Exploring Venice Night Scenes, Introducing”Midnight Passing”

“Midnight Passing” — © Jed Smith 2020, oil on canvas

Two solid months of steady work on a large canvas yield results.

Well before the current health crisis and home confinement I’d decided to use my paints to render Venice night scenes. I’d already chosen four or five subjects and I’d dutifully sketched out the first one on my last large canvas (29.5” x 59″). Normally, a painting of this scale and detail would be a six-month project. Normally, life would have looked very different these past few months and I would be doing the usual dance between multiple creative projects. So, once I got past a bit of internal petulance at the inconvenience and limitations of being required to stay housebound, I commanded myself to “Get moving!”

The gift of time and focus in the midst of upheaval.

Starting this series of nocturnal paintings in Venice was something I knew would be an ambitious undertaking. Before this painting, entitled “Midnight Passing,” I’d never attempted a nighttime scene. If you study the paintings in my online gallery, you’ll see that through my paints (watercolor and oil) I gravitate to daylight-infused scenes. Painting light at night, especially lights that glow from artificial sources, causes a shift of planning in my engineering process.

My love of the Floating City motivated this new series. And I’m always intrigued by the mood of Venice at night. So, I had vision and passion. I also knew this wouldn’t be a slam dunk. I could fail big. I needed uninterrupted painting time if I wanted to explore this direction with any measure of success.

Looking first to the master of nighttime scenes, Edward Hopper.

Edward Hopper (see several of his paintings here) is one of my top five all-time-favorite artists. His paintings are full of emotional mystery. “Nighthawks,” an iconic American masterpiece, was an immediate reference point and a source of inspiration. Before putting paint to canvas, I studied his technique and how he rendered shadows of different colors. I looked at how he emphasized the placement of light to draw the viewer’s attention.

I saw a wonderful exhibition of his work at The Whitney in New York fourteen years ago. I was in awe, not only in the power of his work but in the unique visual voice of this man.

Great art is the outward expression of an inner life in the artist, and this inner life will result in his personal vision of the world.”

— Edward Hopper

Edward Hopper's "Nighthawks" was an inspiration for me to paint Venice at Night

Let the games begin!

I’ve been taking images of Venice night scenes for a long time. Creating successful nocturnal scenes with photography is its own gnarly ball of wax. It’s not easy. My successes are spotty. But, when taking images that I intend to use as a visual reference for a painting, I’m a lot looser with my trigger finger. I’m not trying to achieve a photographic masterpiece. I just want enough detail to help guide my efforts as I paint night for the very first time. In fact, I’m glad that the rather muddied photo reference that I took for this piece forced me to reach into my understanding of light, color, and contrast. It wouldn’t let me use the photo as a crutch. Instead, it prompted me to use my imagination while reminding me, “This is your story to tell in the way you want to tell it.” In other words, trust my unique artistic voice to find its way through my hands, paints, and canvas.

I started painting. After a couple of days, I muttered, “Oh crap, what have you gotten yourself into?” Yep, this painting would demand more patience and care than ever before. But I had plenty of time on my hands to let this work evolve.

Plenty of pausing to close my eyes and remember “being there.”

I don’t want to be one of those artists who go on ad nauseam about his or her work. Instead, let it speak for itself. You know, don’t pollute the viewer’s mind with too much backstory. But I will tell you this. It was important for me to remember this summer evening on The Grand Canal with the heavy midnight boat traffic of a festival night. I remember the soft purr of boat motors as water taxis dodged each other. I can still hear the water lapping up again boat hulls and the foundations of ancient palazzos. I remember the eerie glow of softly-lit faces of passengers in other boats. I see the beckoning interior lights of exquisite residences.

I’m ready for the next in this series…

In fact, I’ve already sketched it out. This time a slightly smaller canvas. If this one goes well, I’ll tackle a few more ideas, and I’ll head out to Venice (now that restrictions are being lifted) for some additional inspiration.

But first, a palate cleanser. I need to give my creative brain a slight rest before I tackle another nighttime scene. So, I’ll do that with an abstract—something completely intuitive and non-literal. Good to shake things up a bit?

Stay tuned.

By |2020-05-17T17:53:42+02:00May 17th, 2020|Art & Photography, Paintings Posts|18 Comments

About the Author:

I’m an American expat living in Italy!


  1. Tom Vituccio September 8, 2020 at 5:30 pm - Reply


    Your ability to capture real life in your paintings is amazing. I just feel like I am there with the people in your paintings.


    • Jed September 8, 2020 at 7:00 pm - Reply

      I’m so glad you’re drawn in, Tom. Wait until you see my latest! Hope all is well with you and Karen.

  2. Stephanie September 8, 2020 at 3:05 pm - Reply

    Jed you always amaze me. Your last painting is such an explosion of your incredible talent. I love it! I know it’s going to be a good day when I see your blog post on my email! Have a wonderful day. Love you!

    • Jed September 8, 2020 at 3:22 pm - Reply

      Love you, too, you extraordinary being of light!

  3. Dale Henslee-Smith May 19, 2020 at 8:25 pm - Reply

    Jed, your newest painting is absolutely stunning. I am in such awe of the incredible talent you have!

    • Jed May 19, 2020 at 9:16 pm - Reply

      Ciao, sweetie! I’m particularly pleased that you like my new piece. I think Mom was guiding my hand!

  4. Robin May 19, 2020 at 7:47 pm - Reply

    This is so beautiful Jed!!!

    • Jed May 19, 2020 at 9:15 pm - Reply

      I’m so please you like this, Robin!

  5. Kathy Guenther May 19, 2020 at 5:31 pm - Reply


    • Jed May 19, 2020 at 6:16 pm - Reply

      Grazie mille!!

  6. Edna Josef Steele May 19, 2020 at 4:28 pm - Reply

    Great job, brother! I’m so proud of you!

    • Jed May 19, 2020 at 6:20 pm - Reply

      Thanks, dear sister! Great to hear from you. Hope you and yours are healthy and safe!

  7. Tom Vituccio May 19, 2020 at 3:42 pm - Reply

    Beautiful job, Jed. It looks like staying in was beneficial for you and for us and the rest of the world as well. We get to experience another of your beautiful works. Keep it up.

    Tom V

    • Jed May 19, 2020 at 6:22 pm - Reply

      Grazie mille, Tom. I didn’t realize, or appreciate, the solid block of creative time that was laid in my lap. I think it kickstarted my painting again in a big way! I’m glad you like the piece. More coming soon. I hope you and Karen are staying safe and well! Jed

  8. Bill May 19, 2020 at 3:19 pm - Reply

    Jed, The painting of Venice is simply beautiful! Congrats on a wonderful completion!

    • Jed May 19, 2020 at 6:39 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Bill. I’m so glad you like it. It feels good to have signed it and pulled out a couple of fresh canvases to keep the momentum going!

      • Bill May 20, 2020 at 4:05 am - Reply

        Jed, To add, I am truly impressed at the detail and the depth of beauty this picture signifies of one of the greatest cities in the world! It is amazing how a challenge that we face at a level like no other can bring out a piece of beauty like no other. Hope to be joining this wonderful piece of paradise and to live the dolce vita soon! We are looking at the Tuscany and Arezzo area with a goal of 2 years! Wish us well!! Peace & God Speed to you!

        • Jed May 26, 2020 at 9:22 pm - Reply

          Thanks, Bill. Keep feeding the vision and soon you will be here! Arezzo is a lovely choice!

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