Friday, October 9, 2015

Acadia National Park Workshop Update

We've had a great week on Mount Desert Island at the Acadia Workshop Center.  Except for the last day, when we had afternoon rain, the weather was perfect—cool, sunny and just enough clouds to pretty up the sky for painting.  Morning critiques and lectures were followed by expeditions to some of my favorite spots, plus our annual group lunch at Thurston's Lobster Pound in Bernard.

I never get tired of teaching and painting in and around Acadia National Park, and I shared this enthusiasm with my students.  What with the changes of tide, weather and the seasons, the variety here is never-ending, and the opportunities for painting are endless.  I'm very much looking forward to next year's workshop, which will be September 26-29, 2016.  I hope you'll consider joining us next year.  (For details and to register:

Below are some of the demonstrations from this week.  (Please remember that the photos were shot while on the road, and the paintings always look better in person.) And yes, they are for sale.  If you're interested, please let me know at this link.

Now we are bidding farewell to Maine and the northeast.  My next post will be from Sedona, Arizona, and the Sedona Plein Air Festival!  I hope to see some of you all there or at one of my workshops at this winter.

Changing Season 12x9 oil by Michael Chesley Johnson

Color of Water 9x12 oil by Michael Chesley Johnson

Crescent Beach 9x12 oil oil by Michael Chesley Johnson
Low Tide, Bernard 9x12 oil by Michael Chesley Johnson

Seawall Waves 9x12 oil by Michael Chesley Johnson

Sun Diamonds 9x12 oil by Michael Chesley Johnson

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Plein Air Painting Workshop in Acadia National Park

We're now on Mount Desert Island, home to Bar Harbor, Acadia National Park and countless lobsters.  My plein air painting workshop, based at Acadia Workshop Center in Bernard, Maine, started yesterday.   The weather has been wonderful, and it looks like it'll stay that way for most of the week.  Clear skies, highs in the sixties, a gentle breeze—it doesn't get much better than that.

I'll post more on the workshop later this week, but for now, I offer a few random photos from the last few days.

I've been taking a lot of photos.  We got here a few days early so I could continue to gather reference material for a series of` paintings I'll be making to celebrate Acadia National Park's 100th birthday.  Coincidentally, next year is also the 100th birthday of the National Park Service.  The parks have had a huge influence on my development as a painter, so I will be pleased to take part in celebrating these two birthdays in 2016.  I will announce later this year what form my project will take, so make sure you look for posts on that in my blog.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

New Gallery – Northern Tides

As I prepare to leave Campobello Island for the season, I'm proud to announce that I have a new gallery. Northern Tides in Lubec, Maine, will be representing me in the area. The gallery is under new ownership, so I'm looking forward to my relationship with them. They are also representing Trina, and they now have several of her beautiful fabric pieces and kaleidoscopic images.

Northern Tides is at 24 Water Street, a quaint little building right on the waterfront. I understand from the owner that she'll be installing a weather station plus a webcam, so it'll be exciting to be able to check the tide level—and the snow level—while we're in Arizona. The gallery will be open year-round, so if you're looking for holiday gifts or something to liven up your winter, I hope you'll check them out!

Northern Tides: 24 Water Street, Lubec Maine / 207-733-2500 /

Below are my paintings they have at the moment. I'll be delivering more next spring. 

Falling Tide 9x12 oil

Leaning Lighthouse 12x16 oil

Low Tide Colors 9x12 oil

Paint Me 8x10 oil by Michael Chesley Johnson

Pirate Cove 9x12 oil by Michael Chesley Johnson

West Quoddy 8x24 oil by Michael Chesley Johnson

Thursday, October 1, 2015

My 8th Sedona Plein Air Festival

My last year's award-winning pastel painting
"Canyon Light" 12x18 pastel by Michael Chesley Johnson

Once again, I'm proud to announce that I've been invited to participate in the Sedona Plein Air Festival. This will my eighth time participating. Every year I try to do something a little different for my collectors, but you'll have to follow my blog to see what it will be this time. Also, last year I won an award for a pastel painting, so my hopes are up for this year.

The festival is right around the corner. In fact, after teaching a four-day workshop at Acadia Workshop Center in Bernard, Maine, next week, I will head straight for Sedona, Arizona. The festival will start Saturday, October 17, with a paint-out on Main Street from 1 to 4 pm. There are plenty of other events during week, including our usual "Paint Jerome Day." What's more, after a hiatus of several years, the quick draw event is returning to the L'Auberge resort on Oak Creek. This location has always been a favorite spot with both painters and collectors.

This year, the organizers have planned something new: a "Speakeasy Salon" in which several nationally-known figure painters will participate. I don't know if these artists will be painting "en plein air," but I'm sure they'll be painting from life. I'm looking forward to seeing their work.

Other invited participants this year include: Randall Sexton, Joshua Been, Bill Cramer, Charlie Hunter, Jim Wodark and many more great artists.

You can find a full schedule and details at

I've included a few photos from previous events to whet your appetite. I hope you'll come to Sedona during the week! And, if you're a painter, I encourage you to check out my two workshops I'll be teaching immediately following the event. You can find details at

Last year's artists
(Photo: Kelli Klymenko)

Painting at Alcantara Vineyards
(Photo: Kelli Klymenko)

Happy collectors from Texas

Scott Gellatly (right) from Gamblin will be there again

Carl Judson from Guerrilla Painter will be there with his store-on-wheels

Last year's gala event

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Fog Lifting, Dead Spruce: Plein Air to Studio

Fog Lifting, Dead Spruce - 16x20 oil by Michael Chesley Johnson - Available

One foggy morning, I took my gear to East Quoddy Head, home of the Head Harbour Lighthouse. I wanted to spend some time painting a beautiful dead spruce I'd seen earlier. As I worked on this 16x20 oil, the fog began to lift. Knowing how fast things were changing, I chose to focus on the spruce, leaving the rest of the scene just roughly blocked-in.

Intermediate step in field

What I returned from the field with

A few weeks passed before I had chance to get back to the painting. Because I'd finished the spruce to my satisfaction in the field, I felt that memory and a photo I'd taken would be enough reference material to complete the painting in the studio.

I gave the painting a light coat of retouch varnish and went to work. Here is the finished painting. 


This technique is one of several I demonstrate in my new book, Outdoor Study to Studio: Take Your Plein Air Paintings to the Next Level. The book, which is being well-received, is available through

By the way, I am planning an "Outdoor Study to Studio" week as part of my Paint Sedona program this winter. Dates for the week are February 9-12, 2016. We'll also be learning to paint with a knife that week! For details on this and my many other weeks available, please visit

Thursday, September 17, 2015

About Style

Here's a painting made by Monet around 1864.
("Rue de la Bavole, Honfleur")
Compare its style with what Monet painted in 1894!

Painting by Monet in 1894, 30 years later.
("Rouen Cathedral, Morning Effect")

A student asked me recently, "How do you develop a style?" The short answer is, Don't worry about it. Style will take care of itself.

But let's dive a little deeper and start by defining "style." Style is the "look" of a painting. It's the result of how a painting is made. For example, blending your brush strokes gives you a different look than making short, snappy strokes.

When we speak of an artist's style, we're talking about the general "look" of his body of work. It's how we tell a Monet from a Van Gogh. But style changes over an artist's lifetime and, quite often, without any conscious effort on his part. Examine Monet's work over the later years, and you can see the subtle shift in style. (The changes at the end of his lifetime, long after he had gone down the road of Impressionism, had to do with the onset of blindness.)

In some ways, this shift is akin to the way you develop your penmanship style in grade school. As a child, you printed the same awkward letters like the rest of your classmates. You got better at it, and maybe you gave your letters an extra flair with a little circle over the "i" instead of a dot. Later, you learned cursive writing, and you strove hard to achieve that rhythmic flowing line as demonstrated by your teacher. But over the years, the more you wrote, the more your script began to depart from the classic model. You began to think less about calligraphy and more about what the words represented. Substance became more important than style. Yet today, your style, thanks to every malformed "r" and docktailed "q", remains unique to you.

Although style arrives unbeckoned, it can be forced. Like a forger, you can copy another painter's style, and over time, that style will eventually become your own. Another quicker way is to just change your materials or their application and see what happens. If you like it, stick with it, and it will become your new style.

Sometimes forcing a style is useful in that we learn a little more about our craft. But then we are worrying more about how we are saying something and not so much about what we are saying. We back off from substance, a sublime and more difficult aspect of art, and retreat to the comfort of a merely decorative craft.

Of course, both style and substance are vital in painting; without substance you can't have art, and without style you can't have beauty. Over time, as you paint more and more, you will develop your own beautiful way of saying important things.

By the way, I can help you with this!  Consider my Paint Sedona plein air painting workshops at this fall, winter and spring in Arizona.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Re-creating a Painting

Sunrise at Campobello, 12x24 oil by Michael Chesley Johnson - Available
(Re-creation of en plein air painting)

Recently, I decided to re-create a painting I'd sold a couple of years ago. The painting was a signature piece for my Friar's Bay Studio Gallery in that it featured the Roosevelt Cottage, which is the main jewel of the Roosevelt Campobello International Park. Although I have paintings of the other cottages in my gallery, I was lacking this most important one.  Here is the original 12x24 painted, en plein air, over two days:

Mr Roosevelt's House - 12x24 oil en plein air by Michael Chesley Johnson
(Private Collection)

Not wanting to redraw the whole cottage by hand in a new painting, I needed to figure out a way to use the drawing of the cottage as represented in the original painting. A good photograph of that painting plus Photoshop helped me out.

Using Photoshop, I cropped the photo down so it included just the cottage but maintained the original height of the painting. (The new painting was going to be the same 12x24 as the original, so for proper registration, this crop needed to be 12 inches tall.) Since the cottage had been positioned in the right half of the painting, I cropped out everything to the left of it. Next, I converted the full-color photo to greyscale. Then I applied the "poster edges" filter to make the edges of shapes clearer. This final image I saved as a PDF file.

I printed out the PDF file full-size with the "poster" and "cut marks" options checked in my printer dialog box. This centered the image on four sheets of 8 1/2 x 11 paper. I trimmed along the cut marks, as shown:

I assembled my "poster, and then taped the sheets together:

Then I did my final trim:

Next, I turned the paper over and colored the back solidly with a black pastel:

I then carefully positioned the sheet, pastel side down, over my 12x24 panel (toned with yellow ochre) and taped it in place:

Using a sturdy cardboard tube as a mahl stick, I traced the major features of the cottage with a hard pencil:

When I removed the paper, I had an accurate (though cartoonish-looking) drawing of the cottage on my panel:

After spraying the drawing with fixative, I continued to the painting step. Here is an early stage, followed again by the final version. I call this a "re-creation" of the original because there are intentional differences between the two paintings. I did not simply want to copy the original, which was a plein air piece. Although I maintained the quality of morning light, I made some small changes.

Half-way through the painting stage
Framed on the easel
The final painting (also pictured at top of post)

If you'd like to read more about the process of using plein air references for studio paintings, please read my book, Outdoor Study to Studio: Take Your Plein Air Painting to the Next Level. It is available at

More Art & Painting Blogs | (List Culled Periodically of Non-Posters!)