Saturday, 9 November 2013


Well, ok, not IN the rain exactly......tho I remember well painting under an archway in Venice, when it was pouring with rain....I ended up with soaked legs, chilled body, and annoyance with wet people who would come too close and drip over my shoulder, and onto my kit....:(   But luckily my sketch was not too badly affected!
Flags and rain, Venice.  Gouache on tinted paper

The joy of painting in difficult weather conditions is that one has to plunge in and make the best of it before the conditions change and the scene alters dramatically.  No time for dithering.  While it might be really difficult at the time for any number of reasons, if you look back at your work later, you will find an authenticity about it, the essence of the scene will communicate itself to your audience in a subliminal way, it is quite fascinating.  Working from a photo in a dry studio is totally different  - while you may be lucky enough to get what you wanted, you may well find yourself rather dissatisfied without knowing quite why.   Turner maintained that only by experiencing the full fury of the heavens can an artist convey such atmosphere in his work. I am not suggesting you emulate him by having yourself lashed to a ship's mast in a howling gale ...but you can work from a doorway, a car (ideally with the window open) from under a bridge or archway, from a window.

This image below was painted from a hotel window, which overlooked this great scene.  I was comfortable and dry, luckily the room (which was the one used by Whistler in the dim and distant past) had big windows - and lino on the floor, so pastel dust was not a problem.  It is a full-scale picture rather than a sketch, I set up an easel, and had at it for quite a while.  Of course, the light was very "flat", but the wetness on the top edges of the bridge gave me a lighter tone to set the bridge apart from the rest, and the reflections in the foreground were such a gift.  I loved painting this and even tho I was cross about the rain,far preferring sunlit scenes,  in fact, it gave me a kick to paint something I would never normally tackle.
Rain on the Arsenale bridge, Venice.  Pastel on paper

The experience of painting "on the spot" in the rain, was helpful when I returned home from the trip, resulting in this image below, done from sketches and a variety of photos (seldom do people arrange themselves perfectly, in the right place, wearing the right colours!  Notice how the orange is echoed throughout the image - MY choice, not what was there):  Notice how the sky is lightening on the right - something I was aware of at the time and was able to employ in this image.  A flat uniformly-coloured sky would not have been quite so interesting.

St Marks Square in the rain, pastel on paper

Interestingly, I found I did not actually need to paint the rain itself.   A watercolourist can do marvellous technical things to give a sense of driving rain, tilting a picture so that dark pigment drifts down to suggest rain -a technique not for the faint-hearted incidentally -  but my scenes did not seem to need that at all.  The reflections and the umbrellas tell the whole story.   It might be different if I was someone who liked to depict long distance scenes with heavy sky and driving rain - I am confident this can be done with pastels, but would certainly practice a number of different techniques before committing pastel to my final piece of paper.

So, while I appreciate that you may be frustrated by my lack of instruction in how how "paint rain", I just want to encourage you to get out there and DO IT, overcoming any reluctance you may feel.    There is no set formula for painting rain anyway, you have to observe the scene and decide how you can make it work.  Be prepared....get some plastic over-trousers - legs somehow always end up drenched if you are outdoors - put on some sturdy waterproof shoes,  and allow yourself to really experience the whole thing! It is, actually, easier to work from an undercover position than from a car unless you can open the window...rain will splatter car windows and make it very tricky to see what you are doing.  Some artists use hatchback cars and sit inside with the hatch open, painting the scene from the back of the car - that can work well if you can get yourself comfortably into position.  The best place tho, is under a canopy or shelter of some kind -set up an easel,  ignore the watchers and get on with the fun.  And it IS fun. You will learn a lot more than just using a photo...nothing beats direct experience.


  1. Great post! I enjoy painting outside and have painted in strong winds before now but not rain - I know an artist who paints everything he does on location and the weather is part of his painting, in very cold weather you can see watercolour effects caused by frost, you can see where raindrops have fallen and created blooms - he welcomes different weather conditions and uses them to his advantage. Beautiful scenes of Venice by the way - it would be just my luck to visit Venice in the rain too - the rain seems to be following me everywhere at the moment!

  2. Excellent work Jackie, especially the one out of the hotel window. Fancy having the same room as Wistler used.

  3. A fantastic and inspiring post Jackie. I will stop my procrastination and take a walk to the beach to paint a boat scene I have been eyeing off for the last two days - at least it's 30 deg c today and not 41c as it was yesterday.

  4. great paintings!! love the details!

  5. I don't know why I haven't visited here in a while, but I enjoyed this post. First of all because one of the times I was in Venice I was out painting in the rain several times...tucked under awnings or in doorways with my umbrella resting on my head. lol I had to smile at your adventures, but you did some marvelous work under some not so great conditions!


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