Sunday, June 27, 2010

Open Season on Barns

"Yellow Barn in Morning Light"
9x12, oil

Barns, especially red barns, are sometimes thought of as hackneyed material for the artist. Romantic scenes of rustic architecture may end up on a restaurant placement rather than in a museum. But every landscape artist I know does a barn now and then. There's something attractive about the way sunlight falls on the blocks that make up a barn's shape. I think if you treat the barn as an abstraction and don't try to replicate the rustic quality, your picture may very well escape the grim fate of being selected for a tablemat.

Above is one I did yesterday. I frequently hike past the back end of this barn and, at certain times of day, the light hits it in a way that gives me great pleasure. I've always wanted to paint it like this.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Plein Air Painters of the Bay of Fundy - Opening Reception

The Exhibit Entrance (Painting by Barbara Neilson)

Last night was the opening reception for our exhibit, "Maritime Inspirations: En Plein Air." This culminated my week, in which I painted two days in Saint John (NB) with the group and taught a three-day workshop for the Saint John Arts Centre. I was pretty tired by the time the reception rolled around and then I had to give an impromptu speech in front of 100 people or so, including the city's Cultural Affairs Director and other Saint John "movers and shakers"!

Our show was one of four exhibits that opened simultaneously with a joint reception. I didn't envy the Arts Centre staff this week. Our exhibit alone has 81 paintings in it. The staff really hustled to get walls spackled, paintings hung, labels made and catalogs printed. But the show looked wonderful. If you haven't seen it, I encourage you to do so. I'll include a few photos of the exhibit below. (And thank you to the artists who were able to make the reception, and to David and Sandra Reeves, who were my hosts.)

The "Michael Chesley Johnson Wall"

Main Floor of the Saint John Arts Centre

Weather was fickle this week, so my students didn't get out to paint as much as we'd have liked. However, this did allow us to cover a lot of ground in the studio. There are some topics that really are better covered in a controlled environment. But Friday couldn't have had more perfect weather. We spent the entire day at the Irving Nature Park where the lupines were blooming in full force.


Monday, June 21, 2010

Plein Air Painters of the Bay of Fundy - Paintout


I just returned from a weekend in Saint John, New Brunswick, and the annual Plein Air Painters of the Bay of Fundy paintout. Eleven of us descended upon the city's historic homes, natural parks and other scenic wonders to create work for our annual exhibition, which opens Wednesday at the Saint John Arts Centre. We have a reception this Friday (June 25, 2010) at 5:30 at the Centre, which is located at 20 Hazen Avenue. I hope some of my blog and Facebook followers will join us.

The port city of Saint John is the province's largest city and sits at the confluence of the St. John River and the Bay of Fundy. Saint John has an interesting history. Fortified by the French in 1631 and then captured by the British in 1654, it welcomed Loyalists during the Revolutionary War, and then much of it burned to the ground in 1877 in a conflagration. This summer marks its 225th year as an incorporated city, and today, it's a busy port with the oil and pulp industries sharing the landscape with cruise ships - and this weekend, with plein air painters!

We had great (and rather warm) weather on Saturday and then fog and scattered showers on Sunday. Still, I was able to do three paintings. I pretty much covered most of the motifs - historic homes, boats and the natural landscape. Saturday evening, some of us met at the home of artist David Reeves for a barbecue. One of the great pleasures of this type of event is meeting people we've only corresponded with through e-mail or other electronic venues. The Bay of Fundy is big, touching two provinces plus Maine, so you can see why we don't all know each other.

Below this post are my three pieces. (I have five additional pieces in the show that were painted elsewhere.) Tomorrow I return to Saint John, because I have a three-day plein air workshop to teach for the Art Centre starting Wednesday.

"Boat with No Name" 11x14, oil

"The Gorge" 8x10, oil


"Summer Light" 8x10, oil

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Another Cottage Painting - and a New Book!

"June Garden" 12x24, oil

I am in the process of packing for the annual Plein Air Painters of the Bay of Fundy paintout and exhibit, but I wanted to do one more large painting before heading out on Saturday. When I get back from the paintout - and the workshop I'm teaching for the Saint John Arts Centre - I will be teaching my Campobello Island workshops flat-out until September. Most of my painting the rest of the summer will be small demonstrations, painted to illustrate a concept. They're not necessarily something I'd paint on my own time.

This is the last cottage painting. It also happens to be a painting of our house. I've painted this scene many times - the house often has some lovely light on it - but not in a wide format. I wanted to include the tree because we may lose it soon. Last winter, it split, and about a third of it had to be chipped. The trunk has a good bit of exposed raw wood, but I minimized the damage in the painting to make it seem healthy and whole again. Before we leave for the winter, we'll most likely have it cut down so it doesn't hit the house during a violent winter storm.

Although this was painted over two sessions on warm June mornings, I sensed a coolness to the sunlight. As a result, I pushed the warmth of the shadows and cooled the light. (Remember the rule: Warm light, cool shadows; cool light, warm shadows.) I even added a touch of Phthalo Green to the sunlit parts of the house. This gives a much cooler cast to the light than pure white or white mixed with yellow.

I offer a couple of photos of the intermediate steps.


By the way, I have a new book. This is Paint Sedona: A Plein Air Painter's Field Guide to Sedona, Arizona. It's a square format (7x7) that'll fit in your backpack and includes many of my favorite painting spots in Sedona along with photos of the locations plus a map marking them. I've also thrown in my pastel and oil supply lists plus tips on plein air painting in that area. The book is only $10 (+shipping) or $7 as a download. You can order it from here: http://www.lulu.com/miragenm.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Studio Tweaks + Opening Reception

As much as I liked the big painting of lupines I did the other day, I felt the road needed some adjustment. For one, there were some brighter areas along the edge, right under the lupines, that should have been darker. The contrast was too great and pulling the eye. Also, the road itself need a little darkening and a little less texture. I scraped down most of the road and repainted it. Does this painting still qualify as plein air? Sure it does! I went out a second time in the afternoon to look at the scene and observe before going back to the studio.

Here is the finished one:

"Friar's Head Lupines III" 18x24, oil - SOLD

followed by the earlier version:


By the way, this weekend is Plein Air Painters of the Bay of Fundy's annual paintout. Eleven of us will be painting in and around Saint John, New Brunswick. Saint John is a port city in the Canadian Maritimes and features historic buildings and nice parks. The work created during the weekend will go to the Saint John Arts Centre, where it will be on display from June 23-September 4. We'll have an opening reception where you can meet the artists on Friday, June 25th, at 5:30. If you're in the area, come join us!


Friday, June 11, 2010

Return to Lupines

"Friar's Head Lupines III" 18x24, oil

I finally finished the lupine piece today. It's a big one for me and good exercise. And I do need the exercise - I've got a whole pile of these 18x24 canvases ready to go!


Above is my scene on the first day. By the time I got set up, the sun had started to wane a bit, but as I was interested primarily in getting the painting only through the block-in stage, it didn't matter. When the sun was out full and strong, I took a few minutes to stop and observe the value and color relationships of my big shapes. Below is an intermediate step.


After about two and a half hours, I'd brought it to this stage:

I had a good feeling at the end of this session. Things were big and simple, and if it'd been a 5x7, I probably would have left it this way.

On the second day, the sun was even more fickle, but there were still moments when I could stop and observe. I was most interested in the lupines and trying to get the color right and also the shadows around them. After about two hours, I packed it in and went for a hike with Trina. The whole time I was hiking, though, I kept wondering if I'd gotten the color temperature relationships right. Warm foliage in the grass and cool shadows? Or was it reversed? One the way home from the hike, we stopped at the location so I could double-check. I was right - warm light, cool shadows - which saved me a restless night.

On the third and last day, I spent a little time in the studio making adjustments. I needed to punch up the light on the grass, put some richer color on the lupines, and cool the shadows in the grass even a bit more. You'll note that I changed the shape of Friar's Head in the distance; it didn't look "organic" enough. I also changed early on what is paved road to dirt. The scene called for a more, well, "organic" type of paving. I even made the road look wet, as if a rain shower had passed through. Here's the finished piece again, so you don't have to scroll all the way to the top:


It was a fun piece, and I'm learning how to do these larger, multi-session pieces without getting stressed. Rule of thumb: Each day get yourself to a comfortable stopping spot. For me, I can stop after the block-in and when I've made all my big shape adjustments (value and color) and spotted a few "notes" as a reminder for what my finishing accents should look like. For the second session, I can stop when I feel I've gotten the painting almost done - and don't want to mess it up!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Painting the Cottages - Summary

Yesterday, we had beautiful sunshine. I took a large 18x24 stretched canvas out to the field and began to paint more lupines. I really wanted to work on a larger version of the lupines I've been painting recently. After about two hours and my block-in, the clouds rolled in and the light changed. I figure I'm about halfway through and will return when the sun comes back tomorrow.

Now that I've painted the Roosevelt Park cottages, I thought it would be instructive to show them again all at once and to discuss why I made certain choices. They're at the bottom of this post. You'll notice I used two different formats, a panoramic one and a square one.

For the cottages that were well-sited with a view, a panorama was a no-brainer. For ones that were closed in with trees or had a small lot, I chose the square. The Wells-Shober cottage was problematic. I couldn't back up far enough to present the whole building properly. Instead, I chose to focus on the abstract quality of the close-up. The Hubbard cottage had another problem, but problems sometimes open opportunities. The view I had wanted to paint was blocked by a service truck, but this forced me to choose another angle, and so I discovered the view with a truly beautiful, giant red maple. Later I went back to the view I had wanted to paint originally, and again chose a square format to emphasize the abstract quality of the architecture.

Since I originally photographed these paintings, I made some minor adjustments in the studio. The adjustments were limited to softening or strengthening an edge or knocking down brushstrokes. The new photographs are also more accurate with color.

By the way, I did not type this post today but actually dictated it to my computer. Yes, I spoke my post. I'm using Dragon Naturally Speaking. Dictating is harder than you'd think. I'm a natural typist and very comfortable with making quick, off-the-cuff corrections in Microsoft Word. Trying to speak coherently, logically and grammatically, all the while trying to issue voice command corrections, is a skill that must be learned. Believe it or not, this is a lot harder than extemporaneous speaking!

"Red Maple, Hubbard Cottage" 12x24, oil


"Hubbard Cottage" 12x12, oil


"Mr Roosevelt's House" 12x24, oil


"Prince Cottage" 12x24, oil


"Wells-Shober Cottage" 12x12, oil


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Painting Lupines

Lilacs are giving way to lupines, and so we enter lupine season. If you had to present only one image emblematic of Downeast Maine and the Canadian Maritimes, it would have lupines in it. I've seen species of lupines in Arizona and New Mexico, but nothing compares with the ones we have here. They are a beautiful flower, and you'd think they'd look good on your dinner table, but alas! They don't last long as cut flowers.

In the field, we'll have them only until the end of June, if that. So, when the weather is good, it's important to hustle. Yesterday, I was torn between mowing the lawn - we are almost at the point of needing a machete - and painting lupines. I decided I could do both, if I painted a small one and didn't take too long.

"Lupines, Friar's Bay I" 6x8, oil


Today, I got out early to catch them in the morning sun. I decided to do a square format for this one, and I wanted to nearly fill the canvas with them.

What colors does one need for lupines? In the 6x8, I used my basic Gamblin palette. Nothing special, just a cool and a warm version of the three primaries. In the 12x12, though, I added two colors: Thalo Red Rose and Dioxazine Purple (both Grumbacher paints.) When you're painting florals, you can't mix the clean, rich secondaries - you need to use tubed color.

"Lupines, Friar's Bay II" 12x12, oil



Wednesday, June 2, 2010

And More Cottages! Wells-Shober

"Wells-Shober Cottage" 12x12, oil

Did my last post say that the Roosevelt cottage at the Roosevelt-Campobello International Park is the ultimate challenge? I think I was wrong. Today I painted the Wells-Shober cottage, and I have to say it was even more of a challenge. The issue is the corner porch, which is circular, and the room at the corner, which is also circular! I chose to paint the cottage in a square format (12x12), which forced me to zoom in on the cottage to get a workable composition. As you can see, this minimizes the curve. It's still there, but because you're looking at a small portion of it, it's not as noticeable - just as you don't notice the curve of the earth.

This painting also has a cool light source. As I was painting, a thin fog ran overhead, cooling the sunlight. This made, to me, the shadows seem warm. I even pushed the warmth a bit by putting Cadmium Red Light into the shadows. I pushed the cool of the sunlit whites by using Phthalo Green.

By the way, for those of you who are interested, I have a new video series out for the plein air painter. Prices for downloading episodes start at 99¢. For more information, please visit my web site: http://www.michaelchesleyjohnson.com/html/book.htm