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Filtering by Tag: Travel Memories

A Venetian Morning at Caffe Florian

Sophia Khan

A Watercolor inspired by my sketch at Caffe Florian

A Watercolor inspired by my sketch at Caffe Florian

“In order to paint Venice beautifully, I must enjoy her beautifully.”
- Venice, 2016

Having visited Venice a few times since 1998, I finally treated myself to the pleasure of my own personal “Florian experience,” during my last painting trip to the city, in 2016. The timing was perfection, as two days after writing the above words in my travel diary, I had breakfast at Caffe Florian. I was indeed to enjoy Venice, beautifully.

That morning, I dressed myself as was befitting for the occasion, with a colorful and silky dress. As the city awoke, I boarded the vaporetto from my hotel near the Basilica dei Frari, accompanied by locals who seemed to be headed off for a day’s work. I too was heading to work, in a certain way. I was to dedicate my day to painting a watercolor for one of my trip’s patrons.

I arrived at Caffe Florian, just as it was opening its doors. I was warmly greeted and welcomed to sit anywhere I pleased. I walked around taking in the refined elegance of the interiors before selecting my table. I chose a seat that was in a corner near an open door looking into Piazza San Marco. From here, I could look outward at the piazza in one glance, inward at the cafe in another; my enjoyment drifting between the sights and sounds of both.

I ordered tea, a small plate of macarons, and a strawberry cake. Could one have dessert for breakfast? The question barely crossed my mind at the time. My waiter soon arrived with a silver tray served with my chosen delights. I feasted first, on the presentation itself. The colorful plate of macarons arranged as if an artist’s culinary color palette, complimented by the delicacy of the strawberry cake. The silverware, befitting for the delectable treats to be savored slowly.

As I dined at Caffe Florian, my time felt like a brief yet deeply enchanted and romantic moment in the vastness of time; the near 300 years that the cafe has been welcoming its guests from Piazza San Marco.

My morning at Caffe Florian

My morning at Caffe Florian

Can a place feel both opulent and welcoming? Can an experience be both majestic and personable? I feel that much of Venice and certainly Piazza San Marco has these qualities. Caffe Florian felt like the “icing on the cake” with which the city served this unique blend of experiences for me to enjoy my very own taste.

Before leaving the cafe, I gave myself the added treat of visiting the gift shop. With the help of the kind gentleman who worked there, in a room that felt like a treasure box of delights, I selected a few teas and a blue damask tote. Each gift was carefully packaged into its own gift bag; a gesture celebrating and recognizing the uniqueness of each treat, as well as the care with which each was selected.

I do believe that mornings are a precious and tender time of the day, and that they set the tone for what is to come throughout the rest of the day. Unbeknownst to me, my breakfast at Caffe Florian would lead to the most enjoyable painting session of my painting trip. The warmth and ambiance I experienced at the cafe mirroring themselves in the fuchsia and orange watercolor pigments I was to later paint with.

Every now and then I treat myself to this touch of Florian hospitality through their e-shop. The latest to arrive are their Venetian Mosaic tea, a long time favorite, as well as an elegant pouch in a fuchsia color reminiscent of the cafe’s upholstery. With this, I carry the beauty of my “Florian experience” with me every day.

My latest treats from the doors of Caffe Florian

My latest treats from the doors of Caffe Florian

I thank Caffe Florian for this most enchanted memory and until we meet again, I will remember my time through the flavors, the riches, and the moments that grace my easel, my memories, and my diaries…


If you enjoyed reading this letter, you can receive future “Letters from my Art Studio” by signing up here.

Painting with Passion

Sophia Khan

work in progress, of the Ca' d'Oro in Venice

"It was the inevitable destiny of Venice to be painted, and painted with passion..."~ Henry James, Italian Hours

The above quote speaks to me on so many fronts....Not only does it refer to how the city so beautifully and effortlessly makes itself a muse to so many artists, but for me it also refers to how one singe place, one single moment, within the city can become a subject for me to paint not only once, but again and again. It is as if different parts of my travel memories emerge with each new painting, loving the same subject into life with my paintbrushes slowly over time.

Long time, and even new followers of my work, will recognize this as my single most loved subject to paint, the Ca' d'Oro, situated along the Grand Canal in Venice. In fact, a pleasant little surprise it was for me to learn that this palace, which translates into "House of Gold" was originally knows as Palazzo Santa Sofia.

If you haven't already had a look, I dig deeper into sharing my thoughts on painting Venice and my personal travels and journey there, on the beautiful blog of author Saxon Henry here.


I'll be happily painting away in my studio, with some exciting new subjects, one of which happens to be an Italian night scene ~ which I typically never paint, but am excited for how it is turning out so far and will look forward to sharing...

Until next time, wishing you my very best,



Fountain of Bliss ~ Bologna, Italy

Sophia Khan

watercolor on Arches paper

watercolor on Arches paper

Fountain of Bliss, Bologna, Italy | painted without a pencil sketch | copyright © Sophia Khan

A dreamy, inviting watercolor celebrating the beauty of a courtyard within the Basilica of Santa Stefano.

Dear Friends, 

No matter where I visit courtyards, in lands East or West, they always convey much of the same beautiful sense of serenity and inner calm. There is a universal love for what the courtyard 'contains', for what it exudes, for how one feels within its presence. And they are all the more inviting with the element of water.

This courtyard is in the Basilica di Santo Stefano, in the city of Bologna, Italy. A moment of repose from the movement outside, of people strolling the many lovely arcades that line the city.

With this watercolor, as with much of my art, the idea was not about a photorealistic representation, but more about the moment of encounter, one's presence within the space, in a manner that celebrates the qualities that make it unique and render it unforgettable to the traveler.

For this weekend, I will be offering complimentary shipping on this original watercolor (International shipping qualifies as well :~) See link here. 

Wishing you a beautiful weekend ahead ~ and may it be filled with much beauty, delight, and wonder...


Dreamy bridges of Persia & Italy

Sophia Khan

watercolor on Arches paper

watercolor on Arches paper

Persian bridge, Unfettered thirst
copyright © Sophia Khan

"Having drunk entire seas, we remain quite surprised that our lips are just as dry as the shore, and we continue to seek out the sea...without seeing that our lips are the shore and we ourselves the sea." ~ Farid al-Din Attar, Persian mystic poetic

Some of the most beautiful and dynamic spaces I have encountered in my travels are those that serve multiple functions. A simple example would be the piazzas that are found throughout Italy. These served as containers for rituals around religious and civic ceremonies, and as gathering places for evening strolls, or passeggiatas. Many are lined with restaurants and contain seating for eating outdoors. Spontaneous activities such as performances, and music and also abound.

Another space where this is beautifully done, is with bridges; an example being the Ponte Vecchio in Florence. More than just a means of connecting one part of the city to the other, across the Arno River, it serves as an urban shopping experience, with small shops lining the bridge. In the evenings, during the warmer months, small musical performances often take place here.  I used to love taking a walk over to this bridge when I lived in Florence, to engage with the crowds, music, and romantic ambiance of all the beautiful views of the river.

In the city of Isfahan, the Si-o-Se Bridge similarly serves as both a stopping point or place of arrival, in addition to its primary function of being a means of crossing water. Within its brick arches, there is a lovely and quaint little tea shop, serving delicate sweets, hot chai in glass teacups, and many delightful flavors of hookah. I remember crawling into my own little niche with a window view, (pictured below) to enjoy a bit of a break afters spending some time sketching the bridge. A German couple seated nearby almost mistook me for a local.

My niche within the Si-o-Se bridge in Isfahan

My niche within the Si-o-Se bridge in Isfahan

One of the things I loved about this space was that it felt like a celebration of the self. There really is only enough room for one or two people to crawl up onto the cushions to enjoy the delights and the lovely views. And being that I love solo travel, it has become one of my simplest and most favorite travel memories.

I would love to hear about one of a favorite place you have discovered during your own travels, if you are so inclined to share. I love hearing from readers...

Distance & Desire ~ A Valentine's Day Venetian Art and Book Giveaway

Sophia Khan

watercolor on Arches paper

watercolor on Arches paper

Distance and Desire, Venice

painted without a pencil sketch
copyright © Sophia Khan

Today I am so very excited to be sharing a beautiful twofold giveaway.  This is in celebration of the upcoming Valentine's Day, and in the spirit of one of the most beloved cities for the mysteries of love, the beauty of rapture, and the lure of romance and the unknown.

And as this day for cherishing your loved one's nears, thoughts of longing, thoughts of desire - distance and desire -appear on my easel and in my diary...


Distance and desire

Distance is sacred because it creates longing and desire
It makes the moment of pleasure in the arms of a beloved city all the more enthralling
Tears of joy can only flow after an ocean of waiting is traversed
And in the end, one never does 'leave.' A place becomes one with the emotion that it awoke within us.
And it is this emotion that we seek to recreate in our everyday lives back home.
We get close, but we remain in essence, distant.  And in that space, emerges the beauty of Longing; emerges the beauty of Desire...


I paint to remember, I paint to celebrate that distance, to celebrate that encounter; to know, to listen, to be closer to my memories and to the essence of place. As such, a painting, at times paints itself. With this watercolor, the color of desire, the color of romance, became a suggestion of an intimate encounter. A dialogue that secretly took place between the viewer and a mysterious person who, just moments ago, walked away from a balcony of the Ca' d'Oro on the Grand Canal. Or perhaps, a dialogue about to take place; a moment of anticipation. And so it celebrates much of what is experienced within the city itself. 

But art is not solitary.  I paint to share the experience of a place, the emotion, and the encounter, with others. And just the same, I often read the words of others, to revel in the experience writers have of places I myself hold dear. It is no surprise my bookshelves are filled with travel memoirs, travel essays, architectural history, and travel sketchbooks of other artists. And along the way has come a book, an experience really, that speaks of this 'distance and desire' as it evokes the emotion of Venice. 

When I received the book, Dream of Venice, and opened it up to the very first page and image, I had to simply stop and sit myself down. Before me, there was intensely evocative and overwhelming beauty. There was mystery, intrigue, a suggestion of so many layers of stories, layers of everyday lives. I gave this image, this moment, the time it so beautifully asked for, before being able to move on. 

As I continued over time, to read the prose and wander through the layered imagery, filled with a kaleidoscope of emotions and reflections, I am brought closer to the state of my own longing, the state of my own desire for Venice.   Each moment, each emotion elicited in this book, has a depth and richness that only Venice can inspire. And they all lyrically come together to form the concerto of a dream that is as much about Venice as it is about encounter. 

And so experiencing this book, reminds me so much of experiencing Venice. How my footsteps stopped before the overwhelm and beauty of the city when I first saw it, as I stood awe-struck before being able to move ahead any further. How I wondered how so much beauty had suddenly come upon me and from where, once I entered Piazza San Marco. There is anticipation and a moment of astonishing beauty, that nothing could have prepared me for. And the rest of the maze of the city-a myriad of curiosity, mystery, discoveries, elicited emotions, and delightful surprises about the city, and about myself.

Artists, writers, and makers hope most of all to stir emotion. I hope that my watercolor, 'Distance and Desire' conveys some of what has moved me so, within this city, and am so thrilled to be enjoying a new 'place', the book Dream of Venice, where the wonder and complexity of Venice is so rapturously evoked. 

I had never thought of a book as an experience before. As such, it is one's own personal encounter with this book that will bring out its true gems for each unique reader-just as the city will for each traveler. And so I am thrilled that the publisher, Bella Figura Publications, is kindly offering to gift a complimentary copy of this book, in celebration of sharing their love for this remarkable city on Valentine's Day.

Dream of Venice. Bella Figura Publications. 2014. Photography by Charles Christopher, edited by JoAnn Locktov, forward by Frances Mayes

The winner will also be receiving a set of (5) Greeting Cards, with envelopes, of my watercolor 'Distance creates Desire' as shown above. These can be secretly tucked in as a card within a beautiful gift, used to write a love letter or poem on the back, gifted to an Italophile, or framed as a small print. 

This competition is now closed to entries.  If you would like to purchase a copy of the acclaimed new book featured here, Dream of Venice, it is available on Amazon here.

If you would like cards, prints, or the original watercolor of the featured art, Distance & Desire, they are available at the below links:

Please note that due to regulations, this competition is only open to US residents, ages 18 and up.  Please see terms and conditions below.  To enter the competition, simply do one or more of the below steps.  (Each step counts as an additional entry and will increase your chances of winning).  Then, leave a comment below this blog post letting us know which steps you have completed, so we can know how many entries to create in your name. 

The options to enter are one or more of the following + leaving a comment as described above:

  • Subscribe to Sophia Khan Studio's watercolor inspiration journal.  (Link to subscribe here).
  • Follow Dream of Venice on Twitter:
  • Follow Sophia Khan Studio on Twitter:
  • Tweet this offer, either by composing your own personal tweet or using the 'Share' feature below the post and include the following hashtags #giveaway #venice #valentinesday #book #art.  (Please remember the hashtags will need to be inserted within the automated tweet-you can simply copy/paste them from this post).
  • Follow Sophia Khan Studio on Pinterest:
  • Pin the image of the book onto a Pinterest board, using the 'Share' feature below the post.

(If you are already subscribed to my newsletter and/or already follow the Twitter account(s) prior to this contest, you can still enter.  Just let me know in the comments).

I look forward to hearing from you and wish you all much luck and lots of fun with the entries! (Do remember that to complete the entry process you must leave a comment below indicating which steps you have completed so I can make the correct number of entries in your name).

This contents runs now through February 13th, 2015.  The winner will be chosen at random and announced in the comments section of this blog post, on Valentine's Day, February 14th, 2015.

terms and conditions

This contest is open to US residents, ages 18 and up. No purchase necessary. Void where prohibited. The contest runs now through February 13th, 2015. This contest is sponsored by Sophia A Khan and Bella Figura Publications. There will be one winner chosen at random on february 14, 2015. the winner will be announced in the comments section of this blog, with the name provided and will be contacted through the email address they provide. UPON BEING CONTACTED, WE ASK THAT THE WINNER PROVIDE A VALID US ADDRESS, WITHIN THREE DAYS, WHERE WE MAY SHIP THE PRIZES. The odds of winning are dependent upon the number of entries. Entries will be accepted as described in the steps outlined in the blog post above.We reserve the right to void the winning entry, if it does not comply with our terms and conditions. In the event that this should happen, we reserve the right to choose another winner at random. The greeting cards will be shipped by Sophia A Khan, and the book will be shipped by Bella Figura Publications.  The set of greeting cards have a retail value of $24 and the book has a retail value of $26. Prizes will be shipped to US addresses only. Affiliates, employees, and family members of both sponsors are ineligible. Sophia A Khan and Bella Figura Publications are not liable for any loss that may be incurred from entering or winning this contest, or for any damage to prizes incurred during shipment.

Mystery of San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice

Sophia Khan

Watercolor on Arches paper

Watercolor on Arches paper

copyright © Sophia Khan

Today's watercolor and poem are inspired by the majestic Church of San Giorgio Maggiore.  It's one of those places where each time I travel there, I come to see and appreciate it in a new light.  Simply beautiful and slowly revealing more and more of itself to the visitor.  I feel this is how any well designed place should be... 

The Mystery of San Giorgio Maggiore

As if belonging to sky
as if belonging to air
as if not built but having always been there

The Church of San Giorgio Maggiore
becomes one with both Venice and the elements of nature within which the city weaves itself.

One comes upon this church perched majestically, far in the distance yet appearing so near.
It plays tricks with the eyes
It plays tricks with the mind
and with memory, it rehearses itself again and again

As if a place one imagines in a dream, and awakens not knowing whether the dream or the awakening is real.

Such is the lure
such is the glory
such is the mystery
of San Giorgio Maggiore

Sophia Khan

Travel photo used as a reference for the Watercolor

Travel photo used as a reference for the Watercolor

Memories of the Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

Sophia Khan

a quick and loose watercolor sketch
copyright © Sophia Khan

Art is emotional.  It truly is.  The paintings, photographs, etc. that we hang within our homes tell a story about us.  They are images that we connect with at an emotional level, in one way or another.  For an artist, it is no different.  

I love to paint images of places that either I have traveled to, or my patrons have traveled to and that hold special meaning to them.  Some time ago, I received a comment from a follower on my Facebook page.  He suggested I paint an image of something in his home country, in Turkey.  I loved the thought, but because it was vague and I hadn't traveled to Turkey, it left my mind.  

Until recently.  An online artist friend, Vandy Massey, posted about discovering a watercolor of the Hagia Sophia located in Istanbul, Turkey.  One day while visiting her family in South Africa, she was looking through some old family photographs.  Within them, she discovered the following small watercolor, with a message from her grandfather, to her grandmother and mother, written behind it:

watercolor by an unnamed Artist

There is a bit of mystery behind this lovely watercolor.  Who painted it?  Vandy's grandfather pursued painting himself, but the signature on the painting does not appear to be his.  She believes it might have been done by a local.  To read the full story and see Vandy's own lovely watercolors, see Vandy's post here

What I personally love about the story is the paintings ability to capture and revisit a past time; a memory associated with a place that now holds special meaning to Vandy and her family.  Vandy's grandfather had lived in Turkey, and this must be a wonderful memento of that time.  It is especially moving because of the hand written note behind the painting.  Just lovely, and so I found my connection, through my interest in Vandy's story, which lead me to paint my own version of the Hagia Sophia.  

As I reflect on the exterior form, I think of the series of domes cascading down from the central dome implying being grounded with the earth, the here, the now.  While the many towers gesturing upward, call out to the other worldly, the heavens, the universe.  A beautiful juxtaposition, that must be heightened as one draws closer and enters, being suddenly uplifting by the soaring height of the dome....

Hope you have enjoyed this creative venture as much as I have enjoyed sharing it with you here. If you found this post of interest, do feel free to let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

I have also added some new artwork for sale in my shop:

  • Prints for sale can be viewed here.
  • Original watercolors for sale can be viewed here.

A special thanks to Vandy Massey for sharing such a beautiful story on her blog, and for her kind permission to include her images.

Pompeii Bathhouse, Silent Illumination

Sophia Khan

Watercolor on Arches paper

Watercolor on Arches paper

copyright © Sophia Khan

Ruins Tell Stories

Ruins tell stories
of secrets once kept, lives once lived, and their dreams, battles, and triumphs.

Ruins tell stories
of destiny, of fate, of choices left and those heroically made.

Ruins tell stories
of ourselves as we walk through them,
as sunlight shines, here and there, upon weathered stones, 
something illuminates within us
reminding us that our own hopes, dreams, and battled fears,
both our momentary losses and our immensely enriching gains,
together all lay the stones that are built to form our lives, which make us whole, in time.

by Sophia Khan

Pompeii Bathhouse, Silent Illumination, now available in my shop.

Venice, Memory

Sophia Khan

Watercolor on Arches paper

Watercolor on Arches paper

Venice, Memory

The Venice of my memories is rich, varied, complex, and deep. 

It does not take long, when I want to return, for it to emerge from the depths of my past and reveal before me, a vision of immaculate beauty. 

The Venice of my memories, the Venice within me, is never far, though never too near-so as to gently exist in a quiet place untouched by present places, thoughts, and haste.

by Sophia Khan

If you enjoy my travel inspired art, you are sure to enjoy my watercolor journal here. It is there that I show work typically not revealed anywhere else online, and give a private glimpse into my creative journey. You will also hear about the launch of my online shop and receive small free images to print for your home.

Venice, arrival

Sophia Khan

Watercolor on Arches paper

No matter from memory or from place,  

from twilight's depth or morning sun's glaze, 

The arrival into Venice is quiet anticipation, a yearning through the haze. 

by Sophia Khan

Enjoy my travel inspired art?  Be sure to subscribe to my watercolor email journal where I give a private glimpse into my creative studio.  You will also hear about the launch of my online shop.  I look forward to seeing you here