Sunday, October 19, 2014

Sedona Plein Air Festival: Day 1

Sunset at the Sedona Arts Center
It sure was good to see all my plein air painting buddies at the orientation for the Sedona Plein Air Festival.  Although 10 a.m. was the official start time for hanging the paintings that we'd brought with us, many of us were there at 9:30 or even earlier.  It was hard to talk over the echoing explosion of hammers as artists pounded nails into the wall.  Here are the six paintings I brought, all of which are now on exhibit and available for sale at the Sedona Arts Center:

Paintings are hung from my eye-level and below;
I'll be filling the rest of the space as the week goes by.

After getting our canvases stamped, we met for a brief orientation presented by Vince Fazio and Kelli Klymenko.

They'd put together a sweet little video of what our week was going to be like and where we would be painting.  You can see the video here:

Lunch followed, and then we went out to pick our painting spots for the "Paintout on Main Street" event.  I was hoping to do something a little "edgier" for me - that is, something that didn't involve  red rocks - but I found it a little hard to get started this first day.  I wondered how the newbies were doing with Main Street.  If you've never painted in Sedona before, it is unsettling to say the least to not only have to paint unfamiliar subjects but also to be surrounded by tourists and traffic.

The scene immediately behind where I set up to paint

We painted from 1:30 until 3:30, at which time paintings had to be set up on easels in front of the art center for judging.  Carl Judson of Guerrilla Painter and Scott Gellatly selected one painting each for an award.  Carl chose a piece by Charlie Hunter, and Scott, a piece by Gretchen Lopez.  Both judges were looking for something that evoked a sense of Sedona but that also included the unexpected and perhaps a different approach to painting.  Here's my piece, in situ, and you can see I  did end up painting red rocks after all:

Afterward, the galleries opened from 5 to 7 for the opening reception.  The hors d'ouevres were really good, and I had a chance to talk to several of the other artists.  If you'd like to come to the Festival, you can see a full schedule of events here:

Now it is Sunday morning, and as I write, it is still dark, and rain is falling and thunder cracking.  I am hoping to get out early to paint, but I may have to wait awhile.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Sedona Plein Air Festival: Pre-Game

Me painting at the 2012 Sedona Plein Air Festival
(Photo:  Carl Judson)

After a long haul of over 3600 miles and nearly three weeks, we have made it to Arizona.  It's great to be able to sleep in my own bed now.  But there's no time to rest - the Sedona Plein Air Festival begins tomorrow!

After a two-year sabbatical, I am back at the Festival for my seventh time.  As one of 30 artists invited from across the country, I feel honored to be in the company of some of the top plein air painters.  Plus, every year the Festival just gets better and better.  This time, in addition to the traditional paintout on Main Street and the "Day in Jerome," we'll be painting at some of the area's vineyards and wineries.  In fact, the theme for 2014 is "Art & Wine."  Who needs to go to France to paint a vineyard?  We have plenty of excellent ones here.

In addition, artists are being asked to "prime the pump," as it were, by bringing six plein air pieces to hang in the galleries tomorrow so folks will have some representative pieces to look at during the week.  The Festival has invited the artists to bring work from their home locales.  I've opted to bring a selection of pieces from Campobello Island, Maine and Arizona.  These paintings will also be available for sale.  Here is one you can see (and buy!):

"Apple Tree & Fir" 16x20, oil/canvas

I spent today re-organizing the painting gear (always important after 3600 miles!) and getting my panels ready to stamp.  This year, I will be working in two media - pastel and oil - so my lists are a little longer and I have to be a little more meticulous in making sure I have everything I need.  Here's the studio at the moment:

Tomorrow, in addition to hanging our plein air paintings, orientation and canvas- (or paper-) stamping, all the artists will be painting on Main Street from 1-4 pm.  At 4 pm, awards will be given out by Gamblin Artist Colors and Guerrilla Painter, Inc., two of the event's long-time sponsors.  From 5-7 pm, the galleries of the Sedona Arts Center will be open for the public to view the paintings we brought from our home areas.  For a full schedule of Tenth Annual Sedona Plein Air Festival, please visit

I hope to see everyone during the Festival!

Friday, October 10, 2014

A Good Student Passes Away

Yellow Daylilies - Kaleidoscopic Creation by Trina Stephenson

Recently, I sent out my bi-monthly newsletter with news about workshops, shows and travels.  I always get some nice notes in return, usually from students and collectors with some wonderful news of their own.  This week, however, I received a sad note.  It was from the husband of a student, who also happened to be a collector.  She passed away just after receiving my newsletter and after a two-year battle with cancer.  One of her final wishes was for him to contact me and to let me know she valued my guidance and dedication.

She was young, maybe in her 50s.   Like many of my students, she was an accomplished professional in an unrelated field but enjoyed an avocation that allowed her to exercise her creativity in other ways. A brilliant pharmacologist, she was also an excellent painter.  She pursued her art with the same love and energy that she pursued her career as a scientist. 

It's important to know that life is sometimes short and also to understand that you should follow as many dreams as you can.  If you want to be an artist in addition to being a scientist (or accountant or homemaker), then by all means, go for it.  You will be a more fulfilled person because of it.  And when your last day comes, you can be satisfied with the knowledge that you left no dream unchased.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Monadnock Workshop Report

I just finished up a two-day plein air painting workshop for the Monadnock Area Artists Association - a really "together" group!  Everything was well-organized, the thirteen students were eager and patient, and even though the first day we had torrential rain and were forced indoors, everyone stayed cheerful.  The group had arranged to base the workshop in the Westmoreland (NH) Town Hall, and it was a perfect space for a rainy day.

The second day, as so often happens after a strong cold front and the accompanying rain, dawned bright and sunny with a fall chill in the air.  Imagine Keats' "season of mists and mellow fruitfulness."   Morning mists gave way to intense sunshine and deep blue skies.  Our painting spot host for the day was Poocham Hill Vineyards - a beautiful hilltop farm with many barns and outbuildings, views, sugar maples and, of course, views of the mountains.  We couldn't have asked for a better location.

I would like to thank the MAAA for their hard work and also our lodging hosts, who are also artists, for providing a comfortable, quiet environment for us.  (If you'd like to stay at Mountain View Studio, you can visit the listing here.)

Here are some photos from the weekend plus a couple of my demonstrations, below.  In the morning we will be heading south.

Winery, 9x12 pastel

Poocham Hill Maple, 12x9 oil

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Acadia Workshop Center Workshop Report

One of my very favorite places to conduct a plein air painting workshop is Mount Desert Island, Maine. Home to Acadia National Park, it can offer some spectacular fall foliage. This week, I taught a four-day workshop through Acadia Workshop Center, which is located in Bernard, on the "quiet side" of the island. (The other side of the island, where Bar Harbor is located, is thick with tourists.) This is, I believe, my eighth season teaching for AWC. I was AWC's very first instructor, years ago.

My workshop this time around had students from both North and South Carolina, Massachusetts, New York and Maine. It was a friendly group, and we even celebrated one student's birthday with carrot cake out on location. It was also a hardy group. Despite the first three days being chilly and cloudy, everyone marched on cheerfully, even the students from the Carolinas.  The fourth day, however, turned out glorious - lots of autumn sunshine.  It was Maine at its fall best.

Below are a few photos and some of my demonstrations from the week. Now I am heading to Westmoreland, New Hampshire, to teach a two-day plein air workshop for the Monadnock Area Artists Association. I'm expecting more great fall color!

9x12 pastel demo

7x5 oil fall foliage demo

Sparkles 9x12 oil

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Video Previews for My Three New Painting Instruction Videos

Good news! Previews are available for my three new painting instruction videos from North Light Shop and  Here they are, along with links to the order pages and also a link to a page where you can buy all three in a kit.

The Secret to Oil Painting Wet-into-Wet

The Secret to Oil Painting with Light and Color

The Secret to Pastel Painting en Plein Air

Michael Chesley Johnson's Secrets to Oil & Pastel Painting Success Collection 

(all three videos plus a downloadable version of my book, Backpacker Painting: Outdoors with Oil & Pastel, and an ebook of my articles from The Artist's Magazine)

Monday, September 29, 2014

Arrived at Acadia Workshop Center, Bernard, Maine

We made the short trip from Campobello Island to Bernard, Maine, and Acadia Workshop Center where I'm teaching a four-day plein air painting workshop this week.  I'll try to post over the next few days as the workshop progresses.  I think this is my eighth time teaching for AWC.  It's always a great time with beautiful scenery, and the students enjoy poking around Mount Desert Island's "quiet side."  The "quiet side" is the west side of the island, far away from the maddening crowds of Bar Harbor.

To whet your appetite, here are a few photos I took yesterday.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Arizona-Bound - Again!

I'm fresh back from the Grand Canyon plein air painting event and now on Campobello Island, packing up for the drive west.  I've had a few minutes to cull through the thousands of photos I took at the Celebration of Art to create a short movie.  It's only five minutes long, but it gives you an idea of the view from my "office window" each day.  Sunrises, sunsets, artists painting on the rim - it's got it all!

Here's the video:

Now I'm off to teach a four-day plein air painting workshop in Bernard, Maine, on Mount Desert Island (home to Acadia National Park) followed by one near Keene, New Hampshire.  After that, we'll have a long drive out - but I'll be in Sedona just in time for the Sedona Plein Air Festival.

I am proud to say this will be my seventh year participating in Sedona as an invited artist.  If you're in the area, please stop by to visit while I'm painting in Red Rock Country.  For details on the event, please visit

Once I'm done with the Sedona Plein Air Festival, I'll launch into my season of teaching plein air painting workshops in the Sedona and Verde River Valley area.  If you'd like more information or to register, please visit  I have space left in several of the weeks, and it's a great winter escape.  A week would also make a great gift for that painter friend of yours.  Contact me if you'd like to arrange a gift certificate.

Till then, happy travels!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Grand Canyon Celebration of Art - Day 8 and the End

You can see rain falling over by the North Rim, at Point Imperial

The last day of the artists' participation in the Sixth Grand Canyon Celebration of Art dawned with bands of clouds sweeping the Canyon with rain. Before the Buyer's Brunch, I said a long goodbye to the Canyon by taking the rim walk from the Kolb Studio to the Park Headquarters and back. Having neither raincoat nor umbrella, I kept an eye on the clouds.

It's an interesting walk. It's part of an interpretive trail called the Trail of Time. Every step, the pavement is punctuated by a brass ring the size of a penny that marks off a million years, and every ten rings, a large marker announces the passage of ten million years. If you start at Verkamp's Visitor Center, you'll be at the beginning of the Canyon's geological record (1.8 billion years), and if you go all the way to the Yavapai Point Geology Museum, you'll come to the end of the record (270 million years.) Along the way, you can see rock samples from the Canyon that were created at different times in the Canyon's history.

Along the Trail of Time
The Trail also gives you spectacular views of the Canyon. Sometimes, you can run across the unexpected. Here's a cute little guy that I found walking the trail:

Tarantula - about 4" across
The brunch ran from 10-12. As with the the opening reception the night before, the food was great. This morning we had mini quiches, mini breakfast burritos, diced fruit and an assortment of cheeses and pastries plus, of course, coffee. I don't think we had quite the frenzy of the night before, but things definitely were moving. Following the brunch, the doors were opened to the public, and by the end, the Grand Canyon Association had sold a total of $200,000 worth of art. (This includes the Saturday morning auction and evening reception as well as the brunch.) Half of the money goes to fund the proposed art museum with the other half going to the artists.

Of the 14 paintings I created for the event, seven sold. The remaining paintings will be on exhibit and are for sale until late January at the Kolb Studio. As paintings sell, artists are asked to supplement the exhibit with other Grand Canyon plein air paintings. I have several more I will be adding as time goes by.

This last day is always bittersweet. Many of us felt we could easily stay another week painting the Canyon and were sad to leave our painting friends; all of us were eager to get home to our loved ones.

I am honored to be part of this worthwhile event. I would like to thank the staff, volunteers and sponsors of the Grand Canyon Association as well as the National Park Service for working together with the GCA to make the event possible. I would also like to thank my hosts who, for the third time, made my stay a very enjoyable one. Thank you, Chris and Rick!

For me, I am heading back to Campobello Island for a few days - just long enough to pack up and start the long drive west with workshops in Maine and New Hampshire. When I get back to Arizona in mid-October, I will arrive just in time for my next plein air painting event - the Sedona Plein Air Festival.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Grand Canyon Celebration of Art - Day 8

Rain over Grand Canyon during the Buyer's Preview

Our final day of painting, Saturday, began with artists arriving extra early for the Quick Draw to find a parking spot. There's never an abundance of parking in the Village, and what with the gear some of us have, it's important to get a spot somewhat close to the painting and auction locations. I arrived about 6:30, and a few moments later, the remaining spots were taken by hikers preparing to hike down the Bright Angel Trail. I'm not sure where all the other 24 painters parked!

Once parked, I relaxed a bit by walking to the Maswik Lodge for a quick breakfast to hold me through the morning. By 7, I was back at the Rim, checking out painting spots. ML Coleman and Serena Supplee arrived about then. We all found good morning views just east of Kolb Studio and not a far hike from the auction tent. (You don't want to be running a half-mile from Verkamp's at 10:59 a.m. back to the auction tent, which was all the way down by the Bright Angel trailhead, when your painting is due signed, framed and deliverd by 11.) I sat down on the stone wall that edges the rim and watched ML and Serena's gear while they went off to breakfast.

These are my thumbnail sketches.  While I was doing them, noted Grand Canyon painter
Bruce Aiken came by, leading a small group of NAU students on an art tour.  He saw my sketches and told these
youngsters, "T'HIS is how it all begins, with the sketch!"  I was honored that he came by and used me as an example.

The last time I did the event, I worked on a 5x7 color sketch while I waited for the 9 a.m. starting time to prepare. This time, the clouds and sunlight were so fickle it didn't make sense, so I made some thumbnail (value) sketches instead to get my head around the scene. There was so much to see at this spot - Maricopa Point and the Battleship formation to the left, Yavapai Point to the right, Indian Garden directly below and, across the gulf, Cheops Pyramid, Isis and Buddha Temples. While I sketched, a cute little Abert's squirrel darted in and out of the rocks below, looking for food.

"Aberts with pinecone" by NPS Photo by Sally King - (archive link). Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons -

By 8:30, all the artists had set up for the Quick Draw in the designated area, between Kolb Studio and Verkamp's Store. Although there wasn't to be any starting gun cracking at nine sharp, you could feel the tension. But once nine came and that first stroke went down on the canvas, everyone relaxed and got into the "zone."

ML Coleman

Aaron Schuerr

Serena Supplee

Dawn Sutherland

Many of the collectors who would be at the Buyer's Preview that evening stopped by to watch the progress of my painting. I had decided on a view of Indian Garden below. I liked the contrast of the green cottonwoods against the reddish rocks. Some of the buyers who were familiar with the Canyon and the art remarked that Indian Garden was an unusual and good choice because it is not often painted from this view.

Indian Garden, 9x12 oil - My Quick Draw Painting

10:45 came all too quickly, but I was pretty happy with my piece. I framed it and took it over to the auction tent. I was surprised I was the first artist to turn in a painting. There was only an hour for people to preview the paintings before the noon auction. Some artists even turned in their work as late as 11:30.

The Auction

The auction was a frenzy. Although there was a variety of sizes, from around 8x10 on up to maybe 16x20, paintings generally went between $1000 and $3000. My 9x12 went for $1050, which I felt was about right. When about two-thirds of the paintings had sold, a big thunderstorm began rumbling off not far off to the south, and there was some urgency to get the auction over. Despite that, over $40,000 worth of work sold.

After an afternoon break of cleaning up, I headed back to the Kolb Studio for the Buyer's Preview, which ran from five to seven. This year, tickets had gone up to $100 each, and I noticed a thinner crowd than what I'd experienced in previous years. Still, the price left the serious buyers in the running, and over $100,000 worth of work was sold. I sold my studio piece, which is always satisfying, plus a few of the smaller ones. It's great to see collectors supporting the Grand Canyon Association's goal of funding a permanent art museum on the South Rim.

Buyer's Preview

I was amazed at all the quality work at the event. The main gallery was filled with beautiful paintings of the Canyon, each of them different and special. But the lower level of the Kolb Studio held just as much work. These were backup paintings to replace the ones sold in the main gallery. Buyers were allowed to visit the lower level and buy from there, too. People went up the stairs and down the stairs, into the rooms and out of the rooms. I now understand what is meant by a crowd "milling" around - there was a constant movement of people, and I'm sure the floorboards had been milled down a good half-inch by the end of the night

During the event, a big storm popped up over the Canyon. I could barely hear the thunder and rumble of rain on the roof, but when I peered out the window, I could see it was a real downpour. I thought of all those buyers having to cart their paintings to a car parked who knows where. But by the time the event was over, the rain had stopped and the stars were glinting brightly as they can only at the Grand Canyon.

Sunday is the final day of the Grand Canyon Celebration of Art. There will be a Buyer's Brunch from ten to noon, and then a Public Sale from noon to two. I hope to see everyone there!

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