I’m delighted to be able to add Alvaro Castagnet’s 2011 book, ‘Painting with Passion – Beyond Technique’ to my reference library, where it can sit beside his 2011 publication ‘Watercolor Painting with Passion’.

Watercolour Painting with Passion alongside Painting with Passion, Beyond Technique

As with so many of the books in my collection, it’s an Ebay purchase and, I have to confess, it’s right up there with the most money that I’ve ever paid for a book.

So. Is it worth it?

Well, I feel I have to be honest and say “it depends”!

While it contains a number of illustrated step by step demonstrations, I certainly wouldn’t classify this book as a ‘how to’ publication.

His first book, Watercolor Painting with Passion is a far more comprehensive ‘how to’ guide to his approach to painting, even if his distinctive sensibility and means of expression have developed considerably between these two publications. Reading his earlier book, and studying his most recent paintings, you can easily understand the trajectory of his artistic practice.

A title page from the book

Even if you wish to paint in a similar vein as Alvaro Castagnet, I doubt this ‘Beyond Technique’ book would help you along that path any better than the many DVDs and YouTube videos that are readily available that are either free, or cost a fraction of what you might expect to pay for this book. For reference, Amazon is currently quoting £260 for this book. There is also one currently available on Ebay for £195 (which has been available at that price for quite some time now!). I’d like to make it clear that I paid considerably less for my copy, so unless you’re very impatient, it may be worth shopping around or biding your time!

I should point out that there is an immediately available E-version of this book available on Amazon for around £20s. I’m afraid I purposefully don’t link to this but should anyone be interested, I’m sure you won’t have any difficulty finding it!. Here’s a quick preview of the electronic version:

If it’s not a ‘how to’ book, what is it?

Well, I found it to be more like Alvaro’s personal artistic manifesto. While he’s obviously a master of ‘his’ technique – one that he has obviously evolved over the years – his main driving point is that it needs to come from within. What he expresses in his paintings is not a filter, veneer or technique to which he applies to every subject – but is an expression of his personal, emotional reaction to a subject.

The creative force within us

Alvaro Castagnet

Now this is a really moot point and I’m not well enough versed in the subtleties of philosophical debating to put all sides of the argument here. There’s no doubt however that he has developed a particularly strong and distinctive watercolour language that has become his signature.

In my opinion, what he does incredibly well is to take a scene, simplify and distil it and, through the mastery of his ‘technique’ heighten its impact to deliver his vision. When considering this, I’m attracted to both his vision, and the techniques he employs to realise it.

Example page spread

I know that ultimately, I need to be painting my vision, but I believe that this is developing and will continue to do so as long as I carry on looking, observing, learning from others and, of course, painting and painting and painting!

So. Why should anyone buy this book?

Well, I suppose it all depends on how much you enjoy his paintings and how much you think you may be able to learn from studying them.

I already know that this will be a book that I return to again and again. Not so much for the pearls of wisdom contained within the text, but to be able to immerse myself in such a wonderfully rich collection of paintings, from which I think I can learn a great deal.

Example page spread

Step-by-step demonstrations

There are a number of step-by-step demonstrations in the book so it seemed churlish not to have at least a little play with them.

This step-by-step painting of boats in Cadaques looked like the quickest and easiest of all the demos and, as time was most certainly against me this week, this was an all important factor!

Step-by-step demonstration

Here’s how I got along, following the instructions as closely as possible!

Boats in Cadaques after Alvaro Castagnet

I was quite pleased with how this turned out and, as a visitor commented, it’s a little more colourful than my usual fare! So, feeling quite encouraged and still with a little time left to spare, I used the back of one of my many failures to endeavour to replicate one of the quick sketches featured in the book.

Fitzroy Street, (sketch) after Alvaro Castagnet

When this book first arrived with me, it was in ‘mint’ condition. After only a few days, however, it’s been well-thumbed and is already sporting a dashing array of paint splatters! I doubt that this won’t have done anything for the resale value of this book, but fortunately the real measure of this book’s value to me goes far beyond pounds and pence!

Online workshops with Alvaro Castagnet

Should anyone be interested, there are some links below to posts where I share my experience and my paintings from some of the online workshops that I’ve taken with Alvaro Castagnet:

6 thoughts on “Alvaro Castagnet, ‘Painting with Passion: Beyond Technique’

  1. Wow, I have a copy of this book and never consider how much it might be worth. I’ll be more careful with it when following the step by step as his technique uses lots of paint and can easily result in splashes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know Warren, I can only imagine that there wasn’t much of print run on this book so there are limited numbers of them available. I think they were around the $40 mark when first published. I still think it’s more important to use the book though rather than keep it stored out of paints way on a shelf! It’s a bit like my cookery books that all have bits of food stuck to the pages of my favourite recipes – i think the paint splashes only improve the book!

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      1. Great post John, and for someone who isn’t a fan of Alvaro I really enjoy this book (in my case, the ebook version).  I think a lot of what Alvaro has to say in the book is enormously valuable, and seeing so many finished paintings rather than “workshop” paintings enlivens the text well.

        I actually wish he hadn’t included the instructional section towards the end, I think I’d rather have seen how Alvaro developed his technique by looking back at older paintings and showing his progression.  I just looked at a group of his paintings on an auction site – some must be years old and to be honest are not great, his style has had some dramatic change – I’d like to know which crossroads he waited at to sell his soul to the watercolour devil!

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      2. Hi Ray and thanks for this. I agree that want makes this book so good is the array of brilliant paintings! I do see a trajectory between his earlier work and his current work. I suppose I’d characterise this with his really simplifying and distilling the scene, unifying the colour scheme and focussing more on values than colours and seeking to create impact with his heightening of contrasts. I like your analogy though, I wonder if I hang around at the crossroads long enough I’ll get an offer to sell my watercolour soul!?

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  2. Very interesting John
    I do agree with you comments.
    My Alvaro book is also similar but a delight to look at and to try to decipher all the processes. I think it might just be his watercolour brain is a long way better than mine!
    I have a JZ book which is much more instructional hence my hope that the October workshop happens,but who knows!
    Thanks for another enjoyable post
    Best
    Brisn

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    1. Hi Brian and thanks for this. I also have the JZ book which is a real gem and packed full of useful stuff that feels easier to apply to your own painting. I get the impression too that he’s a wonderful teacher too so I think your workshop with him could be a real game-changer for you! Shall keep my fingers crossed for you that it’s able to go ahead!

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