My first ever watercolour ‘Portrait’!

Last weekend marked the one year anniversary of my Alvaro Castagnet Masterclass. Hard to believe that it was only a year ago (no doubt due largely the the fact that it took about three years from booking the course for it to become a a reality!)

I had been reflecting on the past year and revisited some photographs from the weekend:

A combination of all this reminiscing along with my recent efforts to improve my interpretation of faces/skin tones etc seem to lead me quite naturally to attempt to capture a likeness of Alvaro!

Alvaro Castagnet, a portrait in watercolour

Hats off to those people that choose to paint portraits! I have to confess that I find them the most unforgiving of subjects! Even so, I was quite pleased with some aspects of this. My favourite element by some distance is the hand. I wish I could have captured the face with same degree of looseness.

As it was, the face ended up becoming quite overworked. I think there’s still a definite likeness, but in an ideal world I’d have captured a little more of the energy, movement and dynamism that in my mind so characterises Alvaro.

I did share this with Alvaro to seek his permission to share this effort and he was gracious enough to say yes!

Back to earth with a crash

Last Saturday saw the May gathering of the Brighton Painting Group. The location for this month’s meet up was Brunswick Square in Hove. This square is five minute walk from where I live, and I walk around one side of it almost every morning, and the other side of almost every evening! (It’s one of the few gardens in Brighton and Hove where dogs are forbidden so I’m forced to walk our dog around the perimeter on our way to and from the seafront.

It is undoubtedly a beautiful square and a wonderful example of resplendent regency architecture. The garden is also a delight and yet, despite all of this, I still find it a really challenging environment for inspiration.

I think that familiarity probably plays a large part in this, but so too does the square’s innate prettiness! I was quite nervous about exactly what I might find to paint… and this nervousness proved to be well founded!

Here’s the view, along with my daub!


I really struggled. I had in my mind a totally different interpretation than this! I could picture it in my mind’s eye… and I can honestly say that it didn’t look a bit like this!

The only positive I can report is that it didn’t take me long to paint it… and once I had painted it, I couldn’t wait to cover it up!

In all it’s unnattractive glory!

The buildings in the background aren’t a complete disaster, but that amorphous mountain of mush in the middle! I really have no idea what that’s supposed to be or to look like!

After a brief period of time during which I genuinely feel I’ve produced some of my best ever paintings, this felt like a crashing return to earth – and a most undignified one at that!

The only positive I could take from this was that I completed this in double quick time! I managed another sketch, which I’ve forgotten to photograph and still managed to leave with almost an hour to spare before scheduled end of the session.

I should have stayed around to show my support for other members for the group but I was so frustrated that I couldn’t wait to make a hasty exit!

To be painting plein air on the anniversary of my masterclass with Alvaro Castagnet felt like such a wonderful way to mark the occasion. I just felt so disappointed with myself for not producing something that I felt demonstrated the progress that I felt I’d made over the past year!

But I suppose that’s painting, or anything creative perhaps!? Progress isn’t linear. It’s not a constant upward trajectory. It’s much more of a gradual accumulation, characterised by many steps forwards and, hopefully, fewer steps backwards.

This particular weekend felt like a distinct step backwards. I’m not going to dwell on this, however, because we’re all entitled to an off day (or two, three, seven!).

I’m off camping for a few days next week so will be packing a sketching kit and am hoping for a return to some better form!

Thoughts on My first ever watercolour ‘Portrait’!

6 thoughts on “My first ever watercolour ‘Portrait’!”

  1. Hard to believe that’s your first portrait, John; Portrait Artist of the Year look out! As for the squarescape, it’s obvious that at some deeper level you were reacting to their dog-ban by placing, a pile of – let’s say – compost in the middle of it!

    1. Thanks so much for the kind words about the portrait effort, and for the very astute critique of my Brunswick Square effort too! Oh what a terrible day that was! Hats off to you for ability (skill, dedication, perseverance etc) with portraiture – I find it a most unforgiving pursuit, but maybe I’m just not trying hard enough!

  2. I can tell you why you don’t like Brunswick Square. That huge blob of green in the middle. I can tell you because it is something I have difficulty with and fail at time and again. Editing. You could have minimized all of that greenery so it was more transparent and airy and you could see the buildings behind, even though in real life you can’t.

    I am too literal and because of it I have extreme difficulty in editing.

    There’s just too many plants there.

    So you make the buildings the focus and edit down the plants. Or you make the plants more of the focus and fade out those buildings in the background to make them minor background.

    Or something.

    The perspective of the buildings is a little off too.

    I certainly recognize Castagnet from your portrait.

    My attempts have been pretty dismal. Except for the dogs and my brother’s cat.

    Did I tell you I’m signed up for a three day workshop with Zbucvik in September?

    1. So jealous of your Zbukvic workshop Mary – I’m sure you’re in for a real treat there. I’d dread to think what his critique of my Brunswick Sq blob would be! I agree with your comments and did consider them on the day, but just failed to make any sense of it! Wanted the houses to be in background and not be the focal point (I’m never sure on the most distant element being the focal point). My intention was for the crop of trees and bushes to be the focal point in the middle distance of this view. In my attempt to capture them loosely however, I just made a complete hash of it! Glad you recognised Alvaro from my effort. I won’t be doing many portraits, that’s for sure! 🙂

      1. On the contrary. I think you need to do more portraits. Because if you don’t practice you won’t get better. You don’t have to share them. You can practice on the family (even the dog) and keep them private until you’ve developed some skill. And like your landscapes, city scapes and interiors, you attend some workshops and you practice some more until you can develop your own style of portraits as well. If that Alvaro is from a photo, you can then come back to it again and again, improving each time. There are parts of it I like. I think you did well with his hand.

        1. You’re quite right of course Mary – I should do more of them if I want to improve at them! I suppose I’ll try to fit some in around everything else! I think in the grand scheme of things, it’s the landscapes, cityscapes and interiors that excite me most, so only natural that I’ll focus more of my time on these. Theoretically, with enough practice, no subject matter should be out of reach! (But I’ve got a long way to go before I reach that level!)

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

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