A Workshop with Alvaro Castagnet

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Alvaro Castagnet – A Workshop


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Several years ago, when I was first starting this journey, I found Alvaro Castagnet’s work out there in cyberspace. Wow…I was immediately enchanted by his work. So fluid, passionate, powerful. At that time I never thought I would get the chance to watch him paint, or listen to him lecture about his philosophy on painting yet last week I found myself in that very position – “que afortunado”.

Alvaro presented a 2 day workshop at Daniel Smith’s in Seattle and I signed up! During the workshop he painted 4 demos (a cityscape of the Pike Place Market in Seattle, another city view of umbrellas in New York city, ‘boats’ – a view of a Seattle harbor and an indoor setting of a group of people in a cafe) and the class managed to paint 2 paintings. We planned for 4, but simply ran out of time.

Class started out the first day with a review of his tools. He had the standard array of sable brushes, mops, rounds and flats as well as some Chinese brushes that had been given to him recently (large flat brushes). He used rough paper and a brass palette. I thought his colors were more on the dark side: two new grays of his design, neutral tint, yellow ochre and burnt sienna. Also ultramarine blue, cobalt blue, turquoise and lavender. He recommended that we start out simply using a warm and a cool of each of the primaries and over time increase our palettes to include more exotic colors. He also suggested mixing our colors and not using pure colors as they do not appear in nature.

During the demos, Alvaro described many tips and techniques that I will attempt to condense here into a simple list.

  • He uses transparent paint
  • Paint ‘big brush’ – ‘small painting’
  • Paint light and shape, not objects
  • It’s all about value
  • Paintings often go from light at the top to dark at the bottom
  • Don’t hold the brush like a pencil
  • Paint in strokes
  • Simplify
  • Connect your darks

All in all it was a very interesting two days with a very interesting and gifted painter.  One afternoon a student asked Alvaro if he like to be known as a great teacher.  He answered quite honestly, saying that he would wish that he be known as a great painter.  He also admitted that he sometimes paints a painting that he believes is really good…then puts it away for a while and maybe a month later pulls it out and thinks….’well, maybe not!’

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