I’m afraid there’s a lot to get through this week so no time for dilly-dallying around with my usual small talk!

Alvaro Castagnet Online Workshop – ‘Glowing Interiors’

My main watercolour painting event of the past week took place on Saturday. This was my third online demonstration that I’ve participated in with Alvaro Castagnet, following previous ones in December and earlier this month, so there was much that I was already familiar with. What attracted me to this particular workshop was the subject matter:

As many of you will know, I really enjoy painting interiors and I was really excited at the prospect of tackling that the bold lighting, strong contrasts and vivid colours of this view. I’m familiar with quite a few of Alvaro Castagnet’s colour saturated images, where a single colour runs throughout the entire painting but the varying intensity of the hues create the sense of light and drama so I was really keen to experience his approach to such a painting in real time.

And I think ‘real time’ is important here. Once this painting started, I barely had time to look at the screen! Alvaro does leave some time at the end of each passage of painting so that participants can either do their painting then or at least have a bit of time to catch up with his progress.

My preference is to try to paint along at as similar a pace as possible. I think I get a bit of a rush from trying to keep up, and that this in turn creates a greater sense of immediacy and urgency in my paintings. This is something that I think I do need to work on, especially when I’m mainly working at home without any constraints on time.

Ahead of the workshop, I’d already sketched out two versions of this view, that I thought might come in handy, and I had another blank sheet all ready to sketch out as Alvaro sketched his out. In the end, the one I did alongside Alvaro is the one that I ended up using. My earlier two had the figures too large, which meant there wasn’t as much foreground area to really go to town with the shadows and lighting.

You can just about about discern the most basic outline sketches beneath this first wash:

Colours used so far were raw seinne, burnt sienna and pyrrol red (which I don’t possess so mine is a mix of cadmium red and Alazirin Crimson). Must confess that it felt exciting and terrifying in equal measure to be using such an intense and vibrant colour!

And I’m afraid that for ‘work in progress’ images, that’s your lot!

From this point in, everything moved at such a pace that it was all I could do to keep up! I was basically listening to Alvaro’s step by step commentary on what he was doing and what colours he was using, glancing up at the screen every now and then, and painting furiously!

This is what Alvaro’s painting looked like when the dust had settled and the paint had dried:

Alvaro Castagnet’s ‘Glowing Interiors’ online demonstration painting

And this is what my follow along attempt looked like:

I can’t deny that I was super pleased with how this turned out. As a student, I never fared well under examination conditions and sometimes, trying to paint along in these demonstrations takes me right back the anxiety of my ill prepared for exams!

Yes there are elements that I could maybe have done a little better, but under the circumstances, I think my attempt holds up pretty well alongside Alvaro’s – which is much more than I could have hoped for at the outset!

I think this is the last one of these workshops that I’m going to do now (for a while at least!). His next one will be a floral still life which I’m less inspired by and, cannot really justify the expense of another workshop in such a short time!

Here are the three paintings that I’ve done in the three workshops:

Workshop – December 2020
Workshop 2 – March 2021
Workshop 3 – March 2021

These three workshops have given me so much to think about and to work on. What I need to do now, is spend time trying to really absorb what I’ve learnt, apply it to my own painting and see what sticks, and what doesn’t!

In other news…

And speaking of applying to what I’ve learnt to other paintings, here’s a quick study that I did before this week’s workshop that turned out much better than what I’d anticipated at the outset!

I’m so pleased with how this turned out. I think in terms of execution, it has a relaxed confidence about it along with a good variety of contrasts, decent colour harmony, some lost and found edges and some dry brushstrokes – all combining effectively to portray a simple play of light.

Conversely, here’s another study that I had high hopes for at the outset, only to be disappointed with the final result!

I rarely paint anything where a figure is so dominant but I liked the contrasts in the original black and white photograph and imagined me painting it in a loose, confident fashion with fast flowing expressive brushstrokes. As it turned out, I painted it tightly, with tentative brushstrokes to produce a rather turgid and stodgy painting.

After the workshop with Alvaro, with so many thoughts and ideas in my head – I was keen to apply some of the principles to another subject to try to cement them in my mind. Here’s a quick street scene.

Not one of my best, but I can detect some good moments in here and, more importantly, I was really thinking throughout this. I had to make a lot of decisions about what to include, change or omit from the original photograph and, while the execution leaves a lot to be desired in some areas (the cars in particular annoy me!) – I’m quite pleased with how this reads.

Still not quite satisfied with my painting lot – I also took to recycling the backs of my (oh SO many) failed paintings to play around with some figure studies. On the past few workshops with Alvaro he’d done a few small figure studies which quite inspired me. I thought that if I can try to do these quick studies, it will really help my figure painting and, more importantly, they’re fun to do. No pressure, just playing about with some brushes and paint.

All in all, it feels like it’s been quite a productive week!

Here’s a little summary, in my own personal order of preference:

No doubt I’ll be returning to a much more sedantry and less prolific output next week!

9 thoughts on “Alvaro Castagnet Online Watercolour Workshop – ‘Glowing Interiors’

  1. Thanks for your writings on this and the other workshops – you’ll see on my recent Instagram post that these have inspired me to loosen up and paint more quickly. Interesting in both yours and Alvaro’s first wash, is how strong the colour is already – no wishy-washy watercolour here, bold use of rich colours and markedly intense contrasts.

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    1. Hi Ray and thanks for this. It’s strange because that’s what I’ve often thought (and do still struggle with!) – that the initial washes are too strong! I think it only works in the long run because the darks are so intensely dark. As a way of working, I quite like that a painting is largely done in about 3 passes – and yes, none of that wishy washy stuff! (Which of course has it’s place – but is less to my personal taste!)

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  2. Far too much to comment on properly here, John!
    My first comment is that I really don’t understand the light in the photo. On first glance, they are back-lit by sunlight streaming in through the window but closer inspection reveals there seems to be another “sun” beaming in from the right top – see sunbeams in the top right on this side of the curtain. However, your/his simplification works very well and you’ve both produced pretty dramatic sketches. As you may know, I’m never quite sure whether the appearance of “immediacy and urgency” are the result of fast painting or a learned skill or trick; in his case, I’m sure this is the nth time he’s painted more or less the same thing so he can obviously do it in his sleep but I don’t imagine he started out quite so slick. (I wonder how much use his demos are to people who haven’t already spent years developing their skill – like you – as opposed to people like me who would just make a muddy mess under this kind of pressure and personally I’d rather paint a successful picture rather than a quick one!)
    So having got that out of my system, I agree that your painting stands up well alongside his and matches it in some respects. The only major difference I can see is that you have lowered the contrast slightly with stronger washes on the window area and the sunlit carpet – but that could equally result from the contrast in the photograph of your painting so who knows. For me, of course, a more interesting crop would zoom in on the stools/tables and the figures with half a window, which would allow a bit of detail around the legs and stretchers of the furniture – i.e. my furniture has legs! Of course, that’s probably why your (and Castagnet’s) sell and mine don’t!
    I’m most impressed by your other paintings this week, which show just how good you are now at your preferred contre-jour style of painting (following Castaget, Zbukvic et al.) The one of the windows is particularly effective and, as you say, the colour harmonies are great. (Perhaps the bloke reading the book needs a bit of work and I’m not sure you can paint that sort of subject effectively without slowing down a bit.)
    I hope this doesn’t all sound dismissive and/or patronising. I couldn’t get close to producing any of these, to be honest!

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    1. Hi Rob and sorry for such a tardy response. I felt the same about your comment as you did about my post! (ie. far too much to comment on!). About that Castagnet workshop piece – at first I had no idea what you were referring to about the ‘other’ light source! When I looked back however, you’re right! This wasn’t an intentional addition of a new light source, I was just trying to avoid an entire massive area of darkness so was trying to have a little variety of tone and brushstrokes here, but you’re right, it does look like someone’s turned a light out just out of view! I also think that there’s no doubt that he’s refined his approach over many years. I’ve done three of these workshops now, and on each occasion, I’d say there was about 50-60 participants – and I recognised some familiar names that were doing each one of them so I suppose a lot of people must be getting something from them to keep on coming back for more! I’m aware that this is ‘an approach’ that he is able to apply to so many scenes and I do feel a tad shallow for being such a sucker for it! As for my works selling – haha – I wish! It’s been very quiet on that front for quite a long time! I’m doing a run to the tip this morning – so many failed paintings heading for the recycling!

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  3. Regarding your paint-along, which for myself I am more inclined to think of as a ‘pain-along’, I think your version held up remarkably well against the ‘master’.

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    1. Haha – you’re quite right David – there was a fair degree of pain involved but, if you believe such sayings, ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!’ (Though of all the sayings in the world – this is pretty low down in my credibility rankings!)

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