Wednesday, October 30, 2013


These are two scenes from Sofia, the city where I grew up. The park in front of the main building of the Sofia University is done by a sketch that I did on site a few years ago. I added more figures to liven up the scene. The other one is based on a photo. 

I am so eager to do city scenes now, knowing how to simplify and complete them in less than an hour. I'm going through my photos from previous trips and picking scenes with nice light and shadows.

Spring at the University, watercolor on Arches rough 38 x 28 cm
The Military Club, watercolor on Arches CP 28 x 38 cm

Sunday, October 27, 2013

... and the last two days

The workshop finished a few days ago, but I've been busy catching up with a whole lot of things, including work. So, here I am again with the second part of the story.

I really liked the workshop and learned a whole lot. I also hope that it helped me gain more confidence. Despite that at least half of the group were professional artists, I found that I din't suck, in fact I was doing quite well. 

Unfortunately the weather during all four days was quite cold. Alvaro was disappointed that we can't go to the hustle and bustle of downtown Toronto and decided to settle for the centre of Oakville, where the workshop was taking place.  It was so cold and windy that everybody was freezing, even Alvaro himself, who doesn't seem to care much about the weather.  

Alvaro painting en plain air in the cold
... and the result
The scene that he chose to paint...
One of the most amazing things he did was to paint the classroom. We all wondered how he will simplify the rows of tables and all the clutter on them. He used a few lines and some dripping water through them to create the tables. Then a few spots of bright colors and some scrapes with a credit card finished the task. The focal point was the group of people around the easel at the top of the painting. This is one of the main things he was constantly emphasizing - pick a focal point and make the painting about it, put your brightest, lightest and darkest colors there. Simplify the rest by blurring, omitting, dry-brushing, etc.

Alvaro with his painting of the classroom
One exercise we did was painting figures in a loose way. Turned out that I don't suck at it and Alvaro, who can be pretty critical, liked my little humans below
Blaga's figures
in the process of painting a night scene
Due to the non-cooperating weather, he ended up painting a few demos from photos. This is the next best thing, because one of my goals was to see how he interprets actual scenes. 

Blaga's version of "Paris in back-light", watercolor 38 x 28 cm
This is one of the paintings from photos that we did on the last days. For the first time I used rough paper, which makes smooth washes harder, but dry brush is much easier

What else did I learn:
- big brush, small piece of paper;
- start with an under-painting of a very smooth wash. Cross-hatching the brushstrokes helps to avoid straight lines in it;
- values are the most important thing!!! It is ok to use black (neutral tint) when you need it. Also, white for highlights. Forget the stupid rules!
- back-runs, "cauliflowers", spills, spatters, all these things that happen with watercolors, give it character. Learn how to use them, instead of avoiding them;
- don't paint the scene as you see it, change it as it suits you

So, now I plan to re-do a few of my previous paintings, applying my new knowledge....

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

First two days of Alvaro's workshop

The first day we didn't do any painting ourselves, yet it was maybe the day when I learned the most. Watching Alvaro in action is so inspiring. He makes it all seem so simple. At times he creates something looking like a total mess and in a few minutes the mess takes a fully meaningful shape of people, cars, whatever... 
One of the demos he did was to paint the parking lot of the place, where the workshop was held. A seemingly dull and uninteresting place. But he wanted to show us that everything could become a worthy subject. That story is illustrated in the next three photos

Alavro painting the parking lot. He often has this smile while painting, like he really enjoys it. Or maybe, he's imagining us wondering "What is this mess and how will he be able to get out of it!?" , while he very well knows how he'll do it.

This is the view from where he stands. Of course, at one point a few people passed by, got in a car and drove off. That got into the painting, together with the white house and the red car.

I cannot post a proper picture of his painting, but I think it should be ok to show you the result from this angle. A typical Alvaro painting full of life and atmosphere.  He absolutely made his point.

Inspired by that demo, on the way home I observed the shapes of cars in back-light and in the evening painted this study.

Blaga's cars in motion

The second day we painted Paris from pictures. He demonstrated painting each city-scape and then we tried to imitate the master.

My version of Rainy day in Paris was all wrong. The value of the buildings was too strong and the foreground was a mess. Alvoro looked at it, grabbed some white and in a few brushstrokes fixed the buildings. Then he spattered some cerulean on the right, which made the mess much more acceptable. The painting still sucks, but I'm saving it, as it has Alvaro's touch :)

Blaga's version of Sunny Day in Paris - I'm happy with this one
Two more days to go
to be continued...

Monday, October 14, 2013

Berries and buildings

Berries, watercolor 24 x 21 cm
Berries, watercolor 24 x 21 cm
I picked these berries during a walk the other day and while the streets scenes below were not "cooperating", I painted the berries just for pleasure.

Back in January I found out that Alavaro Castagnet would be giving a workshop in the fall close to Toronto. This must be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so I signed up immediately. I admire Catagnet's style. Back when I started painting, his works showed me that watercolors can be as vibrant and colorful as any other medium, and even more beautiful. I have been excited for months. But as the workshop approaches, I get more and more anxious. Am I going to be up to the tasks? Am I taking up the spot of someone better who would have benefited much more from the experience? Well, there's no going back now. It is next week and I have to try to make the most of it!  

Maybe after that I will be able to paint the cars in these boulevard scenes in a less childish way...

The boulevard, watercolor 38 x 28 cm
Hotel Bulgaria, watercolor 38 x 28 cm

Saturday, October 5, 2013


Dahlias, watercolor 15 x 25 cm
White Dahlia, watercolor sketch, 15 x 15 cm
Two Dahlias, watercolor 38 x 28 cm
Dahlias in a glass, watercolor 38 x 28 cm
I have been trying to find inspiration in these flowers, still blooming in my yard. They proved challenging to simplify. Maybe I get distracted by their little yellow faces, smiling at me...