An Argument Against Painting Pretty

Master painter Alvaro Castagnet says art must set a mood and tell a story, plus other words of watercolor wisdom.

I had the pleasure of watching Alvaro Castagnet demonstrate his watercolor painting process in person at this year’s Plein Air Convention & Expo in Santa Fe (“a burnt sienna city,” according to Alvaro). I jotted down a few of my favorite quotes and observations he made while painting.

Alvaro Castagnet outdoor painting
Plein air painting of Santa Fe

“I don’t preserve too many whites at the start because then I become a slave to those high-key values.”

outdoor painting
Plein air painting of Santa Fe

“Art is not prettiness; it’s mood, feeling. If you think art has to be pretty, you’re missing the point.”

Plein air painting of Santa Fe

“When I look at a painting, I ask, are you giving me a story — a painting I can love for all time — or are you giving me a strawberry cake — something pretty.”

Plein air painting of Santa Fe

“We need to interpret [not simply record] what we see, that’s how we can call ourselves artists.”

“Filthy water, messy palette — that is Alvaro at his best. I paint dirty.”

Alvaro received a lifetime achievement award at the event for his work in watercolor and plein air painting.

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Kelly Kane
PleinAir Magazine and American Watercolor Weekly Editor-in-Chief With more than 20 years experience in art publishing, Kelly Kane has served previously as Editor-in-Chief of Watercolor Artist magazine and Content Director for The Artist’s Magazine, Drawing, Acrylic Artist, and Pastel Journal. She has interviewed many of the preeminent artists of our time and written numerous articles about painting, drawing, art education and art history. She is now the Editor-in-Chief of PleinAir Magazine and the American Watercolor Weekly newsletter. Click here to send her an email.


  1. I appreciate those gems of insight by Alvaro. He is the master of plein air watercolor painting. You can see the passion in his Santa Fe paintings and in his words.

  2. I paint fractured portraits. i want the portrait to create a feeling about the person and have the viewer look.deeper into their face.
    I dont want a photograph portrait unless i am ask to otherwise the more its my interepation the better.
    I appreciate artists who interepet their view point of the world. Thanks for sharing.


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