Joseph Mallord William Turner captured the quality of light within his greatest paintings This is a view of Venice and to paint this watercolour, we need a quick simple sketch of a pencil of a view of Venice looking across the water For this image, I drew it on thick watercolour paper which is best because it holds the water better and it’s more reflective Once we have indicated the basic shapes in pencil and we don’t need too many lines for this Then, we can give the whole page a wash of water This is just making the paper wet, just with pure water Once the paper is wet and before it dries, we can add a little bit of watercolour paint onto this wet paper and it will bleed or spread out in an atmospheric way At this stage, it can’t really be too wet, because you can just dab it with some kitchen paper if it becomes a bit too wet We can add some more colours to this scene to try and capture that essence of light But I wouldn’t use any white because with watercolour, if you use white the translucent quality of watercolour disappears and becomes an opaque and solid paint And now it is time to paint the silhouette of the various buildings, so we can see of the scene of Venice And to do this, I use a bluish grey colour and I carefully use the point of the brush to define the edges And then, I pull the paint away from those edges to block in the area So, find the edge first and then pull the paint away from the edge I’m trying to simplify what I see as much as possible because that’s what Turner was always doing If you want to capture the essence of something, you don’t want to be bogged down in too many details And then, he sort of details what will add to this picture will be towards the end of painting it So at the moment, once we have the silhouette, then we can block it in, in these neutral colours and then, there are going to be some richer colours in the foreground of the boat and some of the reflections And then, there are gonna be some richer colours in the foreground of the boat and some of the reflections In this painting, Turner used warm colours and also cool colours But the blues have got some red in them or they’re slightly leaning towards red, the blue is slightly leaning towards red, rather than leaning towards something which is cooler And that helps create atmosphere when the colours are all of a similar type Turner painted this image of Venice one early morning in 1819 The magical light of Venice surrounded by and built on water inspired Turner to paint in a looser way than he had previously He wanted to capture the quality of light that he saw at the moment of painting He must have worked fast, but with watercolour, sometimes you have to stop and let the paint dry and then you can paint on it again This technique of painting wet on dry is a useful technique when you need to paint some details on something which is already atmospheric wash It is by using this wet on dry technique that Turner added the details to this picture Within this picture, there are many areas that look like they have a lot of detail, but when you look at the Turner painting and you actually study it You find that things that seem like they have a lot of detail don’t and it’s quite hard to pin down anything to sit in a clear scene The masses are clear and the silhouettes are clear, but everything else is atmospheric and even with the colours, they’re all linking together And they’re not really jumping out as being something very different, a limited palette And that limited palette enables Turner to create a great atmosphere and then the style of watercolour that he developed enabled him to capture the quality of light that he was looking for Led on to him being able to develop different ways of doing this on oil paint To paint the masts, you just need a steady hand and maybe just practice on a scrap of paper first Turner became an artist famous for the way he captured light and it is through these watercolours he did in Venice that he learnt at least what his challenge was My name is Tom Mc Pherson and thank you for watching this art tutorial Please subscribe to watch more in this series of how to paint like a famous artist


  1. Your second pass with greyish paint is way too strong and it ruins the whole Romanticist approach. Turner never painted like that on location, and he would definitely not use the brush to draw ships, masts or the architecture — God forbid! He used pen, dipped in diluted watercolour paint, which gave his lines much more lively and precise shape. He would only sketch with pencil during the day, and in the evening, in his room, he would create a few quick colour sketches from memory, based on pencil outlines, using only basic three or four colours and pen outlines. And yes, he would use white opulently in his work and in his sketches, but that was done in a very unique way, that today's watercolourists have no clue about.
    However, large part of his technique is dependant on paper and paint he used, both of which are radically different today. Without those, it is impossible to paint like Turner, or like any watercolourist from the Golden Age.

  2. This is just wonderful! With the addition of a few fine lines representing the masts of the boat, the whole picture comes to life. It's a perfect demonstration of the perceptual "tipping point" between abstraction and impressionism. Thank you!

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