Archive for category Author: Alvaro Castagnet

Alvaro Castagnet’s Watercolour Masterclass

If you’ve seen Alvaro’s DVDs, you’ll know that he’s an enthusiastic demonstrator who has plenty to say and who puts on a gripping performance. You might also wonder how he would get on when put into the static confines of a book. Maybe the magic would be lost or, if it was retained, would it be possible to make any sense of the result? Well, I did anyway.

I think the first thing to say is that this is privately published, and that can be a very bad thing. Most authors need a good editor and it’s very hard to be your own. On top of that, artists are rarely good book designers. It doesn’t bode well, does it? To go against that, I think it’s fair to say that the last thing a characterful demonstrator needs is a conventional approach.

So, having got the pitfalls out of the way, how does the book shape up? Well, it’s certainly not conventional. The pages are, at first sight, an assault on the senses. There’s lot of colour, drawing and typically Alvaro-esque pearls of wisdom and they seem to be scattered around. Look more closely and you’ll see that the exercises and demonstrations are all there, but well-disguised. This is a book to absorb, rather than to read. It should also be said that the editing and design are just what’s needed. There’s a good list of production credits and Alvaro has assembled an excellent team around him and hasn’t indulged himself.

The core premise is the Four Pillars of Watercolour. These turn out to be Colour, Shape, Value and Edges – not exactly unconventional, but an excellent place to start and a nice summing-up of the basics. Everyone has their own variation and this is as good as any and better presented than many. Overall, the book has a nice progression and I particularly like the very first chapter: Think and Feel Your Way to Emotive Art, which places creativity firmly before the mechanics (Materials follows it). The Four Pillars follow and there is then a series of demonstrations in locations around the world. These are mostly in places where the sun shines, so expect a lot of light – if Alvaro does damp, rainy climates, he’s keeping it to himself.

I suspect you have to buy into Alvaro’s persona of The Passionate Painter to get the most out of the book, but he’s an engaging demonstrator and, on the evidence of this, an absorbing writer as well. The pearls of wisdom I mentioned earlier are succinct summings-up of whole rafts of sound advice and have the great merit of being memorable.

Available from APV Films

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DVD The Passionate Painter in Havana Part 2 || Alvaro Castagnet

In the second part of his Cuban adventure, Alvaro turns his attention to the people of its capital city and its vibrant street life.

Much has happened since the first instalment and the rapprochement with the US means that the island’s days of crumbling glory are surely numbered. If this is something that appeals, visit now, or maybe buy these films as a fitting memorial. If you’re a Cuban, however, you might think that much-repaired 1950’s automobiles and flaking stucco are a high price to pay for a romantic dream. Maybe you’d prefer a new car and some anonymous malls.

Alvaro is an enthusiastic demonstrator and a great talker. For some, his style of presentation might grate but, for me, he always manages to stay within the border of being irritating and he’s immensely quotable: “We need to get to know the people … absorb the atmosphere … then we paint”, “It’s a mess with order to it … we need to avoid complexity”. These nuggets of wisdom (and they are nuggets) relate not only to the technical details but to the general approach. There’s one place, in a particularly complex scene near the end of the film, where Alvaro works in silence for a minute or two and it comes as something of a shock. Normally, he’s talking about the scene, what he’s looking at and for and how he’s working with water, brushes and colour. He’s a confident painter and this often masks very considerable skill. His remark that he needs to envision the finished result before he starts is telling. It looks improvised but, like the music that pervades the film, it’s actually very carefully structured.

A word about that music. Alvaro often moves with it and he’s also, he says, painting with it. Certainly, there’s a rhythm to the way he works that the music both drives and points up. I think it’s also worth saying that the way the soundtrack is handled here is worthy of top-flight documentary–making. It’s not, as is usually the case, something that’s added later – and which will either enhance the viewing experience or annoy the hell out of you. In two of the demonstrations, there’s a live band playing and this, the commentary and the wild track (the background noises) are perfectly balanced. When Alvaro speaks, the music fades ever so slightly so that his voice is never muffled, but the sound is always a homogeneous whole. On that score, I’d class this as the best film I’ve seen from APV.

Street life is complex and real life doesn’t always appear in a neatly balanced composition. As he did with the first film, Alvaro assembles his images from their component elements. Figures are moved into a more balanced group, details are highlighted and focus shifted. His loose style means that fine detail is never there: “I’m not interested in making a portrait”. For me, this looseness makes this a slightly less satisfying film than the first part as some of the groups start to look a bit similar – I wish he perhaps wouldn’t strait-jacket them quite so much into a single personal style. Nevertheless, there’s no doubting the artistry, especially in the composition and the handling of complex and often difficult lighting, where Alvaro is pretty much pitch-perfect.

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DVD The Passionate Painter in Havana part 1 || Alvaro Castagnet

A lot of demonstrators adopt a persona and Alvaro Castagnet is The Passionate Painter. It’s an apt soubriquet as he is an enthusiastic and emotive practitioner and presenter. The bustling streets of Cuba’s capital are ideally suited to his working method and he captures their vibrancy with great eloquence: “Everywhere there’s a painting to be done .. there’s a painting in every corner.”

Alvaro’s painting style is quite quick and is built up in layers using broad brushstrokes, which gives depth in both tone and perspective. His commentary is less technical than some (“How about that for a brushstroke!”), but it’s easy to see what he’s doing and there is little fine detail that needs careful attention from the viewer – at one point, the “very thin brush” he introduces is about a size 8! It has to be said, I think, that the style of the commentary is something you could grow tired of. On the other hand, you’ll almost certainly forgive Alvaro’s flamboyance because of the virtuosity of his painting and his amazing handling of light, both full sun and shade, which the streets of Havana provide plentifully.

There are five demonstrations and Alvaro shows you how to create an image out of elements that have come from elsewhere rather than simply copying what you see in front of you. As he says, “I always have a vision of what I want to say in the finished painting.”

Alvaro is confident, both as a person and a painter and, as a result, he’s eminently quotable. Here are two more: “Once I’ve got the shape [of a drawing], I know how to fill it in with washes” and “Once you set up the family of hues, you stick to them for homogeneity.” Those are pearls of wisdom I haven’t heard expressed so succinctly anywhere else and they’re worth the price of the film on their own. So, now I’ve told you about them you can save your money, yes? Oh no, because you haven’t seen Alvaro at work, or heard the rest of what he has to say. Believe me, he’s charismatic and inspiring and a great exponent and demonstrator of the art of creating an image. I suspect that, in real life, he wouldn’t be my type at all, but I was captivated in these 95 minutes.

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