Monday, January 21, 2019

My Love of Landscape - Part 10

Sunrise at Campobello 12x14 Oil - Available
President Franklin & Eleanor Roosevelt's Cottage

(For previous posts on "My Love of Landscape," click here)

I know I claimed my previous entry of "My Love of Landscape" would be my last, but enough readers seemed to enjoy the tale that I've decided to resume it, though not, perhaps, with such regularity.  Here, then is the next installment of the serial.

As much as we enjoyed New Mexico, we still had a hunger for the landscapes back east, especially along the coast.  At the 7000-foot elevation of our home, summers were pleasant enough.  Although the sun could be intense and warm, the shade of a ponderosa pine was like natural air-conditioning, and nights cooled down quickly.  Also, I enjoyed the summer monsoon storms—great, billowing thunderheads that always delivered drama—but there weren't any bodies of water nearby to enjoy, and we missed that.  We had a so-called river, the Sacramento, but it was an unreliable thread of water that came and went, depending on storms.

McCurdy Smoke House complex in Lubec

Lubec's fishing fleet

We still had family in Vermont, so on one of our visits, we continued on up to Maine.  We'd been to the coast there many times over the years, but now we went with an eye toward real estate.  We avoided Bar Harbor and points south.  Although an artist might easily find more patrons in those populous areas, that crush of population was exactly what drove us to Downeast Maine, where the population of Washington County is a scant 32,000.  We explored several locations, but we loved most Lubec, the eastern-most point in the U.S.  This small fishing community has a year-round population of around 1300, increased only slightly by summer residents and tourists.  For me as a painter, I fell in love with its historic waterfront and homes and also nearby Quoddy Head State Park, which features tremendous black cliffs, thunderous waves during storms and trails that provide many scenic opportunities for the painter.  (By the way, I'm leading a painting retreat this August in Lubec; for a detailed PDF, click here.)

View of Quoddy Head (and Trina and Saba)...

...Looking at this very paintable view

But then we re-discovered Campobello Island.

If you're over a certain age, you'll remember that Campobello Island, in New Brunswick, Canada, was the vacation home of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt for many years.  It was made famous by "Sunrise at Campobello," a movie about the Roosevelts, based on a play of the same name, that came out in 1960.  We didn't go to Campobello because of that, as I believe I was hardly aware of the history.  We went because it has not one but two large parks, which are threaded with many trails that lead to beautiful natural areas.  Also, it is connected by a bridge to Lubec, and it's an easy border crossing.

You can walk this beach on Campobello for a very long distance

I say "re-discovered," because we'd been there once before and had hiked one of the longest trails in the Roosevelt-Campobello International Park, out to lonely, rugged Liberty Point and back.  But we'd forgotten how beautiful the island is:  bogs with twisted little fir trees and pitcher plants, freshwater ponds fenced in by thickets of spruce, woodland trails that suddenly thrust one out onto a rocky perch dozens of feet above the sea, and beaches, beaches that are empty in what would be the busiest summer weekend down in Acadia National Park, just three hours away.  Beaches that are tiled with cobblestones as different as snowflakes.  Beaches, where at low tide, you can walk to many wild places.

Our Campobello house during repairs...

...and after.  Saba supervises from the porch.

Later, when three acres of oceanfront property with an 1867 Cape went up for sale at a very reasonable price, we bought it.  (We purchased it as a "life estate," and it was owned by another artist, which sealed the deal.) That summer, we arrived on the island from New Mexico and spent the season doing house repairs and exploring the island and the parks.  (The second is the Herring Cove Provincial Park.)  I don't recall painting the landscape that summer, probably because we had plenty of projects to make the house ours.  It became a lovely home, and we truly wished we could stay longer, but of course, not being Canadian, we had to return to the U.S. at the season's end.

But while back in New Mexico for the winter, a thought occurred to us:  Could we possibly get a work permit and stay on Campobello longer?  Wouldn't it be nice to stay...all year?

(to be continued)

Friday, January 18, 2019

Guerrilla Painter 6x8 Thumbox: Very Portable for Oil Plein Air Painting

Rock Ledge in Snow 6x8 Oil - Available

Yes, we do get snow here in the mountains of New Mexico, and even though it's been sunny and warm (50 degrees yesterday), some of the snow remains.  Unlike back east, where one has plenty of humidity to wrap the warmth around into the shadows to melt it, here there's not so much of that, and little of the warmth we've had affects the snow there.  This means I'm able to get out and paint snow while wearing a thin coat and no gloves.

In my last post, I showed you my plein air pastel kit from Blue Earth.  This time, I want to show you my plein air oil kit from Guerrilla Painter.  I've had this little 6x8 thumb box for a long time, and I like to pull it out of my closet when I want to paint as simply as possible in oil.  Although it's called a "thumb box"--and you can certainly stick your thumb in it and balance it on one arm--I find it too heavy for that to be comfortable.  I prefer to either sit with it in my lap or perch it atop a tripod.  This week, I used the tripod.

My thumb box is an older model and has a hinged front
piece; the one on the Guerrilla Painter web site is a little different.

My set up is really quite portable: tripod, a lean roll of paper towels with two brushes stuck into it for transport, and in my thumb box, a "Mighty Mite" container for Gamsol, a tube of Gamblin's Titanium-Zinc White and a tube of their Galkyd Gel, plus a small painting knife.  I prep the palette before I go out with just three colors plus white (Gamblin's Hansa Yellow Light, Naphthol Red and Ultramarine Blue.)  And that's it!  Oh, and sunglasses for all the light bouncing off the snow.

I've included in this post two paintings I made this week in the snow.

Snowy Valley 6x8 Oil - Available

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Nomad: Extremely Portable Pastel Painting Kit from Blue Earth

Snow Melting 6x8 Pastel - Available
Painted with the Nomad from Blue Earth Pastels

If you've been following my blog, you'll know that I'm a big fan of Blue Earth Pastels. Recently, I acquired a prototype of a plein air kit they've developed called the Nomad. Opening the little box was like a breath of fresh air: 56 chunky sticks of pristine, pure pigments, all neatly packed in a box just a little bigger than a 6"x8" sheet of pastel paper. I couldn't wait to take the Nomad on a short journey—but alas, one of New Mexico's bigger snow storms hit about the same time I received it, so I had to wait several days.

The Nomad

The pastel sticks, which are packed in Blue Earth's signature fashion of each standing upright in a comfortable cushion of foam, make a good selection for outdoor painting. On the left side are 28 sticks that cover the primary and secondary colors in four steps of value. On the right side are another 28 sticks, all greyed versions of the sticks on the left, and again, in four steps of value. Together, these two sets give the painter a wide range of possibilities for color and value.

The box itself is made of 200-lb cardboard, which means that the lid is sturdy enough to serve as a backboard for painting on. With a set of four micro-clips, you can clip a sheet of 6"x8" paper to the inside of it and paint directly on it. (Blue Earth recommends using another piece of paper for cushioning to keep the corrugation from "telegraphing" through to the painting surface, but I didn't have that problem.) And even better, you can fit that same sheet of paper between the lid and the foam inserts that protect the top of the pastels when you pack everything up.

In the field with the Nomad

Once I got plowed out, I took the kit to paint some snow scenes. I tucked a few sheets of 6"x8" paper (Art Spectrum, UArt and Wallis Belgian Mist) into the box, and stuck the micro-clips, a few sheets of paper towel and set of fingercots into my pocket. I also took a folding stool, since I figured my favorite rocks for sitting on were covered in a foot of snow. I didn't pack any glassine to protect the painting surfaces; I decided the fit of the 6"x8" sheets was tight enough that if I just stacked them, front to back, they wouldn't shift enough to smear the pastel.

For storing paper or paintings, I keep the foam inserts on top...
...then I put in my painting(s)...

...and top them off with a clean sheet.

If you've used Blue Earth pastels, you'll know that they are soft. Although you can certainly draw a delicate line with them, that's a little difficult in a small format such as 6"x8". So I took a painterly approach, thinking more in shapes and color, saving any lines for just a touch here and there, which I can do with a pointed end or a long edge of a stick. This, by the way, is how I go about doing color studies in the field, and I think this kit is excellent for that. Another thought is, if you want to do a more "finished" painting—and what that is, exactly, is a topic for another post—take out a larger sheet of paper on a bigger backboard. Or, take a few sticks of hard pastels or a pastel pencil. But in my mind, that defeats the idea behind this extremely portable pastel kit. The less you take, the better—and you'll have a more enjoyable time of it.

The Nomad is expected to be released March 1st and will be available exclusively through Dakota Pastel.

Here are two more sketches from the field with the Nomad:

Snowy Cliff 6x8 Pastel - Available

Sunlight & Snow 6x8 Pastel - Available

Monday, January 14, 2019

Now on Patreon!

You know, years ago, I had the idea of "Art for Patronage." Well, actually, the idea is centuries old, but I thought if I created a web site and had a community of painters join it, we might be able to find patrons to give us things in exchange for artwork. For example, a week's lodging in a gorgeously scenic place in exchange for a painting of that view. Or a meal at a restaurant in exchange for a handful of sketches. Maybe even a studio exchange between two painters. You get the idea.

And now we have Patreon.

Patreon is a bit different, as you will see if you look at my Patreon page and those of other artists. Rather than barter, it's a pay-for-reward plan. How much you pay each month determines what "reward" you get. Everybody is different, and I have set up my reward "tiers" to reflect what makes sense to me, based on what my collectors, students and general admirers have desired in the past.

I'd be delighted if you take a look:

Friday, January 11, 2019

Special Plein Air Painting Retreat in Coastal Maine, August 2019

I invite you to join us for a very special plein air painting retreat for experienced painters this summer. Unlike my usual workshops in Lubec, this retreat will be five luxurious days long, giving us plenty of outdoor painting time. Our base camp will be at the beautifully-renovated West Quoddy Station, a historic US Coast Guard campus right on the water. I have reserved the entire week for our retreat, with check-in on Sunday, August 11, and departure on Friday, August 16, for a total of five nights. (And of course, you are more than welcome to extend your stay!)

I have a brochure with full details at .  Here's a short video about the retreat:

(Can't see the video?  Here is a link.)

The Station offers many choices for lodging as there are several buildings. Some are apartments for singles or couples; others are cottages for one or two couples; the Station House has five bedrooms. (All units have kitchens.) Because of the variety, I urge you to bring not just yourself but your painting buddies. If you are a member of a painting group, please extend this invitation to your members. You can find full details and pictures plus pricing on the compound at

The Station is perfectly located for our retreat, as it is right next to Quoddy Head State Park with its trails and lighthouse. If you've never been to this park before, it offers stunning views of the Grand Manan Channel with rocky cliffs and rugged beaches as well as interior trails that wind through bogs and spruce forests. Like I tell my students, I could spend the whole week painting just there! The Station itself, of course, has many picturesque possibilities for us painters.

A short drive from the Station takes you to Lubec, a historic village with a working waterfront that includes fish houses and lobster boats. Lubec also has several restaurants and shops, as well as a nearby medical center and grocery store. (Check out for more information.) Beyond Lubec, there are several trailheads that offer painting opportunities, such as Hamilton Beach and Boot Head. You will need a passport, as we will visit my studio on nearby Campobello Island, which is in Canada, and also paint in the Roosevelt-Campobello International Park, which has 3000 acres of natural beauty. You won't want this retreat to end!

Each day will start at 8 a.m. with critiques of the previous day's paintings. Following this, I will give some helpful pointers on painting in the area. After that, we'll paint as a group for the morning. Although I won't be giving any formal instruction, I will be offering demonstrations to anyone who wants to watch, serving as your local guide to painting locations, and also painting along with you. After lunchtime, I will give you optional painting assignments for the afternoon. Or, if you prefer not to paint, you can explore—go on a whale watch, take a hike, or visit some of the other villages.

To hold your space for the retreat, you will need to send a $150 non-refundable deposit. The price of the retreat is $300, which does not include lodging or meals. Please e-mail me at first to make sure I have space, and at that time I will give you information about where to send the deposit. After I receive your deposit, I will send a confirmation letter with details. Final payment is due one month before the retreat starts.

To reserve your lodging, please make your arrangements at West Quoddy Station by calling them at 877-535-4714 or emailing to You cannot book directly online. Make sure you tell them it is for the “Michael Chesley Johnson Plein Air Painting Retreat.” Once you have made your lodging arrangements, let me know where you will be staying and how many.

I'm looking forward to this retreat, as it is so different from my usual workshops here in Lubec. I hope you'll join us!