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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!