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Saturday, March 27, 2010

Eastward Ho!

"On the Edge" 11x14, oil, en plein air
available through Windrush Gallery
800-323-0115 -

This will most likely be my last post for awhile, and certainly my last Sedona post until next fall. We are wrapping up life here in Red Rock Country and are preparing to head for distant lands. We'll go north a bit first - Utah, where I have a workshop to teach - and then, finally, east. And we'll keep going east for about 3000 miles! With stops in Illinois, Indiana and Vermont for workshops, we won't put the horse to rest until we get to Campobello Island. I do hope to post again in Utah.

With that in mind, I leave you with this final Sedona painting. It's one I did just off the Schnebly Hill Road.

Happy trails!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Creek Rising and Other Signs of Spring

We've been painting water lately. It's an appropriate subject this time of year in Sedona, because the deep snows up in Flagstaff are melting and the creeks are up. Painting water is, one might say, another sign of spring. We've got many signs of spring now. The giant cottonwoods have already budded and are raining down catkins along the creek. On the hills, the manzanita - "little apple," in Spanish - are rich with fragrant blossoms and buzzing with bees. The quail, comical to us as they chase one another at dusk, pursue life seriously now that the mating season is here. And the painters, well, they paint.

I've done several small paintings of water this week. Here are two of my favorites.

"Spring Creek Rush 1" 5x5, pastel - contact Michael

"Spring Creek Rush 2" 7x7, pastel - contact Michael

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Crescent Moon Cottonwood

"Crescent Moon Cottonwood" 12x9, pastel - contact Michael

We are deep into spring here in Sedona. The cottonwoods are just beginning to bud out. When I painted this one - one of my favorites over at Crescent Moon - the buds hadn't quite started yet. You can see the spring color in the grass, though!

Later this week, I'm hoping to get up to Slide Rock. There are apple trees there. I wonder if they are blooming yet?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Warmer Weather - Spring Thaw

After last week's rain and snow, this week we are now blessed with warmer weather. Daffodils and crocuses have already sprung up in many yards here in Sedona, and the willows are bright green. This time of year, I am always drawn to water. The warm weather melts the snow up the canyon in Flagstaff, and the water charges over the rocks in Oak Creek.

This one I painted in a spot that is new to me. I had to cross a dry creek bed, full of cobblestsones, to reach a vantage point right at the edge. I didn't have much room to set up in, just enough for my feet and easel. The roar of the water was deafening.

"Spring Thaw" 12x9, oil
available through Windrush Gallery
800-323-0115 -

Saturday, March 13, 2010

More Grand Canyon

Now that I've had a chance to take a more leisurely look at the sketches I made at the Grand Canyon, I'd thought I'd post a few more that I like. I think these effectively capture the moment.

"Snow in the Morning" (9x12, oil) shows one of the many points that jut out from the South Rim. These cliffs are typically in shadow most of the morning, and any snow that falls on the ledges tends to stay there.

"Departure" (5x7, oil) shows another little point. This one is quite narrow, and I doubt any but the hardiest painter would venture out onto it, especially given the snow and ice that would make for tricky footing.

"Canyon Squalls" (5x7, oil) shows a broad view of the Canyon. We could see a band of snow lying on the distant North Rim. Snow squalls were heading our way, and peek-a-boo sunspots darted here and there on the buttes and temples.

I enjoyed the trip to the Grand Canyon so much that I'm planning on a Grand Canyon Week as part of next year's Paint Sedona workshops. Most likely, this will be in April. If you're interested, please contact me.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Creating Mystery

"Cathedral Rock Squall" 5x7, pastel - contact Michael

We've had a run of unsettled weather this week, but the clouds and snow squalls make the mountains seem ever more mysterious and inviting. What would it be like to climb up into those fog-wreathed spires? Bringing this feeling to your work and investing it with more than just well-observed color and value can be a real trick. Avoiding excessive detail helps.

I have an on-going fascination with Cathedral Rock, and often I'm trying to capture that sense of mystery. (If you look back through the blog, you'll see many instances of this landmark.) For this little pastel sketch, I avoided detail with mystery in mind. I blocked in the main shapes and then analyzed each area, comparing one shape to another and making corrections. I compared and corrected value, temperature, hue and intensity without intentionally creating detail. For example, the rocks themselves began as a mid-value red-violet. That's not the actual color of these rocks, of course, but I wanted to start with the right value and the right color temperature. Once I laid in my initial wash - you can see bits of the red-violet still poking through - I needed to lower the intensity and warm up the color somewhat. I scumbled over first a dull brown to warm it and then a cool green to lower the intensity. Finally, I added touches of a dark blue, which helped imply a bit of texture in the rocks.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Painting the Grand Canyon

Sunset on the Rim

No one ever said painting the Grand Canyon would be easy. The first day, it almost felt like I had forgotten everything I knew about painting. The Grand Canyon will do that to you. Shadows and colors seem to shift with mischievous intent. The shadows you so carefully blocked in at the beginning merge, changing their patterns; the greyed greens and violets grow subtly warmer, and the paint you mix never seems warm enough. When the day is done, you discover your palette is filled with abandoned mixtures.

Grand Canyon Sketch 1, 5x7, oil - SOLD

All that said, I came away from the four days with three 9x12s, six 5x7s and 257 photographs. I turned out one real scraper, a 9x12, which once scraped and painted over, became a pretty nice one. I have a couple of 5x7s that should have been scraped, but I'm holding onto those as a reminder of how the Grand Canyon can cost you paint and time but never the experience. And my experience was indeed fantastic!

M.L. Coleman, who's painted the Grand Canyon for over 30 years, asked me if I'd like to take a trip. It was an honor to go with someone who knows the Canyon so intimately. We even had a special permit that allowed us to take his 22-foot Lazy Daze over roads where only the shuttle buses can go. The timing was good for me, plus we'd just had a snowfall and the weather for the next few days looked to be fine.

M.L. Coleman painting by the Lazy Daze

Indeed it was. Mornings never dropped as low as forecasters predicted and often bottomed out just below freezing. Once the sun came up, highs climbed to around 50. That may not sound warm, but at 6000+ feet in Arizona, the March sun is intense. Winds were generally calm, picking up a bit only toward sunset and then on our very last day. "I always feel blessed when I come to the Grand Canyon and there's no wind," Michael said.

Grand Canyon Sketch 2, 9x12 oil

The whole point of winter painting at the Grand Canyon is to capture the snow on the rocks. About two feet of snow lay along the rim. The Rim Trail, which is partly paved, was somewhat clear, but where drifts had blown over it, the snow had been packed down to ice by hikers. We often had to watch our footing, because as the day warmed, the snow and ice grew slippery. Whenever I took a break from painting, I ventured out on the Rim Trail to see what views I could get. Sometimes I went off-trail and got pretty close to the edge, but not as close as some hikers, whose footprints I could see wandering right up to a fateful fall. Dangerous, because what you think is snow-covered rock might actually be snow-covered air - a corniche.

Me, painting near Hermit's Rest. The bandana protects my ears from the sun.
(The pith helmet didn't make it on this trip.)

We had great painting Monday afternoon and also Tuesday and Wednesday. Wednesday night, a front began to blow in, and by dawn we already were having 40 mph gusts. But the scurrying clouds created a great hide-and-seek show down in the Canyon with light and shadow. No sensible painter would be out painting in that kind of wind, but we considered ourselves very fortunate indeed to have incredible clouds for photography.

Learning how to paint the Grand Canyon well, I think, will take a lifetime. Every moment is different - clouds fly over, shadows creep, colors shift with the speed of a chameleon. You can try abstracting it as you would any landscape, but because of its slippery complexity, it resists easy analysis. But worse, the Canyon is seductive and lures you away from your painting. Rather than paint, you want to just look deeply into its mysteries. At one point, I felt its call so strongly that if I had suddenly tumbled headfirst into its awesome beauty, I don't think I would have minded.

Grand Canyon Sketch 3, 9x12, oil - SOLD

Monday, March 1, 2010

Off to the Grand Canyon - Painting Somewhere New

An opportunity has come up for me to go painting at the Grand Canyon for a couple of days. Lucky me! They've had a bit of snow up there the last couple of days, so we should have some good snow scenery. The weather forecast is for sun and relatively warm days (50 degrees F.). I'll be going with painter M.L. Coleman, who'll be driving the RV.

Having not painted there before, I'll take the approach I recommend to students who come to Sedona or Campobello Island for the first time. That is, I won't go with the goal of creating finished, gallery-quality pieces. Instead, I'll just explore the area with brush and camera. I'll do some small sketches such as 5x7s and 9x12s, and you can bet I'll try to max out the 8-gigabyte chip in my camera! All this is with the goal of getting familiar with the landscape for the next time I go. Of course, it's possible I'll get lucky and come up with a piece I can frame, but I probably stand a better shot at getting struck by a meteorite! Going with the goal of creating a finished piece would be frustrating, I'm sure.

Before I go, I leave you with this small pastel. My intent was to explore the form of the rock and the shadow colors - exactly the kind of thing I'll be doing at the Grand Canyon.

"Raven Rock" 5x7 pastel, contact Michael