Authentically Human! Not Written by AI!
All Content Copyright © Michael Chesley Johnson AIS PSA MPAC

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Fog and Sun

"Fog at Herring Cove"
12x9, oil - contact Michael

One foggy morning, I took the workshop out to Herring Cove to paint the tail-end of Glensevern Lake. Glensevern is a freshwater lake trapped by a long spit of sand. It's one of my favorite spots to paint, especially in light fog because of the dark masses of trees that loom up over the grass-covered sand bar. Good contrast, like that of the dark trees against the lighter fog, helps make for a good composition. I avoid low-contrast situations whenever possible.

Liberty Point is another of my favorites, especially on a windless day. A stiff wind, even at mid-summer, can chill you to the bone as it blows cold air off the Grand Manan Channel. Friday we had exceptional weather. I did a tree demonstration - focussing on the wind-wracked spruces at the cliff edge - but also enjoyed capturing a little bit of Maine's West Quoddy Head in the distance. For these spruces, I was careful to block in the trees first as a dark silhouette. Treating them as a silhouette automatically simplifies the detail for you. Once the silhouette was established, I then applied slightly lighter, but noticeably warmer, paint wherever the sun touched each bough. It's an easy way to paint trees.

Now I'm done teaching workshops for a bit. Next week, I'll help Doug Dawson ( with his workshop in Lubec.

"West Quoddy Head from Liberty Point"
9x12, oil - SOLD

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Rockin' Rocks

"Rising Tide"
9x12, pastel - SOLD

Years ago during a workshop critique with Albert Handell, Albert asked me: "Do you have any rocks where you live?" Yes, I answered. "Well, I want you to spend a year painting rocks." I believe he thought my rocks were too soft. I did as he suggested, and it was good practice. I think my rocks are up to snuff these days.

Today, I took my workshop out to the Head Harbour Lighthouse where I did a rock demonstration in pastel. I tell my students that, no matter how round a rock may look, you always want to start off by drawing it with angular lines. This is because the more you paint the rock, the rounder it's going to get. If you start round, you'll end up with something like a baked potato. But start off with sharp angles, and you'll be rewarded with a suitably dangerous-looking rock. (There's not much danger in a baked potato.)

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Mid-Summer Newsletter

"Fog Lifting Over the Duck Poinds" 8x10, oil, en plein air

25 July 2010
Campobello Island in the Canadian Maritimes

It's been a hot summer in most of the US and Canada. We've had a few hot days here, too, but nothing like some of you have been experiencing. We like to escape the heat by going to Liberty Point. This dramatic cliff overlook juts out into the cool, deep waters of the Grand Manan Channel. The other day, when we went there for a hike, it was 82 at the studio in Welshpool but a pleasant 63 at Liberty Point! (That's 28 and 17, respectively, for those of you on the Celsius scale.)

My big news is that the Acadia Invitational II exhibition opens at Argosy Gallery in Bar Harbor, Maine, on August 8th. I was one of 30 painters invited to participate in this show, along with artists such as W. Jason Situ. The show runs through September 2011 (yes, that's for a full year!) I hope you'll have a chance to see it.

Speaking of shows, the Plein Air Painters of the Bay of Fundy exhibition continues until September 4 at the Saint John Arts Centre in Saint John, NB. I have a dozen pieces in it. The show has 11 very fine artists plus over 80 paintings. If you haven't stopped by, I hope you'll check it out. (And yes, the artwork is all for sale!) Details are at

Other big news includes my two full-length instructional videos. F+W Media, publishers for The Artist's Magazine and The Pastel Journal and also the operators of, have picked them up for distribution. They'll be available in two ways - through streaming video on and as a download from Release date for the pastel video is August 20; the oil video will be available September 17. Once I get the "link" for these, I will publish them on my website, my blog and also on Facebook.

Also, I've been juried into the 2010/2011 Plein Air Southwest event. Sponsored by the Outdoor Painters Society, this event spans several months and has events at the Grand Canyon, Ouray (CO), Prescott (AZ), the Texas coast and Dallas. Some of the participating artists include my friends Bob Rohm, Ann Templeton, Jill Carver and Bill Cramer, among others. Although there are specific events at the afore-mentioned locations, the artists can paint from mid-August until the Quick Draw at the Dallas Arboretum in any of the southwestern states and put work from these other locations in the show. The show opens April 8 at Southwest Gallery in Dallas. Here's a link to the show page:

The free shipping continues for my books (Backpacker Painting: Outdoors with Oil & Pastel, Through a Painter's Brush: A Year on Campobello Island) and other publications. At checkout, use the coupon code FREESHIP to qualify. Visit my store at to buy them. By the way, forgot to index my new book, so they are offering 15% off the price. The book is Paint Sedona: A Plein Air Painter's Field Guide to Sedona, Arizona. Go to my website, order the book, and then enter coupon code BEACHREAD305. Here's the link to the order page: (I don't think you can use both coupons, though.)

I am now taking reservations for my popular winter Paint Sedona workshops. We have changed the format a bit this year. Rather than 5 days, I'm teaching 4 days each week, Tuesday through Friday. You'll still get 20 hours of instruction since I do two half days (9-1) and two long days (9-3). Also, not every week is a mentoring week. I have three types of workshops in Paint Sedona now:

Traditional plein air workshops (all levels of student welcome)
Advanced topic plein air workshops (intermediate-advanced students only; this winter's topic, "Large Format Painting")
Mentoring plein air workshops (intermediate-advanced students or professionals only)

By the way, we are no longer offering lodging for Paint Sedona. There are, however, many fine motels, B&Bs, time share condos, resorts, house or room rentals very close to the studio. For more much information, please visit my website,

For those of you interested in learning about new paintings, new workshops and helpful painting tips, I encourage you to visit my blog regularly. The site is I'm also on Facebook, and I've started putting updates there, as well. Visit me there at

Have a great summer, and I hope to see you soon!


Michael Chesley Johnson MPAC PSA

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Dirt Streets

"Looking Up Ferry Street"
5x7 pastel sketch - SOLD

It's unusual to find a dirt road within a New England town center these days. Most towns think it's cheaper to pave a street than to grade it each year after mud season. But for a painter, there's more value in a dirt one. A dirt one may have wildflowers and grass sprouting up around it, and its edges melt pleasingly into the landscape. You see these roads depicted all the time in hundred-year-old landscapes, but not so much anymore. Instead you see hard-edged streets that take more work to integrate into the landscape.

Yesterday, while the workshop was out painting boats at the Lubec waterfront, I turned my easel 180 degrees and discovered this unexpected scene. It was a moment of visual delight.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Painting Flowers and About Gloves

"Fox Farm Flowers" 9x12 oil

I thought I'd post a couple of paintings with fields of flowers in them. The first one, "Fox Farm Flowers," shows a bouquet of orange hawkweed. If you've not seen this flower, it is quite remarkable - a cup of hot orange with a dot of bright yellow in the center. The sight of a whole field of them leaves me breathless. To paint these flowers, I had to put down a healthy dollop of orange followed by a smaller dollop of yellow, gently applied so as to not to overmix the two.

"Field Flowers" 8x10, oil

The second, "Field Flowers," is a cooler scene with scatterings of white daisies and beach rose. You'll note in both of these paintings that the pattern of flowers is not random. What Nature gives you can be very random indeed, but it's important to take these scatterings and impose some sort of design upon them. I had fun creating a lead-in for the viewer's eye.

I also thought I'd mention gloves. Recently, a student asked me if I've developed a chemical sensitivity because he noticed I wear gloves when painting in oil. Not at all. For me, the gloves help in the clean-up. The paint stays on the gloves, not on my hands, and I'm less likely to get Phthalo Blue on the car seat. I just got a box of 100 nitrile gloves, which should last me a long time. I can make one set of gloves last a whole week of painting.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Notan and Herring Weirs

"Fixing the Weir"
9x12, oil - SOLD

My workshop students were lucky enough today to see an old herring weir being resurrected over by the Head Harbour Lighthouse. As the herring industry diminished over the years, traditional herring weirs were abandoned. There are still some on Campobello Island, but very few. One of my favorites is the one by the lighthouse. It has stood unused for the last two years, and the winter storms have not been kind to it. I was delighted to see that the owners had a pile driver out and were pounding in new stakes. It won't be long before they string up the net and start catching fish.

For those of you unfamiliar with weirs, here's a good article on them: Here's a picture I took some time ago of the lighthouse weir in all its unbroken, unbattered glory, but without the net. It's quite a difference between what it looked like then and what it looks like today!

We had fog, and that made for a very light sky and very light water, putting the weir and its attendant boat and pile driver into silhouette. If you squint, the scene is basically two values, a light and a dark. I like the abstract pattern the old weir made against the water. It reminded me of Arthur Wesley Dow's book, Composition: Understanding Line, Notan and Color. He makes a big deal of notan, which is a Japanese design concept dealing with light and dark patterns. If you haven't read the book, I recommend it.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

More Buildings, More Perspective - and a Video!

"Red House on School Street" 9x12, oil

For this week's plein air workshop, we had a bit of fog. Nothing serious - if you went out for a walk, you could always feel your way back home - and it usually lifted by mid-morning. One such foggy morning we drove across the border to paint in Lubec. We began down by the water at the old McCurdy Smokehouse complex, but it was chilly, so next we headed up the hill where it was warmer. Amazingly, when the fog lifted, every trace of it vanished, leaving behind a clear, beautiful blue sky. You can see that sky in the painting above.

I liked this scene not just because of the sky (and the red house) but also because of the perspective. It's not an angle you see painted often. Usually, to avoid what they see as a drawing challenge, novice painters will avoid dramatic perspectives and choose something simpler, such as the side of a barn seen straight on. But I actually find it easier to draw a dramatic perspective. It's like drawing a caricature as opposed to a serious portrait; it's easier to exaggerate a prominent feature than to get it "just right."

Even so, I found it important to measure angles with my brush. If you try to just guess at the angle, I guarantee you'll get it wrong. It's important to use your brush handle as an angle-measuring tool. Hold it out with your arm extended, match the brush angle to the angle of, say, the roof line. Then, after locking your wrist and elbow, swing your hand to the canvas. Locking your joints will preserve the angle of the handle so that you can see exactly how the angle should be drawn on your canvas. Do this for each of the major lines, and do it whenever you're in doubt.

By the way, I put together a short (2 1/2 minute) video about my Campobello Island plein air painting workshops. Take a look!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Boat Graveyard

"The Graveyard" 12x16, oil

There are a couple of coves on Campobello Island that have served as unofficial "boat graveyards" over the years. Boats beyond repair are hauled up and left to finish out their days. Winter storms, summer heat and multitudes of tides take their toll. The owners strip the boats of any salvageable gear - propellers, motors and the like - leaving only wood and paint behind. In the six years we've lived on the island, I've seen more than one hull splinter into planks and vanish.

Near Wilson's Beach is my favorite graveyard. You pass it on your way to the Head Harbour Lighthouse. I've always wanted to get there at low tide and paint the boats. Today was the day, with beautiful weather and low tide at just the right moment.

By the way, I still have three of the four pastel sketches left I did this week. Click here to see the post. Let me know if you're interested via e-mail.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Grab-n-Go Paintings

I thought I'd post the pastel demonstrations I did during this week's workshop. I'm a big believer in using one's scraps, and these were all done on bits and pieces of Wallis Sanded Pastel Paper that I've saved up. I love the Belgian Mist color because it's a mid-value warm grey. I don't do any underpainting or wash on these, but just dive right in with the pastel. It makes for a very direct way of painting - "grab-n-go," as it were. The nicest thing is this: If the painting doesn't turn out, hey, it was just a scrap!

I do like these, though. Let me know right away if you want any or all of them. Click on each image for a bigger view. E-mail me at

"Rockweed Study" pastel, 2.5"x6"

"East Quoddy Head Panorama" pastel, 3.25"x11.5" - SOLD

"Raccoon Beach Panorama" pastel, 4.25"x11.5"

"Raccoon Beach Glimpse" pastel, 5"x7"