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Watercolor Painting In Rome

Updated on August 1, 2013

"Plein Air" Architecture Watercolor Studies

With just the right amount of water mixed with pigment, through watercolor painting studies, paper is transformed into something magical, a kind of time capsule capturing a slice of life.

One watercolor painter of architecture is Thomas L. Kerns, an award-winning architect who is a principal at the design firm Kerns Group Architects. Although architecture is his calling, watercolor painting is his passion.

This lens takes you on an armchair architecture tour of Rome and the Amalfi coast through the keen observations, musings and paintings of Thomas L. Kerns, architect and watercolor painter.

Image: Thomas L. Kerns on "Our Balcony In Rome"

Watercolor Painter Thomas L. Kerns

"Plein Air" Watercolor Studies in Italy

Whenever he gets the chance to get away on vacation with his wife Roz, Tom packs his brushes and sketchbooks in a special carry-on bag reserved for his treasured painting supplies.

Tom has developed a unique format for his architectural watercolor renderings which allow him to complete his studies in sessions lasting no more than about an hour and a half.

Most of his pictures don't even take up an entire page of his sketchbook. Instead, many are rendered in a narrow format which he calls "slices".

These narrow perspectives allow him to get up early to catch the morning light and complete a painting so he can spend the rest of the day exploring with his wife.

Then he takes a moment to paint again later in the day when buildings are bathed in warm afternoon light. Below are Tom's illustrations with descriptions of each setting by the painter himself.

I knew that whatever I chose to

paint would help me remember

the buildings and spaces forever

So welcome and enjoy...

Piazza Benedetto Cairoli

Plein Air Watercolor Painting Studies of Architecture In Rome, Italy

These "plein air" watercolor studies were done this past May 2008. My wife, Roz and I spent a week in Rome followed by a week along the Amalfi coast. In Rome we shared an apartment with our Godson, Xander Subashi, a Latin and Greek major spending a semester studying abroad.

In short, we had our own tour guide! Our apartment was in the center of the city within an easy walk to many famous buildings and monuments. These first four sketches were done from or very near our apartment.

On our first afternoon, I painted the neighborhood fountain.

The water was lazy, just rolling over the upper bowl.

No need to rush.

San Carlo ai Catinari

Plein Air Watercolor Painting Studies of Architecture In Rome, Italy

The neighborhood church quickly became a favorite building to paint and to visit. Its dome became our landmark for returning to the apartment.

Our early-baroque style neighborhood church was designed by Rosato Rosati between 1612-1620. The central dome and various supporting side domes contain hidden sources of natural light.

The church is well attended and has Mass several times a day. This sketch was done from the balcony of our apartment.


Plein Air Watercolor Painting Studies of Architecture In Rome, Italy

The Putti or Angels fly in the warm light of the baroque lantern, while the space below is intentionally dark. It is quite difficult to determine the ceiling on the lantern, plus you cannot see the windows. The feeling of transcendence is real.

An addition to San Carlo ai Catinari, this exciting side chapel was designed by Antonio Gherardi and built circa 1695-1700.

Bernini's Elephant

Plein Air Watercolor Painting Studies of Architecture In Rome, Italy

Egyptian obelisks dot Rome. In 1667, Alexander VII commissioned Bernini to design the base. The elephant serves to showcase the obelisk, which Dominicans found while digging around the piazza in front of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva.


Plein Air Watercolor Painting Studies of Architecture In Rome, Italy

The unfluted columns of Egyptian granite are still the largest monolithic columns in the world. They are 46'-5" tall, and were erected in 25 B.C.! How are they transported and shaped?

The columns support an 11 ft. high entablature with the inscription "M-AGRIPPA-L-F-COS-TERTIVM-FECIT" which translates to "Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, Consul for the third time, built this".

Morning Light

Plein Air Watercolor Painting Studies of Architecture In Rome, Italy

The dome of the Pantheon is coffered. The coffers reduce weight, plus are foreshortened with regard to their appearance from below.

The light from the 27 foot diameter oculus moves across the space and produces a solemn and impressive effect.

The guard was very worried I would spill water on the marble floor.

Clemens XI

Plein Air Watercolor Painting Studies of Architecture In Rome, Italy

The setting for this fountian is Piazza della Rotonda, the area in front of the Pantheon, the area in front of the Pantheon.

These words are inscribed on the fountain:

"This fountain, created by Giacomo della Porta, features an ancient Egyptian obelisk that Pope Clemens XI moved there in 1711."

Borromini's San Carlino

Plein Air Watercolor Painting Studies of Architecture In Rome, Italy

Borromini was a fabulous Renaissance architect. He loved billowing surfaces and ovals. His San Carlino church, completed about 1650, was a wonderful challenge to capture.

I sat in the back pew and was awestruck wondering how in the world this could have been accomplished. Frank Gehry admits to learning from Borromini.

Tortoise Fountain

Plein Air Watercolor Painting Studies of Architecture In Rome, Italy

This beautiful and quite small fountain sits in Piazza Mattei and was commissioned by the Mattei Family in 1584.

Bernini added the movement and charm of bronze tortoises struggling to climb into the water as part of a restoration in 1658.

Even though this is a small fountain I remember being quite aware of the sound of the water, because the surrounding space or outdoor room is proportional to the fountain.


Plein Air Watercolor Painting Studies of Architecture In Rome, Italy

I was actually taught to mathematically develop such shade and shadow studies like this in school. We drafted in black Chinese ink.

Here, the shadow moved quite quickly across the curved recess. Perhaps it once held a statue. More of our buildings should have thick walls that we can carve into.

It was true joy to paint

everyday for two weeks


Plein Air Watercolor Painting Studies of Architecture In Sorrento, Italy

From Rome, our drive south included stops at the ruins at Pompeii, Sorrento, the Amalfi Coast and the Greek Temples at Paestum.

Sorrento and the Amalfi coast are south of Rome, on our way to Paestum. Route 163 is a two lane highway without guardrails, so please watch out for oncoming tour buses.

The landscape is full of colorful mountainside towns, lemon tree groves, and the water is indeed turquoise.

Chiesa di Francesco

Plein Air Watercolor Painting Studies of Architecture Near Sorrento, Italy

This was an early morning study of a neighborhood church north of Sorrento... The rain came just as I hurried to finish.

Large Theatre

Plein Air Watercolor Painting Studies of Architecture In Pompeii, Italy

Mont Vesuvius erupted on 24 august 69 AD and covered the entire city of Pompeii in 5 meters of lava, overnight. Approximately 70 acres of the city has been excavated. One can walk through their streets and see hundreds of their buildings, ranging from a small home to their larger public buildings and spaces.

Their large public theater held 500 people, and a red linen roof provided shade. Metal triangles are placed in the bowl to depict the rows of seating. Like today, there was a hierarchy to the seating.


Plein Air Watercolor Painting Studies of Architecture In Italy

This collage is of an interior wall of a typical modest home in Pompeii.

The pigmented stucco provided comfortable rooms that received light from a central atrium.

Their use of color reminded me of the contemporary work of Michael Graves, plus their red is very Wrightian.


Plein Air Watercolor Painting Studies of Architecture In Italy

The sketch of the scavia or ruins was done just before the park closed.

I almost didn't include it here because of the confusion of stone and tree on the left, but it does describe the scale of this scavia.

Can you sense the speed in the sketch?

Corner Column

Plein Air Watercolor Painting Studies of Architecture In Italy

The Greeks were masters of the correctness of propotion. The corner columns of this temple in honor Nero are elliptical in section and I believe also slightly rotated in plan so as to better carry the importance of the corner.

Ceres Temple

Plein Air Watercolor Painting Studies of Architecture In Italy

The Greeks occupied Paestum 600 years before the Romans. A large park contains three restored temples. This is a study of the temple in honor of Nero. After I completed the sketch I realized that the columns are a little thin, but now I know...

Guestbook for the Artist - Leave a Note for Watercolor Painter Thomas L. Kerns

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    • worldwidesouven profile image


      5 years ago

      Great paintings. I think watercolor painting is the most complex painting because a painter should be very quick and accurate, no errors are possible. On other hand it is a very intuitive technics. Great lens! Thank you!

    • LaurisB LM profile image

      LaurisB LM 

      6 years ago

      Gorgeous paintings - and subject matter!

    • FunNaturePhotog profile image


      6 years ago

      Lovely lens! Painting in watercolors always seemed like it would be the most difficult kind of painting but maybe it's just me!

    • hlkljgk profile image


      9 years ago from Western Mass

      beautiful lens

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Amazing and eye-soothing lens.

    • makingamark profile image

      Katherine Tyrrell 

      9 years ago from London

      It's always good to see somebody else's watercolour paintings. You've produced a very nice lens 5*


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