I first painted with newly purchased Alvaro Castagnet brushes after discovering his style and art. I was awestruck by his use of light and color, which was masterful, and his tools, a joy to see how he used them.
As a watercolor artist myself I would forensically examine his artwork, rewatch his DVDs over and over; test the famous red Alavaro Castagnet brushes, all to figure out how he painted such amazing art.
In this Watercolor Masters series I will attempt to analyse as much information on the tools and techniques of some of the best watercolor artists past and present. This article is delving into the art tools and techniques of Alvaro Castagnet.
Who is Alvaro Castagnet?
Alvaro Castagnet was born on Halloween in Montevideo, the capital and largest city of Uruguay. His father introduced him at a young age to watercolor artist and Professor Esteban Garino, who inspired Alvaro to paint in watercolors. He would then go on to learn his artistic craft at the National School of Art in Montevideo.
Having fallen in love with art Alvaro began working in a studio doing odd jobs.
He would then migrate to Australia in 1983 and live there for 20 years, before returning to his native Uruguay. In that time he has been holding solo exhibitions and touring the world teaching at art workshops.
He would also establish the famous painting group, Winterlude, with other notable watercolor artists: Joseph Zbukvic, Hernan Pekel, Patrick Carroll, and Nick Canosa. They would travel the world painting plein air together.
What really sets Alvaro apart from other watercolor artists is his commitment to teaching his skills and techniques. I always believe that there comes a point where you have learnt and grown so much the next step to allow yourself to continue to develop as an artist is to teach.
Only then can you learn new dimensions to your art by looking through the eyes of your student. Seeing art with new eyes opens you up to new possibilities. It’s almost like when you come back to a painting after sleeping the night.
Alvaro has numerous tutorials, has written books and regularly lectures at events all over the world.
Alvaro has been awarded dozens of awards during his 30 years as a professional artist, including a Plein Air Magazine Lifetime Achievement award at the 7th Annual Plein Air convention & Expo. He has also won the American Watercolor Society’s coveted Dolphin Fellowship.
Alvaro Castagnet’s Style
The first thing that hits my senses when I see a piece of art by Alvaro is the light and color. Alvaro only paints what is essential, once you can understand what he is showing you, that is all he needs to paint. Not getting bogged down in superficial details.
Alvaro is a master of using economy of brush strokes, but still painting enough to convey a feeling of what he is painting; sometimes he lets your mind complete the painting.
In this painting of Venice you can see in the areas circled in white the lost edges, we the viewer understand that there is a building there, but we use our brain to fill in the forms.
The lost edges help focus the viewer to the focal point which is the building central dome, Alvaro accentuates these lost edges with use of values to control contrast, which again helps to lead the eye.
It’s a really efficient and complete mastery over the medium.
Alvaro uses light and shadow to shape and frame his paintings. Connecting shadows to give a sense of integrity and harmony. Seeing his art in black and white (in Photoshop) you can discern how he employs values in all the ranges.
Connected to shadows is Alvaro’s use of edges, edges are lost and found. The contrast of edges helps to define shapes and blur what’s not a focal point.
While Alvaro is a master of color, he paints thinking, not about hue, but about warm and cool. He will vary the hues in the shadows, so as to not make flat colors.
In this painting notice the exaggeration of the bounce light in the street from the awning. Alvaro is painting a sunny day, the bounced light from the awning would be overpowered by direct light.
There is such mastery and control over color and light I have not seen from anyone else.
Alvaro Castagnet’s Tools
I’ve been learning from many greats, chief among them, Alvaro. I have collected together as much information on the tools and resources available. Putting together my own collection, including select Alvaro Castagnet brushes.
Alvaro Castagnet Brushes
Alvaro is famous for the color red, which is synonymous with his brand. And of course when he debuted his own specially designed signature Alvaro Castagnet brushes, they would have to be designed in brilliant red.
Alvaro Castagnet brushes are designed to have a longer handle. Alvaro likes to paint holding the end of the brush and because it’s much longer than regular handles it makes his brush strokes that much looser, which is his style.
You should take this into account if you already have a favorite storage case or box for your brushes.
The Neef 117 Wire Bound Squirrel Mop Brush comes in 10 sizes ranging all the way to number 10.
Alvaro Castagnet Neef Mop Brush #2
Alvaro Castagnet Neef Mop Brush #4
Alvaro Castagnet Neef Mop Brush #6
Alvaro Castagnet Neef Mop Brush #8
Alvaro Castagnet Neef Mop Brush #10
For painting straight lines like telephone wires or lamp posts, Alvaro employs his Neef Rigger Brush, which he affectionately calls the Needle.
This is a great brush, and I use it whenever I need a straight line. For digital artists it’s similar to lazy load when making a stroke in Photoshop.
These special Alvaro Castagnet brushes are in my collection, and highly recommended. They are quite expensive, but the quality you get matches the price. Although these days I have found quality alternatives, none match the same characteristics of these long tailed mop brushes.
Alternatively he has a signature Alvaro Castagnet brushes set made by Escoda. They are three long pointed rounds, in sizes #8, #10 and #12. I have not tried these brushes so I cannot in all honesty comment on how good they are. But Escoda are a fantastic brand.
You can learn more about brushes here.
Alvaro Castagnet’s Paint Colors
Alvaro Castagnet brushes are always paired with beautiful paints which are, I believe, almost exclusively Daniel Smith watercolors. Daniel Smith paints are well known for their color brilliancy. Their reds and oranges are possibly the most vivid colors I have used.
I’ve noted that Alvaro has limited his palette these days going from painting with 16 colors to 12 colors. But as with all artists this is something that is ever changing depending on the situation.
Daniel Smith have a set collection of paints from Alvaro which are available:
- DANIEL SMITH, the Innovative Manufacturer of Beautiful Watercolors for Artists Worldwide is excited to offer the DANIEL SMITH Alvaro Castagnet’s Master Artist Set! This set has the 10 DANIEL SMITH Watercolors that world respected Alvaro Castagnet has chosen for his own palette.
- This set of ten, 5ml tubes includes: Hansa Yellow Deep, Mayan Orange, Ultramarine Blue, Cobalt Blue, Viridian, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna Light, Neutral Tint, Deep Scarlet, and Pyrrol Red.
- Hansa Yellow Deep: With a touch of orange, this is a pure chroma color with high-tinting, semi-transparent organic pigments. is considered the ‘perfect yellow’, a fact which offers more control when mixing. Mayan Orange: Hot and intense! Use it straight from the tube for a blazing red-orange. As you add water, the color remains strong and disperses very evenly.
- Ultramarine Blue: Intense, pure and subtly granulating, it stands proudly alone pure blue without shading to any other color. Cobalt Blue: Power with every drop. Cobalt Blue is a neutral, non-staining primary blue which subtly modifies most pigments. Considered a “mixing pigment”, its transparent nature can cast a giant reticulating shadow.
- Viridian: This transparent non-staining pigment is an excellent glazing pigment. It’s a cool blue-green useful in mixing without staining other pigment particles and for soft edges. Yellow Ochre: Is a stunning gold hue, bright and clean yet true to its earthy nature. Its non-staining, can be lifted easily to create highlights and has a predicable soft granulation in washes.
- Burnt Sienna Light: ”DANIEL SMITH has created Burnt Sienna Light just for me. It is a beautiful, transparent hue. It is permanent, it has power and it breaks down Ultramarine Blue perfectly. Burnt Sienna Light is fabulous when you want to place cool colors on top. I use it when I am going into my darks where I drop it into Ultramarine Blue (included in the set) or Alizarin Crimson to create magnificent darks” -Alvaro.
I’ve seen Alvaro use a different set of colors when he is seen painting in a studio set up.
In his most recent DVD which I highly recommend, The Passionate Painter in Havana Parts 1 and 2, Alvaro employs a 12 color palette. From what I can tell, this is his palette:
Viridum Blue (I think)
I am only unsure about which green blue he used, but I am almost certain it’s Viridium.
Only recently, Daniel Smith has released special edition Signature Series greys, Alvaro’s Caliente’s Grey: Series 2 and Alvaro’s Fresco Grey: Series 2.
I’ve also noted Alvaro would use, in his older work, Holbein Lavender to grey his washes. Although this is now available from Daniel Smith, I have not seen him use this in his palette recently.
One last paint Alvaro uses, but does not put on his palette, is Daniel Smith Chinese White. Alvaro uses this straight from the tube to paint his highlights or if he paints smoke.
However his recent Vimeo tutorial showed him using Holbein Jaune Brilliant, instead of chinese white.
Alvaro Castagnet Watercolor Paper
It seems that nearly all professional painters today choose between two famous brands, Arches and Saunders. Alvaro has said he uses these two brands however I have only been able to identify him using Arches.
Alvaro uses half and full sheet size, cold pressed, 300lbs watercolor paper.
- Superior Strength – A cylinder mold process distributes cotton fibers evenly to provide exceptional resistance to scratching and erasing without tearing or linting; it allows our cold pressed watercolor paper to slacken uniformly when wet for outstanding control
- Exquisite Quality and Functionality – All Arches watercolor pads for painting are pH-neutral with a harmonious natural grain and no optical brightening agents; each sheet is easily removed from the edge-glued pad
- Exclusive Gelatin Sizing “to the Core” – Arches water color paper is the only paper in the world to be gelatin sized “to the core”; it increases the luster and transparency of colors while preventing paints from penetrating into the paper and makes blending, overlay or paint removal easy, wet or dry
- Paper quality: Acid-free paper, fine
The cold pressed paper is rough so it gives that added texture that gives character to Alvaro’s painting style.
Like his signature Alvaro Castagnet brushes collection, Alvaro has a signature paintbox made by an english paintbox maker, The Watercolor Paint Box Company, created by Craig Young.
Craig has been making paint boxes for 20 years. All the boxes are handmade, with waiting lists at over a year.
All Craig’s paint boxes are made from brass. They are then enamelled matt white on the mixing surfaces and gloss white on the other internal surfaces. All come with external glosses available in Dark Green, Cobalt Blue, Burgundy Red or Traditional Black.
Alvaro has the traditional paintbox based on old robertson’s box used by professionals including John Yardley, who wanted a compact box with deep mixing wells.
Craig’s paint box has two side flaps that open up as mixing surfaces and double wells in the lid and flap double mixing wells for larger mixes.
As an owner of one of these I can testify to their craftsmanship and sturdy design. These will last a lifetime, except maybe the paintwork. But at a hefty £325 it is a significant investment.
I would suggest getting a plastic version which is more than capable of doing just as good a job for the travelling watercolor artist.
Alvaro has written and published 4 books, some which have been translated into four languages:
- Beyond Technique: Painting With Passion
- Alvaro Castagnet´s Watercolour Masterclass
- Beyond Technique: Painting With Passion
- Watercolor Painting With Passion!
Unfortunately these are currently out of print but can be bought second hand. When they have a reprinting be sure to check back to get the links.
Alvaro Castagnet’ DVDs
Perhaps some of his best resources are his DVDs, which are filled with incredible technique and craft. Of course you get to see Alvaro’s genial character come alive which only adds to the artist’s appeal.
I’ll list these in order of my favorite DVD:
- Inspired Watercolour
- The Passionate Painter in Havana – Part 1
- The Passionate Painter in Paris
- The Passionate Painter in the North of England
- The Passionate Painter in Antwerp
- The Passionate Painter in Havana – Part 2
If you have any more links for Alvaro Castagnet that you think would be useful for other artists looking to learn from this great watercolor master, comment down below.
It’s my intention to make this into a series. I have always looked to other great artists for inspiration and learning, and believe we can glean much from their techniques, tools and philosophies.
If you have any artists you wish me to include in this series, again let me know in the comments.
If you have any more questions do pop down in the comments below and I can reply back directly.
More articles like this can be found here.