Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Artist's Test Kitchen in Pastel Journal

"Nestled in Dawn's Early Light" 12x16 pastel

The latest issue of Pastel Journal (February 2015) has just hit the streets, and I'm happy to say that my "Artist's Test Kitchen" article is in it.  In this article, I review the new set of "Most Requested Violets" from Terry Ludwig and the new "Special Darks" from Rembrandt.

Above is the demonstration painting I made for the article.  It was a lot of fun to try out these new pastels and to find how nicely the Ludwigs and Rembrandts play together.





Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Solo Exhibit at Sedona City Hall

Mayor Sandy Moriarty meets with me to install a few of my paintings in her office.

I'm proud to announce that you can now see a solo exhibit of twenty of my landscape paintings at City Hall in Sedona, Arizona.  These oil and pastel paintings of the Southwest are on display in the Vultee Conference Room until April 15.  Four additional paintings decorate the walls of Mayor Sandy Moriarty's office.  City Hall is at 102 Road Runner Drive.

All the paintings are for sale, including the ones in the Mayor's office.

Because the paintings are in a much-used conference room, you will need to contact Arts & Culture Coordinator Nancy Lattanzi to view the works.  She will gladly schedule a time to let you in.  (If you are interested in buying a painting, please contact me directly via e-mail.) You may contact Nancy at 928-203-5078 or NLattanzi@sedonaaz.gov.  If you're in town, I hope you'll have a look!

Below are some photos of the exhibit.  To see the paintings online, please visit http://www.michaelchesleyjohnson.com/city_hall_paintings/.











Monday, December 29, 2014

Three-Color Oil Palette

"Mitten Ridge Reds" 12x16 oil/canvas
Made with the three-color palette described below.

Much basic knowledge is given to children at an early age.  I don't remember when I learned about the three primaries—red, yellow and blue—so it must have been a very long time ago indeed.  The concept, as we all know, is that you can mix just about any color you see with these three colors (plus white.)

Or so the theory goes.  Once we start seriously getting into color-mixing with our first real painting course, we learn the limitations of red, yellow and blue and pigments in general.  For example, if you don't have the right red and blue, you can't mix an intense violet.  You may be better off simply buying the intense violet you need, like quinacridone violet.  (By the way, Gamblin makes a great series of intense, light tints in its Radiant series.)

In fact, maybe you should just buy all the exact colors you need.  Pastelists end usually up doing this, and as a pastelist myself, I can say it is an expensive addiction.  Some painters* do this, too.   Unfortunately, this can lead to color chaos, especially if the artist doesn't understand color harmony or how to properly adjust color mixtures.  Some of the truly garish, carnival-like work we see in "contemporary art" galleries today is probably not the result of artistic vision but a lack of fundamental color-mixing skill.

As many of you know, I've used a limited oil palette for some time.  It's a split-primary palette with a warm and a cool version of each of the primaries.  I also teach this palette in my workshops.  However, it always takes an effort for me personally to get my color mixtures where I want them.   With all the practice I've gotten with the palette, I do know what I'm doing with it, but it does take work. Lately, I've decided to simplify my palette a bit.

I'm limiting myself further to just the three primaries—red, yellow and blue.

Yes, I know this limits the gamut of possible color mixtures.  But therein lies its beauty, literally.  The more limited the possibilities, the more likely the resulting mixtures will be harmonious.

For a three-color palette, you can pick any version of red, yellow and blue you wish.  The idea is to have the three primaries in some form on your palette.  I've chosen burnt sienna, yellow ochre and Prussian blue.  The two earth colors are already naturally muted, and the Prussian blue, though a strong color, greys down nicely with burnt sienna and yellow ochre, yielding some beautiful neutrals.

Here is what the color possibilities are for my six-color palette.  Everything within the polygon is possible; everything outside can't be mixed.  (Keep in mind that this is only a gross approximation and is limited by computer graphics, etc.)

Six-color palette.  (Based on information from www.Handprint.com)

Now here what's possible with my three-color palette.  I'm more limited in the mixing possibilities.

Three-color palette.  (Based on information from www.Handprint.com)

You might ask, What is the most harmonious palette?  It would be a monochromatic one.


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*Yes, pastelists are painters, too.  But for the sake of brevity, here I distinguish pastelists from painters who work in oil, acrylic, gouache or watercolor, who mix color on a regular basis.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Seduction and Peril of Plein Air Painting

Red Rocks Revisited - 8x10 oil - studio painting based on below reference

Red Rocks - 5x7 pastel - original reference


Fields and woods, streams and creeks and hilltops—I've spent much of my life exploring the landscape, either on foot or in a car, and with camera or paint brush.  I love the outdoors so much that painting en plein air is a natural fit.  In fact, it's hard for me to paint anyway but outdoors!

But there is an unspoken peril to plein air painting.  If you take to it (and not everyone does), then the more you do of it, the more you want to do of it.  It taps into a battery of energy that any plein air painter will agree is powerfully seductive.  On a nice day, it can be like being hooked up to a pair of jumper cables.  And even on a not-so-nice day you'll get recharged, though it might be more like a trickle charge.  Either way, it's addictive.

Despite all that, I sometimes feel I'm not developing artistically as quickly as I'd like.  As much as I enjoy the outdoors, time and weather put a limit to what I can accomplish.  Design seems to be the first thing that suffers, followed quickly by color harmony.  It's so easy to go with the tried-and-true with regards to these—or worse, to ignore them at the cost of "capturing the moment."  (How many of us wish we had taken more time to redesign nature and move that tree a few feet over to the left?)  In the studio, however, I can take as much time as I wish to not just avoid errors but to explore new design and color ideas.

Before this modern age of plein air festivals and plein air purists, who think a painting started in the field must be completed in the field, the landscape painter typically led a more balanced life.  Part of the time was spent in the field, collecting reference material such as drawings, color sketches and handwritten notes and learning about the subject from life.  The artist then headed to the studio to review this material and to work on the hard issues of design and color before creating a more considered and finished piece.

Lately, I've started doing more study-to-studio.  Sometimes the studio work isn't anything major; it might just be correcting a design flaw.  Or maybe I did a field sketch in pastel, and I want to try it in oil, which I feel gives me more control over color nuance.  (For example, as in the paintings at the top of this post.) Occasionally, though, I want to create a larger piece that incorporates more than a single scene, and this takes more planning and thought.

I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts on this.  What drives you into the studio? Also, if you have a favorite process for taking field studies and using them for studio paintings, I'd love to hear about it!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Outlands of Sedona - Road Trip

Painting at Palatki
At least once a season when I'm in Sedona, I like to take a painting road trip with my friend, M.L. Coleman.  M.L. has a Lazy Daze motorhome that's perfect for several days or even weeks on the road.  Together, we've traveled up to the Grand Canyon, both the North and South Rims, and the Vermilion Cliffs.   There's plenty of room in the Lazy Daze for our painting gear and wet paintings.


This time, in advance of a predicted cold front moving in with rain and snow, we headed out for a more local trip.  There's much to explore just outside of Sedona.

Forest Road 119
Our first stop was on the east side of  Interstate 17 in the Red Tank Draw area.  Unfortunately, a forest road that overlooks Beaver Creek with some fantastic cliffs was closed, no doubt because of a heavy rain last week.  (Red dirt roads here are quick to turn slimey with rain, and they stay that way for a long time, even after several dry days.)   We decided to explore a little more, taking a forest road past the V-Bar-V Ranch and on down to Camp Verde.  This road was basically a two-track road that could be rough in rain or snow.


We crossed a bridge with some interesting, exposed red rock and running water.  We went down to explore, and I came across what appeared to be a miniature version of crop circles, only made in rock.  Three sets of these on one side of the creek and three sets on the other side indicated the foundation of a bridge that must have washed out long ago.  I love finding odd things like this when I'm poking around for a painting spot - it makes for a much richer experience.


But we preferred a vista, so we headed south on this primitive road to Camp Verde and then went back north on I-17.   As fate would have it, we ended up finding a good spot to paint not far from where we started by Red Tank Draw.  We'd gotten a late start that day, so we decided to camp here as well.  The sky was grey and leaden, and the light, absolutely flat.  But we made the best of the view and did a little painting before sundown.  (We are fast approaching the shortest day of the year.)  Afterward, we cooked up a couple of cornish game hens for dinner, accompanied by a little merlot.  Later, I poked my head out the door before bed and saw stars overhead, so I thought the weather might be better than predicted the next day.

Evening Toward Rarick Canyon 9x12 oil - $700 framed, includes shipping
Morning dawned with lots of scattered clouds, which was much better than the grey lid that clamped down on us the day before.  According to the weather forecast, the cold front was still en route, but it looked like we were going to enjoy a respite before the rain.  (Our cell phones worked out there so we were able to call home for weather reports.)

Palatki

After breakfast and coffee, we drove over to Sedona, heading down Boynton Canyon Pass toward Palatki.  Palatki is an archaeological site complete with cliff dwellings left by the ancient Sinagua peoples.  You can feel their spirits when you stand amongst the hills painting.  Their spirits didn't help me much, though, because I ended up scraping both a 9x12 and a 5x7.  I did get one 9x12 I was very happy with, though.


Sacred Space - 9x12 oil - $700 framed, includes shipping

We liked this area so much that we went farther in and toward the other Sinagua site (Honanki).  The road, however, got narrower and rougher.  It was also all red clay, and if the rain came during the night as predicted, we would have a time coming out.  So, we got onto a better forest road and slowly made out way back so we wouldn't be so far from the paved highway.  We found the perfect hilltop camping spot with a 360 degree view.

Sunset Over Mingus - 9x12 oil - $700 framed, includes shipping
After painting the sunset, we sat until it got cold, watching the lights of Jerome come on, far across the Verde Valley.  Then we withdrew into our warm home and treated ourselves to a dinner of baked ham and cauliflower.

Before bed, I stepped out again to check the sky, and I saw no stars.  I woke in the morning to rain drumming on the roof.  That spelled an end to our adventure, but I'd gotten out of it three nice paintings plus some excellent conversation.

By the way, for this trip, I changed my palette.  Although I teach and use the traditional split-primary palette  for oil, it is always a struggle to make color harmonious.  Because I wanted a more relaxing trip, I used just yellow ochre, burnt sienna and Prussian blue (plus white, of course.)  You can't go wrong in color harmony with this palette.  The two earth colors are naturally muted, and  the Prussian blue greys down nicely with them.  To be honest, though, for the one sunset painting, the yellow ochre just wasn't intense enough, so I added a tiny bit of cadmium yellow light to the halo around the sun.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Artist as Migrant Worker

Photo courtesy of Life Magazine
The LIFE photo archive of more than 10 million pictures has been made available on Google, free for personal and research purposes. Copyright and ownership of all images remains with Time Inc. A majority of the images have never been publicly displayed before. They appear among the results of any Google search, or are available separately at LIFE.com.

The 1950s photo above shows a caravan of Airstream trailers, camped out for the night.  Back when I was a very young boy living in rural New Jersey, I remember seeing something like this.  Once a year, and literally overnight like mushrooms, a camp would spring up in a nearby vacant field.  The sleek, shiny Airstream trailers seemed to be a party that I very much wanted to join.

I envision something like this today for painters - plein air painters on wheels.  Maybe not so many, though.  Maybe three or four like-minded artists (early to bed, early to rise and serious about our craft) in a mini-caravan composed of trailers with each being a complete artist's studio.  We would travel with our spouses and partners and a like-minded dog or two, camping and painting wherever the spirit takes us.

But for a working professional who depends on his art for a living, this poses a problem.  It's hard doing business while on the road.  For the past several years, though, I've been doing exactly that.  I'm a migrant worker.  I move to where the money takes me.

I work in the Canadian Maritimes in the summer and in Arizona in the winter.  Why?  As beautiful as the Maritimes are in the winter, students won't come for workshops, collectors won't come to buy paintings, and although I do like the occasional foray into the snow to paint, it's not my preferred method.  So, I head to the southwest for the winter, where it is warmer and everything is possible.  My friends say I have the best of both worlds, and I completely agree.

But the traveling life has perils.  It is difficult to be part of a community in either location.  You are either treated as "not really a resident" or as an interloper.  Although you can make friends, I tend to be a solitary sort, and it's hard for me to do that.  Galleries and collectors also have a hard time categorizing you, and if they can't, they move on to someone they can.  As an example, a local writer asked to profile me for a book she was writing about Sedona area artists.  Well, once she found out I am in Arizona for less than half the year, she disqualified me.  Yet, I probably paint more paintings in Arizona than I do anywhere else all year.

It's also tough to enter shows.  Quite often, shows seem to have deadlines that fall on or around my travel dates.  (It usually takes me three weeks to go east or west because of teaching workshops along the way.)  It's inconvenient to lug around a large, framed painting and box halfway across the country and then ship it when the shipping time comes - or not ship it, if it doesn't get juried in.   And of course, there is the whole tax issue.   I file multiple tax returns for multiple tax jurisdictions including two countries.  You can't imagine how much time and effort this takes.

Still, it works.  It's a living, and I enjoy it.  And, thanks to modern technology, when I travel my main phone number gets forwarded to a cell phone, I check e-mail at hotels and coffee shops, postal mail gets forwarded, bills are paid automatically through Bill Pay, and my magazines are digital versions that get download to my tablet.  When you contact me, you don't know where I am.  (I turn off the location services on all my devices.)

Some day, I may find it not necessary to sell paintings and teach workshops.  When that day comes, look for me and my friends on the road, coming to a vacant lot near you.

Monday, December 8, 2014

What Inspires Me - and Where in the World is Plein Air



Next summer, I'll be taking part in the second annual "Where in the World Is Plein Air" juried event.  The event lasts three days, June 10-12, 2015, and participating artists will be creating one painting a day and posting three video segments daily to show the paintings in process.  The paintings will be available for sale the day they are completed, and two weeks after the event, you can see both the sold works and the remaining pieces at the Illume Gallery of Fine Art in Salt Lake City, Utah.

I came across this event last year and enjoyed looking at the field videos and, of course, the paintings, too.  (Here are some of last year's videos.)  I'm excited to be part of the event this time around.  To see the list of 2015 artists, visit:  http://www.whereintheworldispleinair.com/

Preparatory to the event, I was asked to write an artist's statement about what inspires me to paint. Here it is:

I am easily inspired to go outside and paint. Sometimes it's a momentary, alchemical mixture of light, color and shade that does it. A stream running through a meadow whispers in quiet contemplation; thunderclouds over a mountain crackle with urgency. At these times, it's all about capturing the moment. At other times, though, it's my need to go out often and seek my roots in nature. This isn't so much about 'capturing the moment' as it is about nurturing my relationship with the landscape, a relationship that has been ongoing for more than half a century now. Rather than working quickly to get the moment down, I spend more time not just looking but also using all my senses to discover, trace and reinforce the patterns that connect me to the land. This type of painting is very spiritual and extremely fulfilling.

Friday, December 5, 2014

After December Rains ... and the Finger Cot Test

After December Rains
12x9 pastel
Available - $ 300 - unframed, shipping included

As you may recall, in my last post I wrote about cracked fingertips and split fingernails as a result of my pastel addiction.  After trying a variety of gloves, creams and alchemical concoctions, I settled on finger cots.  Today was my first test with the finger cots, and I am  happy to report they work as advertised.

With the ones I got (blue, pictured here), I was able to take them off and re-use them a couple of times before one of them split.  Not a problem, since four bucks bought me a gross of them.  They go on easily, come off easily, and they sweat a lot less than full gloves.



Best yet, though, is that I discovered they make the perfect blending tool!  Better than a moist (or oily) fingertip, better than a color shaper, better than a styrofoam packing peanut.  But the ultimate discovery is that they are great for "putting out the lights" - Doug Dawson's phrase for removing the little light spots in the dark areas.  (This happens if the paper tone is lighter than the darks you apply.)  A touch is all it takes.

In the test painting above, I left some of the "candles" (as Doug calls them) because I liked the sparkly effect of a sunny day.  (This, after two days of rain!) Here's a detail shot:


(Try this Amazon search to find the finger cots:  Medi-First Latex Finger Cots, Blue, Large #70035, made by Medique Products, Fort Myers, FL 33967, 1-800-634-7680.  There are a variety of places to get them at a variety of prices.)


Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Heartbreak of ... Pastel

If you're of a certain age, you'll remember the phrase, "The Heartbreak of Psoriasis" from a TV commercial.  Well, there's a more terrifying scourge for the pastel painter - split fingernails and cracked fingertips.  Working with pastel is like working in the garden.  Dirt sucks all the natural oils out of your fingers, and so does pastel.



The unhappy creature depicted above is my right thumb.  I've been painting in pastel all week, and this is the result.  The cracks are painful and sometimes, they bleed.  Other fingers on that hand look like that, too.  If you're asking, yes, I did remember to use a barrier cream (Gloves in a Bottle) but that only carries me so far.  I've also tried gloves, but they aren't tight enough around the fingertips to keep from getting in the way.

The stylish decorator-color finger cot

The solution is the finger cot.  Yes, it does look like its cousin, and it, too, has a preventative use.  It comes in different sizes - I have big hands, so this is the "large" version - and also in latex or nitrile.  You can get it in white, blue, purple and probably other colors, as well. (Try this Amazon search to find them:  Medi-First Latex Finger Cots, Blue, Large #70035, made by Medique Products, Fort Myers, FL 33967, 1-800-634-7680.  There are a variety of places to get them at a variety of prices.)

Now, stop snickering and get back to work.

But wait - I forgot to remind everyone about my 2015 calendar and my holiday art sale.  Christmas is coming!