While I’ve very familiar with, and a great admirer of Alvaro Castagnet’s work, and have watched a few Youtube clips of him at work, I’ve not really studied his approach in any detail. Recently however, his DVD Alvaro Castagnet paints Antwerp came up on my favourite bargain hunting site and I was fortunate enough to win the auction. The DVD shows Alvaro – and here I’m going to take a tremendous liberty and pretend we’re on first name terms! – tackling a range of subjects in the beautiful city of Antwerp. Here’s a brief promotional clip of from APV Films who produced and distribute this film.
As is so often the case when I watch such tremendously skilled and knowledgeable watercolour artists, what often impresses me the most is the ability to distil a scene, to filter out all of the unnecessary visual noise to leave you with the most important elements of a scene. Whilst I’m sure there are certain tips that can be employed to help this, using a viewfinder, squinting the eyes to bring out the values etc. none of these are substitutes for years’ of dedicated practice and application. Allied to this is a confidence that I’m sure is born of many failures, but also many successes. I found this DVD hugely inspiring and really enjoyed Alaro’s willingness to share information about his colour mixing and his general approach to painting. What I love about watercolour painting is that we’re all working with such strikingly similar materials: water, some pigments, some brushes and some paper – and yet something of each of our personalities always shines through. I like to try to take on board many of the approaches and techniques of more accomplished artists, but also to find some way of making those approaches ‘my own’.
It’s true to say that the DVD greatly informed my thinking and approach to my next subject. It’s another Barcelona street scene that I’ve had it in mind to paint for quite some time – so much so that I’d even done some thumbnail doodles to help me simplify it…
…but the mood or confidence hasn’t been with me of late.
I had it mind then to approach elements of this scene whilst trying to channel the genius and the many years of experience of Alvaro Castagnet! I began with a loose outline sketch that mapped out the main elements and not a lot else. At this point I was undecided whether buildings would have windows etc so anything that I wasn’t convinced was essential information, was omitted from
How painting this in the spirit of Alvaro Castagnet actually manifested itself was to try to paint with more confidence. This is something that I find particularly difficult to fake! I made a conscious effort to hold my brushes high up the handle, I painted quickly, focussing at first on trying to establish the main shapes and tonal values in one hit. I also worked with a heavily loaded brush, often dipping the end of the brush into different colours to vary the mix, especially in some of the wet in wet scenes. Most of the foliage was done by splashing paint onto the paper rather than with brushstrokes. All of this was both liberating and slightly unnerving as at some points I had paint sloshing around all over the place, often running where I didn’t intend it to go. Fortunately the liberation won over the unnerving and I was able to mop a few things up here and there and carry on. I rarely retuned to any element to overpaint it or tinker with it until I got into the details of some of the figures. By stripping out so much of the detail in the design, the painting seemed to develop a momentum all of it’s own and came together fairly quickly.
Whenever I completely messed something up, I just accepted it and tried to make a judgement of whether I need to try and rectify it, or whether it was essential enough for me to even worry about. I was surprised as I went along at just how often my mistakes didn’t really matter! The finished painting is still a long way from perfect, but I still think it’s a strong image that reads pretty well, captures the sense of strong light and has an energy about it.
I must have been pleased with the finished item as I decided to put this onto my Instagram account – which is when I realised that the last time I posted something to that account was ten weeks ago! So, feeling quite reinvigorated and armed with a renewed enthusiasm, I’ve already got my next scene in my sites!