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Sunday, November 25, 2012

The teachings of Charles Hawthorne

According to a popular saying... there's more than one way to skin a cat. That idiom is particularly applicable when discussing the subject of painting.

Charles Webster Hawthorne - Self Portrait - 30"x 25" - Oil on canvas

I'm not a big fan of Charles Webster Hawthorne's paintings, but then, who am I? In his day he was highly respected, had a huge following and taught thousands of students...Norman Rockwell among them.

To my way of thinking, Hawthorne's approach to painting is similar to being invited to one's home for dinner. Rather than ring the front door bell, enter through the foyer, visit with hosts in the living room and finally proceed to the dining room; Mr. Hawthorne enters from the back porch and on through the mud room. After lingering in the kitchen for a bit, he joins the other guests in the dining room. Yes, they all made it to the dinner table, but by an entirely different route.

Hawthorne approached painting from a slightly different direction and yet still ended up with a pretty decent result. He was fond of saying: "Painting is the mechanics of putting one spot of color next to another. That's the fundamental thing."

Lady in Red - 36"x 28" - Oil on canvas 

Girl Sewing - 30"x 29.5" - Oil on canvas - 1923

Portuguese  Fisherboy - 39.25"x 39.25" - Oil on canvas - 1930

He did not put much emphasis on drawing. "Only after you have the spots of color true and in their proper relations do you have something to draw with and you can then consider it (drawing). No amount of good drawing will pull you out if your colors are not true. Get them true and you will be surprised how little else you need."

My view of this last quote is exactly opposite. I'm of the opinion that drawing is king. It is the foundation of every successful painting. If the drawing is off, it doesn't matter how beautiful the color.

One could just as easily argue however that if you got every spot of color exactly right...placed perfectly with accurate temperature and value, then everything else would take care of itself...drawing included. It is sort of like entering the house through the back door, yet ultimately ending up in the dining room.

At the Seaside - 20"x 15" - Oil on board - 1920

Provincetown Harbor - 17"x 19.5" - Oil on board

By the Sea - 50.5"x 36" - Oil on canvas - 1900-05

Charles Webster Hawthorne (1872-1930) was born in Illinois but raised in Maine. His father was a sea captain. When Charles was eighteen, he went to New York, worked in a stained glass factory by day and studied at the Art Students League at night. His early teachers were George de Forest Brush and Frank Vincent Dumond. His biggest influence however was William Merritt Chase. 

Chase founded the Shinnecock Hills Summer School in Long Island, NY in 1891. Hawthorne became one of his pupils and eventually worked as his assistant for several years. Chase was renowned for his outstanding demonstrations, but it is noted that Hawthorne surpassed him in this ability. Hawthorne opened his own summer school in 1899. The Cape Cod School of Art was the first outdoor summer school for figure painting. Because of his exceptional power as a demonstrator, students came to realize what a great gulf there was between them and a master. Seeing the perfectness of his first spots of color...and that they could be so stated...caused them to implicitly trust his teaching. His outdoor classes were huge, by 1915 he had 90 students enrolled. Students could stay in a Provincetown boarding house and rent a studio for $550.00 per year.

Charles Webster Hawthorne demonstrating for one of his summer classes

As a painter, Hawthorne cast aside every doctrine, so that he might surpass the limitations of calculation and construction. "Art must surpass such limitations", he said. In the book, Hawthorne on Painting, students recall some of his salient points. Here are a few:

"The painter must show people more-more than they already see, and he must show them with so much human sympathy and understanding that they will recognize it as if they themselves had seen the beauty and the glory. Here is where the artist comes in.
We go to art school and classes to learn to paint pictures, to learn our job. Our job is to be an artist, which is to be a poet, a preacher if you will, to be of some use in the world by adding to the sum total of beauty in it."

"A great composer could find inspiration for a symphony in a subject as simple as the tinkle of water in a dish pan. So can we find beauty in ordinary places and subjects. The untrained eye does not see beauty in all things-it's our profession to train ourselves to see it and transmit it to the less fortunate."

"Select the thing that is obvious in its paintership-look around and select a subject that you can see painted, that will paint itself. Do the obvious before you do the superhuman thing."

Artist in Plein Air - 20"x 24" - Oil on canvas - 1910

Town View, Provincetown - 25"x 30" - Oil on board - 1920

Green Sky Landscape - 18"x 22" - Oil on board - 1898

"Key your work higher than nature really seems to be, and when you take it indoors and hang it upon the wall, it will come nearer to the truth or to the way you want it to appear indoors."

"Seeing things as silhouettes is drawing-the outline of your subject against the background, the outline and size of each spot of color against every other spot of color it touches, is the only kind of drawing you need to bother with."

"The weight and value of a work of art depends wholly on its big simplicity-we begin and end with the careful study of the great spots in relation one to another. Do the simple thing and do it well. Try to see large simple spots-do the obvious first."

The Tennis Player - 72"x 48" - Oil on canvas - 1924

"We do well the things we see already painted in our mind's eye. Don't do it until you see it or you are defeated before you begin.
The effect of nature at the moment sets the key. Put the subject down in shadow first, then in sunlight. Separate into big passages of light and shade. Get the big simplicity of foreground in relation to the mass of sky. Keep the lights together and the darks together. Gather together the big lights and shadows, don't break them up."

"Be always looking for the unexpected in nature, do not settle to a formula. Get into the habit of doing what you see, not what you know. Human reason cannot foresee the accidents of out of doors. Humble yourself before nature, it is too majestic for you to do it justice."

"If the tones and values are correctly placed, the drawing takes care of itself. You will be a better draftsman if you paint in planes, not in color outline."

His First Voyage - 48"x 60" - Oil on board - 1915

Typically, when Hawthorne taught, "a model would be posed on the beach, and the students would work with putty knives so that they could not be tempted to indicate the details of the model's face that they could not actually see under the hat in the blazing sunlight.
Also, as a means of making the student concentrate on the fundamental relationships of the main spots of color, they were urged not to finish, but to do as many studies as possible-a dozen or more-for the Saturday morning criticism, the high point of the week."

Hawthorne on Painting, Notes collected by Mrs Charles W. Hawthorne - Dover Publications, Inc
Google images

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Sunday, November 11, 2012

Painting in the Tallgrass Prairie

Sorry folks, there is no new blog for 18 November. I am having computer issues. Hopefully those problems will be resolved by Sunday, 25 November. The subject of the next blog will be, "Realism".
Thank you for your understanding and patience.

At certain times of the year, the prairie of tough big bluestem grass appears as an endless sea of fully alive dancers gliding across the floor in wave after wave of beautifully orchestrated graceful motion, driven on by the music of the wind.

I've painted in the Flint Hills several times. I've set up the easel in the middle of a dirt road and painted in absolute solitude all day. I've stood on a hilltop while being trashed by the wind, all the while trying to keep the easel and painting from being tossed to the ground. Once while painting in this wilderness with only the sound of bugs, birds, and wind, I was thrilled and shaken when, out of nowhere, two low flying military jets streaked by and out of sight in a flash leaving in their wake the unmistakable sonic boom.

John Pototschnik  -  Road to Somewhere  -  16"x 27"  -  Oil

In a wonderful April 2007 National Geographic article, titled "Tallgrass Prairie Preserve", author Verlyn Klinkenborg writes..."When you climb to the highest hill and stand into the wind that's trying to pry your ears apart, what do you see? Open sky, open land, unending horizon, and the limitless and lonesome prairie. But the word that also springs to mind may be "nothing"...a glorious nothing, but nothing nonetheless".

John Pototschnik  -  Flint Hills Country  -  12"x 24"  -  Oil

The Flint Hills and Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, encompassing millions of acres, is home of the last great swath of tallgrass prairie in the United States. It is very difficult to paint well.
American Legacy Gallery in Kansas City, Mo is hosting "Painters of the Prairie" through the month of November. The featured artist is Robert Sudlow. My work is exhibited along with the works of Kim Casebeer, Mark Flickinger, Hugh Green and Phil Starke. I hope you'll stop by.


"Just how the prairie speaks to you depends on who you are. Some will find it full of nothing or full, at best, of cattle fodder and copious views"...Verlyn Klinkenborg


Purchased your 2013 calendar yet? Here's your chance.

Get a jump on 2013 with this beautiful 12"x12" calendar. Printed on heavyweight, glossy paper, it will be a pleasant addition to any home or office. While containing 12 reproductions of my paintings, you will find the calendar a source of inspiration as it contains verses from Holy Scripture.
$23.00 each - Three or more: $19.00 each. Price includes shipping/handling and state tax where applicable.
Your 2013 calendar may be ordered HERE. Mention "calendar" and I will contact you.

I was recently interviewed by John Hulsey for "The Artist's Road". 
HERE is the link


Sunday, November 4, 2012

Joel Carson Jones Interview

"I have the deepest thankfulness for the dedicated, brave, and meticulous artists throughout history, who have struggled with themselves, the daunting greatness of previous masters, and with poverty, fear, and isolation. I am thankful for the artists who have remained true to and refined the classical process in the face of popular trends, financial temptation, and passing movements - artists who have elevated us to the Renaissance after centuries of darkness and now to our modern Renaissance where artists are revering, meditating on, and giving credence to specific everyday objects and ways of life, representing our reality for the betterment, enjoyment, and understanding of others."

One of the questions I like to ask artist's that are interviewed is, "How does your work reflect your personality?" The question is a good one because sometimes the answer is not very obvious. That's not the case with Joel Carson Jones. I'm pretty sure no one would accuse Jones of having Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). The level of patience, persistence, determination, physical and mental discipline necessary to do what Jones does cannot be denied...and then when you realize most of his paintings are very small, one is doubly impressed.
Absolute attention to detail and a steadfast pursuit of excellence has earned Jones recognition as a "Living Master" by the Art Renewal Center (ARC). 
I became aware of his work through Facebook, and later, when he won first place in the Trompe l' oeil Division of the 2011/12 ARC International Salon competition.
I appreciate excellence in any form and the art of Joel Carson Jones epitomizes it. I am pleased he agreed to this interview and I am pleased to share his deeply considered answers with you.
More Than You Can Chew  -  24"x 20"  -  Oil  (1st place, Trompe l' oeil Award, 2011/12 ARC Salon. Honorable Mention, Butler Institute of American Art, 75th Mid-year Exhibit)

What would be your definition of art?  I've read and listened to so many suppositions and definitions of art. Once I stopped trying to alter myself to fit other people's philosophies, art became an unexplored part of my life, thoughts, emotions, a paradise, a game that no one around me could see. So my paintings are symbols, snapshots of where I live.

How would you define your role as an artist?  My role as an artist is not only to produce paintings to the best of my ability, but to further express and develop my voice, depicting the images and scenarios that reflect the beauty, tension, and intensity of the artistic process. As a private instructor for almost ten years, I believe it is also my responsibility to pass the knowledge I gain onto my students, thus continuing the legacy of the craft of drawing and painting once passed on to me. The instruction I give to my students is enhanced and refined as a result of my own struggles and efforts.

How does one find their individuality as an artist?  One finds his individuality as an artist by learning the indispensible basics of technique, practicing them until they become second nature, then using them as the foundation to add to what becomes that artist's signature style. An artist must also tap into and live in his own process. In that process, he will find the images that will not leave him until they are rendered. It is very difficult not to be influenced by the work of others in a society inundated by technology. Images are found with the click of a button, I made a conscious decision seven years ago to limit myself so as not to be influenced by the works of the masses. As a result, my own voice began to surface.

What exactly is trompe l' oeil and how does it differ from photorealism?  Trompe l' oeil literally means "fool the eye". It's a style of painting in which objects are rendered to look three-dimensional, creating the illusion of reality. Photorealism is exactly that, objects and/or scenes are painted from a photograph and look exactly like a photograph. As a painter of Trompe l' oeil my goal is to take the work beyond a photo. In order to do this I must rely on what I see and understand about form and texture to enhance the illusion. Most of the Trompe l' oeil painters I know work from life at some point during the process and I believe it's through this experience that our paintings take on a different appearance due to the fact that the human eye receives information much differently than a camera records.
Creation  -  8"x 8"  -  Oil

Shadows of Youth  -  11"x 14"  -  Oil  (Vasari Award for Exceptional Work in Oil, Salmagundi Club 2010. Honorable Mention, 2009/10 ARC Salon

Green  -  7"x 5"  -  Oil

So, do you use photography in your work?  My work is a balance between photography and working from life. The stages of composition, drawing and the first layer of the painting involve working primarily with the photo. The second layer of each painting is painted from life. My view of the camera is nothing more than a filter presenting me with one side of the story, providing me with the opportunity to closely examine each area of the painting. The second layer involves working from life, at which time I make major color adjustments, refine halftones, and enhance surface textures. I was trained to work from life, and I enjoy that process as well. But there is nothing innately purer about not using photographs. Artists who have strong opinions about that are entitled, but I find the camera, as well as many other advancements in art, have its place, specifically in this case as a reference and filter.

Do you think the process of painting is more important than the result?  The process of painting is a paradox, bringing me peace and stability and also providing an arena to face my fears, doubts, and uncertainties. I strive for excellence, the process is also that of becoming someone different, changed, hopefully better in all aspects of life. The quality of my imagery is the primary aspect of the painting process. Many are drawn to the work by its heightened refinement and recognizable value - I consider the result a blueprint of how true I am to my craft and principles.

Many of your paintings contain what are considered toys, why the fascination with these objects?  I'm constantly in a state of awareness. Painting has made me hyper sensitive to the daily processes and the larger processes like relationships, the seasons, and aging. If I'm not in a healthy mind frame, the idea of moving toward a place where I'll never be the same can be frightening. I've found that youth, in deep memory, there are solutions to adult stresses and questions. There are opportunities to learn from a time that we often refer to as innocent. I experienced life then without the intensity of society's filters. A few years ago, I reached a stagnation point and began to think of a time when I was happiest and questioned why. Toys are vehicles that carry energy forward from past periods.
1981  -  14"x 11"  -  Oil  (Joseph Hartly Memorial Award for Oil, Salmagundi Club 2012)

Four Jacks  -  5"x 7"  -  Oil  (1st Place, Still Life, 2006 ARC Salon) 

Silent Storm  -  6"x 8"  -  Oil  

Your work has a lighthearted, almost playful quality. What inspires that?  With toys as the subjects for much of my work, I believe simplicity and freedom underlie and create the tension that exists side-by-side with the innocence of childhood. Toys are lightning rods for the multiplicity of youth.

Is there symbolic meaning associated with the objects selected for your paintings?  Symbols, as we know, have cultural importance, connecting people to certain morays, meanings, allusions, and beliefs. Symbols are also what an artist cannot let go of. They are objects that distill meaning, philosophy, and breakthroughs. Sometimes the symbolism in my work is not easily accessible; therefore, I try to intensify objects so viewers could relate not only to my symbols but to objects in their own lives that help them get through life on multiple levels.

What is your major consideration when composing a painting? Compositions seem to consider me. In that space between paintings, the best thing I can do is wait, even though I pretend to search for the next, perfect arrangement. What's really happening, however, is that somewhere in the subconscious realm of my process, images are forming to reveal the next step in my development. Once that image is clear in my mind, I have no choice but to paint it, regardless of concepts, design, color, and mood.

What colors are most often found on your palette?  Primarily, Cadmium Yellow Light, Naples Yellow, Cadmium Red Light, French Ultramarine, Burnt Sienna, Burnt Umber, Raw Umber and Lamp Black. In the second layer working from life, I'm able to observe additional colors that the camera doesn't record. The colors are then integrated to my palette to enhance each painting.

Describe your typical block-in technique.  I begin each area of the painting by placing my darkest values first. The next step is massing the background or the area surrounding the shape of the object. With the darks and background established, I begin by painting the middle tone and highlight. With the basic form in place I integrate surface textures and then begin rendering.

Do you paint in layers?  Yes. My process consists of two layers. The first layer is a slow, opaque layer in which I incorporate as much information as possible. The second layer is a glaze or half paste, depending on the level of refinement I achieved on each area of the first layer.

How do you know when a painting is finished?  The French poet and philosopher Paul Valery said: a poem is never finished, only abandoned. I never feel as if a work is finished. I could spend years working on the same painting, tightening it with detail, rearranging elements of composition - as many great artists have done - but deadlines must be met, and the fact that I am a full-time painter requires me to sell my work to make a living. My paintings take about a month to complete, so I am producing between twelve and fifteen pieces a year. I'm a realist artist, and people who enjoy my work, critics, and collectors, center my reputation on the quality of imagery. Regardless of deadlines and bills however, I work until I reach the quality I demand from myself.
Marbled Composition  -  10"x 8"  -  Oil

Your painting titles are very imaginative. How do you go about selecting them?  Titles are extensions of paintings, books, poems - they're a necessary part of my creative process. If a title doesn't help spawn an overall work, it comes from the work in progress. Either way, titles are necessary, part of the code of taking a painting from my easel. Often, I've noticed the names artists give works fade with time and we're left with just a popular title associated with the painting's focal point or its history. I'll give you an example of painting done by my friend Michael Hockenbury...a colorful, tight rendering of jelly candies falling out of a tin can. He named the painting, "Insinuating Trouble"...a tough title that echoes the tension evoked by worms crawling around together, as opposed to the deep colors, playfulness, and youth of candy. Today, most people who know the painting simply call it "Hockenbury's Gummy Worms". 
Into Unknown  -  7"x 5"  -  Oil

What does it take to become a successful artist?  There are many different definitions of success. Some people say that success is not only sales, but higher and higher priced sales. There are many  books written about how artists get there, so I won't offer my opinion. I, on the other hand, have found that success comes through utter discipline to the process. I believe that quality rises, all the time, perhaps not as fast as some would like. Artists I consider successful are driven, disciplined, and dedicated to the craft...qualities that can't be taught, but rather innate or fought for. Success is doing your best while continuously striving for improvements.

What advice would you have for a young artist/painter?  I shy away from advice. I like to find my own advice by asking a lot of specific questions, studying, and by trial and error. If pressed to sum up a bit of advice, I'd keep it as simple as possible: never be satisfied with what you've done, look at it instead as a visual of your short-comings and capabilities, then work to improve, finish another and look at the results of that test. This is my process in its mildest form. As long as an artist believes her work isn't good enough, she will continue to improve.
Topple  -  9"x 12"  -  Oil  (2nd Place, "Artist's" magazine 26th Annual Competition. ACOPAL Award, Allied Artists of America 2010)

Who has had the greatest influence on your career, and why?  I can't think of any one painter. I'm more influenced by the character of artists. I like to read about how artists work, regardless of style or background. I've always been more moved by dedication than fame. I paint realistically not because I want to emulate other artists, but because my artistic sensibilities are built for this style. I enjoy many genres of art. I know that I judge myself not by how much I produce or how I am received but by what goes into each painting, from idea to having it framed. I constantly try to grow, alter, and make subtle changes that help me become a more efficient and effective painter. Other artists, other people, even my wife, who strives to reach her students on deeper more comprehensive levels, influence how I work each day in my studio.

Why do you enter art competitions and how do you go about selecting paintings for these shows?  Competitions give me the feeling of community, the openness of the renegade French salons, offering a place where the art world, artists, collectors. dealers, and art lovers come to enjoy work that wouldn't otherwise be in the same place. Usually shows are assembled for sales, but in this venue there's more of a sense of spontaneity and innocence. It's an aspect of art that is alive, offering so much to so many people. Competitions also give me an opportunity to be exposed to larger and different audiences. I select paintings that are personally symbolic, pieces that I'd like to share with people I've never met, what I find to be profound - a word I use without wanting to sound pretentious - in my own life and memories. 

When you become discouraged and feel the well is dry, so to speak, what do you do?  I don't usually feel as if the well is dry. I always know there's something to paint. What happens to me in place of dryness is nervousness and an unsettled feeling that my next composition won't come together the way I want it to come together. The feeling in between, a feeling of free falling. I know what I've done, who I was last month when working on a particular painting, but in that space I'm empty, I'm forced to grow, to expend energy that has already been spent in the frenzy of finishing the last painting. Exercise refocuses me and somehow realigns me. I also like to turn to nature, allow a larger creative process to act on me, show me how there's no rush, only constant participation in the process. I also go back to youth, places, objects, and I think that's why so many of my paintings reflect aspects of bygone periods, but to me they are solutions to my setbacks.

What advice would you have for a first-time collector?  I'm not a collector of art, my walls aren't covered like a few of my friends, but there are many paintings that truly move me. The American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum in New York is a collection that refreshes and inspires me. I enjoy images of drawings and paintings from around the world. I enjoy going to shows in person when I'm able. I don't know the world of art from a collector's side, so I wouldn't want to offer advice. I would only suggest that, as a collector-friend told me, collecting is not about quantity, but the quality of the images that are a constant source of whatever it is that underlies art - hope, awe, mystery, creativity, beauty, communication.
Homage  -  6.75"x 4.75"  -  Oil

Joel Carson Jones believes that realism in art is his realm to stand up to and face fundamental questions of fear, paradox, and beauty. It is here that he is able to synthesize, contrast, fuse, and juxtapose all aspects of life, including childhood innocence, the metaphysical, death, emotion, nature, and the mundane.

Thanks Joel for a great interview.

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