Ken Manninen
In pursuit of my inner artist


(posted on 3 Feb 2021)

I just finished reading this short book (91 pages) about the teachings of Charles W. Hawthorne, the founder of the Cape Cod School of Art in 1899.  There are introductory sections by others, including his son, and then by Hawthorne himself.  The book is then divided into sections that capture Hawthorne's comments to students as they painted studies of human models indoors and outdoors, still lifes and landscapes.  So many of the comments resonnated with me that it is difficult for me to pare them down so please excuse this entry if it seems to go on and on.  While his teaching dates back to the turn of the 20th century, his comments seem to be as relevant today.  This is probably a reflection that art builds on what came before and that we as artists belong to an ongoing fellowship.  Buckle up and come along for the ride!

From the introductory sections.... The world is not interested in mere pictures but is interested in something that makes it believe in the glory and beauty of human existence.  Painters won't achieve this by merely painting pictures; they most show people more than they (the viewers) already see.  The artist must add to the world more than the sum total of beauty in it.  We must teach ourselves to see beauty in the ugly and common place.  It is greater to make much of little than little of much.  There are so many colour, but it is their beautiful combination that makes a masterpiece.  If the artist doesn't get a thrill painting, how does he/she expect to thrill others?  Good painting is an aesthetic emotion and 'reasonable' painting destroys emotion.  Painters don't reason, they do and subconscious thought counts.  The only way to learn to paint is by painting.  An artist is one who is eternally curious.  Great painters are always students.  Do many studies and stop when you lose interest and then start again.  Don't be in a rush to only set out to do finished paintings as that will come with time and practice.  If your colours are right, very little else is needed.

From outdoor model sessions.... Select a subject you can visualize as a painting.  Everything in painting is a silhouette so have light against light not light against light.  Draw a minmal amount and put down colour spots instead.  Many artists try to duplicate nature instead of expressing themselves in colour spots.  We analyze too much so try putting down your first impressions more.

From still life sessions...  Drawing and painting are best kept separated.  The big painter looks and does while the little painter tickles with a camel hair brush.  Don't fill in an outline but make the inside form the outline.  Concentrate more on interior the interior and less on edges as there is no such thing as an edge in nature.  If your colours are right, so too will be your values.  Don't paint objects, paint spots of colour relative to one another.  When white appears to go warm it loses its power so leave at least some part of white objects pure white.  Backgrounds are as important as the subjects.  Successful painters continually paint still life.

From landscape sessions....  Do the simple thing well.  We do well the things we see already painted in our minds so don't start until you see it or you will already be defeated.  The starting sketch should only ionclude the essentials as it isn't a drawing you are doing, it is a painting.  Paint for fun and practice and not always for exhibition.  The curse for painters is to do what the world calls beauty instead of looking out frankly with our own eyes.  Look at things as a mosaic.  Do not look as though you reasoned too much as painting must be impulsive to be worthwhile.  As a painter, there is aesthetic excitement about painting so put things down while you feel that joy.  Your work should show you have a great time painting.

From indoor model sessions...  Treat live models like a still life and go after big spots of colour (ie. figure vs background; light vs. shadow).  Establish the lightest light and the darkest shadows. Start by establishing the face against the background.  Half of the likeness is in the colours.  Three or 4 general spots come together as a protrait and your viewers can supply the rest if the colour spots are correct.  Don't approximate the first colour you put down as all that follows is keyed to that first colour.  Keep your canvas interesting all over at the same time (in other words, keep moving around your canvas).  Don't overdo accents as it makes the painting look spotty.  Eyes are important so study them closely and look at them with an attitude of surprise as all eyes are unique no only between individuals but also between eyes of the person.  See how few lines or spots you can use (less is more).  Express truth.  Being technically correct isn't enough.

On watercolours...  A good watercolour is a happy accident.  Watercolours are a messy, runny medium and hard to use to make studies.  Oil is a better medium especially for student painters.  The challenge with watercolours is to take care of edges and you are unable to see the final tones as they dry lighter.  Use good paper and work wet and be prepared the make horrible free studies.

From concluding remarks... Painting is about seeing not doing.  Beauty is a better name for art.  Work on seeing what others don't.  The spirit that moved the greatest master moves us as well today.

Did you survive wading through all the ideas?  If you did you may have noticed a bias.  That is probably more a reflection of where my artistic journey is at the moment rather than Hawthorne's thinking about 100 years ago.  If any of these ideas resonated with you may I suggest you read this book and see if there may be additional thoughts that pertain more to you?  It was a great, easy read and I highly recommend it.