Monday, April 23, 2018

Road Trip: Painting Retreat, Part 2 - Santa Fe, New Mexico

Our location for the Santa Fe portion of the retreat:  Casa Rosa, or the Pink House

After Ghost Ranch, we headed to Santa Fe for the second half of our painting retreat and settled into a spacious home just a short stroll from the galleries of Canyon Road.   Built in 1920, the "Pink House" is still owned by the family that inhabited it for many years.  Filled with antiques and fine art, and surrounded by apple trees in full blossom, it was an inspiration for many paintings during our time.

My setup for painting the Pink House

Spring Comes to the Pink House
(Purchased by the owner - thank you!)

Unlike Ghost Ranch, which provided us with three meals a day, in Santa Fe we were on our own.  Trina and I provided  a hearty breakfast each day; lunches were sandwiches or something quick to avoid interrupting the day; dinners were a communal affair with everyone pitching in as either chef, sous chef or dishwasher.  We certainly could have gone out for meals, but it was much more enjoyable--and less expensive--to dine in.




Ann, Mary, Bev
Our happy group

Randall Davey's House 9x12 Oil
by Michael Chesley Johnson.
I was channeling perhaps one of the Santa Fe "Cinco Pintores" for this one.

With galleries being so close, we made that our first order of business.  Having been to Santa Fe and Canyon Road many times, I gave guidance on my favorites.  Over the years, there has been a great deal of change among galleries; some closing, some moving, some opening for the first time.  One tendency I've noted is the gradual migration to more "decorative" art.  Although you can find fine representational here and there, it is in the minority.  Still, I always enjoy seeing what the artists have come up with.

Visiting the Master in his Studio
Albert Handell

We also paid my friend and master painter Albert Handell a visit while in town. Albert enjoys visitors in this studio.  These days, he is doing some teaching there, rather than being on the road constantly to teach.  It was a pleasure for us to see his new work and to hear his ideas for the future.  As a special treat, he pulled out some of his very, very early work from his youth.  His painting style certainly has changed, but even then, 60-some years ago, he was a master of his craft.  (Albert said, "I've never had another job.")

And of course, we painted.  As I mentioned earlier, our house was very paintable, so we spent some time painting views of it.  (There is something so lovely about adobe and the way sunlight makes it glow.)  On Saturday, which just happened to be Earth Day weekend, we visited the Audubon Center and the Randall Davey House.  That was a rather cool day and, in fact, we had snow flurries at breakfast time.   This  didn't  discourage the birders, who were there to celebrate Earth Day by viewing the songbirds that have recently returned; nor did it discourage the painters, and once the sun warmed up the day, it became very pleasant.

Now, Trina and I are spending a few days more in Santa Fe on our own before continuing our eastward trip.  Next stop:  Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, which is to be followed by a second painting retreat in Brown County, Indiana.  Stay tuned!

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Road Trip: Painting Retreat, Part 1 - Ghost Ranch, New Mexico

Ghost Ranch and Chimney Rock

The wind follows me everywhere.  First in Ramah, then at Ghost Ranch.  Fifty, sixty, maybe seventy mile-an-hour gusts?  Whatever it was, it blew the roof off the historic Ghost House and filled the canyon with dust that laid down a fine layer of grit on painting and palette.

The Ghost House

View from the Ghost House

The Ghost House is the centerpiece of New Mexico's Ghost Ranch.  Home to the cow-rustling Archuleta brothers, relations went bad as they often do among cow-rustlers, ending in one brother killing the other.  Some of the locals, having endured much thievery by the deceased, saw fit to hang his corpse from the old cottonwood in the casita's dooryard.   Later, Carol Stanley's husband won the house and the adjoining acreage in a raffle, and she turned it into a dude ranch.  Tiring of all those dudes, Stanley sold the house to Nature writer Arthur Pack, who invited not just dudes but also writers and artists to visit.  (Georgia O'Keeffe never lived in the house, but in the one next door to it.)  Later, Pack transferred the ranch to the Presbyterian Church, which runs it today as a spiritual retreat and education center.  You can read the full history of Ghost Ranch here.

Our first stop on our annual eastward trip back to Campobello Island was Ghost Ranch to lead a painting retreat.  It's a beautiful place to stay and paint, wind notwithstanding.  (By the way, it wasn't just the wind but also smoke from the wildfire in the Zuni Mountains that followed us there.  I reported on the fire in my last post.)  We had some very productive painting sessions, got to tour Georgia O'Keeffe's Abiquiu home, and also painted at O'Keeffe's “The White Place”, also known as Plaza Blanca.  As I write, we have finished our days at Ghost Ranch and are now in Santa Fe for the second half of the retreat.

In this post, I share some photos from this part of the retreat.  I won't present any finished paintings here—the grit still needs to be picked out of the paint—but will do so in a future post.

Painting the dust-filled canyon

Pre-breakfast coffee and critiques

Skull on the Ghost House

Hunkered down out of the wind

The long view

Painting the view of O'Keeffe's Pedernal

Georgia once sat here for a photo

Afternoon painting of Kitchen Mesa

Evening hikes

Georgia's "White Place" - find the painter!

By the way, on the way from Ghost Ranch, I stopped in at the Plein Air Convention and Expo.  I didn't think I'd have time, but organizer and PleinAir magazine publisher Eric Rhoads extended the invitation to me, so I made time.  I'm glad I went, as I got to catch up with some good friends there.

Eric Rhoads and me

Now I'm in Santa Fe, hunkering down under another high-wind warning.  I'll have a report on Santa Fe once we're done here.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Mentoring: “Private Plein Air Painting Intensive Study” Program Report 3

Turnaround 9x12 Oil by Michael Chesley Johnson

What a week it was!  After our first day of very fine weather, the second day saw our town smothered by smoke from a prescribed burn 20 miles away.  We had quarter-mile visibility, if that.  By the time we got to painting, the smoke began to lift, but it still made for a hazy day with weak shadows.  Then a couple of days later, a wind storm blew through with 70 mile-an-hour gusts.  However, we found a side canyon where the wind couldn't touch us.  By lunchtime, though, the valley was blinded by airborne dust.  It was almost as bad as the smoke.  Then, during the night, the prescribed burn blew up into not one but two 1000-acre wildfires.  Fortunately, they lay to the northeast (and sent a vast plume of smoke 134 miles away to Los Alamos, the scene of another prescribed-fire-gone-bad back in 2000.)  Finally, our last day, the wind brought a gentle dusting of snow and temperatures nearly 40 degrees lower than what we'd seen earlier in the week.

Find the Painter!

Despite all the excitement, we had a wonderful week.  Jodi and I focused mostly on painting rocky cliffs, since that is what attracted her most, and also worked on her skills of simplifying complex shapes.  Jodi and her husband, Don, did not stay with us but took the tuition-only option, enjoying a stay in their RV with their two small dogs at the campground at El Morro National Monument.  (The full package, which includes lodging and meals, is $1400, the tuition-only option is $700. Full details at  Now that the week is done, Jodi and Don are off on a special painting project via RV, the details of which Jodi will announce in the future.

Jodi and  Don's RV -- plus the Razr for painting places seldom seen

Location shot for my painting at the top of the post

Jodi hard at work

Now that the final week for our season has ended, Trina and I are off on our journey east.  First stop:  A painting retreat Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico, and then Santa Fe, where I have been invited to be a guest of the Plein Air Convention and Expo.  Then, it's off to Indiana for a second painting retreat in Brown County, home of the late painter T.C. Steele.  And finally—Campobello Island, Canada!  Workshops in Downeast Maine very soon. Visit for details.

Window in the Rock 10x12 Oil by Michael Chesley Johnson

Secret Cliff 12x9 Oil by Michael Chesley Johnson

Morning Cliff Shadows 8x6 Oil by Michael Chesley Johnson

Juniper Shadows 6x8 Oil by Michael Chesley Johnson

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Upcoming Plein Air Painting Workshop at Acadia Workshop Center, Bernard, Maine

Many people travel to Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island in the summer.  This summer will probably see record numbers.  But there's a little-known, quiet side to the island, and that's where I love to teach my plein air painting workshop.

Bernard, Maine, is home to the Acadia Workshop Center, where I have been teaching almost every year since 2005.  I love this place, because it's a great facility for when we need to be indoors, and it's very close to some very beautiful (and quiet!) spots on the island.  When I teach there, it's always a special week for me.  We paint boats and harbor scenes, quiet marshes and crashing waves on the seawall.  Plus, one of the highlights is lunch or dinner at famous Thurston's Lobster Pound.  I can't wait to go again this year.

This year's dates are August 21-24, 2018.  For details and to register, please visit the Acadia Workshop Center site here:  I hope you'll join us.

(By the way, if the dates for this workshop don't work for you, I do have a few spots left in my Lubec, Maine, plein air painting workshops.  Please check out for details.)

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Mentoring: “Private Plein Air Painting Intensive Study” Program Report 2

My output for the week, minus one

I just wrapped up another week of my Paint the Southwest Private Plein Air Painting Intensive Study program.  Hester came from Washington in the Pacific Northwest.  An experienced painter, she joined me the previous week in Sedona for my all-level workshop to see how I work before coming to New Mexico to study with me privately.  Now that this private week has finished, she is on her way to an artist residency at Parashant-Grand Canyon National Monument.

The week was in many ways similar to the week I reported on in my first post on the program, which you can read about here in detail.  We painted a great deal, talked much about art issues and enjoyed excellent weather.  The difference, however, was the focus on business—Hester wants to get better at marketing and thus selling her work.  I enjoyed helping her with creating an action plan for the near future.

All landscape painters enjoy nature when out in the field, but sometimes you have a special moment.  One day at the lake, besides the coots, mallards and herons that have lately returned, for the first time I saw a flock of snow geese.  They were pure elegance as they flew from one end of the lake to the other, feeding.  My camera couldn't capture them, but we both enjoyed watching them.  I could write about many such special moments here, but I will leave you with a few photos from the week.

Hester painting at the El Calderon lava tubes.  She's an
experienced caver and well knows the dangers of caving
as well as how to protect the environment.

By the way, if you are an experienced artist looking for this kind of one-on-one, intense experience, please take a look at my Paint the Southwest website at  I am already taking registrations for Fall 2018 and Spring 2019.  I have a lot to offer, and I would like to help you reach the next level in your painting.

Time for a Hike - 8x16 oil - Available
(Ramah Lake)
by Michael Chesley Johnson

Up the Lake - 5.5 x 10.75 oil - Available
(Ramah Lake)
by Michael Chesley Johnson

Beautiful Canyon - 9x12 oil - Available
(Bonita Canyon)
by Michael Chesley Johnson

Ponderosa - 9x12 oil - Available
(Ramah Lake)
by Michael Chesley Johnson

Entrance - 8x10 oil - Available
(El Calderon Lava Tubes)
by Michael Chesley Johnson

Rock Top 1 - 6x8 oil - Available
(El Morro National Monument)
by Michael Chesley Johnson

Rock Top 2 - 6x8 oil - Available
(El Morro National Monument)
by Michael Chesley Johnson