StudioSense: Mangiare a Lucca; Pastel Street Scene Lesson from Italy


This scene in Lucca, a medieval walled town in Tuscany, caught my attention while vacationing in Italy in 2016.


I find this street scene charming, with its aged buildings, the angles of the architecture and the sun/shade contrasts. An added incentive is the person sitting at the table under the umbrella. If you look carefully, you can also see a couple approaching the restaurant from behind. When you take travel photos of street scenes, a fun experiment is to zoom in and you likely will find all sorts of surprises, including the pig sitting on the small table to the right of the chalkboard sign.

Before I begin a painting, I want to determine what will be noteworthy about this scene to convey; what features strike me the most. Remember, one of ourgoals is not to simply replicate a scene from a photo. Here are my observations:

- The sharp architectural lines and the narrow street perspective.

- The contrast between sun and shade.

- The old rustic bricks, washed out and sun bleached.

- The colors, especially the red umbrella and the deep yellow buildings up against the blue sky. Here's an opportunity for the artist to embolden the colors!

- The contemplative diner.

I will need to play a little bit with lighting to expose the diner and introduce lighter shades here and there in the area of the restaurant. My first step is to note the values (lights and darks) of the scene. Below, I have sketched the scene and noted the value numbers - high numbers are lightest, lower numbers are darkest.


Getting the perspective right in a street scene can be a challenge with such a view as this one. Click here for a helpful lesson on drawing perspective.

I then applied blocks of color to convey the main values and hues of the street scene. You can tell that I like blue for shade. I used sanded paper with a beige tone that would work well with the colors of the buildings.


The trick at this early stage is to convey the major blocks of color and value. Also, linear perspective becomes critical. Getting the perspective correct based on the position of the viewer can get challenging, especially when the buildings have windows that need to be properly laid out within the often distorted-looking viewpoint.

I then applied a wash of alcohol to the pastel to fill the tooth of the paper and spread out the foundation colors.


The next step is to start the details. Here's the latest version in progress. An architectural painting develops quite nicely as you add the variety of block masses of differing colors, values and geometric shapes. You can see additional sketch marks I have made as I begin to fill out the canvas.


Stay tuned, more to come as this painting develops!