Online watercolour workshop with Alvaro Castagnet

I only booked onto this online watercolour workshop with Alvaro Castagnet last week, so I only had to endure a few days of nervous excitement and anticipation before the event!

Here’s the reference photo that was supplied ahead of the workshop:

The reference photo – Old Compton Street, London

Perverse as it may sound, one of the reasons I was keen to do this particular workshop was because I thought this image was much more challenging compared to the one I did in my previous workshop with Alvaro Castagnet. With this image, it wasn’t quite as obvious what direction he might choose to take it in. This is what was most interesting to me, the considerations and decisions that he would make when making a composition from this image.

So. Here’s me all set up and ready to go. The workshop started at 7.30pm on Friday night – so in addition to my usual palette, paints, brushes and water spray, I had a little glass of vino-tinto on the go too. I was determined to enjoy myself even if I didn’t feel convinced by the subject matter (oh how I would come to regret this!)

All set up and ready to paint

Even though I expected a lot of changes to be made based on the source photo, I did still think that it was worth starting off with some of the key elements at least put into place. Here you can see the sketched outline that I’d pre-prepared. This was mainly about placing in the perspective lines, anticipating that cars and figures etc would be moved about a little.

Up to this point, ie pretty much right up until the start of the workshop – so far so good!

My pre-prepared outling sketch

From the point at which the workshop started however, things started to spiral out of control a little as my computer developed a glitch and I completely lost the sound!

What followed was a great deal of teeth gnashing and cursing while I simultaneously tried to keep up with what I could see Alvaro doing while also trying crawling around on my hands and knees trying to sort out my IT woes on my laptop!

This is when I started to regret the wine! I really couldn’t work out what on earth was wrong with my sound and I was so annoyed and frustrated that I was missing out on the crucial elements that I was most interested in learning about! (Not to mention feeling that I’d just wasted a not inconsiderable amount of money on this workshop!)

Soundless, I pressed on as best I could.

As well as having my pre-prepared sketch, I also had another board ready with a blank piece of paper so that I could try to sketch it out from the start while Alvaro mapped out his painting too.

He does this so simply, starting with the big shapes. His first marks mapped out the top line of the buildings, starting on the left and going down one side of the street, across the buildings in the distance, and then back up the buildings on the right. This is following by the street level in the distance and the perspective lines leading towards it, so in no time at all, we have the shapes for the sky, the buildings and ground.

Onto these areas were placed just key details, and ever so loosely indicated. I’d loved to have known what he was saying at this point but sadly, all I could do was follow along and try to keep up.

The outcome of this was that I ditched my ‘pre-prepared’ sketch in favour of the follow along sketch that I did.

Unfortunately, the circumstances of this workshop (trying to paint along without any sound and, in any gaps desperately trying to fix the sound!) meant that I was unable to take any work in progress shots as I did last time.

Because of this, I’m afraid I have to cut straight to the chase and present my finished painting from the workshop:

My finished effort

At first, I was pretty disappointed with how my painting turned out. I think on reflection, however, that my disappointment was based on the frustrations that I experienced during the workshop rather than what I achieved. Here’s the demonstration painting that Alvaro’s completed during the workshop:

Alvaro Castagnet’s completed demonstration painting

I think some of the main differences that stand out to me looking at this is the freshness of Alvaro’s painting compared to mine and a far greater degree of subtlety to the colour mixes and the brushtrokes. I would have liked to have introduced more variety into the dark shadow in the foreground but, during the demo, this part of the screen was covered up by an alert on my screen so I didn’t actually see what he did here, hence me going dark all the way!

Looking at the two side by side, however, I think there are a lot of positives I can take from this experience. I think the area around the awning and the figures on my painting hold up ok. I think the area that I’m least pleased with is my treatment of the buildings on the left which feel overly heavy in tone and in execution.

As I had already had another pre-prepared sketch, I was really keen to tackle this again but perhaps at a more leisurely pace. Here’s how I got on second time around:

My second attempt

It’s funny because as I was painting this one, I felt as if I was correcting and improving many of the elements of my first attempt. It was only at the end of painting this (which I did without really referring to Alvaro’s workshop demo), when I put paintings one and two side by side, that for all it’s failings, I still preferred my workshop effort! This is partly because of the circumstances under which I painted it, but also because I think the figures are better, and I think the strength of the darks and the contrast with the lights, make for a more dynamic painting.

Although I had more time on the second painting, the first one remains, I think, the more powerful of the two. I think the urgency that comes from working to time constraints encourages a fresher and more energetic execution.

All of this is very subjective however, and largely based on how closely I’m bound up in both of these paintings. It would be interesting to hear whether others agree with me or not!

Next workshop

After what felt like a bit of debacle for me, in terms of my sound packing up and trying to struggle along as best I could just imaging what advice Alvaro might be offering, I was pretty determined that I wouldn’t be doing another workshop like this for a good while.

That was before I found out what the next workshop will be!

So, as much as I can ill-afford it, I also can’t resist it! His next online workshop, Glowing Interiors will be on Saturday 27th March at 3.30pm GMT.

Here’s the reference image that we’ll be working from, and I’m sure anyone familiar with my paintings will understand why this is so appealing to me!

At least I’ve got a few weeks to make sure I’ve sorted out my sound settings, and it already feels good to have another workshop to look forward to!

Thoughts on Online watercolour workshop with Alvaro Castagnet

19 thoughts on “Online watercolour workshop with Alvaro Castagnet”

  1. Pingback: Pencil free watercolour paintings

  2. Pingback: Alvaro Castagnet Online Watercolour Workshop – ‘Glowing Interiors’

  3. Pingback: Buena Vista Social Club Watercolour

  4. For me, John, the sense of place is lost in these paintings. Even in Alvaro`s painting. It is almost as if he is going through the motions and I speak as someone who has his books, been on his course, likes the man, and has his painting hanging on my wall as well as painting with his brushes. Perhaps the light on Alvaro`s painting next to the striped awning sings a bit more in his version, compared to yours and if that is the focus of the painting then move in on that area. I am left a bit confused about the purpose of the painting (having seen a photo) I had a similar feeling on the previous workshop. More could have been made of the corner bar but the sense of place became almost a pastiche.
    Anyway, each to their own. That interior looks a stunning image.

    1. Hi Graham and thanks for this, and I do know what you mean. On the one hand, I think that’s fine – it’s a demonstration painting. I also think that even though it’s a street I’ve walked down often, from the photo I’m not sure what would successfully have captured a particular sense of place? In many way’s it’s an image of a relatively non descript street that could be found in cities all over the place. I do really admire his painting, and his approach to painting, but there’s no doubt that there’s a stylistic approach. With many of his paintings, what I’m drawn to is an energy and drama in the painting, with the particular sense place being secondary. As you say, the question is ‘what’s the purpose’ of the painting? I think as demonstrations, these workshops are fine and I’ve been enjoying them. What I’m keen to see is how I take what I’m learning from them and apply them to my own work and my own subject matters (which I have to confess after a year in lockdown are feeling pretty thin on the ground at the moment!). I’m looking forward to doing the interior one though!

      1. Well, you seem to be happy with it, John, and you were the one paying for it. For me I`m not so sure. On just the one issue of design, I feel it is lacking – for me its just a tonal study- and a key issue for the plein air painter is spotting the scene and the selection process that is required to make it stand out – and Alvaro can do that well. But there was little of that here – apart from moving the no entry sign back. I feel he could have given you a lot more for your money.

        1. To be honest, I’d probably have got a lot more from the workshop if I’d just been able to hear a word he was saying! Who knows what pearls of wisdom I missed out on!

    1. Many thanks Evelyn, much appreciated. I haven’t managed to completely fix my IT problem – but I think I have a work around! (I’ve also decided to stay of the wine during the next workshop!)

  5. Hi John,
    Sorry but I had to laugh at the disastrous zoom experience but so glad you solved it in time to paint these two delightful paintings! There are elements in both that I love, especially your figures in your first painting, and the light caught on the canopy is lovely.
    I think you should be proud of yourself, as I had to read which were yours and which were Alvaros! Yes you must do the next workshop as it’s just your sort of subject.
    On another topic altogether could you tell me what your palette is please? I am wanting one with a much bigger flat area, and this looks perfect (probably expensive} but just what I’m after.
    Not too long till the next one and nice to have the photo already. I’ll look forward to seeing yours
    Happy painting,
    Warm wishes,

    1. Hi Carole and thanks so much for your kind and generous comments on my efforts! much appreciated and I’m already looking forward to the next one, even though I haven’t quite managed to sort out the sound on my computer yet! You asked about palettes, the one in my photos is a brass Binning Monro palette by John Hurtley’s little brass box company (and you’re quite right, this was a rather expensive treat to myself a few years ago!). I’d happily recommend exploring either a Holbein 500 or the larger Holbein 1000 palettes – both of which I’ve used prior to investing in the one I have now. You can see more info on some of these in a post from a few years ago: – let me know if you have any other queries on this Carole – and do let me know what you decide to go for!

  6. Hi John, another excellent blog post and, I think, two very good paintings, especially in light of your technical problems. Alvaro Castagnet is a master of dropping thick paint into a wash at the perfect moment so he produces areas that simultaneously appear to be soft, so as not to grab your attention and, thus, appear in the middle-distance, but defined enough that there is interest and a recognisable shape there. This is the main difference between your paintings and the painting of Castagnet. I see you have gone for more dry brush effects, especially on the buildings and in the foregrounds. That said, it is a stylistic choice too and there are elements of yours I also prefer. I think both versions are excellent. Looking forward to the blog post from the next workshop. 🙂

    1. Hi Conor and thanks so much for these well informed comments and observations! You’re quite right about him being a master of knowing just when to apply the right amount and intensity of pigment into a wash at just the right time. I think it’s this understanding – and with it the confidence – gained over many years of practice and trial and error that differentiates the leading watercolourists from even the most ardent enthusiasts! This is why I think some of my washes sometimes become overworked, because I don’t get the tone or colour right first time. Ah well, lots still to learn and improve so it’s just as well I really enjoy the practising! Many thanks for taking to the time to comment Conor – I really appreciate it!

  7. Oh, YES, John. *This* is the workshop you need. Don’t feel guilty at all (as long as the wife approved the expense.) Money spent on education is never wasted.

    1. Hi Mary and thanks so much for this ringing endorsement! I think you’re quite right about money spent on education never being wasted – I already feel like the past few workshops I’ve done are paying dividends!

  8. Hi John. In the face of all your troubles, well done! Two very nice results. There are actually parts of your painting(s) that I prefer to his version – the whole centre section including figures, awning and even the background buildings, for example – but, if you’re looking for differences, he has rather softer effects on the buildings where you have gone with a dry brush and he’s rather more careful about delineating windows and doors etc on the buildings on the left, which makes them more believable than yours. The main difference though, as you pointed out, is that big purple area of shadow (bottom left etc.) where you couldn’t see what was happening! Dare I suggest that your foregrounds do have a tendency to get a bit big – as if you were viewing the scene from higher than eye level – which doesn’t matter when you include something of interest in the foreground apart from slight mottling but can be rather overpowering What he’s done is to make his perspective lines at street level shallower, which takes his eye lower and allows him to trim off unnecessary foreground. He has also gone for a less ferocious shadow tone than you have which takes even more weight out of the foreground and middle distance, allowing the viewer’s eye to float up to the more interesting stuff higher up. Well, that’s the way I see it, anyway and, as you know, you should not take anything I say to heart – unless it’s positive! As for your excitement about the next workshop, I can see why you’re so tempted: it’s the old ladies, isn’t it?

    1. Hi Rob and thanks so much for these really constructive observations. It’s quite strange really as I’m about 5’10 inches tall, so not especially tall, nor especially short – so I really don’t have any idea where my elevated view of the world comes from! Comparing my efforts with Alvaro’s, I totally see what you mean – there’s a lot less foreground before the main focal point, and then a greater sense of depth behind that focal point too (even if, to my mind, his figures are a little small in comparison to the cars!) Sadly without the sound on, I’m not quite sure what some of the colour mixes are that he used but you’re quite right, mine are too heavy throughout – rather than having been used more subtely and selectively. I think one of the main takeaways I had from this was that I need to be far more judicious about what to include or exclude in a painting. Had I not been following his lead – I’d have been trying to include a lot more extraneous detail that would probably have tied me up in knots trying to paint them! There’s no doubt that he has a very particular technique, or vision that he’s able to apply to scenes – and I know they’re not everyone’s cup of tea, but I’m really drawn to the immediacy and energy of them! Thanks so much Rob – I’ve already taken the plunge and booked the next workshop!

  9. Hi John
    The ultimate zoom nightmare!
    I like both of your paintings,not an easy subject, I guess I would never choose that sort of subject, so you did very well.
    The right hand side of the first is especially good, but the left of the second is fresher too.
    You will enjoy the next one!, right up your street!
    Thanks for sharing

    1. Hi Brian and thanks for this! it was indeed a bit of a nightmare – and I still haven’t resolved the technical issue but I think I have a fallback that I can listen via a pair of headphones. I’ve still got a week or two to sort it out! I might try to do a version of the workshop image he’s set in advance, just so I can share a before tuition and after tuition version! All the best Brian

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

Shopping Basket

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website.