A Table for Two in Portofino

Portofino, Italy is such a beautiful, romantic place and a treat to paint. To begin a detailed sketch is made to plan the placement of all the major elements. The patio is on the south side of the harbor at the base of the mountain where Castello Brown, the ancient fort guarding the harbor, is located.

On a larger painting I like to be able to stand close to the canvas as I sketch. All of our studio furniture is on wheels, allowing me to easily rearrange everything to accommodate my needs. The laptop to the right of the easel is used to view reference material. This makes it very easy to switch back and forth between different photos of the harbor.

The most important part of the initial sketch on the canvas is to get the perspective correct. Time spent at this stage making certain everything is right saves a lot of time later on as I’m painting. If you would like to see any of these images larger just click on the image.

The foreground boats are an important design element in the painting. They direct the viewer’s gaze back to the sailboat and the colorful buildings lining the harbor, the landmark of Portofino. The drawing on the canvas is finished and we’re ready to begin painting.

The sky is painted first because it is the source of light and influences the rest of the piece. Since the sunlight comes into this painting from the right the sky is made lighter on that side, using a mix of Pthalo Blue + Hansa Lemon Yellow + White. Moving to the left the mixture is Pthalo Blue + White. The darkest blue portion of the sky on the far left is Ultramarine Blue + White. The clouds are combinations of MUD (Ultramarine Blue + Alizarin Crimson) + a tiny bit of Cadmium Orange + White. The warm highlights of the clouds are Cadmium Orange + a touch of Cadmium Red Light + a little Ultramarine Blue + White.

One of the most basic rules in painting is Cool Colors go Back, Warm Colors come Forward. Therefore the mountain farthest away is made bluer so it will recede. The villages seen in the distance, across the Ligurian Sea, are indicated with brushstrokes of White + a little Ultramarine Blue.

I bet everyone who has seen this villa from Portofino has said, “WOW, wouldn’t you like to live there?” It’s fun to imagine the incredible view from the verandah while I work. A mahl stick is used to steady my hand as I paint the distant mansion.

The pastel buildings along the Portofino harbor are a challenge to paint. I want them to be colorful but still stay in the background so I employ another basic rule. To mute a color add its compliment. The yellow dwellings have a touch of MUD in the mix. Our MUD is a deep purple, the complimentary color, or across the color wheel from yellow. The terra-cotta buildings are mixtures of Cadmium Orange + Ultramarine Blue + White. Orange and Blue are compliments so the mix is automatically muted. A little Alizarin Crimson is added to the terra-cotta paint for the pinker buildings.

The canvas sails are blocked in with paint leftover from the clouds. It’s amazing how much lighter the sails look than the highlights on the clouds, even though they are the exact same paint. The contrast of the dark hill and buildings behind the sails makes them appear brighter.

Even though the buildings are a rainbow of pastels the shutters, windows and doors are all basically the same color.  A mix of Pthalo Blue + Cadmium Orange + White is used for them.

WHEW! The buildings are complete and a few people stroll along the harbor’s edge. The water along the horizon is painted with a mix of Ultramarine Blue + MUD + White. This makes a muted blue that will fall back into the distance. If you would like to know more about our Double Primary Palette mixing system CLICK HERE.

Moving toward the foreground the water becomes brighter and more intense in color. Various combinations of Pthalo Blue + White + a tiny touch of Cadmium Orange are used. The reflections of the hills on the left and right are colors leftover from the hills themselves.

The pastel colors of the building reflections are dragged, straight down, into the wet paint of the water. All of the paint I saved from the colorful dwellings comes in handy, I don’t have to spend any extra time mixing and matching colors.

The sailboat is finished and the reflections of the sails are also pulled down into the dark water. A simple rule to remember when painting reflections in water: Reflections are usually darker than the object casting them. A few horizontal strokes are made across the reflections to give the feel of ripples in the water. Now those people walking along the harbor have some water to enjoy.

These old fishing boats are so much fun to paint with such a wide variety of colors. As I work I can hear the water softly lapping against the wooden sides. The basic shades of the fishing nets are blocked in first, then the floats are painted. Using the fine liner brush details of the netting are loosely indicated.

We saw these large terra-cotta pots on the Amalfi Coast in the village of Positano. I just decided to bring them up to Portofino! Wish they were that easy to move in real life, I’d love to have a few for our patio!

Now for the calligraphy. The first step in painting the sign is to lightly draw guidelines into the wet paint of the wall. To see this better just click the picture and it will enlarge. Then, with my hand braced against the mahl stick to hold it steady, I draw the individual letters with a small, Flat brush. Holding the brush near the end gives me much more control than if it was held near the ferrule. After the lettering is done the guidelines are painted out.

Portofino is an artist’s paradise. It was hard to decide which elements to include in this piece, they are all so paintable. I love the ancient cobblestones seen all over the area, there was no question about using them for the foreground patio. The light and dark patterns of the floor are painted first. Cool strokes of blue and green are added toward the back, nearest the wall, to make the cobbles recede.

The lines indicating the crevices between the individual stones are drawn into the wet paint with MUD  + Liquin. Care is taken to make certain the perspective lines are correct. The chair seats are painted with some of the color left over from the sailboat in the background. I want them to be part of the dark “Threshold” across the front of the painting. The wrought iron hearts on the backs of the chairs are drawn with a rich black made from a mix of Alizarin Crimson + Pthalo Blue.

Geraniums, table, wine bottle and glasses complete this corner of the painting.

The colors for the flowers in the right foreground are laid out on my palette. I use mixtures ranging from yellow to orange to coral pinks. These warm colors will jump forward, giving more depth to the painting. The blossoms of the Petunias are blocked in, ready for me to begin painting the foliage.

The leaves are mixes of Pthalo Blue + Cadmium Yellow Medium. A touch of Hansa Lemon Yellow is added for the greenery lit by the sun. A few strokes of color left over from the water are added to the shadow side for coolness.

The Asiatic Lilies are painted with the orange and yellow mixtures. I also use a little of the dark pink remaining from the Petunias. After the leaves are blocked in I will go back with a mix of Alizarin Crimson + Liquin to delineate the deep centers of the Lilies.

A Table for Two in Portofino      38″ x 48″       Original Oil Painting

After studying the painting for a couple of days Jack and I decided it felt too closed in with the base of the mountain behind the Philodendrons on the right . So I took it out and A Table for Two in Portofino immediately felt more open and airy. It’s amazing how such a little change can make a BIG difference. Now you can feel the soft ocean breeze on your face. Working on this piece has brought back so many pleasant memories for Jack and me. We are ready to take a seat and enjoy the view. Come join us! Hugs, Mikki Senkarik

10 Responses to “A Table for Two in Portofino”

  1. moogzuck@aol.com Says:

    Hi Mikki:

    You are truly amazing!! Thanks for sharing all of these. i enjoy all you send!

    Joanie Moogan-Zuckerman, CRNA cell 267-566-1843

  2. mariasotorobbins Says:

    Beautiful, Mikki. You make it look so easy! Wish I was there too…

  3. Robert Malcom Says:

    I really enjoy the emails you send re the paintings you do, even as when use paint use acrylics, and now pen and ink… your instructions on so many aspects is enriching for me to use in my imaginative worlds and still life – and am considering going in to using acrylic paints for using the pen [as love the detail can get with the pen, even as am limited a lot by the limited ink colors]… many thanks for seeing how you do your paintings – they are great inspirations……….

  4. Same Says:

    I like this one so much I’m using as the background of my iPad. Beautiful!

  5. michael hubbard Says:

    OOOH to be there!!!! It looks lovely!!

  6. Pinklady Says:

    You are such an inspiration to this old lady who is trying to paint since retiring. Your flowers are so real I could smell their fragrance. If you were my daughter, I would be so proud. I think this will be my background on my desktop or the picture of your studio. Right now I am trying to find room to paint. I may eliminate the diningroom and call it my studio. Thank you so much for your warm emails. Tell hubby I said hi too!

  7. Darlene Odom Says:

    Beautiful! I’ve painted a couple of paintings from photos that my aunt, a now deceased wonderful artist, had taken of Portofino. I wish I had all of her photos from there. I think it is truly one of my favorite places!

  8. Phil Says:

    Very nice.

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