That’s Italian!

When did you get started creating art? Are you a full-time artist? What media do you use?

I’ve been drawing all of my life. When I decided to pursue a career in art, I took watercolor classes at a local community college then moved on to more advanced classes at the Scottsdale Artists School.

I’ve been a full-time artist for five years. Working primarily in transparent watercolor, I paint representational landscapes. To me, watercolor is magical. It has a translucency and vibrancy that I find endlessly appealing.


Portofino Morning (watercolor, 22×15) by Steve Stento

What was your inspiration for Portofino Morning?

Portofino Morning is part of an ongoing series of Italian scenes I’ve painted since spending a month in Italy a few years ago. Portofino is an incredibly picturesque harbor along the Italian Riviera that’s a joy to paint. I was drawn to this particular scene because of its strong light and intense color. The scene itself is part of a larger painting I was doing of the harbor. In Portofino Morning, I honed in on this one building with the boats in front, and I believe this painting captures Portofino?warm, bright and colorful.

Currently, I’m painting more Italian and Mediterranean scenes.

What attracts you to paint the Italian scenes?

When my wife and I visited Italy we simply fell in love with the country?its history, beauty, art, people, wine and food. We took about 1,000 pictures and I continue to use them as subject matter for my paintings. I keep thinking I’m going to run out of things to paint but I never do. The warm, vibrant scenes of Italy are the perfect inspiration.

Describe your process.

I always begin by drawing the piece out on my watercolor paper?sometimes just basic outlines of the major shapes, other times fairly detailed drawings using a ruler, etc. Portofino Morning had an architectural element so I spent a good deal of time making sure the perspective was right and the lines were parallel. I started the painting by blocking in the major shapes with light washes, then I built up layers of color as I bounced around the painting. At some point during the middle of the painting I lost patience and started adding the darks and shadows, taking various parts of the painting to completion. Once the darkest darks were in place, finishing the painting was just a matter of balancing the other colors and, more importantly, the values.

I enjoy working from life but most of my finished pieces, including all my Italian scenes, are created in the studio using photo references. Currently, I’m painting on Arches 300-lb. cold-pressed bright white paper using Winsor & Newton as well as Holbein paints.

My palette consists of the following colors: French ultramarine, cobalt blue, Winsor (phthalo) blue, cerulean blue, Winsor (phthalo) green, lemon yellow, new gamboge, cadmium yellow light, yellow ochre, burnt sienna, cadmium red light and quinacridone red.

How long do you spend on a typical painting? What about Portofino Morning?

Typically I average 20-30 hours on a painting including planning, thumbnails and drawing the piece out. Portofino Morning was started on my French easel during an outside demonstration in Carefree, Arizona, and finished later back at my studio. It took about 20 total hours to complete the painting.

Were there any surprises or difficulties along the way as you painted this work? What was your favorite part? Painting outside?in Arizona?was my biggest hurdle. In addition to being blinded by the bright sun, my washes and even the paints in my palette were drying in about two seconds. Plus, there was the pressure of painting in front of spectators, so I’m amazed the piece turned out OK.

My favorite parts of Portofino Morning were painting the shadows on the building and the reflections on the boats. I like strong light and shadows. If I analyze why I paint certain things, it usually comes down to the light and shadows.

Why do you create art?

Something inside tells me I have to create art, it makes me happy to share the beauty I see in the world with others.

Mark Gottsegen is an associate professor of art at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and chair of the ASTM International?s subcommittee on artists? materials.

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