Recent additions to the watercolour library

I don’t know about others but sometimes my life just seems to be a constant battle to keep too many plates spinning, and at the moment my painting and blogging plates are beginning to wobble rather ominously!

I simply haven’t been able to dedicate the time and effort to either of late. I’m not going to beat myself up over it. Overall I’ve had a pretty good year of constant and consistent painting, so much so that I haven’t had much chance to write about much else other than my own painting. As the past week has been so thin on the painting front, it gives me a rare opportunity to update you with a few recent additions to my watercolour library.

First up is Watercolour Painting with Passion by Alvaro Castagnet. It’s a hardback book, published by International Artist and featuring 128 pages brimful of finished paintings, sketches and works in progress that all deliver a tremendous insight into the brilliance of Alvaro Castagnet.

Front cover
Back cover
Example spread
Work in progress demonstration

I’ve already spent a lot of time with this book and really love it. There’s so much to learn. It’s not necessarily all spelled out, but by really close study and observation, it’s all there for the unraveling.

What I think is so fascinating is looking at this book, that’s now around 18 years old, and comparing it with the paintings that he is creating now. Yes, they’re still unmistakably Alvaro, but you can see how his work has become even looser, bolder and more atmospheric. It makes me realise that none of us are at our destination yet, indeed few of us are ever likely to reach it – and that’s perfectly okay because it’s not the arriving that’s important – it’s the journey. 

I also have quite a few DVDs by Alvaro Castagnet and, as with this book, find them brilliantly valuable resources, both inspiring and insightful.

I should at this point add a word of caution perhaps. Yes, I admire his skill tremendously, but I don’t want to become a slavish acolyte. I do however want to learn from people whose work I admire. What’s wonderful is that artists such as Alvaro Castagnet are willing to share their years’ of experience so readily and generously.

Next up is Winslow Homer Watercolours written by the renowned curator and historian of American painting, Donelson F. Hoopes. I’m familiar with so many of Homer’s watercolours but this is the first entire book that I’ve purchased dedicated to him. The book was another eBay bargain, particularly for a 1969 first edition.

Front cover

What was a completely unexpected delight was to find a dedication from the author in the front cover:

A personal inscription from the author

A cursory google search revealed that Janet and John Marqusee were involved in property development, publishing and radical politics and Janet Marqusee was both a painter and a successful art dealer.

Sample spread featuring ‘The Turtle Pond’ 1898

What’s utterly remarkable about so many of these paintings is how modern they seem. I must confess that I still haven’t studied this book in detail – but I’m absolutely thrilled to add it to my library, and love the little bit of ‘history’ that comes from the inscription.

Does anyone else have any particularly good watercolour reads that you would recommend I look out for? (I do still have room on the shelves for a few more!)

Thoughts on Recent additions to the watercolour library

29 thoughts on “Recent additions to the watercolour library”

    1. It must be a famous view! It certainly makes me want to visit! Thanks too for the introduction to Marc Folly – not an artist I was aware of but there’s so much to admire in his paintings! it’s always a pleasure to be introduced to artists whose work you like so much – thank you!

    1. Thanks so much Tim and yes – I learn so much from studying the paintings of artists that are much more skilled and accomplished than myself! I must confess that at times it can be a little discouraging (but that’s usually when I’m particularly down on myself!) – but on the whole it is really inspiring!

      1. Art is challenging. It seems like a constant quest to learn one more thing. I just returned from a trip to the Great Basin to shoot some pictures.

        As I have been going through them, I am finding little things that I still need to remember while I am in the field. It was snowing part of the trip, and I got some spots on my lens. Of course I was so busy thinking about the scene, that I didn’t notice until I now see spots on my photos.

        Yes, the art is a never-ending journey to be better every time. Like you I get frustrated, but then I think about things. I realize that this is all part of the deal. The Masters wouldn’t be masters if it was easy. That is part of our hobby. It is nice to know that you and I share a lot regarding our hobbies. Always enjoy our conversations, John.

        1. Thanks for this Tim and there’s a salient lesson in your recent experiences! Re the masters, there’s something that sticks in my mind from the writer Malcolm Gladwell. To paraphrase, he asked people at the top of their game, across many different spheres of professions and disciplines, what was the secret to their success. What it seemed to boil down to was 10,000 hours. 10,000 hours of time dedicated to whatever there area of excellence was seemed to be a common demoninator. I think of this when I see the work of artists that I really admire and can appreciate how much time, effort and application they’ve put into becoming so brilliant. I still think I’m only beginning to scratch the surface of my 10,000 hours!

          1. That’s interesting. I am not sure that 10,000 hours is a magic number, but the fact that they had spent so much time and had so much practice may very well be.

            Also, it appears that the more consistently I can spend time with my photography the more I am comfortable with the more technical and creative sides of the craft. 10,000 hours? That’s 5 to years of time at a full 2000/year work week. Pretty cool, John. Thanks.

          2. Hi Tim and yes, I know what you mean about the consistency – it’s partly why I try to paint at least once a week as a bare minimum – I fear that as soon as this begins to slip, then so too will the progress that I’ve made over the past few years! I think the other thing that I remember from the article, was most of them started out young and were completely obsessive (Bill Gates, Steve Jobs etc) – with a full time job and family etc I can’t imagine how many years it’ll take me to accrue 10,000 hours of painting!

          3. Yes, I can’t quite imagine 10,000 hours of photography. But, at retirement that might get me up in the morning. Yes, experience is key.

            I am really impressed that you paint at least weekly John. That shows a lot of discipline and dedication. Again, you do sometimes sell yourself short.

            I am starting on a new post about a road trip I have just completed, and I was thinking about your paintings while doing some writing a little while ago. I came up with an idea. I was thinking that it would be really interesting to have you paint one of my photos some day. I know it’s a little wild, but to see your impression of a photo of mine would be really cool. Oh well, it just popped into my head this afternoon. Anyway have a great weekend.

          4. Funny you should mention that Tim – it’s something that I’ve often thought of (collaborating with someone in this way) but never really pursued with any conviction but I’d definitely like to explore it! I’ve had a look through some of your images (all wonderful!) and so far there’s one in particular that has grabbed my attention – but I think I need to have a closer look. Thanks so much for the suggestion and for thinking of me!

          5. Oh you are welcome, John. I would be honored to be able to help. I have only one request. Well, two parts. Please give me a credit if you use one of my photos, you know like, this photograph was taken by Tim Harlow. Part two — I want to see the finished product. It would be so cool to see a photo made into a painting by you. You are so skilled. I am excited to be able to help.

    1. Hi Graham and thanks for this, I do have the Zbukvic book Mastering Atmosphere and Mood in Watercolour (a book that’s as fine as it is expensive!) but I’ve not heard of the Engle book before. I’ve already got it on a ‘watch’ list and am hopeful that I might be able to persuade/subtly hint to someone that it would make an ideal christmas present! Thanks very much for the top tip!

  1. The Castagnet book is a real treasure – hard to get nowadays. I only got the last book from him but was a bit dissapointed about the work in progress part. It seems to be more detailed here. The Winslow Home book seems to be another treasure. Wonderful. There is not much more beautiful than flipping through pages of great art.

    1. Thanks Carsten – I think I know the book you’re referring to. I was looking at a copy recently but it was a signed copy and over £200 which was beyond my pocket! I don’t look at a lot of my books as often as I used to but every now and then do I find great comfort and inspiration from flipping through them.

  2. The Turtle Pond looks quite modern, except for the subject matter, turtles being endangered and all.

    Lately I’ve been buying DVDs rather than books. Some Zbukvic, two Charles Reid and one Ron Ranson. I’ve been considering buying one of Ranson’s books. You have one in your library, don’t you? Is it Ron Ranson On Skies?

    I just bought Thomas Schaller’s book Architect of Light because I signed up to take a class from him in July.

    1. Hi Mary and thanks for this. I used to be a bit sniffy about watercolour DVDs…. until I bought and watched one! I loved it and got much more from it than I imagined I would. I’ve got most of the Zbukvic DVDs (all great!) but none of the Charles Reid or Ron Ranson ones. I do have Ron Ranson books but to be honest, I much prefer the bookes where he’s introducing another artist (for instance Edward Seago, John Yardlely, ‘Watercolour Impressionists’ or John Palmer) rather that Ron Ranson’s own paintings. It’s not that I don’t like or admire them. I did try to follow some of his approaches and tried out his preferred hake brushes, but it just wasn’t for me. I’m really intrigued by the new Tom Schaller book and I’m super jealous of your workshop/s with him. Let me know how you get on with book! I usually buy everything second hand but might have to make an exception in this instance as I doubt there’ll be any ‘used’ ones for sale for quite a long time!

  3. There is a book about Edward Seago written by Ron Ranson. There are many books out there that I enjoyed studying but I think this particular book was a highlight. Even though Seago’s parents were not supportive, he was determined and successful. It is a book well worth reading. Oh lastly, the books by Eric Maisel are quite good, he is a pyschologist who deals with creativity and counsels creators.

    1. Ah, Margaret, the Seago book you mentioned has a special place in my heart! It’s the book that started me painting! A friend showed it to me many years ago and I’d never seen watercolours of the like before and I was totally bowled over by them! Eric Maisel on the other hand is a total unknown to me so I’ll have to do a little bit of research on him! Many thanks for your top tip Margaret, I really appreciate it.

  4. Michael Partridge

    I found “John Yardley: A Personal View” an inspirational book. Although not my style of painting (I often wish it was) it gives lots of insights into the thoughts of someone I regard as among the best of current watercolour artists.

    I recently recalled one of your earlier posts concerning entries into exhitions. Having had works rejected for a new local exhibition I noticed so much of the work selected was so called modern art which had no relationship to anything. I am often disappointed by modern art much of which I find neither modern or artistic. I wondered what were your views?

    1. So much depends on the person judging the entries. You might be rejected for one show and then accepted the next. There is no predicting what they will like or not.

      1. I’m inclined to agree Mary. I think there are some exhibitions where you can get a good idea of what they’re looking for. For instance, I enterred an exhibition earlier this year in which they explicitly said they were looking for entries that were pushing the boundaries of what you could do with watercolour – so it shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise to me when I didn’t get selected! I won’t be submitting to that one next year! My approach next year will be to only submit what I think is my best work. This year, I submitted works in the hope I might get selected, even though I wasn’t wholly confident or pleased with some of my entries. It is probably all a bit of a lottery, and I think the best we can do is put in our best works and allow the judges to do whatever they do.

    2. Hi Michael and many thanks for this. I do have a John Yardley book somewhere (I’ve just looked for it but can’t seem to find it at the moment) however I don’t think it’s that book. I have seen that book so on your recommendation shall definitely keep an eye out for it. He’s a wonderful painter and I admire his work tremendously. I had the pleasure of seeing him paint back in 2015 and took the opportunity to say ‘hello’ to him as it was like meeting a watercolour hero and too good a chance to miss. I wrote a little about it here:

      Now then. Modern Art. I really don’t have the where with all to express all my feelings and opinions on this, but I’ll try to let you know where I am as briefly as I’m able. I think that ‘art’ – both it’s ‘manufacture’ and its ‘appreciation’ is a very broad church within which there is a lot of room for different styles, approaches and viewpoints. My personal preference is broadly towards figurative and representational art. I used to follow ‘contempoary’ and modern art much more closely than I do now, but over time, I’ve just gradually lost interest in it as little of it really made any connection with me. Much of it is about an ‘idea’ – but I often found that the idea required an accompanying thesis to explain the idea to me. Much of it leaves me cold. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate any of it, but nowadays, I’m a bit more ‘each to their own’ and I prefer to stick more within the areas of what I like!

I'd love to hear any thoughts you have about this

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