on 29 Aug 2022
Self-taught watercolour painter Sonia Masocco has combined her artistic talents with her love of sailing and windsurfing into a niche career: sailing-boat ‘portraits’
Sonia Masocco lives in the commune of Alpago, in northeastern Italy’s Veneto region — near a small lake at the base of the Dolomites that she says “is a really great training area for any small-scale sailing sports”.
The commune is on the edge of Cansiglio Forest, which was once the primary timber area from where the ancient Venetian maritime republic gathered wood to build their fleet of galleon ships until the late 1700s. And, when in the mood for coastal sailing, Masocco heads for the nearby Adriatic Sea with her yacht.
A handful of years ago, Masocco had a eureka moment: deciding she should paint portraits of boats for sailing-yacht owners.
“I started some years ago,” she explains. “Previously, I sketched a lot around this subject as a personal pastime but not professionally. It became such a big passion that I started to build a huge digital archive, and in my mind, the idea began to take form for me to try to change my passion into my work.”
Her interest in art had existed from childhood, but Masocco did not go to art college and had never painted professionally until this idea struck her. She had enjoyed painting anything, she recalls: portraits and landscapes particularly, and from around 11 years old, Masocco also painted her own invented boats – feeling a strong attraction for the sea.
“My growing interests in sailing and windsurfing as an adult brought me to taking more of an interest in yacht design,” she says. “I gathered information about friends’ sailing boats, and I was so curious that to paint them was simply the natural next step. Being self-taught has not set limits to my approach to some aspects of the paintings.”
And so, Masocco’s yacht ‘portraits’ began – in such earnest that she has worked on them in a dedicated studio since January 2021.
Your focus on your website and social media is on sailing yachts. Do you ever paint motoryachts too?
Sure, they are mostly sailing yachts, but I don’t post every image I paint. Sometimes I receive the request from a client to wait for some time after delivering a painting before posting online, or not to post it at all – and I totally respect any client request. This happens more often with big motoryacht commissions than with sailing-boat paintings.
Are you a sailing-yacht or motoryacht user yourself?
Yes, I sail and really like it in my personal time. Previously I received requests to join as a crew member on yachts. Until now though, I have always refused, but it could be a beautiful experience and the chance to add knowledge to my work, so I am very grateful for these [experiences] offered to me.
What kind of boats have you used?
I started sailing years ago aboard an Elan 333 [the Slovenian shipyard that commissions Humphreys Yacht Design in the UK], then continuing on different sailing boats like the Elan 350, [Italy-built] Zuanelli 40, [UK-built] Moody 336 and a Contessa 43 [another UK builder].
At the moment, I usually sail in Marano Lagoon, near Lignano Sabbiadoro [on the northeastern Adriatic coast] on a [US-built] Freedom 35 Cat Ketch that my partner bought and refitted personally. I helped him do this; it was a really instructive experience that never stopped.
Before we got this boat, I had been windsurfing for about 15 years in Lake Garda, and this greatly influenced my way of experiencing and understanding the force of wind. In 2017 I got my full Italian licence for sailing boats and motoryachts, which is without coastal or engine-power limits. While this was a natural progression from my training, I understand that I have so much to learn that I will never stop improving myself in boating. I find this fact very inspiring.
“My growing interests in sailing and windsurfing as an adult brought me to take more of an interest in yacht design”
Do you have favourite artists who have painted boats or nautical scenes?
I recognise that some past artists made some real masterpieces: Ivan Konstantinovič Ajvazovsky, William Turner, Edward Hopper – I really like all of them, but I don’t have any preferred artist that influences my art. My watercolour technique is not common, it’s something that I evolved through painting, and I continue to do so. I think my kind of artist interpretation of today’s sailing boats is something new that reflects a personal and historical moment.
What are the most challenging aspects of your boat portrait paintings?
First of all, I have to let the client understand my need to receive good documentation when it is sometimes not available. Another aspect is having good and accurate knowledge of the boat I am painting; to be able to portray it using the correct shades of tone and colour that can reflect the accurate shape of the hull. Another challenging aspect is the completion of a complex painting of a boat that can also show some artistic input from myself. I was once asked if I would like to join an evening cruise to gather sketches for a painting – but that’s not the way I research [my yacht subjects].
What are some memorable reactions to these works when you hand over a finished painting?
Sometimes the receiver is so happy that they invite me to sail or spend a few days on the boat I painted. This is something really beautiful because you understand how much your work is appreciated. Of course, the impact of a finished watercolour is really different, and better when seen in reality rather than when reproduced in photos.
“Sometimes the receiver is so happy that they invite me to sail or to spend a few days on the boat I painted”
Have you ever painted in another medium – oil or acrylic paints, for example – for your boat portraits?
I did paint some acrylic abstract yacht artwork for some big motoryachts, but the clients prefer not to share these publicly. I’ve never used oils, but it’s something that I will try in the future.
You have also painted sailing races and other yachting-related watercolours – are these all from photos, too or are they sometimes painted outdoors from the scene, plein-air?
I have participated in some sailing events in Barcelona and visited Malta often. My paintings Barcolana 50, Rolex Middle Sea Race, Sciarrelli e il Bat, Il Faro Mangiabarche and others are from these experiences. I also got particularly fascinated by Carlo Sciarrelli’s yacht design and decided to dedicate some time to studying these photographs and participate in some events where I could see these boats.
Do you paint other subjects too – or only boats and maritime themes?
I always dedicate time to painting different subjects, but that’s usually my private artwork, which I do to discover new aspects of painting or express my feelings on paper. In the future, I want to develop acrylic painting on nautical-patterned paper; I wish to evolve it into something different from what has been seen previously, before showing it.