top of page
Denver Watercolor Class Teacher Dennis Pendleton

Light & Shadow In Venice (Part I)

Watercolor Painting by Dennis Pendleton. In my classes and workshops, I stress the importance of color, value, shapes and edges and, today, I will talk about those four things in relation to this painting I did of Venice. Beginning with color, I not only paint the colors I see, I also add colors that I think will improve the painting. This works best if I stay close to the original color on the color wheel. For example, where I used red I also used red violet and red orange. Adding complimentary colors can also enrich a painting and here you can see on the back wall that I painted yellow ochre and then added cobalt violet because violet is the compliment of yellow. Complimentary colors work well together so adding the violet was a safe move.

I like clean clear colors so when I mix colors I don't stir them up but simply push them together so that when the mixture is applied to watercolor paper you can see bits of each color as well as the new color created by the mixture. For example, in the dark reflections in the water you not only see black but deep blue, deep red and dark brown are also visible. I don't have black on my palette because I prefer to mix it allowing little bits of color to be visible within the dark value. This procedure also allows me to mix a dark color with a light color. Normally the dark color would overwhelm the lighter color but if I don't stir them up I can still see bits of the lighter color when I apply the mixture to watercolor paper. The one exception is the deep black gondolas and their reflections in the water and I will discuss that when I talk about values.

Color temperature is also an important consideration and you can see temperature changes throughout this painting. The dark wall on the left is cooler compared to the walls that are struck by sunlight. The gondoliers and passengers have warm skin tones contrasting with cool blues in their clothing and the cool blue green shutters are surrounded by the warm and cool texture of the wall.

The second thing I mentioned is values and they are the foundation of painting. There is an old saying "colors get all the credit and values do all the work." In this painting there is a complete range of light, middle, and dark values which hold the painting together. With all the dark values in the water, notice the pure black darker value of the gondolas and their reflections. This darkest value only works because the dark colors in the water are a slightly lighter value. The sunlight is explained by lighter values across the water and up the walls. The white value on the shoulders of the gondolier is unpainted white paper and the white areas around the windows are also white but one value darker.

The shadow areas are full of value changes from the darker end of the value scale. Notice there are no light values in the shadow areas. The rule is "everything in shadow has to be darker than everything in the light and everything in the light has to be lighter than everything in shadow." This means that the shadow areas on the white shirts of the gondoliers must be darker than than any areas of the painting that are in the light. This was a hard concept for me to grasp and I had to study light and shadow for a long time before it really sunk in but now it really helps me when I am organizing values.

Notice how the reflection of the back gondola is just a darker version of the water while the reflection of the front gondola is the darkest value in the painting. This was a decision I made so that the front gondola would be a little more important. You can paint the values that you see and you can change values where ever you choose. Next Sunday I will use this same painting to discuss shapes and edges. Happy Painting! Dennis Pendleton


Watercolor Artist's Blog by Dennis Pendleton

Recent Posts

Find out about upcoming workshops, urban sketching events & get a FREE watercolor lesson every Sunday in your email:

bottom of page