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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Plein Air Essentials - Oil Supplement

I've added my final supplement to the basic Plein Air Essentials video course.  The new one is the oil supplement, and in it I offer several videos on my color palette and color mixing, brush handling and clean up.  I also include two full demonstrations!  In one I show you my basic technique for painting outdoors in oil, and in the second, I show my more advanced technique of adjusting shape relationships.

You can sign up for any of these plein air painting courses here:

Here is the teaser for the Oil Supplement:

Friday, March 30, 2012

Plein Air Essentials - Pastel Supplement

I've added a new supplement to my basic Plein Air Essentials video course.  The new one is the pastel supplement, and in it I offer two video demonstrations.  In one I show you my technique for using a full-color underpainting in pastel, and in the second, I show my technique for a monochromatic underpainting.  Both techniques involve using a wash to establish form with value.

I'll be following this later this weekend with an oil supplement for oil painters!  Stay tuned.

In the meantime, here is the link for the Pastel Supplement:

And the introductory video to the Pastel Supplement:

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Plein Air Essentials - Video Course

I've located a new venue for my mini videos in the series Plein Air Essentials.  There have been some download issues with the videos through, so this new solution is ideal!  Basically, it has allowed me to create a course - complete with a manual and the videos.  At this point, I've created a course with a manual and five basic videos.  You can watch the videos as many times as you wish.

In the near future, I'll create a course supplement for oil painters and a course supplement for pastel painters.

So, you can check out the Plein Air Essentials course here.  Stay tuned for future courses!

Here is the promo video for it:

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Red Filter as a Plein Air Painting Tool: A Problem

Like many outdoor painters, I keep a red filter in my backpack.  A red filter is just a piece of plastic colored red.  I've seen it in many forms - cardboard eyeglasses, a rectangle of lucite, and also framed nicely with an accompanying perspective grid.   The eyeglasses are cheapest at about 50 cents each, and I used to give them away free at my workshops.  The perspective grid model is perhaps the most expensive at around twelve dollars.

Lucky students with their red value eyeglasses

Just as a reminder, the purpose behind it is to help a painter determine relative values.   If you look through it at a scene, everything - trees, lawns, buildings -  will all be seen as different shades of red.  If one shape is a lighter shade of red than another shape, you paint it accordingly.  (Not in red, of course, but in the observed actual color.)

But although it's a great teaching tool, you can't rely on it as an accurate interpreter of values.

It alters vales for certain colors.  Reds turn a little lighter.  Lights, especially white, turn darker.  Green trees and gree fields are observed as being much darker.  If you were to paint them this way, your landscape would look stunningly wrong.  Here's what a scene looks like through mine.  The white reads as darker and the reds a little lighter, and so the letters disappear:

Although there are ways around this - taking an image with your digital camera and viewing it in greyscale might be one way - the best approach is simply to learn how to distinguish values in the landscape.  It's not hard, but it does take practice.

By the way, I mentioned in my last post that the Spring Sale is on!  Visit my Studio Store.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Working in Watercolor - and the Re-Opened Studio Store!

Oak Creek Sketch, 8x10, watercolor

I don't work in watercolor very much.  Why?  Because I spend nearly 100% of my painting time honing my skills in oil and pastel.  As I've described in these pages before, oil and pastel fill my needs as a landscape painter.  Yet I do enjoy working in watercolor when the opportunity arises, as it did this week.

As luck would have it, I had not one, not two, but three students working in watercolor.  (The others worked in pastel.)  So, to be fair to the watercolorists, I decided to work in watercolor, too.  I modified the 9x12 Guerrilla Painter box that I use for oil to accommodate my watercolor setup.  I prefer to work with my paper nearly vertical, unlike most watercolorists who work flat; the Guerrilla box served me well with the paper taped to a panel in the lid.   I hung my little water bag from a pair of clips off to the right, and put my hand-held palette on top of the Guerrilla box's palette.

Watercolor in the arid Southwest can be difficult because of the rapid drying time.   I recommend working small (8x10 is what I use) and, if you're using washes, applying washes in small patches.  The drying time can be a plus, though, since you don't have to wait long before you can apply delicate glazes over previously painted areas.  Accompanying this post are some of my watercolors from this week.

By the way, it soon will be time to close down the Arizona studio to head east again.  Before I go, I always like to clean out my studio to see if I have any smaller pieces, demos and sketches that I might offer through my studio store.  To see this season's offerings at the Michael Chesley Johnson Studio Store, please click here.

Arizona Sycamore Sketch, 10x8, watercolor

Canyon Hill Sketch, 8x10, watercolor

Sailrock Sketch, 8x10, watercolor

Saturday, March 17, 2012

About Varnish

 It was the French Impressionists who made the varnishing of paintings optional. Some of them liked the flat, matte look of dried oil paint. Today, I personally know one high-end painter who doesn't varnish his paintings.

The problem with not varnishing paintings is twofold. First, not all colors dry to a matte finish. The amount of gloss depends on oil content, how much thinner or medium was used, and also on the absorbency of the ground. An uneven gloss can detract from the beauty of an otherwise skillful painting. Second, a painting without varnish is much more difficult to clean. Paintings in the home are routinely exposed to smoke, airborne kitchen grease, pollen and other particulates that will dull and darken color over many years. With varnish, it's a simple matter of the conservator using some solvent and a light touch to remove the varnish and the accumulated grime.

All that said, painters look at varnishing as an unwelcome task. Mostly, it has to do with timing. An oil painting needs to dry for at least six months before applying a final varnish. Even though the painting might feel dry, oil dries not by evaporation but by oxidation. It doesn't "dry" so much as it "cures." Thicker passages of paint especially may still be soft and contain unpolymerized oil. A final varnish will seal the paint, keeping away the oxygen that the paint so desperately needs for curing.

But there's an easy way out - retouch varnish. I know many painters who apply a coat of retouch varnish but never bother with a final varnish. Retouch varnish can be applied at any point, since it's often used to revitalize dried, dull color during the painting process allowing for colors to be more accurately matched. When I'm done with a painting, I usually give it a couple of weeks and then apply a light coat of retouch varnish. The retouch varnish brings dull color back to life and also evens out the gloss. Typically, this is all the painting needs. Sometimes retouch varnish will seem to disappear over time, making parts of the painting look uneven again. But I don't just spray on more retouch; retouch is just a dilute version of final varnish, and multiple coats of it will seal the painting just like the final varnish. If the painting has sold, I offer to take the painting back from the buyer and varnish it.

I use either a spray varnish or a bottle with a brush. Spray varnishes tend to get clogged nozzles, leading to varnish blobs. I always do a test spray first to make sure I know how the nozzle will work. I prefer a brush, but sometimes while leaning over the painting, I end up getting a dog hair or two in the varnish. If I'm quick, I can pick them out without damaging the varnish. When I'm done, I always make a note on the back of the painting with the type of varnish used and the date.  As a side note, make sure you varnish on days of low humidity.  I don't know about acrylic or resin varnishes, but damar will "fog" if applied on a wet day.

By the way, if you like a matte finish to your paintings, you can get a final varnish that gives a matte finish.  You can have the flat, dull look of dried oil paint and still have the protection!

Above are some of the varnishes I have in my studio today.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Special Sedona Workshops 2012/2013

I know it sounds like maybe I set my clock too far ahead when Daylight Savings Time kicked in this past weekend, but I need to plan out my workshop schedules a year or two in advance.  I'm already looking at workshops in 2014!  But this week, I've been fine-tuning my Paint Sedona workshops for the next, 2012/2013 winter season.  I've decided to set up some special workshop weeks for advanced painters.  They have different requirements than my usual "all level" and "advanced/mentoring" workshops.  Here they are, below.  For a full description and schedule, visit  I'm already getting signups for these small-size workshops.

Hiking to Paint:  We'll be going into some of the canyons and on some of the excellent Sedona trails.  You'll need to be prepared to hike, in some cases, up to a half-mile to our painting spot.

Large Format: I did this last year, and it worked out really well.  We'll be painting 16x20 or larger and returning to the same spot repeatedly to finish paintings.

Exploring Historic Verde Valley:  We'll focus on the historic communities of Jerome, Clarkdale and Cottonwood and their beautiful old buildings. Since this will be about architecture, you'll want to have your drawing skills up to snuff!  (Here's a photo of me painting in Jerome.  You can see the Spirit Room, which is in one of my favorite buildings.)

Advanced Design:  Rather than just jumping right into a painting, we'll be spending considerable time getting our compositions right.  But believe it or not, this will actually speed up the painting process!  You can expect some exercises in this workshop plus small initial studies followed by real paintings.

Advanced Color: For this one, we'll be looking for color schemes that will set a mood and enhance our painting.  Again, exercises and studies will lead us to our finished work.

I'm excited about these new workshops.  We'll have lots of fun in each one but also learn a lot, too.  In each of them, we'll go to beautiful locations rich in subject matter.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Pinterest: Marketing Tool?

Ever surfing the wave of novelty, I finally had some time to "hang ten" with Pinterest this week.  Pinterest, in case you don't know, is yet another, newly-evolved form of social media.  It allows users to "pin" images and share them.  When I first heard of it, my initial reaction was, "So?"

But now I'm seeing that it has possibilities as yet another place for the working artist to promote himself.  I discovered, for example, that I can also pin video.  I was able to pin my two promotional videos for my Paint Sedona and Paint Campobello workshops.

Additionally, I've set up a board where I can feature links to instructional books, magazines and videos for the aspiring painter; another with links to recommended art products; another where I can store publicity shots of me and my workshops; and, of course, a board with images of my own paintings.  Visitors can go to my Pinterest page and then follow links to all kinds of useful things.

If you'd like to take a look, here's the link to my Pinterest page.

At one point, I even set up a couple of boards where I could share images from both living and deceased painters.  I really liked this idea, because there are so many excellent painters I want people to know about.  But there was a problem with this, and I decided to delete these two boards.  Why?  Because I didn't own the copyright to these images, and posting such is against the Pinterest terms of agreement.  (In fact, it's against the terms of agreement for most social media sites, including Google+, Blogger and Facebook.)  Despite this, most Pinterest boards are made up of nothing but stolen images.  Is posting images you don't have copyright to morally wrong, especially if you make no money off of them?

I'm a professional content creator.  That is, I don't paint and write just because I enjoy it; I do it because it's how I make a living.  But rather than get into a long essay here, let me just note that there's much that can be said on the issues of copyright and copyright enforcement, some of which I addressed in a previous post.

(UPDATE. I did a test and found that, even if you aren't intentionally copying images, Pinterest will do that for you.  When you "pin" an item from a site using the pin marklet, Pinterest actually copies the image to its server.  So who's violating copyright here?  I'd say Pinterest is.  If you're pinning images, you're just the mechanism that shows Pinterest where the good images are. So maybe I'll put back up those two boards I deleted.)

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Alternate Oil Palettes

Some time ago, I read about an alternate palette that painter Daniel Corey recommends for students.  It's a simple, three-color palette based on the primaries, but one of the colors is unexpected.  It consists of cadmium yellow, quinacridone red and - here's the unexpected one - Prussian blue.  I never think of Prussian as being a workhorse color when it comes to oils.  I sometimes use phthalo blue; Prussian is similar, but more muted and, because it doesn't have the high tinting strength, it is less dangerous.  In Daniel's blog post, he shows the wide range of color than can be mixed with this palette.

During this week's workshop, I decided to give it a try.  I was pleased with the color range.  Overall, the painting has a cool feeling to it, but then, it was painted at noontime when the sunlight tends to be cooler.  Here it is:

"Cathedral Rock from Schnebly Hill" 6x12, oil - $100 - contact

Below are a few more paintings from the week, all done with my typical six-color palette (cadmium yellow light, cadmium yellow medium, cadmium red light, permanent alizarin crimson, ultramarine blue, phthalo emerald).  And one quick note - if you haven't seen my March newsletter, it is here.

"Hononki Tower" 6x12, oil - $100 - contact

"Hononki Cliff" 9x12, oil - $150 - contact

"Arroyo Cedar" 12x9, oil - $150 - contact

Friday, March 9, 2012

Arizona Plein Air Painters Annual Juried Members Show

I received word that I've had a couple of pieces juried into the upcoming Arizona Plein Air Painters Annual Juried Member's Show.  The exhibit runs March 30-April 11, from 10-5 each day, at the Sedona Arts Center on Main Street, Sedona, Arizona.  There'll be two receptions, one on March 30, from 4-8 pm, and again on April 6, from 4-8 pm.  If you're going to be in the area, I hope you'll drop by the reception or at least see the show!

The pieces are below.  Both are oil and painted, of course, on location.  Your purchase will benefit the non-profit Sedona Arts Center.

"Into the Flow" 12x16, oil, $750
This was painted at the well-known Red Rock Crossing.  Usually, photographers (and painters) like the view of Cathedral Rock looming up over Oak Creek.  I shifted my viewpoint to the left, and painted looking up stream.

"Warrior" 12x24, $1125
This is one of my favorite spots to paint, at what I call  Uptown Trails.  This is an area right below Steamboat Rock where the trailheads are for the Jim Thompson and Brins Mesa trails.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Who's Buying Paintings These Days - Part 2

The Tortilla Lady, 9x12, oil - $150 - contact Michael

I had over 90 responses to my survey on buyer demographics. It's a small sample of the buying population, and no doubt it is biased toward my own network of buyers, students and followers. Although I did have one billionaire - really! - cruise through the Campobello Island gallery a few years ago and buy a truckload of paintings, she's at the far end of the bell curve. With that in mind, here are some interesting statistics, starting with what people are buying:
  • Over 87% buy landscapes. I am, after all, a landscape painter! But each of the other categories - abstract, figurative and still life - had approximately a 20% share. (You'll note that some questions end up with more than 100%; these allowed for multiple responses.)
  • Over 62% buy impressionistic work. Half buy "somewhat realistic" work" and and nearly a third "expressive" work. A tiny percentage, 4%, buy photo-realistic work.
  • A strong majority of 73% purchase work that evokes a mood. A little over a third buy because the work evokes a memory of a particular place. Nearly half buy work that they want to study in order to improve their own painting skills. Whether a painting had bright or muted colors didn't seem to matter so much - 15% or less responded positively to this question.

Now let's look at who's doing the buying.
  • More than 82% of respondents are 50 or older. Twelve percent are 70 or older. Only 2% are in the 21-29 age group.
  • Over 70% have only a bachelor's degree. Over 30% have a graduate degree.
  • Nearly 70% are employed. About a quarter are retired. Of those employed, over 70% are self-employed. Surprisingly, nearly 75% of those employed are either full-time or part-time professional artists.
  • Slightly more than 86% of the respondents buy one or more paintings a year. About 14% have never bought a painting. Two percent say they haven't and probably won't.

So what does all of this mean?
  • The average painting could be described as an impressionistic landscape that evokes a mood.
  • The average buyer is over 50 with at least a college education and is self-employed as a professional artist. He or she buys at least one painting a year.

Now the question is, Should this data guide me in my future work and the marketing of it? I'd be curious to hear your thoughts.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Who's Buying Paintings These Days?

If you paint a lot, as I do, the paintings eventually start pushing up the rafters. You either have to sell them, give them away, or burn them. I prefer to sell mine, since that fills the bank account so I can make more paintings. But sell them to whom?

I suspect most of my paintings either go to other painters or to my students, or to older people who have always bought paintings and still have the funds to continue to do so. I suspect that the paintings aren't going to twenty-somethings fresh out of college burdened by hefty school loans. I have some other thoughts on the matter, which I will discuss in a future post.

I've put together a little survey I'd love for you to take. Your responses will help me discover who's buying today. (UPDATE: Survey is now closed!)

By the way, we had a good time last week in the latest Paint Sedona workshop. Below are a few of the sketches I did.  They're all for sale.  Let me know if you'd like one.  (Shipping is $10, so if you buy several, you save!)

9x12, oil. - $100 - From Uptown
We had on iffy-weather day.  This is the view out the window of the Uptown Sedona studio.

6x12, oil. - SOLD - Munds Mountain Vista
There's nothing like Schnebly Hill for some good panoramas.

6x12, oil. - $75 - Thunder Mountain Vista
I'm really liking these 6x12 pieces.  Quicker to do than a 12x24, but they still give you the panorama.
This one is looking down the ridge from Thunder Mountain to Coffee Pot and beyond.

5x7, oil. - $60 - Up the Canyon
I like backlighting on the Sedona rocks.  This is a view from the Sedona Heritage Museum.

6x9, pastel. - $60 - Camelhead
Another Schnebly Hill view, looking toward Snoopy Rock and  Camelhead.  This is another backlit scene.

6x9, pastel. - $60 - Snow up the Canyon
One day we headed up Schnebly Hill Road to the Cowpies area.  There was still some snow up in the shadows.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Backlit Clouds

Backlit Clouds, 9x12, oil - $100 - contact Michael

As many of my students will tell you, I enjoy painting backlit subjects.  It seems like I'm always positioning myself so I'm looking into the sun with some nice rimlighting around a mountain.  (It makes for a nice tan.)  Sometimes, we get clouds in Sedona, and I like to paint those backlit, too.

Here's an example.  For this one, clearly it was the clouds that drew my eye.   They were incandescent and fiery around the edges.  I could almost feel the heat.

One thing I observed was the curious progression of warm-and-cool from the clouds nearly overhead to the ones on the horizon.  The ones closer by, and thus most overhead, had warm, shadowed interiors and a nimbus of cool light.  The farther away the clouds got, this reversed, so they had cool, shadowed interiors and a warmer nimbus.  This change in contrast of warm and cool quite striking and contributed to the sense of light and heat.