Best Book on Painting Tips from Charles Webster Hawthorne (1872-1930)

As An artist and a writer, I study all the time the masters in those fields, those who struggled and won. Why? Because I am still struggling and need their tools to win.   I recently read Charles Webster Hawthorne on Painting, collected by Mrs. Charles. W. Hawthorne with an Introduction by Edwin Dickinson, an Appreciation by Hans Hoffman, and Biographical Notes by Joseph Hawthorne, his son.   Here are the forty tools I gleaned from Hawthorne’s tips to help his students create more masterful paintings. In working to understand these forty tools, I felt like one of his students. I wish the same for you:

1.       Never try to recreate a painting

2.      Anything is beautiful I f you have vision and want to appeal to humanity

3.      The painter is a high priest who believes in the beauty and the glory of human existence, showing sympathy and understanding

4.      An artist is a poet and a poet is an artist; both are preachers

5.      An artist must learn to see the beauty in the ugly, even if they do not paint it

6.      Rather make something bog out of something little than vice versa

7.      Anything is painter’s fodder

8.      Surprise

9.      Good painting is an excitement, an aesthetic emotion; reasonable painting destroys emotion

10.  Study continually; develop yourself

11.  Know when you are licked; start another

12.  No amount of good drawing will pull your painting out if your colors don’t work

13.  Fundamental skill patterns one spot of paint next to another artistically

14.  Overdo in color rather than go limp

15.  Think color first, then object and paint the color you see

16.  Hold light against shadow, rather than light against light

17.  Everything in painting is a matter of silhouettes

18.  Nothing cheapens a canvas more than the same color running through it

19.  Harmony and vitality come from the use of different colors

20.  There is nothing harder than black in sunlight and beware of brown outdoors

21.  There is no such thing as an edge in nature

22.  When white goes warm it loses its power

23.  In floral still lifes, the background is as important as the subject

24.  Do what you see not what you know

25.  Look out for being too lavish in accents—it makes your painting look spotty and dry

26.  There is sincerity in painting from nature that is lost when you make it up

27.  A painting is like an after-dinner talk—if you want to be remembered, say one thing and stop

28.  The light does not stop at the fold of the upper lid but stops at the pupil

29.  Avoid painting the whites of the eye too light

30.  The highlight should be complementary to the color it falls on

31.  Make edges subtle rather than obvious

32.  See the big simple music the old masters saw when they painted the figure and paint the big note on your own canvas

33.  Paint people as if they would bleed if you pricked them

34.  A painting of high intensity looks better unvarnished

35.  If you don’t do what you don’t know, you don’t give yourself away—never fire your last show—power is real strength—don’t give all, have reserve

36.  Study Manet to study how to make spots of watercolor come together as one

37.  Always use good watercolor paper

38.  Work watercolor very wet and allow the colors to run together

39.  Yell with watercolor

40.  Study Sargent’s watercolors to get an education in the study of edges, architecture in shadow

Read Charles Webster Hawthorne on your own and make your own notes out of your understanding of what you need to grow as a painting artist. We all come to our paints and pictures from different talents and places. However, I do suggest you find the 1939 first edition if you can, because the 1960 paperback has no illustrations, which make Hawthorne’s notes much more meaningful.

Happy painting, collecting, viewing and being in the beauty others have created for your enjoyment!

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