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Friday, August 31, 2012

A Gallery of Brush Work

I love brush work.  For me, it is one of the biggest attractions of painting in oil.  Today, I was scanning in some recent work, and I couldn't help but start thinking of the surface quality of the paint.  I thought I'd share with you one swatch from each of the paintings.  It can be a real joy to look at such thumbnail abstractions without having the complete painting on hand to remind you what the subject is.  It's like enjoying a single flower plucked from the garden.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Video: Mounting Paper or Canvas to Board

Several posts ago, I described my approach for mounting paper or unstretched canvas to board.  The idea is that, to save weight and space when travelling, you can paint on gessoed paper or canvas that is taped or pinned to a backboard.   Then, once you are home, you can either archive these paintings in a box (a sweater box slid under the bed and left there for posterity is ideal!) or, if you really love a piece, you can mount it and then frame it.

I thought it would be helpful to shoot a video of this method.  Here it is.

- Michael Chesley Johnson

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Christmas Already? 2013 Calendar Now Available

It's never too early to think about Christmas!  Although I'm not thinking about it much myself yet, I have some time this week to get a head start on some fall projects before flying out for the Grand Canyon Celebration of Art.  One of my fall projects is always the next year's calendar.  I like to get it done well before Christmas so folks can have plenty of time to order.  Trina and I spent the last couple of days selecting images, and now I'm proud to say the project is complete.  You can see a preview and order the 2013 Michael Chesley Johnson Calendar here.

We picked 13 images from our time in the Southwest and in the Canadian Maritimes.  Here is a sample image, a nice pastel I did of water pouring over a dam in the springtime:

Monday, August 27, 2012

One-Stop Open Studio Tour

"June Garden" 12x24, oil (Friar's Bay Studio Gallery)

Saturday, September 1, marks the last day that Friar's Bay Studio Gallery will be open with regular hours for the season.  To celebrate, we're going to open the studio to visitors, and I'll be giving painting demonstrations in pastel.  And, of course, I'll have lots of work available for sale, both in oil and pastel.  If you've wanted a good reason to visit Campobello Island, this is it!

Our hours Saturday are 1-6 pm Atlantic Time ( noon-5 pm Eastern Time.)

Here are some directions for you:

From Lubec. Go over the bridge to Campobello. Follow Rte 774 past Friar's Bay Motel to intersection with North Rd. Go RIGHT (continuing on Route 774) toward Wilson's Beach about 1/3 mile. (This is still Rte 774.) Gallery is at sharp bend in road on RIGHT. Look for the Friar's Bay Studio Gallery sign.

From the Deer Island Ferry Landing (on Campobello Island). Take RIGHT out of ferry landing toward Welshpool on North Rd. Go to intersection with Rte 774. Go STRAIGHT on Rte 774 through intersection toward Wilson's Beach. Go about 1/3 mile. Gallery is at sharp bend in road on RIGHT. Look for the Friar's Bay Studio Gallery sign.

After September 1, we'll be open by appointment only.

I hope to see you Saturday!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Doug Dawson Mentoring Plein Air Painting Workshop Report

I've just finished up a very intense, five-day mentoring workshop with master painter Doug Dawson.  Every couple of years, Doug comes to Lubec, Maine, to run a workshop for advanced painters eager to learn the finer points of painting.  I always serve as location scout and coordinator, but in the past, I've had other tasks on my plate and wasn't able to spend as much time as I'd hoped with the group.  This year, though, I blocked out time so I could dedicate myself to the week.

And what a week it was!  We had beautiful, sunny weather and one day of fog.  Doug, who hails from Denver, rarely sees fog but loves to paint it.  He made sure we took advantage of that opportunity.  We also painted buildings, swamps, boats - the full range of maritime scenery.

I'll post a few photos below of the workshop and one of my paintings.

Now I've got to get busy packing for a trip.  I'm one of 26 artists from across the US and Canada who have been invited to participate in the third annual Grand Canyon Celebration of Art.  This premiere plein air event runs September 8-16 with plenty of chances to see the painters at work.   I'll be there with painters like P.A. Nisbet, Larry Moore and Gregory Hull.  The event culminates with an opening ceremony for the show, which will run until November 25.  If you're going to be in Grand Canyon during the paintout week, let me know!  You can also check with the Grand Canyon Association at any time during the week to find out where I'll be painting.

I'll post updates as I prepare for the trip and, of course, daily during the event.

Finally, here are some shots from the Doug Dawson workshop.

Doug showing useful advanced features of the camera

Doug's field palette

Demonstration by Doug

Doug painting fog

Lighthouse View, 11x14, oil - Michael Chesley Johnson

West Quoddy Head View, 9x12, oil - Michael Chesley Johnson

Friday, August 17, 2012

Some Recent Pastel Sketches

Friar's Head, Morning.  Pastel sketch, 9x12. (Homemade paper, yellow ochre tint.) 

I've been working in pastel a lot these last couple of weeks.  Some readers have asked to see more pastels, so I thought I'd share a few of these.

You'll note that I appear to be using two different surfaces.  This is true!  Although I have been using Wallis sanded paper for several years, lately I'm falling in love with a homemade surface.  I'm using a recipe from my friend Doug Dawson that uses etching paper as a substrate and two coats of pumiced gesso that has been tinted with acrylic paint.  I'm not sure if Doug sands down the brush marks that remain after applying the gesso, but I don't.  I like the texture, which gives a more painterly quality to the final piece.  (Doug will be in the area next week - August 20-25 - leading a mentoring workshop in Lubec, Maine.  We still have a space left, so let me know right away if you're interested!)

By the way, I've had a request for more "pastel only" workshops.  With that in mind, I've designated a week in Sedona for intermediate to advanced painters that is only pastel.  It is the week of March 12-15, 2013.  If you'd like more details on the Paint Sedona program, please visit

Barrier Beach in Fog, pastel sketch, 5x7 (Wallis Belgian Mist paper)

Raccoon Beach Bluff, pastel sketch, 5x12 (Wallis White paper)

Foggy Field, pastel sketch, 9x12 (homemade paper, yellow ochre tint)

View from North Road Wharf, pastel sketch, 9x12 (homemade paper, yellow ochre tint)

Beach Rose Hedge and Birch, pastel sketch, 6x7 (Wallis Belgian Mist paper)

Waterlilies, pastel sketch, 9x12 (homemade paper, yellow ochre tint)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Mounting Finished Paintings on Paper (or Canvas) to Board

As some of you know, I'm experimenting with painting in oil on paper and unstretched canvas.  These paintings are easier to travel with than panels or stretched canvas - you just stack them up like pancakes and interleave them with wax paper.  But better yet, if you really love a piece, you can later mount it on board.  Because the question of mounting has come up in my workshops, I thought I'd take a moment to describe my process.

By the way, it should go without saying, but I have to emphasize that the paper you use to paint on must be acid-free and archival.  As a further safety step, seal the paper with PVA before painting to prevent migration of linseed oil down into the paper.  Best, however, would be to use canvas rather than paper.  In the unlikely event you have to unmount a painting by reversing the glue, paper may be damaged in the process.  Canvas should unmount without any problems.

Now, on to the process.

Before painting, I draw a rectangle on my painting surface to indicate the boundary of the painting.  (The sheet of paper or canvas is always cut at least an inch larger all the way around than what the mounted painting will be.)  The rectangle helps with keeping the horizon level, which is very important in a landscape.  This rectangle is the same size as the board I later will use for mounting. To create it, I just lay the board down on the surface and outline it with pencil.  Although I may paint outside the line, I do make sure to keep my intended design wholly within the boundary.

Before starting the mounting process, I first check to make sure the painting is dry.  Since I don't use a lot of impasto, my paintings dry to the touch in a week or two.  If I do have an area of thick paint, I press into it with my fingernail to see if it "gives."  I want to make sure it is solid enough to stand up to the pressure of a rubber brayer.

Next, I gather up my tools and materials.  For mounting, I use untempered hardboard (sealed with PVA to prevent migration of acids and other chemicals up into the paper) and Lineco Neutral pH Adhesive.  (The adhesive is reversible with water; another option is BEVA, which is reversible with heat.)  Additionally, I use a rubber brayer, a small square of 1/8" hardboard, a pencil, a box cutter, a metal ruler and - here's the key item - a pushpin.

I lay the painting face-up.  I position the board on it so it matches the pencilled board outline. Now, using the pushpin, I go to each of the board's corners and make a pinprick in the paper or canvas.  After removing the board and putting it aside, I flip the painting over, face-down.  Looking carefully, I identify the pinpricks and, using a ruler and pencil, connect them into a rectangle.  This creates a template for positioning the board exactly where it needs to go.

Now, taking the board, I squeeze out enough adhesive for the job.  (How much comes with experience.)  I use the small square of 1/8" hardboard to spread the adhesive evenly and all the way out to the edges.   Flipping the board over so the glue side is down, I position it over the back of the painting, placing it within the pinpricks and their boundary.  I press down lightly.

Ever so carefully, I turn over the painting and its now-attached board.  This will place the painting face up.  Using my brayer, I start at the center of the painting and roll out toward the edges.  I press down pretty firmly to squeeze out bubbles and to flatten any warping.  This is simpler than you think, especially if you are using etching paper, which is dimensionally stable and does not shrink or warp.

Once done, I flip the painting/board package over so the painting is face down.  I make sure it's on a clean surface so the paint side doesn't pick up any dirt.  Using a paper towel, I clean up any extra glue around the board's edge.  Some always oozes out in the braying step.  Finally, I place a heavy weight on the assembly - a box of panels is perfect for this - and let it dry overnight.

The following morning, I keep the painting with the paint side down and, using a box cutter and steel ruler, carefully cut away the excess paper or canvas.  Any "burrs" created on the paper's edge by the box cutter can be lightly sanded away with a sanding block.  Sometimes I fail to get the glue all the way to the edge, and the paper may separate a bit from the board.  I just squirt in a little extra glue and press down.

By painting on loose paper or unstretched canvas, I haven't invested a lot of money in my surface.  All things being equal, I've found paper to be a third the cost of my homemade gessoed panels.  If I hate the piece, I can toss it out without guilt.  But if I love it, I can mount it and frame it for a very professional look.

(By the way, folks have asked about oils degrading or rotting paper.  It will.  So, when I prepare my paper, I always size it with Gamblin PVA first.)

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Good-bye to St Andrews

Rain is falling outside as I pack up in the pre-dawn hours.  In a little while, I'll be driving from St Andrews to L'Etete to catch the ferry to Deer Island.  I'm thankful that the rain held off until today, Saturday.  The good weather gave us a wonderful week for the workshop at Sunbury Shores Art & Nature Centre.

I'll miss my routine.  Every morning, I got up early to brew coffee in my motel room.  Then I drove off to the Centre to organize, followed by a walk down historic Water Street and a big cup of better coffee from Honeybeans.  These morning walks were full of Maritime moodiness.  Often, a blanket of fog enswaddled the wharf, and the boats sat in the harbor, sleeping.  Few people prowl the streets at that time of day:  the solitary jogger or dog-walker, a town employee emptying the trash cans.

After class, I'd walk the streets again, and it'd be an entirely different experience.  Every shop was open, and music and the enticing smell of a tasty seafood dinner spilled out of the restaurants.  Throngs - mostly families on holiday - sauntered by, examining dinner menus and colourful window displays.  Others hurried to the wharf to catch a tall ship sunset cruise.  Last night, I grabbed a pizza to-go and found a picnic table in the shade and watched the boats go out.

In a little while, the ferry to Deer Island will drop me off at the northern end of the island, and I'll drive 20 minutes to the southern tip.  There, I'll board the second ferry, which will take me to Campobello Island and home.  As much as I enjoy my time in St Andrews each summer, I always look forward to getting home to Trina and Saba.  Saba, I hear, has been catching mice.

Here are a few images from the week, including a demonstration I did (and sold), plus photos of my workshop gear and the class painting out at Joe's Point.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Final Exhibition Day for "Buildings in the Landscape"

UPDATE:  Well, that's a wrap!  The show came down today.  Come to Friar's Bay Studio Gallery to see more of my work this summer.

I'm in St Andrews-by-the-Sea, New Brunswick, this week, teaching "Plein Air Sketch to Studio."  We're having beautiful weather - plenty of sunsine, a few puffy clouds, and warm temperatures.  Out in the field, we're busy collecting reference material in the way of pencil sketches, photographs and color sketches.  Once we're done, we'll head for the studio to create finished works.

Last night, I gave the "Tuesday Talk" at Sunbury Shores Art & Nature Centre.  In addition to talking about the paintings in my one-man show, I also gave a short oil demonstration.  We had an inquisitive and enthusiastic audience.  No question was left unasked!  Which is just the way I like it.

If you're in St Andrews, today is the last day of my one-man show at Sunbury Shores at 139 Water Street.  You can still see many of my "Buildings in the Landscape" pieces.  This may be the very last time all of these paintings will hang together in one spot.  If you're looking for a painting to take home, this is an opportunity to view them in person.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Campobello Island Plein Air Painting Workshop Report

Ragged Point

As my most recent Campobello Island plein air painting workshop comes to a close today, I thought I'd take a few moments to share with you some moments from the summer thus far.  It's really been a great season.  Although we've had a morning or two of showers and a little fog, most days have been full of sun.  For Downeast Maine and the Canadian Maritimes, it's what you'd expect.  And who really minds the fog?  It makes for some beautiful, moody scenes.

We've had students from as far away as France, Ontario and Texas plus some from closer places like New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and, of course, Maine.  (Later this summer we'll have a student from Nova Scotia.)  Although I often get repeat students, I get many new ones, too, and they enjoy exploring the island.  For me, it's like seeing the island for the first time.  I'm always eager to hear about their whale watch tour, a hike they took out to Ragged Point or their lobster dinner at one of the local restaurants.

Everyone enjoys the workshop format.  We start in the studio with a morning lecture on plein air painting fundamentals.  Next, we move to the field where I do a short demonstration in either oil or pastel.  After that, students get to paint, and they always have at least two hours in which I go from easel to easel, offering help.  The following morning, I critique the paintings and talk about how they can be improved, and I use them to illustrate important points.  Everyone enjoys this "show and tell."  It gives them feedback not just from me but from the other students.

For our field sessions, we go to some pretty spectacular spots.  Liberty Point with its views of West Quoddy Head and Grand Manan Island is always a favorite.  When the tide is right, we can watch the seals hauling themselves up on The Boring Stone and Round Rock.  Another spot is the Head Harbour Lightstation.  The students often get so focused in their work that they miss the whales breeching and spouting just off the point!  They're always grateful, though, when I break their concentration and point out the whales.  When we go to the Upper Duck Pond, students are amazed at how much real estate is uncovered by low tide.  The tides are always a fun challenge, since the water goes up (or down) about an inch a minute.  In a two-hour painting period, that's 12 feet!

We still have a few weeks left in the 2012 season.  If you'd like to come to a cool place to paint, visit for details.   I've also put up the schedule for 2013.

Herring Cove

Friar's Bay

Friar's Bay

Roosevelt Campobello International Park
Boat Dock

Rockweed Study, 9x12, oil

Cranberry Point Fog, 6x8, oil

Boardwalk at Roosevelt's, 9x12, oil

Field Study, 7x5, pastel

Upper Duck Pond, 9x12, oil - sold

Head Harbour Light Sketch, 6x8, oil - sold

Rock Study, 5x7, oil

Tidal Stream, 6x8, oil