The art of watercolour and l'Art de l'Aquerelle


L’Art de l’Aquarelle no. 48 // Marina Legovini - Questions


1.What does abstraction bring to a subject?

Abstraction is an alternative and personal interpretation of the subject, which can only be introduced after an artist has acquired an in-depth knowledge of the subject itself. For many years, along my artistic path, I used to try and  draw or  paint a faithful representation of the subject. But I was never very good at ‘copying’ and  my own personal view would creep in, making me realise that this was the way forward. That is, drawing and painting in an unconventional way, while still remaining connected to the subject in some way.


2. How would you define your style of painting?

The search for a personal style lies at the basis of my work as an artist. I study the history of art and see what other artists are doing. Then I try to put it all aside and paint in my own distinctive style. For me, and for most Italian artists, it’s hard not to  be influenced by the sheer magnitude of works of art and the great Italian masters. Comparing yourself to them is often disheartening. But this huge artistic patrimony is part of my DNA, and can’t but influence my style. While I work I don’t concentrate on details but aim for a poetic composition. This acts on my emotions, and in turn is reflected in my finished painting. My style is mobile and flowing, all my paintings aim at capturing colours, atmospheres, a shimmer of light which seems to change as one looks at it.


3. How do you manage to balance between planning and spontaneity of execution?

My work is, above all, emotional, susceptible to my state of mind, so it is hard to plan ahead. I conceive my painting as a dialogue with the paper or canvas, the water or turpentine, and the colours, which evolves until  the final result. Working like this produces lots of surprises – sometimes pleasing, sometimes not – but I find this way of painting very satisfying.


4. Are you more at ease painting landscapes you know?

I can say that this is my starting point. The way the light and the atmosphere of my local surroundings can change is obviously very familiar to me. I want my work to speak to the soul of my public, to share with them this nature that is so close to my heart, because it is unique, something  we should treasure and learn to respect and protect. When I was a little girl I lived in a top floor flat, where I could see the sunset through the window. You can imagine how much this has remained in my mind’s eye. Turbulent cloud formations,  presaging a storm, still stir my soul today. In fact the title of  my last exhibition ‘Nel ciel che più della sua luce prende’  - ‘In that heaven which most receiveth of his light’ -  was inspired by a passage from Dante’s  Divine Comedy, which captures the  wondrousness and evanescence of the universe we inhabit. The main theme of that exhibition was the sky and how its magical light, colour and nuances which all change according to the weather, the season, the time of  day  often exist in harmonic fusion with another magical element of nature – the sea. So, the landscape that is familiar to me invokes the need  to paint not that sky, but my sky, my imagined landscape.


5. What is more important to you: the feel/atmosphere of the painting or staying true to the subject?

Undoubtedly, the atmosphere of the work in hand and the feeling that I get while I am painting it. Of course I always make some changes while I’m working otherwise I wouldn’t enjoy painting. In fact, sometimes the subject undergoes changes because  I suddenly discover something novel that attracts me while I’m working. Unexpected reactions sometimes occur between the colours and the surface water or turpentine that lead to a transformation of  how I first envisaged the subject.


6. Are there any rules you follow? Or on the other hand, rules you purposely break?

Every medium has its own rules but it’s enjoyable to break them every now and then when the occasion arises. While I work I feel at one with the materials I’m using and my mental concept. My only hard and fast rule is to keep an open mind to all possible variations that may crop up on the way. Some I include, some I ignore. It’s most important that the result is fresh and spontaneous.  In water colours the pigment expands, the water transports it and the brush guides it, just like the banks of a stream, so as it expands, it must be allowed to flow but in a controlled manner. It is not an obedient medium, sometimes it defies me and the hardest part is waiting, resisting the temptation  to retouch it. There is a strong urge to fiddle with it but you’ve got to stand back and allow the water to complete its work. Sometimes it feels so emotionally gratifying when something else appears – maybe something that is more beautiful than I had envisaged.


7. Which painters have influenced you the most? (either watercolorists or not)?

 I have worshipped many artists over the years. Turner, then Constable, whose work I was privileged to see in London when I was a student. As my career has developed I have been attracted by other artists but these two have remained my greatest source of inspiration. I admire artists who don’t reveal everything immediately, who keep a little something back for the viewer to discover. Here I’d like to mention Piero della Francesca, Beato Angelico and, more recently, Edward Hopper, Andrew Wyeth, De Dominicis, Edward Wesson, Mark Rothko and Hlelene Frankenthaler, and also photographers such as Walde Huth, Ekkachai Khemkum, Huan Xiaoliang. I learned my water colour technique by attending lessons of Marina Marcolin and Pascqualino Fracasso. Marina taught me how to refine my technique while Pascqualino instilled in me the desire to experiment. I also find the following artists very interesting: Janine Gallizia, Naomi Tydman, Nono Garcia, Pedro Cano, Yuko Nagayama and Anne Baron.


8. Is a good watercolour for you a balance between chance, intuition and know-how?

Know-how forms the foundation for a good painting, but it’s not enough. And a good result is never obtained simply by chance. It lies more in the challenge of taking risks, of experimenting with a new approach, even though mistakes may be made along the way. This method of working means that a lot has to be discarded  and this too requires courage!!


9. Isn’t the choice of subject simply a pretext? isn’t the true subject of your paintings, the act of painting itself?

This is in part true.  It’s easy to copy what we see in front of us but how can we reproduce the invisible element that surrounds us? This is why I concentrate more on the sky, the sea and natural landscapes, and why I purposely overlook figures and architecture. Every day I look out of my window and I study how the light changes, how it is affected by the intensity of the clouds. At times these clouds resemble long, ephemeral  brushstrokes, at times they look heavier, striated, and stormy and I try to depict them in all their different forms. I learn by looking around me, during my long walks in the Lagoon, or the Gulf of Trieste. My landscapes and seascapes are never simply faithful reproductions, but depictions of what they suggest to me while I am painting them.


10. Improving your painting of course comes with practice and more practice ... but are there one or two ‘tricks’ you discovered along the way? Have there been some enlightening moments when you discovered one thing or two you knew would improve your art? If so, what were they? (Again, can you please provide me some images)

Of course, practice and experience have taught me how to avoid certain fatal pitfalls that could ruin a painting. I really owe a lot to my students I must confess. More often than not, and with beginners in particular, the results are disappointing. But I always manage to find a solution so that, at the end of the lesson, the student is satisfied with the result. In fact, when I correct my students’ work I sometimes discover  little tricks that can improve my work too. For example, the use of  a very soft brush to pick up the excess pigment without ruining a painting has helped me to shape clouds and obtain a softer, more subtle effect. Then the use of  a flat brush to lift off the pigment and to define the horizon which is all important in giving depth to a landscape.


11.Can your way of painting be ‘dissected’ or broken down into several steps? If so, which would they be?

Yes, my work can be broken down into several steps, depending much on the size of the painting and the effect I want to achieve. For example for small watercolours, when I want to paint the sky, I wet the upper part of the paper with a flat brush, apply the pigment wet-on-wet, and then dry it with a hair drier. Then I wet the lower part and paint the sea or the landscape. I leave it all to dryl completely before adding any further small details. For large dimensions I soak the paper completely in a water bath and then begin to paint. In this case the pigment and the water produce very interesting effects, which are difficult to control, so I use a very soft brush to accompany the colour. Now comes the most difficult point because I have to leave things alone so that the water, the pigments and the paper can evolve and complete the painting by themselves, and no unsightly marks appear. This drying process takes place first by leaving sheet exposed to the air and then placing it between 2 sheets of hardboard. The following day, I  re-wet everything and continue painting, making sure the pigments blend in with the previous layer so as to avoid any discontinuity between the two stages.


12. As an artist, do you find that you are able to successfully translate your ideas into a visual language that gets through to people? Is it a consideration to you?

Never has it been more important than today when we are completely besieged by images for an artist to get through to people. I believe in leaving something to the imagination and so it is vital for me that whoever views my work is immediately captivated and their curiosity is aroused enough for them to  delve more deeply to fully understand my work.


13. You also paint in oils. Is this complementary to your use of watercolour?

During this period I am working in both oils and watercolour – one feeds off the other – but my artistic development has always been open to new forms of expression, other media.


I used to decorate ceramics then, while training in Venice, I studied copperplate engraving before opening my own studio. So the techniques that I’ve acquired over time have taken root and new ones have been added along the way. The blank whiteness of watercolour paper is similar to the ceramics I used to paint - a firm hand is necessary as no mistakes can be corrected  and the scratch marks I sometimes make on the paper remind me of the intense activity of engraving. Besides, this whiteness – both in watercolour and engraving -  is maintained by allowing the paper to breathe through the medium. I realise I’m living through a historic, unpredictable period, fluid, difficult to control, rather like watercolour on paper. This is why it’s become my favourite medium, the techniques of which  I’m trying to incorporate into oil painting too.


14. Do you have any upcoming events, exhibitions, etc, scheduled for 2021?

Well, the present pandemic means that I can’t undertake any wide-reaching projects as I have to stay in Italy. I’ve got two exhibitions in the pipe line: one personal at the EContemporary Gallery in Trieste, where I’ve been collaborating for some time now, and another, collective, exhibition in Parma. Then I’m preparing a series of illustrations to commemorate the 700-year anniversary of Dante, on the theme of ‘Music in the Divine Comedy’. I only hope that the situation will improve during the year and that I’ll be able to plan more exhibitions and events.


Type and brand of paper used


Arches 300g hot pressed


Type and brand of watercolours used? Which pigments form your basic palette?

For any specific reasons (transparency/high saturation/granulation, etc.)

The water colours I use are Schmincke Horadam, Winsor and Newton professional colours and Daniel Smith.

Colours for luminosity and transparency: transparent orange, transparent green gold, cobalt violet, new gamboge, quinacridone gold, raw sienna, neutral tint.

Colours for saturation: Naples yellow, SH, potters pink, Payne’s grey, burnt Sienna, alizarin, Turner’s yellow, manganese violet, cobalt blue.

Colours for granulation: ultramarine, finest lunar blue, wisteria, undersea green, lavender, Mars black, Davy’s gray, buff titanium, moonglow.


Any odd techniques used?

I am experimenting with gold leaf in both watercolours and oils.