The Difference Between Activity and Action

“We need to make a distinction between the meanings of activity versus action,” says Alvaro Castagent. “In the case of my friend Paul Ching-Bor, he doesn’t go into action straight away, thinking okay, this is how to approach that particular subject. If he just took some photos of his subject and then went off to paint, that is activity. But Paul is an artist and he needs to be involved in something, especially something he is going to paint. Because, as artists, we are aspiring, we are aiming to beat what we see, to beat the reality. And we only beat it by inflicting in our painting a great deal of mood and ambience. And that’s why Paul embarks in a quest for knowledge — reading books about his subject, etc. — so that when he’s ready he can put all of that knowledge into action. 

Watercolor painting by Alvaro Castagnet

“If I have to do an exhibition in New York, I have to spend at least three weeks simply walking the streets of New York City — walking it, smelling it, sitting down and looking at people passing, listening to the noises — before I can paint it.

Cafe Brasilero” (watercolor painting) by Alvaro Castagnet

“There is no way you can do a good painting, one that you should be proud of, if it’s not based 90 percent on pure emotion. A painting based on technique is like public currency, anybody can have it. People are thirsty for and willing to learn technique. And fair enough, because I went through that process, too. But ultimately you realize that the techniques you are developing are meant to be used in service for something else. As you grow as an artist, as painting becomes the north star of your life — and perhaps your profession, you ask yourself, ‘How can I reach that level of innocence, that level of affection, that level of passion, mood, and ambience?’ It’s about achieving a level of poetry and magic, because at the end of the day that is what painting is about. So while painting technique is like public currency — you give me $1 and I give you 50 cents or whatever it is, you know what I mean? We can exchange technique, but to make magic, to create poetry, you have to paint and paint and paint. It manifests itself naturally when you can focus on beating your subject, beating what is real, and make a watercolor painting. And the only way to do that is to inject emotion and passion into the work.”

The artist spoke recently with American Watercolor publisher Eric Rhoads for the PleinAir Magazine Podcast.

Alvaro Castagnet received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Plein Air Convention & Expo in 2018. And this year he’s coming back! Don’t miss the chance to see him demo live and paint alongside him in Colorado!


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