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Monday, December 31, 2007

Take the Broad View -- or the Close-up?

When I hunt for a subject, I look for broad views. Sky, horizon, flat water, field -- at least three of these elements usually appear together in my paintings. I like to create a sense of peace, and dominant horizontals do this very well. But sometimes they do it too well, especially if the elements themselves lack interest. A 'severe-clear' sky without clouds, water without a ripple, an unbroken horizon or a field with nary a bush in it can lead to monotony. When this happens, I zoom in and look for a close-up.

We artists know all about looking for the abstract in our subject. The abstract pattern, once sketched in, gives us a foundation to build reality upon. To see this underlying pattern, we squint. Squinting eliminates detail and lets the big shapes become more obvious.

Zooming in can show us the pattern, too. Although it actually increases the amount of detail, the object itself becomes less obvious. Zoom in enough, and the object disappears entirely, out of sight and out of mind. You know the game of 'What is it?," in which you're shown a picture of an item so magnified that you have trouble identifying it. The abstract pattern you see makes little sense because you can't see the object's key features, or they are distorted beyond recognition. The picture may show a beautiful pattern of folds and ridges, but you don't know it's a fingerprint until you're told.*

I don't zoom in quite this far, but I do zoom in enough that I see only parts of objects. There's still enough left to identify the objects, but as parts, they become less important. For example, if I zoom in on a tree trunk and the bit of ground around it, I see the pattern made by the light and dark shapes more easily because I'm not thinking of the trunk as a trunk. It's a reversal of "can't see the forest for the trees." In this case, it's a good thing. I don't think so much about what the object is as I do about how it fits in my composition.

Another benefit of zooming in is that it forces you to consider a dynamic design. Zooming in tends to eliminate horizontal elements. Flat horizons give way to vertical tree trunks, diagonal branches, streams of water that run kitty-corner. This kind of movement can give you a very energetic painting. As someone who usually paints restful scenes, I find close-ups an exciting and invigorating exercise. (And, if my goal is a restful painting, a sometimes-challenging one!)

Accompanying this essay are two of my recent close-ups. One of them ('Canes Beneath the Fir') is still quite restful, but it accomplishes this with colour harmony and not horizontal elements.

Canes Beneath the Fir
5x7, pastel, en plein air

Tidal Snowbank
5x7, pastel, en plein air - SOLD

*(By the way, another interesting game to play is to take an old, empty 35mm slide mount and use it to find small compositions within, say, a 9x12 painting. You'll be amazed at how many good compositions you can find lurking within the larger painting's frame.)

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Snow Cloaks - Guerrilla Painter 9x12 Pastel Box

The last thaw made me hope that we'd leap-frogged winter right into spring. I knew it was a vain hope, though, and confirming it was the 5 inches of snow that fell yesterday. The storm came without a breath of wind, allowing the snow to pile up on branches and boughs in the most beautiful way.

On a walk among our apple trees, I admired the abstract patterns made by white snow clinging to dark branches. I kept thinking what a wonderful pen-and-ink drawing the apple trees would make. But I knew very well that, to truly capture the effect, I would have to work in a larger format and with more meticulousness than I was up for.

Instead, I went out with my NuPastels and a 5x7 piece of Wallis Sanded Paper (pro grade, Belgian Mist tone.) These days, I'm trying the 9x12 Guerrilla Painter Box in its pastel configuration. Usually, I take my French easel with a separate bag containing my pastel box. Some artists put their pastels in the French easel, but because of the way mine seems to lose things from its drawer, I've never quite trusted it with fragile pastels. The Guerrilla Painter Box, on the other hand, holds four, foam-lined pastel trays in its compartment. With two palette extension kits installed (one on the left, one on the right), I can have all four trays open and in use at once.

Also, since I like to have a separate container for my 'working palette' of pastels, I can borrow the covered palette tray from my 6x8 ThumBox, which sits right on top of the trays. When I'm done painting outdoors, I just put the lid on the palette tray and stuff it in my backpack. This allows me to keep my 'working palette' available if I choose to do more work on the painting back in the studio.

When I started looking for a spot to set up in, something other than the apple trees caught my eye. The firs were draped with yards of soft, luxurious white velvet, if there is such a thing. I ended up painting the firs instead. I guess I'll save the apple trees for another time.

'Snow Cloaks'
5x7, pastel

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas Thaw - Taking the Close View

Ever since winter arrived on the 22nd, the season has felt more like spring. We saw a high of near 40˚F (4˚C) on Christmas Day. Thanks to this unseasonable warmth, the snow is melting fast. Since I really love to paint snow, I decided to take my ThumBox out on its second adventure. (If you missed it, click here for its first adventure.)

This time, I drove down to the Herring Cove Provincial Park. Herring Cove is a broad expanse of sandy beach on the east side of Campobello Island. It's a popular spot in the summer with campers and picnickers. The beach is what they call a 'barrier beach,' and just behind it is Lake Glensevern, where Franklin D. Roosevelt used to go swimming. A small trail follows the lake edge and leads you to an area where beavers have been very busy. Just past this swampy area you'll find a beaver dam blocking one of the many streamlets that empty into the lake.

This dammed-up streamlet was my destination. I hiked about 10 minutes or so to get to it, negotiating the occasional icy boardwalk and the more frequent heaps of slush. These calf-deep piles had been snow drifts before the thaw, but now beneath every one lay a hidden trap filled with water. I learned quickly to not step into these 'slush drifts'!

The streamlet was high with water but still had plenty of snow banked up around it. What drew my eye immediately was the golden glow from the bottom -- thanks to the overcast light, the colour was very rich. (I've often noted how autumn foliage is at its best on overcast or drizzly days. Apparently, this holds true for streamlet bottoms, too.) I also saw another rich colour. On the far bank, melting snow revealed a carpet of bright green moss.

Although I might have painted the beach with its broad views of the Bay of Fundy, I went for the smaller view. I could have held my little snow-and-water scene in the palm of my hand. The close intimacy encouraged a supreme stillness in the world, something I don't think I would have experienced if I'd gone for the grand view. Other than the quiet trickle of water and the soft, barely audible settling of ice along the stream's edge, there was nothing.

"Christmas Thaw"
5x7, oil, en plein air

Monday, December 24, 2007

Guerrilla Painter 6x8 ThumBox

One neat Christmas gift this year is my 6x8 ThumBox from Guerrilla Painter. Since I paint so many small paintings, especially in winter when the cold shortens my sessions outdoors, I thought it was time to acquire a box specifically built for the task. Many of you know that I use the 9x12 Guerrilla Box. Although I can use it for small paintings, I really don't need such a large palette -- or the bulk. With the 5x7 adapter, however, the ThumBox is perfect for my 5x7 oils, and it fits easily in my small backpack.

Backpack with ThumBox inside and tripod strapped to outside

Here's the box, ready to go!

Even though the temperature yesterday soared to 45°F (or 7°C), I wanted to take the box out on a practice run. I slipped a pair of "Hot Hands" into my boots -- despite the unseasonable warmth, I still would be standing in a foot of snow -- and headed out with Saba, who likes to tunnel for field mice while I paint.

Just like the 9x12, the ThumBox was a cinch to set up. I was painting within a minute of settling on a spot.

Palette (after finishing painting)

The ThumBox's palette gave me plenty of room to mix in. It slides to the left, just like on the bigger box, revealing a compartment that holds not only my paint tubes but also my turps container. I even had space left for tucking in used paper towels. (I'd forgotten to bring a garbage bag.) The optional palette extension (on the right) has pre-drilled holes for brushes. For the painting below, I only used two brushes, but I still had room for three more. All in all, I had just as comfortable an experience as with my bigger box. The real plus is that the box is so small I feel I could hike some distance with it. But first I think I'll wait for the snow to melt off the trails!

Here's yesterday's painting. As with my previous one, I used no underpainting. I dove right in with opaque paint. I could have used just the #8 flat, but some of the wispiest-looking blackberry canes required the #4 flat.

'Eastport View with Blackberry Patch'
5x7, oil, en plein air

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Skipping the Underpainting

Back when I first started painting in oil, I was taught about creating an underpainting. An underpainting is typically done with thinned paint, although you can also just scrub in the color right from the tube thinly. The underpainting allows you to:
  • Refine the composition that you lightly sketched in at the start;
  • Establish the values of the masses; and
  • Establish the general color of the masses.
To be sure, these are good goals. They make the process of applying thicker, perhaps more opaque paint as you "build" the painting easier. The benefits include:
  • Giving you a compositional framework to place elements on without having to guess;
  • Giving you already-determined values to match; and
  • Giving you already-determined colors to match.
I've found some drawbacks, though. Any lines you may have drawn in your sketch usually have to be redrawn, otherwise they get covered up by later layers of paint. Sometimes the underpainting lightens as the paint soaks in, especially on an absorbent ground with transparent darks (e.g. Ultramarine Blue), and must be re-established. Finally, adding white to colors changes the quality of those colors, and what you lay down on earlier, more transparent passages may no longer match. Most times, I have the time to deal with these problems. But when I don't, I skip the underpainting altogether.

Skipping the underpainting requires a clear vision of what you want the final painting to look like.

When I bypass this step, I still make a rough sketch so I know where to place my key elements. But after that, I dive right in by mixing paint as close to what it needs to be. If I have a pale violet hill in the distance, I'll mix a tiny speck of Alizarin Crimson with a bit of blue into my white and try to match exactly what I see. Of course, all color and value is relative, so I try to fine-tune these relationships between areas as I go.

There are no transparent passages in this approach. I achieve my effects only with opaque paint.

I've found that, for small paintings in particular such as a 5x7, this is a more expeditious way to paint. I can complete a 5x7 in short order -- a great goal on a cold winter day! Here's an example I did this week.

"Old Orchard by the Sea" - SOLD
5x7, oil, en plein air

PS My 2008 calendar is still available! Click here for more.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Painting a Small Landscape Outdoors - Video!

Grab your coat and tuque, because we're going to paint outdoors!

I've been waiting eagerly for the arrival of my JVC Everio digicam so I could start filming my own demonstrations. It seems that an essential part of being a teaching artist these days is not just writing a book but putting out your own DVD. Since I've already written the first book (with a second on the way), I'm ready for the video.

The camera arrived two days ago. I spent the night in bed reading the three manuals. The next afternoon, I went out and shot my first demonstration. As this was completely intended to be a learning experience, I had no expectations.

Demonstration: "Snowfield Sentinel"
5x7, oil, en plein air - SOLD

It was about 30 degrees with a bit of a wind coming off the bay. (In the first version of the video I posted, you could definitely hear the wind! My "beta testers," my helpful colleagues on WetCanvas, informed me that this was an issue. I've got a new microphone on order already.) Otherwise, I was pretty toasty in my parka and other winter gear.

I intentionally painted a very small painting - 5x7 - for this demonstration. I enjoy doing small pieces in the winter, but also since this was a test, I didn't want to overwhelm myself with something as long as "Doctor Zhivago." Also, after running into issues with sound quality (the wind) and static shots (I refuse to hold camera in one hand and brush in the other just so I can alternate shots of palette and painting), I edited the 30 minutes of footage down to 5 minutes and removed the wind (and my voice.) Finally, I overlaid a favourite melody by Debussy.

My demonstration of "Snowfield Sentinel" is on my Demonstrations page (in the Workshops section) of my website. In the future, I'll also be posting real demonstrations in which I describe what I do.

Enjoy it, and I welcome any feedback! - Michael

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Sunswept Field with Snow

The temperature finally warmed up today to 27 degrees. In the sun, it was pretty pleasant. Of course, I ended up painting in the shade where a chill breeze was blowing off the bay. Trina, who came out to take some pictures for my new book, asked, 'Why are you painting in the windiest spot?' I didn't have a good answer at the time, as I was in the finishing stages of this little painting, which often is a time when my verbal circuits go dead. (When I'm teaching, of course, I always make sure to stop painting before I get to this point so I can still talk intelligently!)

I still don't have a good answer, though. There were plenty of great spots to paint in. I just loved the way the sun lit up the field from this vantage point. Sometimes we have to park ourselves where our feelings tell us to.

In addition to the painting below, I've included a shot of my paintbox. You can tell from the one brush in the brush holder that this was, again, a 'single brush' painting. I find that for these small paintings, my brush cleans easily because it doesn't get totally saturated with paint. I do take extra care to clean the brush well before punching up the highlights at the finish. You don't want muddy color when you're painting pure snow!

By the way, that pile of pinkish paint in the bottom right corner is what's left over from the previous painting session. Usually, I find a place to incorporate these 'palette scrapings' into the next painting. I didn't this time because the paint was a bit old and lumpy. I scraped it off and replaced it with today's leftover paint.

'Sunswept Field with Snow'
5x7, oil, en plein air - SOLD

Also, please don't forget to check out the preview of my show in Santa Fe!

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Winter Show in Santa Fe

For readers who might live near Santa Fe or be visiting the 'City Different' in the next few weeks, I have some good news. Galerie Esteban now has my work for its annual winter show. You can see a preview of my work by clicking on this link. Also, to whet your appetite, here is one of my 16x20 oils, "Acoma Winter":

(I used to live near the Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico. Trina and I did a lot of hiking in the El Malpais National Conservation Area, pictured here, which abuts the reservation. It's a gorgeous spot with ancient lava beds, sandstone bluffs and, of course, it's not far from Acoma's historic 'Sky City'.)

I hope you'll have an opportunity to visit. Galerie Esteban is at 241 Delgado, right next to historic Canyon Road. The show runs until January 4th.

Contact: Galerie Esteban, 241 Delgado St, Canyon Rd & Delgado, Santa Fe, NM 87501
505.988.1002 :: 888.988.1002
Open Mon-Sat 10-5, Sun 12-5

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Extreme Portability

'Extreme portability' is a phrase I like to use when I'm talking with students about what I do as a plein air painter. I can't plan on always painting from the back of the car. Sometimes I may want to take nothing but a backpack -- or sometimes not even that much! Well, maybe that's a little too extreme. But you do need to take only what you need.

I remember one pastel student who drove his van up to the painting site and proceeded to unload what appeared to be a complete studio. By the time he'd finished setting up, the rest of us were well into our painting.

When I'm oil painting, here are a couple of things I do to trim down my gear:

- Pre-load the palette and leave the tubes at home; and
- Figure out how few brushes I can get away with.

For the painting I did today, I used only one brush, a #8 natural bristle flat. Because it's worn down so much that it looks and acts like a filbert, I can get all the different kinds of strokes out of it I need: broad strokes, narrow strokes, lines and dots.

Pilots call this a "severe clear" day. I like the dark water against the snow, and the little bit of warmth that shows up in the lower portion of the sky. (Excuse the sheen on the brushstrokes in the sky; that will go away once it dries.)

'Eastport View, Severe Clear'
5x7, oil, en plein air - SOLD

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

December Nor'easter

Our first nor'easter of the season slid in quietly last night, dropping about 10 inches of heavy, wet snow. This afternoon, the storm is slowly spinning its way out to sea. Since I couldn't really see Eastport well enough to paint another in my Eastport series, I decided to do something more close-up. I picked a clump of yellow birches and maples right outside our bedroom window. (And yes, I did this one from inside, looking out.)

Last night, I was looking through American Art Collector, and a painting by Peter Poskas caught me eye. "Sap Rising" shows a snowy scene with an old house and maples. What interested me was the contrast of complements -- yellows and violets. I thought of his painting when I painted this one. I wanted to work toward a complementary color scheme. I chose oranges and blues, making the blues dominant. Although the oranges are a minor portion of the "real estate," they are the center of interest.

'December Nor'easter'
5x7, oi

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Eastport View, Wind Chill, 7 degrees

Yesterday, I did, in fact, chicken out. The wind was gusting to 45 mph, which dropped the wind chill down to 7. (That's -14C.) I really didn't relish the idea of exposing fingertips and nose to that kind of challenge. So, I set up my paintbox on a card table in a room with a view that's almost identical to the view I get from my garden bench.

This allowed me a little more time to consider my colour choices and my brushwork. (It also helped that I didn't have to steady my hand against the gale!) Although some might feel this indoors-looking-out method is cheating when it comes to plein air painting, I don't. I'm still painting from life. For sure, I'd rather be outdoors -- I still brag about the time I ran 6 miles at -20 F -- but sometimes personal bravado must be checked, especially when you're my age and feel a bit creaky even on a warm day.

'Eastport View, Wind Chill, 7 Degrees'
5x7, oil - SOLD

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Eastport View, Wind Chill, 25 Degrees

Yesterday, the wind was gusting up to 30 mph giving a wind chill of 25 degrees (-4 C), and I almost chickened out. It's not a bad thing to chicken out, because we plein air painters can always find something to do indoors. But knowing that the next day was going to be even windier and colder, supposedly to be followed by a monster snowstorm later in the weekend, I decided to brave it.

Two things helped considerably. First was the theory that a pillow would help insulate my backside as I sat on the slats of the garden bench. Second was my wife's Mountain Guide Full-Flap Hat from L.L.Bean.

This item is not only well-insulated but also has Goretex to cut the wind. (Short story: This was to be my hat, but even a Large doesn't fit, so I gave it to Trina. She always said I have a big head. Now I have an X-Large on order. Some might think the classier Mad Bomber Hat might be more appropriate for this kind of painting, but I don't like the rabbit fur.)

I was comfortable in the 30 minutes I sat to paint this piece - even though the wind was not only whipping up whitecaps but also knocking my paintbox about.

'Eastport View, Wind Chill, 25 Degrees'
5x7, oil, en plein air - SOLD

Friday, November 30, 2007

Eastport, Midday, Incoming Storm

I really enjoyed the energy of the 5x7 I did of Eastport, so I've embarked on a series. These are all small pieces, painted from my garden bench in the front yard and looking out across the International Border to Maine. Since I seem to stay warmer sitting than standing, I sit, huddled over my paintbox. (Perhaps if I add more fiery Cadmium Orange Deep to my palette, I will stay even warmer!) I usually stand to paint, but I make an exception for winter. Plus, I don't have to carry out the tripod, because I put the paintbox in my lap.
Yesterday afternoon, I did the second in the series. It seems we've entered a stormy period -- not unusual for this time of year -- and I can expect lots of clouds. I miss the clouds in the summertime, when often we have many days of what pilots call "severe clear" skies of nothing but hard blue. Yesterday, a small system moved in that hurled sleet against our windows at dusk and pelted us with snow pellets at dawn.
Here's the scene, just a few hours before the rain began.
"Eastport, Midday, Incoming Storm"
5x7, oil, en plein air

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Eastport, Evening, with Gulls

I've spent the last couple of weeks working on a series of larger (16x20) studio paintings of the Southwest, based on photo references. As much as I enjoyed paintings these, yesterday I was aching to get outside to paint. A warm front released us from a recent cold spell, and all of a sudden it felt like spring.

Near evening, I quickly re-assembled my oil plein air kit -- I hadn't touched it since Sedona, back at the end of October -- and went out. The wind was rising and the thick clouds we'd had all day were breaking. Warm orange tones began to creep into the leaden sky. No sooner than I sat down to paint, the clouds broke, and the evening sun cast its glow on Eastport, Maine, a mile across Friar's Bay. The timing was perfect.

I did this one quickly in no more than 15 minutes. I skipped my usual transparent underpainting, and went right in with thick, opaque paint. I felt this was the way to really capture the energy of the moment. At the end, I felt it important to add the seagulls, tossed by the wind high up in the clouds. They imparted more energy to the scene, and it's sometimes hard to do this in a painting with so many horizontal elements.

"Eastport, Evening, with Gulls" 5x7, oil, en plein air (SOLD)

Friday, November 23, 2007

Art of the Canadian Rockies

I live in Canada, but my wife and I still celebrate the U.S. Thanksgiving holidays. Even though the Campobello Island school bus whizzes by in the morning and the Canada Post office is open all day, we join our state-side friends in spirit and take the day off. Holidays let me catch up on my stack of magazines and books. Today, I finished reading Lisa Christensen's A Hiker's Guide to the Art of the Canadian Rockies.

As an outdoor painter, I find this book a feast. It's a volume of paintings created by Canadians in the early years of the last century. Most of these artists painted outdoors, and I believe all of the paintings in this book were painted on-location. The book is juicy with explanatory and biographical texts, as well as personal observations by the artists themselves. Here's W.J. Phillips:

"Woolen gloves are clumsy but permit the use of a pencil, but a sock is the best protection of all. It is pulled over the hand and the pencil point thrust through the toe. The fingers thus have full play and will keep warm provided the sock is thick enough. The number of lines drawn depends on the temperature."

I'm particularly taken with oil paintings that have strong brushwork and in which the paint has been applied confidently. Some of my favourites include work by: Illingworth Kerr; Peter Whyte and his wife, Catharine Robb Whyte; and also A.C. Leighton, Carl Rungius, Belmore Browne, J.E.H. MacDonald, Charles Comfort and A.Y. Jackson. Some of these were members of the Canadian "Group of Seven."

I'd like to include some images, but for copyright reasons, I won't. Go to the following sites to see some sample images:

The Whyte Museum -
Paintings by Peter Whyte & Catharine Robb Whyte:
J.E.H. MacDonald:
The Group of Seven -

So, this is today's inspiration. Now I'm going to go paint!

Friday, November 16, 2007

A Holiday Letter

Michael Chesley Johnson's Holiday Letter

16 November 2007

Welshpool, Campobello Island

Holiday Greetings to All!

I came home from the Sedona Plein Air Festival to find Hurricane Noel whipping across the Canadian Maritimes. Noel dropped over 4 inches of rain with 70 mile-an-hour gusts. And soon after that, we had another 2 inches of rain and more wind. Needless to say, most of the leaves have been ripped from the trees. Still, their beautiful colour litters the ground.

I had a great time in Sedona, as many of you will know if you've been following my blog. I got to paint with some top-notch artists such as William Scott Jennings, Michael Obermeyer, John Poon and two dozen others, and to see some truly spectacular autumn scenery.

After Sedona, I went to Santa Fe to tour the galleries on Canyon Road and renew old acquaintances. I had a delightful visit with Albert Handell and also saw his retrospective solo show at Ventana Fine Art. I also landed a new gallery in Santa Fe, Galerie Esteban (, which is making me part of a 4-man winter show in a couple of months. Being in a Santa Fe gallery is an exciting development for me, and I'm very pleased in particular with this one, which is the creation of the internationally-known guitarist, Esteban (visit to hear some of his music.) Below is one painting that will be in the show, "Santa Fe Glow" 16x20, oil:

After all this, I headed to a tiny town called Mora.

Mora is a historic Spanish town on the eastern side of the Sangre de Christo mountain range, about an hour from Santa Fe and a little more than that from Taos. Mora is nestled in the cottonwoods on the Mora River with fine views of the Mora Valley and the mountains. Plein air painters such as Handell, Ann Templeton and Walt Gonske think this is a very special place. Trina and I like it so much that we are buying an 1890s adobe there.

We plan to live in the adobe in the wintertime and run a studio gallery out of it. Mora is right on the road to the Angelfire ski resort, and we think the gallery will do well. Adjacent to the property is yet another and much larger adobe for sale. We think it'd be great if another artist were to buy this, and we could turn the two properties into an "art compound." If any of you are interested, here's a link: If you are thinking of buying, let me know, and perhaps we can work together on what would be a fun project.

Before I left, I had a painting accepted into the annual Pastel Society of New Mexico juried national exhibition. I'm proud to say this gives me Signature status. So, you'll start seeing "PSNM" after my name in addition to "PSA." (I'm already a Signature member of the Pastel Society of America.) Also, I had a painting accepted into the annual Oil Painters of America Eastern Regional juried show. You can find more about these and other events on my "News & Events" page.

The Sedona Plein Air Festival, followed by a short stay in Santa Fe and Mora, capped my travel season. I'm home now until spring. One of my projects this winter is to complete my next book. Backpacker Painting: Outdoors with Pastel & Oil will be an art instruction book. I'm looking forward to this book, since it will incorporate many of my tried-and-true approaches to outdoor painting, which I've presented to many of you in my workshops.

I just completed my 2008 portfolio. This 44-page paperback contains 37 new Maritime and Southwest paintings, both oil and pastel, all done in the past year. You can order the portfolio directly from the publisher for $15 + shipping at As a reminder, you can also order my 2008 calendar as well as my first book, Through a Painter's Brush: A Year on Campobello Island, from the same place. Any of these would made a great Christmas gift! (The calendar is $17; the paperback book is $30; and the hardcover is $45.)

Although winter is right around the corner, I'm expecting to paint outdoors throughout the season. I managed pretty well last winter, and I think I will this year, too. I also plan to start doing much larger paintings, some as large as 16x20. I may have to buy bigger brushes! And since the big paintings will take longer to paint, I may have to paint them over several days, returning to the same spot under the same weather conditions. I'll ask Santa for a pair of those insulated coveralls hunters wear, and maybe some chemical heat packs.

That's all for now. Have a great Thanksgiving (if you're in the U.S.) and a blessed Christmas!


PS Don't forget to check out my website for News & Upcoming Events and Workshops!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Lunch with Albert

By now, most people who read the art magazines have heard that Albert Handell turned 70 this year and has had a very important retrospective at the Butler Institute. He's had three articles on him appear at nearly the same time in the major journals. I've long admired his work, both oil and pastel, and he certainly deserves all the attention he's getting!

I am currently on my way back from the Sedona Plein Air Festival, but spending a few days in Santa Fe. The little casita I'm renting is only a block or so from Ventana Fine Art, where Albert displays his work in town. I didn't know, or perhaps I had forgotten, that Ventana has a large solo show of his work at the moment. Imagine my surprise, when I walked into the gallery yesterday and saw wall after wall of his wonderful work! (I've been back several times during my stay to study them.)

I have to stop a moment and explain my relationship with Albert. I took a workshop once from him several years ago. At one of the evening sessions, where he critiqued slides of our work, one of my pastel paintings suddenly flashed on the screen. My painting was of rocks. "Nice colour," he said, "but, Oy! those rocks!" I suppose that meant my rocks were frighteningly unbelievable. He suggested I go paint rocks for a year.

Since then, I've had a chance to communicate with him about one thing or another with some regularity in my capacity as writer and art instructor. When I saw the show at Ventana, it occurred to me that I might be able to schedule a visit to his studio -- if, that is, he was actually in town, wasn't busy and wouldn't mind a visit from a past student and admirer. That's a huge "if," since Albert has a full workshop schedule and an equally full painting schedule.

As luck would have it -- and Albert said that I was very, very lucky indeed -- he was in town, and although he was frantic before leaving on Thursday, he asked me over. I could tell he was raised in the big city, because when he asked where I was, he gave me extremely detailed directions. "See you in 15 minutes," he said, "maybe sooner!"

Visiting his studio is an inspiration. Albert is a very hard worker. One long shelf has file after file of photos or sketches, all organized by subject matter: "Trees," "Alabama," and so on. Other shelves have half-finished plein air pastel pieces stacked up in an orderly way, still with the masking tape holding the paper on the backing board. In the center of the studio, he has two set-ups, one for pastel, another for oil. I don't remember exactly, but the palette for his oil painting seemed as big as an office desk with little, neat piles of dried colours around the edge. The pastel table had hundreds if not tens of hundreds of pastels, all neat in their boxes. He reminded me how he chooses his medium. "I do oil only in the studio, never outside. I do pastel outside." Around the edge of the room were many oils, framed and ready to go to another show.

Seeing the paintings framed, I asked him how he paints for a show. "I don't paint for a show. I go through my inventory and pick what I like. Are you hungry? Do you want lunch?"

I explained I'd already had lunch. "How about coffee?" Sure, that'd be fine. "Good! We'll take your car."

Off we went, to a local cafe. I knew he was a regular, because the cashier called him "Alberto." He ordered two eggs with a bowl of black beans; I had some black coffee. "Have you tried these beans? They're great! Here, taste." He pushed a spoonful at me, and indeed, they were delicious. We talked about art, painting techniques, books, workshops -- the usual stuff artists may talk about. One thing I remember very clearly. Albert reminded me that he is very, very busy -- "But I am also very, very organized. " Besides his genius, I believe that his skill of organization is the real key to his success.

After lunch, we said our goodbyes, and I left with the good feeling that Albert is a sincere man. Why? At that one workshop I took with him, he explained his philosophy of teaching. He said something like this: "My teachers, who were very generous with their time, said they didn't want me to pay them back. They wanted me to pay them forward. They told me to be generous with my students, too. And that's what I am doing -- paying it forward." And that's exactly what he did by having lunch with me and letting me visit his studio, as busy as he was.

Due to copyright issues, I won't post any of his images here. But, you can see them on his website at and also at the Ventana Fine Art Gallery site, For a limited time, you can also view the solo show pieces here:

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Sedona 07 - Framed Pieces

Before the galleries opened to the public in Sedona, I took snapshots of my framed pieces. I thought you might like to see them, so I've posted them here.

(I was not able to tune my camera's white balance adjustment as much as I would have liked, and even though I've made some adjustments in PhotoShop, the color is still off a bit. I just wanted to give you an idea of how the pieces look framed.)

These are all 9x12 oils.

"Capitol Butte (Thunder Mountain)":

"Creek Whispers":

"Mitten Ridge Shadows":

"Peaceful Bend":

"Water Song":

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Sedona 07 - Day 8

It's over! I stopped by the Art Center just after dawn to park my car and go for a walk. The volunteers were already there -- this was around 7 am -- and were rehanging the art that they had moved from the Gala at the L'Auberge resort during the night. Some volunteers were fresh, others were clearly tired from the long days. I wandered out for a walk in Uptown to see the early morning sun on the red rocks.

After grabbing a cup of coffee from Ravenheart Coffee, I went back to the Art Center. I wanted to wash my brushes before the event started at 9. I haven't washed my brushes all week, which is a first for me. I was surprised that, after 10 paintings, the brushes were still pliable! I got everything cleaned up, donated my can of Turpenoid to the Center (I can't take it on the plane) and then joined the arriving artists.

I took a few photos of the show before the crowds arrived. Here are my paintings hanging in the primary gallery. I'm sandwiched between William Scott Jennings and Raleigh Kinney.

Here are my backup paintings, plus the Quick Draw, hanging in the second gallery. That's Tom Lynch doing some quick rehanging in his section.

The crowds arrived promptly at 9. There was little rest for the weary as we talked with patrons and potentional patrons. Pizza arrived around noontime for us artists. More talk...and by 3, it was all over.

There's not much more to add, except that it was a great week. I painted a lot of good paintings (some will be for sale on my website when I get back to New Brunswick), met a lot of really good artists, made some new friends, and enjoyed the hospitality of the workers at the Sedona Art Center. I would like to thank in particular my hosts, Janet and Peter Fagan, who really made this trip special.

Now that it's over, I'm heading for Santa Fe. I'll be spending a few days there, gallery-hopping, and renewing my acquaintance with that area. The weather looks like it'll be cooler there. I'll finally have a chance to wear all the turtlenecks I brought to Sedona!

Sedona 07 - Day 7

From the conversations I had with other artists, the Quick Draw is something to dread. It seems popular at these plein air festivals.

You're under the gun. Not only is there a deadline -- two hours to start and finish a painting, followed by one hour to frame and to get the piece to the gallery -- but you have the public. You're in a performance in which it is not just permissible for but expected that the audience interact with you. It can be a big challenge! Fortunately, as a workshop instructor, I have a great deal of experience with both. My demonstrations are usually under an hour, and I'm comfortable in having a dialogue with students while I paint. I think most of the other artists at the Festival are in this situation, and so these should be just minor points.

The real problem is that you have no chance to edit your work. You can't let it sit on a shelf for a day so you can analyze it at your leisure; nor do you have the opportunity to put a lesser painting in the "Let's Call This One a Study" bin; and for one that really went into the ditch, you can't just scrape it down.

After a short, mind-clearing hike on the Huckaby Trail at Schnebly Hill at dawn, I headed out. Parking is limited at L'Auberge, so artists were requested to park at a local church and take a pre-arranged shuttle to the painting spot. Since we arrived so early -- 8:30, with the Quick Draw not until 10 -- Betty Carr and I decided to park on Main Street and then hike down the 100-foot staircase to L'Auberge. (The L'Auberge resort sits on Oak Creek, deep in a canyon behind the shops you see on Main Street. There is a little-known funicular railway that can take you down in a small, 4-person car, but I haven't seen it operating all week. The staircase isn't bad at all, since the descent -- and subsequent climb -- is moderated by several switchbacks.) Once there, we found our spots, set up our gear and then wandered off to find coffee. I set up by what's called the "Wedding Tree". It's a giant Arizona sycamore that spreads its huge limbs over a lush lawn.

At 10, I started and was immediately beset by viewers. My location was right by L'Auberge's restaurant, and it was a spot with a lot of traffic. However, my painting went well, and I was quite pleased with it at the end. Comments were very favourable.

After delivering the framed piece to the gallery, I took off, grabbed a bite to eat and took a hike in Soldier's Pass. I didn't have much time, as we had to be back at L'Auberge, who was hosting the Gala, by 4 to vote for the Artist's Choice award. (In case you're curious, no, I didn't get it. It went to Michael Obermeyer, for a beautiful painting of a moonrise.) This time, I took the shuttle, as I didn't want to be hiking up and down the hill at night.

I was very impressed with this year's paintings. The quality, even with many of the same painters working, was a couple of notches up over last year's. There was some very exciting work, and much of it was inspiring. I think everyone felt this. Even though we were all tired from the week, it was re-energizing to see so much great art in one place. In fact, as the evening light lit up the red rock hills around us, several of us remarked how we felt like we wanted to go painting!

I had a great time, and I met some very nice patrons. L'Auberge did a superb job with the food and the venue. We artists were weary after the event. But we probably weren't as weary as the "schlepping team" will be on Sunday morning! After the event, volunteers were going to take down the entire show -- 120 paintings, minus the ones that sold -- and move it back to the Sedona Art Center for Sunday's Public Sale.

Tomorrow: the Public Sale, from 9 to 3. This will be the really big day. I remember when the doors opened at 9 last year, we had a flood of collectors from Phoenix, Scottsdale and even Manhattan who wanted the first crack at some truly great art. I'll definitely need a supply of coffee!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Sedona 07 - Day 6

Framing was the big order of the day today. This sometimes-arduous task was looming ahead, and until I'd dealt with it, I really couldn't see myself focussing on another painting. So, right after a short walk into the Soldier's Pass trailhead -- the sunrise lit up the red rocks that tower up on either side of the trail in a spectacular way -- I drove off to my favourite framing spot.

Framing requires a lot of space. Last year, I found the group picnic tables at the Sedona Community Center to be ideal. There's no one there most of the day, so you can have your pick of vistas. Big tables in the shade, convenient trash barrels and rest rooms, plus a view of the red rocks -- what more could you ask for? It's also a good spot for touch-up. I did a little touch-up on a few of the paintings, and then got to work framing. Here's me at work, plus a shot of a few pieces framed:

By the way, framing on the road requires not just space but also organization and planning. Before I flew out to Sedona, I made sure to pre-load my Fletcher Framemaster and to order screw-eyes and hanging wire with my frames. The one thing I didn't have was a Sharpie, which I use to sign the back of the paintings, plus to add title, date and the letters "e.p.a." (I put this on the back of all my plein air pieces -- "e.p.a." means "en plein air.") I picked one of these up at Basha's, where I went later to buy a salad at the deli for lunch.

After framing, I headed out to Red Rock Crossing. Although it costs $8 to enter the park, it's worth it, even for just a morning. (My framed pieces were due at the Art Center between 4 and 6 pm.) As with the day before, I loaded up my backpack and hiked in. I did some considerable hiking this time before I found a spot I liked. It was deep in the woods and by a stream. Here's the painting, although I did some minor touch-up on it later after taking this photo:

I finished up around 2, including framing this last painting. After driving back into town, I took a walk down to L'Auberge to scope out a spot for the Quick Draw event on Saturday. I made the mistake of sitting in a chair by the creek to watch the ducks for a moment, and nearly fell asleep. I was mesmerized by the slowing-moving water and the motion of little, fallen leaves travelling through the eddies. I suppose I was also a little tired from the week. A pair of ducks loudly mating stirred me out of my reverie. I then hiked back up to the main road (a steep climb of a 100 feet or so) and bought an iced coffee.

I delivered the framed pieces to the Art Center. The process involves picking out what you consider to be your top three pieces and then to number the remaining ones as "backups." I'll try to take good photos of these framed and in place during the Patron's Gala on Saturday.

The day ended with a dinner party at the Art Center's Executive Director's home, where we had not only excellent food but also excellent views. We watched the full moon rising behind Cathedral Rock. If only I'd had my camera! Or perhaps we all should have painted nocturnes.

Tomorrow: the much-dreaded Quick Draw, followed by the much-anticipated Patron's Gala.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Sedona 07 - Day 5

Another warm and beautiful day. After yesterday's mishap, I decided to go to a calm place where it would be quiet and lovely so I could regain my focus. I drove out to Red Rock State Park. It opens at 8 a.m., well before most tourists are up and about. I knew I could get a painting done before it got too busy.

I'd visited and painted the park last year. I remembered from one hike some beautiful, old Arizona sycamores that I wanted to paint. Reaching them required a hike, so I reconfigured my backpack and equipment so I could carry everything on my back. I never did find the sycamores -- I must have missed a turn -- but I did find a sunlit grassy field, a cottonwood in its autumn finery, and a backdrop of red rock. Painting this one was like meditation. Every brush stroke was as easy as taking a breath. This 9x12 oil will definitely be one of my top three for the week.

By the way, here are two photos I took at that spot. One is my easel set-up at the location, and the other a photo of this happy painter. (I have a very long arm.)

It was lunchtime when I finished, so I drove back into town to dine with the other artists at The Orchards, a restaurant that is run by L'Auberge, the Festival's main sponsor this year. Lunch was superb -- French onion soup, grilled chicken on a bed of lettuce with dried cherries and apples, followed by a huge slab of cheesecake. I sat with Cody DeLong and commiserated over Wednesday's efforts. Cody, too, had suffered Wednesday, and noted he'd actually scraped out one painting. This is not a bad practice, as it wipes the mental slate clean, too, and gives you a fresh start.

Although it was tempting to take a siesta after the big lunch, I headed back to the park. I wanted to paint water again -- it was 85 degrees -- and I had spotted a bridge wide enough for me with room for people to pass. This painting came easily, too, and it will also be one of my top three.

While painting, my paint box suddenly began to jerk left and right every time I laid down a stroke. Examination showed that a certain screw had loosened on the tripod's quick-release head. The manufacturer had given me a special wrench to tighten this. I had used it just once, back when I assembled the tripod for the first time. I'd put it in the tripod's carrying bag and never taken it out again. But when I looked for it, it was gone. My left hand has had lots of practice steadying the umbrella in this week's wind, so it was ready to steady my box, too.

On the way home, I had to track down a hardware store so I could buy an Allen wrench. I also stopped by the Sedona Art Center to pick up my frame order from King of Frame. Finally, I also did a load of laundry, since I was on Day Seven of a seven-day supply of clothes. By the way, I did not clean my brushes. In fact, I haven't cleaned them all week! That is a time-consuming task and hard to do when you're bone-tired at the day's end. All my brushes are either green or red. But you know, I've found it doesn't matter! I'm still able to lay down clean colour. This is an important discovery. The only issue, I suppose, is paint drying on the brushes. Painting every day keeps the brushes wet. Once I see a break coming in my daily routine, most likely after the Quick Draw on Saturday, I'll give them a good lathering.

Tomorrow: Framing. And then we drop off our finished, framed pieces at SAC between 4 and 6. I'm hoping to paint one more winner before I frame.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Sedona 07 - Day 4

Jerome, Arizona -- "Road Open 365 Days a Year" says the sign as you enter town -- reminds me of one of my old mountain haunts, Cloudcroft, New Mexico, but with more shops, galleries and restaurants. Whereas Cloudcroft sits on a plateau of sorts, Jerome occupies a hilltop, and it's a good idea to set your parking brake no matter where you stop!

I arrived in town around 8:30 and, having never been there before, I thought I'd scope out painting spots. However, the day was heating up quickly, and I saw all kinds of good stuff to paint. I enjoy painting old buildings, and Jerome has plenty of them. Before it got too hot, I set up my easel and went to work. Another reason I got started was the traffic. Most of the parking spaces were empty, but I sensed that they would fill quickly. Sure enough, by the time I finished, every space was taken. None of the vehicles, all modern-day sedans and pickups, made it into the painting. Putting them in would have spoiled the period of history I was trying to evoke. Here's my 9x12 oil, "Zip," so named because of the restaurant sign:

The restaurants of Jerome gave all the artists a free lunch. I had lunch at Haunted Hamburger in the Jerome Palace with Carolyn Hesse-Low and Michael Obermeyer. What did we artists talk about this time? Neither art nor the business of art. Because both Carolyn and Michael live in southern California, we talked about wildfire. Southern California is being ravaged by the fiercest fires in memory. Both artists have studios, homes and family that are being threatened. When I asked, they said it was indeed difficult if not impossible to focus on painting. I felt badly, because all I had to worry about back home was Trina and Saba getting lonely.

After a superb grilled veggie sandwich and nearly a gallon of ice tea, I headed out. My car thermometer read 84 degrees, so I thought I'd leave the sun and go to Oak Creek Canyon north of Sedona. Surely that would be cooler, I thought. I stopped at Grasshopper Point and found a shaded spot right by the water. However, it didn't seem cooler at all. The still air and the canyon walls trapped the heat. I was sweating even in the shade. I liked my scene -- aspens and an Arizona sycamore beside the sun-dappled creek -- but I just couldn't pull it off to my satisfaction.

I'll post the painting below, despite my sense that it's not quite right yet. Consider it education -- I certainly do! I believe my problem was that I was equally interested in the glowing oranges of the water, the bright leaves of the aspens and the near-luminescent bark of the sycamore. Instead of pinning down one center of interest, I think I tried to have three! (Should I blame it on the heat?) I do think the painting can be saved, though. I will put it aside and take another look at it later. Here it is:

By 5 pm, I was beat. This painting gig is almost like a 9-to-5 job! Tomorrow, I have a full day of painting ahead of me, plus the frames I ordered (from King of Frame) will be arriving in the late afternoon. I'll have to pick them up and start wiring them, in preparation for framing. Do people really think that this art business isn't work?

Alaskan King Crab for dinner made up for everything, though.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Sedona 07 - Day 3

After coffee and banana bread provided by my thoughtful hosts -- some lucky artists get more than just a bed! -- I drove out at dawn toward Oak Creek to the Little Horse Trail for a hike. This trail winds through a small canyon and then up into the hills where you have views of Cathedral Rock, the Courthouse, Bell Rock and the dramatic Chapel of the Holy Cross. After my hike, I drove over to the day's preplanned painting spot, the Sedona Heritage Museum.

The Festival organizers, in an effort to make the painters accessible to the public, have asked the painters to work in certain spots during the week. Not only will this help educate the public about plein air painting, it will also help sales. (We have a Showcase Gallery currently running with both studio and older plein air work; at the week's end, for art made during the week, we'll have the Patron's Gala and the Public Sale.) The Sedona Heritage Museum was one such location, and the volunteers who run it made a nice lunch to lure the artists in.

Although I've been to Sedona several times, both as a painter and as a "civilian," I've not been to the Museum before. I was impressed by the grounds. The Museum is the old Jordan farm, complete with a farmhouse and apple barn, both built out of the local red rock, plus antique farm machinery, and of course, great views. It was good enough to spend the whole day there.

Once again, the wind was an issue. For my morning painting, I really liked the house's sunlit porch, but to get the view I wanted, I had to paint in probably the windiest spot! Other painters enjoyed watching me paint with one hand and steady my tripod with the other. (I offered to pay $5 to have someone hold my umbrella for me, but I didn't get any takers.) Here's my 9x12 oil of the porch. By the way, all of these photos are taken with the painting still wet, so it's hard to avoid glare.
After lunch, I found a shaded and wind-free spot beside the apple barn with a view of the house and distant Mitten Ridge. More onlookers came by than in my morning session. I don't have a problem with this, since I give demonstrations regularly in my workshops. I like sharing what I've learned over the years about painting. Sometimes I think that talking while I paint, so long as the talk is about the process, actually helps me make a better painting. Here is the afternoon 9x12:

I was pretty beat by the time I finished this one. I packed up and headed home, where I had dinner with my hosts. (Some of us not only get a bed plus breakfast, but dinner, too!)

Wednesday will be a day in Jerome, 20 miles south of Sedona. Last year, several painters went to Jerome and returned with some good paintings of that historic mining town. I'm looking forward to seeing what I can catch!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Sedona 07 - Day 2

After a bowl of oatmeal at a Main Street diner, I headed out on Route 179 for the Village of Oak Creek and a road that turned to dirt and dead-ended at Oak Creek. We were having another day of wind, and I figured the trees around the creek would shelter me. Parking is not allowed at the end, so I had to park at the approved, official parking spot a quarter-mile up the road and hike down.

Just across the creek was the Crescent Moon picnic area and Red Rock Crossing, but both were inaccessible from where I stood, thanks to the creek waters. To get to that side of the creek, you'd have to take a different road out of Sedona (89A) and go in basically the opposite direction. I had a great view, though: the broad creek with yellowing cottonwoods arching over it, and Cathedral Rock rising up in the distance. Soon after I set up, two other painters arrived -- but on the other side of the creek. All we could do with the water between us was wave a greeting.

I set up on a broad shelf of flat, red rock with a view of a small waterfall cascading over an exposed rock ledge. Although I had a grand view, I chose this intimate one. I really liked the warm color of the submerged rock, especially where the sun hit it, and the cool purples of the reflected sky beneath the waterfall. I made the above 9x12 oil.

After finishing up, I took a hike on the Turkey Trail, not too far away. This year I'm carrying a cell phone, and I was surprised to find I had "three bars" in the middle of nowhere! I couldn't see a house, a utility pole or any sign of technology. (I called Trina in Canada and left a message stating this. It's amazing how technology can help us spend our idle time so wisely. I've observed this also in airports.)

At lunchtime, I went to the Basha's supermarket and picked up a veggie salad at the deli. I took it to the Community Center picnic area, which I found last year to be a great place to organize and frame. The place is empty during the workday, so I had it all to myself. I opened up boxes, framed a piece for my host (hosted artists give art in exchange for a bed), and looked over paperwork. Later in the week, I'll do all my framing there.

I rested a bit in the afternoon, catching up on my stack of New Yorkers that I lugged along. I waited until 4 to go back out to where I had painted Sunday evening. As I mentioned in yesterday's entry, I had gotten only the block-in done, and I wanted to finish. This location sports a good view of Capitol Butte. But better yet, it has a dog park. By 5, dogs were already at play, barking, yelping and having a great time. Once in awhile, someone would play a little rough, and I'd hear a dog owner say something like "Hey, cut it out!" I kept thinking of my dog, Saba, and wondering how she'd like a dog park.

Here's my 9x12 oil of Capitol Butte:

We had a group dinner for artists at Los Abrigados Resort & Spa. Other than our orientation meeting on Sunday, this was our first group event. I sat at a table with Scott Prior, William Scott Jennings, Carolyn Hesse-Low, Doug Moran, Billyo O'Donnell, Brian Stewart and Jeannette LeGrue. What do artists talk about when they get together? Not about the proper use of Ultramarine Blue. Rather than craft, we talked about shows, awards and money -- the business end of art.

Before I forget, here is my painting I did at the first paintout on Sunday morning. I did this from the back of the Sinagua Plaza downtown. This 9x12 oil is a view of the Mitten Ridge:

So...what's your favourite?

Monday, October 22, 2007

Sedona 07 - Day 1

Sedona is one busy place this time of year. Apparently, Folks in Phoenix don't have much in the way of autumn foliage, so they drive up to Sedona and Oak Creek Canyon to see the cottonwoods turn yellow. I drove down the Canyon from Flagstaff on Saturday. Traffic was heavy and slow, but slow wasn't bad, because it gave me an opportunity to see just how well the colour is progressing. It looks to be nearly peak. Locals are saying it's one of the best foliage seasons they can remember. It'll be a great week to capture it on canvas.

This is the 3rd Annual Sedona Plein Air Festival ( In case you're not familiar with this prestigious event, participation is by invitation only. Once again, I'm honoured to be one of 30 invited artists. You can see a list of the artists here and visit the links to their websites. I'll be rubbing elbows with the best and brightest!

I didn't come right to Sedona, though. On Wednesday, I flew into Albuquerque, New Mexico, and drove south to Ruidoso to visit my friend, Ann Templeton. I also stopped by our storage unit -- after nearly two years, Trina and I still haven't completed our move to Canada -- to pick up some frames and other items I stashed there after last year's festival. It was good to relax a bit before what I'm sure will be an intense week.

Saturday was a long, 9-hour drive. From Ruidoso, I took the scenic route through old New Mexico towns with names like Datil, Quemado, Pietown (famous for its pies) and Springerville, Arizona. Once in Sedona, I checked in with my hosts, had a nice dinner with them and then went right to bed. (My body is still on Atlantic Time.) On Sunday, I met the other 29 artists at the Sedona Art Center for an orientation.

As you may recall, last year we had a leisurely start to the week. Our morning orientation was followed in the evening by a social at Red Rock state Park. Between the two, we had several hours to get our bearings. This year, though, we were put under the gun right away. Immediately following orientation, we had our first paint-out -- on Main Street, which was bumper-to-bumper with tourists!

As a teacher, I'm pretty comfortable with people watching me paint. What made me uncomfortable, though, was the gale-force wind. It was so strong that the folks running the sign-in tent decided not to put up the tent for fear of being blown to Oz. You can imagine what we painters were up against. I took a sheltered spot on a balcony with a view. The only drawback was that the shade, and what little breeze found me was chilling. I really could have used a bit of sun. (Warmer temperatures are due to return in a couple of days.) Because of the chill, I had to work fast. Visitors were amazed at what I did in an hour. (One remarked, "The others are still just getting set up.") Even though it was a quick one, I'm very happy with it. I don't have a photo just yet, as I'm waiting for the wind to die down a bit before trying to photograph it.

After the paintout, I took a drive to refamiliarize myself with painting spots. I found some good ones last year that I wanted to remember. I also wanted to visit some of the new spots that are on the "suggested locations" list the organizers gave us.

In the evening, the wind was still howling, but I wanted to paint the evening light. I found a bit of shade on the lee side of a juniper with a view of a formation near the Coffeepot. Sedona is famous for the odd names of these red rock formations -- "Coffeepot," "Snoopy" and "Battleship" are just a few. I don't know what the name of this particular hill is, but it will be important to find out the names for all the paintings I do this week. The most-asked question I had last year from potential buyers at the final sale was, "What rock is that?" Strangely, this seems to be very important to the buyer, and if you don't know, they are disappointed enough to move on to an artist who does know.

I didn't finish this painting. I got as far as the block-in and capturing the feeling of light and the quality of the colour when shade got just too cold again. The temperature drops fast in the desert when the sun starts to go down. My plan is to go back this evening around the same time to finish it off.

Finally, after dinner, I went right to bed. Monday, I have most of the day free to paint and explore. Our only planned event is dinner for the artists at 7 at Los Abrigados. I'll see if I can stay awake that long!

I'll be posting daily entries to my blog as the week progresses. I'll post photos of the paintings I do plus photos of some of our group activities. I'm sorry I don't have any photos just yet, so I leave you with this photo from last year: