Travel | Teresa Saia

By Bonnie Gangelhoff

Behind the Accademia by Teresa Saia
Behind the Accademia by Teresa Saia

Earlier this year, Washington-based painter Teresa Saia flew from Seattle to Venice, Italy. Southwest Art’s Bonnie Gangelhoff caught up with Saia in Venice. During her eight-day stay, Saia painted on the city streets and beside the canals. This is the sixth in a series of columns that invite you to travel with artists to far-flung destinations.

As an artist, what attracts you to Venice?
There is a magic and aura that is singular to Venice. It has such history, and the architectural mix of Italian and Byzantine buildings hold fantastic subject matter. In many of my paintings, whether landscape or cityscape, I enjoy the use of water to create interest and abstract shapes within the composition. Venice has this in abundance.

What is your favorite subject matter in the city?
For me, the best locations to paint are the quieter neighborhoods a short distance from the main tourist thoroughfare between San Marco Square and the Rialto Bridge. There are many small, quiet canals where you can be part of the everyday life in Venice.

What are the biggest challenges of painting there?
I find the most difficult part of the day is just deciding what to paint. There are so many fascinating choices—the wonderful, colorful textured facades of the buildings, the men working on the hundreds of boats that supply Venice, and the people going about their lives—all with the backdrop of this unique city. In these quieter places, I have no difficulty finding an area to set up my easel and begin to work.

What kinds of works are you creating on location?
I usually do quick studies in oil, painting for one or two hours. The pieces are no larger than 16 by 20 and I use linen/foam core panels. The panels are my favorite because of the quality, durability in travel conditions, and their light weight.

How do Venetians react as they watch you paint?
I usually try to travel with a painting companion, but on this trip to Venice I am alone. Despite what you might hear, a woman alone in Italy is very safe with the use of common sense. The people are very warm and friendly. It is often intimidating to paint with people constantly walking by, but I found the Venetians respectful, stopping to watch, but not disruptive with questions. Once I start painting, I quickly become absorbed, and the rest of the world falls away. Of course, I can sense people behind me, but I am careful not to make eye contact. This is the painter’s kiss of death. The people then feel you are inviting questions or comments. Don’t get me wrong, I love to talk to people; but when I am working, I am very focused.

Have there been any surprises or memorable moments?
Every day in Italy is full of surprises and wonderful moments if you can relax and flow with the situations. A memorable moment happened when I had set up my easel along a small canal; low afternoon light was illuminating the beautiful color of the buildings and casting fantastic reflections in the water. As I was busily going about my tasks, a favorite brush fell into the canal. Workmen unloading a nearby supply boat quickly came to my aid and a good 10 minutes later had rescued my brush.

What impact does such a trip have on your work when you arrive home?
When I return from a trip such as this to Venice, I immediately begin painting from sketches, quick studies, and the main reference photos I have taken. But most importantly, the memories stored in my senses help recreate the experience back in my studio. As I paint a certain subject, I remember what I ate that day, the weather, the people I met—all adding to the energy I put into the painting.

Saia is represented by Howard/ Mandville Gallery, Seattle, WA; Union Square Gallery, San Francisco, CA; and

Featured in “Dispatches” August 2007