Monday, December 26, 2005

Christmas Eve - Benson Ridge Aspens

I know this is being posted in backwards order -- Christmas Eve, after Christmas Day? Well, this little painting -- Benson Ridge Aspens -- was done on Christmas Eve, but as I only had limited time that afternon, I had to "tweak" it in the studio on Christmas Day to finish it. "Tweaking" my plein air pieces is never a big deal. The only things I did were to sharpen up some of the highlights on the aspen grove and the nearby aspens and to warm up the foreground a bit.

"Benson Ridge Aspens," 8x10, oil/panel, en plein air.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Christmas Day

It's Christmas Day, and it's supposed to get to 54 degrees today in our mountains. Even though some snow is left, and it would be pretty to paint, it's Christmas, and even a plein air painter needs a day off.

Enjoy the day. Pray for peace. Pray for health. And if you're a plein air painter, pray for the skill to present the beauty of this world to others.

Merry Christmas.

"Red Barn, Red Bush," pastel, 7x11.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Snow Scraps

One of the pleasures of living and painting in the mountains of New Mexico is that, yes, we do have snow, but no, it doesn't last long. We had a small snowstorm a week or so ago that dropped perhaps an inch at my studio. Further up the mountain, it was a few inches more. Now, a week later, though, even most of this at the higher elevations is gone. The dry air and the warm sun vanishes all but the snow in the shaded areas. This snow can linger for quite some time.

I love to paint these "snow scraps." Here are two paintings done this week.

"Winter Passage" (the first one) and "Snowfence" (the second one.) Both are 8x10, oil/panel, en plein air.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

A Book to Read

I came across a wonderful new book: An Artist's Way of Seeing by Mary Whyte. The book urges the reader to move beyond the technical aspects of painting by learning to bring what I call the "moment" to the painting. This "moment" is whatever it is that you felt when you first saw your scene -- what it was that attracted you in the first place. Learning to see as an artist is what it's all about. Whyte explores this through her beautiful watercolors and well-written text.

The practice is something I try to incorporate into the creation of my studio pieces. As a dyed-in-the-wool plein air painter, I would always much rather be outdoors painting than in the studio. (Yes, even though I have hot coffee and some nice classical music in my studio -- things difficult to get when you backpack in a few miles.) However, when it's 30 outside and a light snow is falling, as it did so yesterday, the studio is the only place for me.

Yesterday, I finished up this piece:
"Mulholland Light from the Lubec Channel," 16x20, oil/panel.
I worked not just from photographs but also from strong memories. My memories were so vivid that I could remember exactly how pure the light was on the sand and exactly what shade of green the smokehouse roof was. They allowed me to bring the "moment" to this piece. These memories, of course, are so vivid because I have learned to see as an artist, much as Whyte details in her book. You can't make a painting this strong from a photo without that ability to see.

Wednesday, December 7, 2005

Another Studio Day

The weather is turning downright cold here in the mountains of southern New Mexico, and it's been a week for studio work. (Tonight the low is supposed to be all of three degrees!) My little electric space heater does the trick, though, and the studio warms up to 40 degrees in no time. Plenty of warmth for painting!

At any rate, here is the latest studio effort. "Evening at the Narrows," 19"x25", Pastel.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Studio Piece, Painted as if En Plein Air

Here's a piece I've been working on all week. It's 19"x25" and is based on some reference photos I took this summer. I used soft pastel on a sheet of white Canson Mi-Teintes. The underpainting was done in complementary colors and then heavily fixed to avoid having the complements mix in with the "true" colors I applied later.

While working on this studio piece, I tried to treat it as a plein air -- loose strokes, tried not to get lost in detail (so easy with a photo!) and also tried to evoke the feeling of that warm, sunny morning.

"Packed In, Head Harbour" 19x15, pastel

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

A Plein Air Painter's Prayer

Whenever I paint outdoors, I feel a purpose to my art. Here's a little prayer I say to help me in my task:

God, please give my eyes the vision to see Your creation fully and give my hands the skill to honor it. I pray that through my own works, others will come to know Yours.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Studio Time

Hey, even a dedicated plein air painter like me needs studio time!

Lately, I've been working on an article for The Artist's Magazine, and for this, I did four small studio paintings as "demos". These studio pieces, unlike plein air paintings that MUST be completed under two hours, required a sharp analysis of technique rather than a gut reaction based on 30+ years of doing art. These studio pieces, though only 9x12, took literally days to create -- EACH. (Gosh, I hope my editor likes them!)

Studio time gives the artist the opportunity to paint with thought and correction and refinement.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Going from Small to Big

Taking a small plein air piece and expanding on it to create a larger work is fraught with issues. "Just use a bigger brush," folks say. I suspect they say it tongue-in-cheek, because once you get started, it's a lot harder than you'd think -- even if you do use bigger brushes.

Issues:


  • How do you recreate the energy that you immersed yourself in when you made the smaller painting?
  • How do you not "generalize" what you've already recorded?
  • How to you keep areas of seeming-emptiness, which will become only larger and more intimidating, interesting?
  • How do you avoid losing interest in what you're doing?


Advantages:

  • You have the opportunity to improve your vision -- improve composition, improve color use, improve focus.
  • You also have the opportunity to REVISE your vision.
  • You can fine-tune your skills over days, weeks and months without worrying about the light changing in two hours.


All this bears exploring.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Plein Air to Finished Studio Piece

Sure, anybody can make a two-hour plein air painting, but taking that painting and turning it into a large, finished studio piece is another matter entirely! "Just use a bigger brush" some might say. (Or, in this case, a bigger piece of pastel.) Going "large" involves refining composition, taking the time to correct errors that were made on-location, and more. As a teaser, I'm posting my plein air piece plus the finished studio piece below. You can see the full demo at my web site.

Here's the plein air piece (9x12):













And here's the finished studio piece (19x25):

Sunday, November 6, 2005

Summer Paintings

Viewers have asked that I put a few samples from my summer of painting in Canada and New England here. Here are a few. More are available on the web site (www.MichaelChesleyJohnson.com). All images below are 8x10 plein air oils.




Thursday, October 27, 2005

The Perfect Day

Every now and then, you run into the perfect day. You assemble your tools thoughtfully and with care. You drive out to your location in a meditative (and perhaps uncaffeinated) state. You first put your gear down and then take your time to walk about to find the best angle. You go back, pick up your gear and tote it a little further before assembling it. Finally, you size up your scene and --



And you pause here. The next 60 seconds are the most important in the next two hours of painting. You take the time to establish your design, mull over it, draw it out mentally.



Only then does the tip of your brush touch canvas. Now you're on your way to a superior painting!



And so it was for me today. I headed down to Carissa Springs where the cottonwoods are now in all their splendor. In the 60 seconds before touching brush to canvas, I ended up moving a utility pole. Not such a herculean task, and it made the painting worthwhile.



www.MichaelChesleyJohnson.com