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Filtering by Tag: plein air

The Frari, Venice Watercolor

Sophia Khan

Because she dreamed, she created doors
Because she believed, she unlocked them...

Portal of the Frari, Venice
© Sophia Khan

The above two watercolors are of a portal at the beautiful church of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, which I painted while in Venice. One of the things I loved about this church is crossing the threshold between city life and reflective life as signified in the brief moment of encounter, at the doors. These doors celebrate the entrance into a blessed and sacred space and like with any doorway, I love the symbolism within them: a passing through, a leaving behind of the old and of what no longer serves us, of entering into a new beginning, of entering into....a mystery.

This church was located a few steps from the hotel that I was staying at. And so I passed it often. It became, like any city monument, a sort of grounding place, a point of reference, and also a place of celebration, a place to pause and to take in the majesty that is before me. There were certain hours of the day when locals would pass by the surrounding square, and so I managed to enjoy some people watching as I did these paintings. 

I am excited to be offering these original watercolors for sale, for $300 USD each + shipping. If you would love to own one or both, simply email with me through my 'connect' page

Below are some images of the lovely church interior, along with my sketches:

The Poetry of Venice Watercolor

Sophia Khan

The Poetry of Venice, watercolor on Arches paper, copyright © Sophia Khan

The Poetry of Venice, watercolor on Arches paper, copyright © Sophia Khan

The above watercolor is one of my favorites, which I painted one lovely day, during my recent painting trip to Venice. I had started my day at the Caffe Florian, where I enjoyed a lavish breakfast and did a small sketch, and was on my way to paint the Palazzo Fortuny. I became terribly lost, if that term can apply in Venice, where this is bound and perhaps meant to happen often. Another woman was ‘lost’ along with me, on her search to find a related shop selling fabrics, which she had heard of from a friend. When we parted ways, I delved deeper into the maze, and crossed over a bridge into a campo. It struck me immediately....the beautiful central bay of a gothic facade. I was drawn to the playfulness of the stonework and arches.  I felt I was meant to be here, to find this place, and to paint the poetry of the arches dancing along the peach colored stucco.

And so I sat myself down, with my plein air set up and started to paint. The changing crowds and sounds within the campo kept me company. I always thought that being around people, while painting in Venice, would be a bit bothersome, but I quickly learned that I actually enjoyed it. The sounds of children speaking Italian, which has become for me one of the sweetest sounds I know, their occasional curiosity as they watched on, the sounds of friends gathering, the sounds of passing gondolas, as above me the sun blazed it’s rays upon me, making the heat slightly unbearable; just the way I like it when I am drawing or painting outdoors. This all provided a wonderful backdrop, and as it turned out this watercolor became one of the most enjoyable Venetian scenes for me to paint. A friendly local artist was selling her artwork nearby and we exchanged thoughts about our favorite artists, techniques, and materials. As I finished my painting and got up to leave, I resumed my search for the Palazzo Fortuny. This time, to my surprise, I chanced upon it instantly, almost without any effort. Such is the poetry of Venice....

I am also excited to share that I am now offering a set of notecards, featuring some of my favorite watercolors painted in Venice. These are beautiful to gift yourself or a loved one, to tuck within a special gift for a Venice lover, and can also be framed as small prints.

Dream view of San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice

Sophia Khan

Watercolor on Arches paper. Copyright © Sophia Khan

Watercolor on Arches paper. Copyright © Sophia Khan

The view shown in this painting, where one catches a magical glimpse of the beautiful church of San Giorgio Maggiore, through the arcade of the Doge’s Palace, is one I happily discovered during my recent visit to Venice. During my very first visit, I had actually sketched the same arcade, but in the opposite direction, looking towards St Mark’s.

Each time that I visit Venice, the city appears slightly different to me. A different aspect of it calls to me. This time, especially during the first few days that I was there, a feeling of serenity overcame me. And so the color palette for this watercolor reflects that sense of calm. The prominence of blue is also suggestive of the elements of sky and water which always surround this glorious city. And the brushwork, along with the colors, reminiscent of the dream-like feeling I had as I entered into the city after so many years.

It was early in the morning, that I started the drawing for this watercolor. I wanted to start making my art before the crowds came in. And then later in the day, when the piazza became much more crowded, I returned to do the painting. I didn’t mind the crowds too much. For a piazza is a place of gathering, a place of celebration, and the passing crowds often yielded curious children, a friendly local, or a tourist who would look over my work, or ask to take a photo while I worked.

It was this feeling of serenity that carried me gently through the calle and canals of Venice, as I continued my creative journey into the maze-like arms of La Serenissima. 

One of the things that I enjoy doing when I am in Venice, is entering Piazza San Marco from all of its various entrances. Each entrance provides its own visual and spatial poetry. And this brings me to another aspect of the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore that always intrigues me.

When one enters the piazza from the north, beneath the clock tower, something very interesting happens. As one draws closer to the church, it appears to get further away. This is a play on perspective created by the arch below the tower, and also the mystery and magic of the church and its positioning. The sketches below show two different views sketched as I drew closer to the church, and it appeared to draw further away.

On another note, I would love to share a new book I am currently reading, on the subject of Venice and its Architecture. Dream of Venice Architecture is a remarkable gem of a book that has managed to make the often niche world of Architecture accessible to all in a profoundly beautiful way. It's filled with highly personal and evocative essays by a variety of Architects and writers, who share their intimate observations, reflections, and encounters with the Architecture and urban environment of this remarkable city. Many of these essays read as if we are getting a private glimpse into the writer's personal diaries...

For my entire review and more information on Dream of Venice Architecture, see the link here.

Colors of Venetian Facades

Sophia Khan

Colors of Venetian Facades, copyright © Sophia Khan

Colors of Venetian Facades, copyright © Sophia Khan

I would love to share my very first plein air Venice watercolor, painted during my recent trip to Venice and the story behind it....

This was the very first painting I was inspired to paint in Venice, the very first day that I was there. I did not intent to paint on this day, as I did not think I would have the energy to do so, however, I so fell in love with this facade the instant that I saw it, and was so full of admiration and inspiration, that I couldn’t not paint it. It was a facade that I could see from outside my very own hotel window.

I was staying in the San Polo sestiere; one that was much less crowded by tourists. Being that I was visiting Venice as the tourist season begins, this was something that was very important to me; to be around more locals than outsiders. I started to have a creative dialog with this facade the moment I chanced upon it, and drew a sketch of one of the lovely arches up above. I knew then that I wanted to do more. So I returned to my hotel to get my plein air painting gear. I had vowed to keep it all portable and simple so that I could easily carry everything around. I had a foldable stool and a small clipboard, which I carried in a lightweight portfolio case, a travel palette with my favorite colors, my best brushes, and a thermos for my water.


I set up my gear and did not have any of the initial intimidation or nervousness that I thought I would, with this being my first plein air painting trip. I was filled with so much joy and excitement around being here, and I poured all of those feelings and love into the painting. There was a restaurant nearby and an elderly man was sitting solo outdoors, enjoying his wine. Surrounding me the sweet sound of bells began to toll, the water in the canal fronting the doors created a beautiful rhythm, and in the air a bit of a sense of haze that I was actually living my dream of painting here in was all so very memorable for me and such a lovely way to begin my creative journey into La Serenissima.

I had my first taste of what painting en plein air in Venice was like, and was happily eager for more. 

Plein Air Venice Watercolors

Sophia Khan

Detail views of a few of the watercolors that I painted in Venice ~ I'll be sharing more soon....

Detail views of a few of the watercolors that I painted in Venice ~ I'll be sharing more soon....

I've returned from my very first plein air painting trip to Venice and am overjoyed to be sharing my artwork with you over the next couple of weeks.

Each time that I travel to Venice, I have found that a different aspect of it calls to me most. During my first trip, the city surrounded me with its sense of mystery and adventure. And during this trip, while those aspects were still present, it was a feeling of serenity that came to me most. Perhaps when we travel, we are in search of something...some feeling, some idea, sensation, or belief, and Venice is one of those places that gives us just what we need....if we stay long enough, and quite enough to allow it to speak to us.

Something I have come to realize about my creative journey as a Watercolorist, as I look back on my body of work, is that Venice taught me how to paint. So to return to the source of my guidance, my inspiration, my muse, a place whose rapture and beauty inspired my style and technique, was immensely joyful and enriching for me.

At the top of this email is a sneak peak at a few of my favorite watercolors, which I painted while I was there. Each has its own story, which I will look forward to sharing with you soon. For now, it's back to the studio, with my newly filled up inspiration well to paint some new Venice watercolors....

The Sassi of Matera, Italy

Sophia Khan

There is always a seed from which the roots of journey begin to take shape.  For me, the seeds of my art lay partly in a place that is still very near and dear: The Sassi of Matera, a series of Paleolithic cave dwellings still in habitation, in the southern region of Basilicata, Italy.  

As dusk falls here, the muted shifting colors in the sky are reflected on a brownish cream limestone terrain tinged with age, carrying within in stories of an untold past.  Random lights, like crystals, are scattered across a labyrinthine facade, replete with dark openings; hinting at a presence silently watching the observer back.  At fist encounter, the visitor feels at once awe struck and mystified.  For this place is not like any other in Italy.  

I have traveled here often, with sketchbooks and watercolors in hand, trying to fathom how those without any architectural 'training' can make a place as dynamic, as beautiful, and as awe inspiring as this.  It makes one wonder what it truly takes to design and build a meaningful place.  

Below are some sketches I did while visiting there; some in the quiet of night, some in the beauty of dawn, and some while sunlight beamed down upon me as I wandered, squinting yet wide eyed in thought, among the stone dwellings scattered along my path. 

I hope you have enjoyed this glimpse into some of my earliest sketches, done within one of my favorite travel destinations in Italy.  

I also wanted to share a reminder of my Watercolor Travel Memento offering; a bespoke gift for yourself, for a loved one during the holidays, or to celebrate an anniversary.  During this offer, complimentary shipping and gift wrapping will be made available on the limited number of commissions being offered.  

Plein Air NYC

Sophia Khan

You may not know this about me.  My first career was in Historic Preservation.  I 'climbed' the scaffolding of tall building facades in NYC, up close to stone carvings and carefully formulated mortars, colored bricks, cast iron, terra cotta, and copper ornamentations, determining what could stay, what had failed the test of time, and what could be carefully crafted 'back to life.' 

I loved it.  I loved it because it connected me to a tradition of valuing, cherishing, and holding on to what has existed long before me.  And because it combined my interests in architecture, monuments, history, culture, and craft, in a city I loved. 

Although I no longer live in NY and my interests have evolved over the years, leading me to where I am today with pursuing my art, I often go back to visiting NYC.  This time, I decided to make an effort to do some plein air work and chose the site of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine for my creative excursion. 

Working here out in the open air, is quite different from studio work.  Being up front and close to your subject, being able to walk around it to find the perfect location, the curious onlookers, the wind in your hair, the changing shadows on the subject, the nearby sounds, which in this case were traffic, conversations of elderly people outside the nearby nursing home, music being blasted in a car parked beside where I sketched, and the repetition of the church bells when I went to go paint on the grounds.  And of course there is also the immediacy of time and the limited palette and art supplies on hand.....all part of both the challenge and joy of painting outdoors.

Back in the days of preservation work, I performed 'inspections' from high up above the facades of structures; many of which contributed to giving the city a sense of the past, all the while the hustle and bustle of city life below spoke of the immediate, the now, and the future.  The juxtaposition always struck me, always intrigued me.  

And so it was with delight that I encountered, by chance, an interesting installation when I went inside the cathedral, which also spoke of contrasts. Two Phoenix sculptures, by Chinese artist Xu Bing, were installed 'flying' in the central nave of the cathedral. Made of recycled found material and illuminated by tiny lights, they are a lovely foil to the built form and construction of the cathedral.  Facing the entrance rather than facing the altar creates a dynamic play between the front and back of the cathedral, as the in-flight gesture of the birds is contrasted with the receding perspective towards the altar.  

The end of my visit, saw me in the cathedral grounds where I blissfully sat on benches enjoying the view and lovely weather,  while working on two small watercolors.



On another note I am excited to share that my Watercolor postcard, Venetian Whispers, is currently on view as part of an exhibition in Vicenza, titled Homage to Venice and the Cities and Places of Art in the World.  Do stop by if you are in the area, or happen to be traveling there. (Info below) 

Photos from the first exhibition location, a cloister in Venice, can be seen here.