top of post) in the cool, early-morning air, the sky a brilliant blue, all within sight of our flat’s kitchen window (in other words, not far enough away to get lost).

5/16/17 The canal outside our flat

5/17/17 chimney pots in Dorsoduro

In all the small towns we visited prior to Venice, my landscape-format Stillman & Birn sketchbook spent most of its time opened vertically to accommodate cliffside villages or narrow alley views. In Venice, I could finally turn the book horizontally to make two panoramic sketches of the Giudecca Canal with three iconic churches on the skyline. My intention was to put the whole panorama on one sketchbook spread, drawing from west to east, but halfway across my intended skyline, I ran out of space! I continued on a second spread, covering as much of the skyline as I could see. Someday if I ever learn to stitch images in Photoshop, I’ll put them together into a single image.

5/18/17 Guidecca Canal, part 1

5/18/17 Guidecca Canal, part 2

5/17/17 gondolier passing under a bridge

5/17/17 glass harp busker near San Marco

Bridge of Sighs

I can’t talk about Venice without mentioning Arcobaleno (“rainbow”), the art supply shop. When I say “art supply shop,” I’m not talking about your average Blick store! This shop’s main product is paint pigments for artists who want to make and mix their own paints. I’d seen Internet photos of its window of eye candy – a spectrum of powdered pigments – and I had to see it for myself! With Joan’s help, I was able to find the shop in the Dorsoduro neighborhood, where I bought a handmade leather pencil wrap and a tube of colored pencils covered in hand-marbled paper. As I was making my purchases, I asked the shopkeeper about the second Arcobaleno shop, which I knew was somewhere near San Marco. She gave me directions, and I found that one, too. (It’s slightly larger and offers crystals and other colorful, mystical materials in addition to art supplies.)

Eye candy at Arcobaleno

This is what I bought at the "candy" store: a leather pencil roll and a cylinder of
colored pencils covered with hand-marbled paper.

Speaking of eye candy, Venice’s retail streets are nothing but. I resisted buying, but I got more than my fill ogling the “candy” with my camera.

More Venice eye candy

And speaking of sweets, I can’t end my last post about Italy without mentioning gelato. I’ll spare you the daily Instagram postings of our flavors of the day and just give you a taste here. At least I’m not showing you all the pizza, pasta and salads we also consumed. All those steps we walked (Greg’s Fitbit hit 10,000 steps by mid-day each day) and stairs we climbed (an average of 315 flights per week) had to be fueled by something.

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

Stay tuned for my travel sketch kit review and my colored pencil breakthrough.


  1. Like you, I enjoyed the quieter parts of Venice where I often was the only person around. Your sketches of Venice are really great, especially the panorama of the Guidecca Canal. The photos just make me smile and seeing the ones of Arcobaleno just make me want to go back.

    1. I thought of you a lot as I walked around in Dorsoduro and shopped in Arcobaleno, wondering if we had seen the same things!

      - Tina

    2. I'm sure we did. Having been to Venice several times for a long length of time each visit, there aren't too many streets, canals, or bridges in Venice that I didn't travel. lol

  2. Great minds think alike. James and i found a b&b on the far end of the island and we preferred the quiet neighbourhood much more. Great sketches!

  3. Love the sketches and virtually traveling with you through one of my favorite cities in the world. That pencil case looks luxurious!

  4. Since my childhood, I have been fascinated by the canal city, Venice. My interest in this amazing city grew even more after i watched a bunch of movies showcasing Venice. However, I never got a chance to visit this popular place due to my hectic work schedule. But, for the past 1 year, I have been working from home. This gives me a chance to apply for an Italy Visa UK and explore the beautiful city of Venice. I will take some other tips from your blog to make my entire Italian getaway even more memorable.


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