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

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Made in the USA Christmas Gift Suggestions

Near Gibson Beach (Point Lobos), 12x24, oil

I've been in the studio this week, working on the painting pictured above. The moment I came across the scene at Point Lobos near Carmel, I knew I had to paint it. I've been using plein air sketches for color references and a few photos for details. I think I'm done at this point, but I'll give the piece a few more days on the easel.

Now that the rush of Black Friday is over and done with, I'm assuming everyone has calmed down and resumed gift-buying with a more reasonable approach. With that in mind, I thought I'd offer up some gift suggestions for you. These might make a nice gift for a loved one - or even yourself. And your dollars will stay right here in the U.S.A.!

Holiday Painting Sale: My holiday sale of sketches and demos in oil and pastel continues. Prices are very reasonable, and I ship quickly. Click here

2013 Calendar and Books: My 2013 calendar, featuring 12 oil and pastel paintings from the past year, is out. You can also get any of my books, including Backpacker Painting, Through a Painter's Brush: The American Southwest, Through a Painter's Brush: A Year on Campobello Island, and Paint Sedona: A Plein Air Painter's Field Guide. All of the books are available both as paperbacks and as eBooks and downloads. Click here

Art Instruction Videos: I have two full-length instruction videos for plein air painters. One is in oil, the other in pastel. If you can't afford to take one of my workshops, these videos give you a close-up look of my approach to outdoor painting. These can be ordered through Artists Network TV. Click here

A Paint Sedona Workshop Week: I have a series of workshops for the plein air painter in Sedona, and they run from now until mid-April. The workshops vary, with some intended for "all level" painters and others for more advanced painters. We will work in the mornings, and you will have the afternoons free to paint on your own or explore the area. I will critique anything you do in the afternoons. By the way, the National Weather Service is predicting a warmer winter than usual, so if you think Sedona is too cool, think again! Temps have been in the high 60s all week. I also have some special topic weeks, such as "Advanced Color." Click here

Sedona Arts Center "Fundamentals of Plein Air" Course: I'm offering a two-session class through the Sedona Arts Center on the basics of plein air painting, February 16 & 23. If you'd like to ease into plein air painting with time between painting sessions to absorb material, this is the course for you! Click here

Artist's Network University "Getting Started in Plein Air" Online Course: You may think it's strange to learn how to paint outdoors through an online course, but I taught this course this past summer, and it worked really well. The course runs for four weeks (Jan 8-Feb 1.) For course material, you get some of my mini-videos, a manual on outdoor painting plus Bob Rohm's wonderful book, The Painterly Approach.  You'll have an assignment each week followed by a careful, personal critique with suggestions for improvement. Click here.

My Plein Air Essentials Online Courses: Broken down into three parts, this is a series of mini-videos plus a manual for outdoor painting. The first course covers the basic; two other courses cover information that is specific to oil or pastel painters. Although this is strictly a self-study course without critiques, you can always ask me a question! Click here

And finally, even though the below workshops are based in Canada, some of these dollars will end up in the US:

A Paint Campobello Workshop Week: Similar to my Paint Sedona workshops, but these are intended for every level of painter. Campobello, NB, and nearby Lubec, ME, where we may also paint, offer some fantastic maritime scenery. Workshops are based out of my summer studio and gallery. Click here

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Pleasures of Living Here

From the Schuerman Trail - 9x12, oil

One of the pleasures of living in Sedona is that there are so many good painters here to paint with.  Yesterday, I went out with my friend Cody Delong, a very fine painter who lives in the area and who has a studio gallery up in the historic mining town of Jerome.

Cody Delong

Another pleasure of living here is that we have so many great spots to paint in - so many, in fact, that it is literally taking me years to find them all.  When we were discussing where to paint, Cody asked if I'd ever been up the Schuerman Trail.   I hadn't, nor had he, but we'd heard it offered sweeping views.

I have a favorite website I go to when looking up trail information.  It noted that the elevation chart showed a rather steep, half-mile section at the start, but then it had the trail flattening out to an overlook not too far beyond it.  Although it was only a few hundred feet in elevation change, I had a fully-loaded backpack for painting.  Still, it was a nice hike along the shaded side of Schuerman Mountain.  The shade was welcome, considering we've been having unseasonably warm weather lately.

Me painting - the painting is at the top of the post

Cody brought his year-old puppy, Coya, and I had Trina with me.  Trina took photos while Coya dug up sticks to chew.  Once we got started painting, Trina went off to hike, Coya went off to investigate cactuses, and soon Cody and I fell silent as we got into the "zone."  By the time the sun threatened to sink behind the mountains, we were ready to pack up and head back down the trail.

Now that I've tried one new location, I'm eager to look for some more!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Fall Foliage - and a Survey!

We're having some great fall foliage here in Sedona along Oak Creek right now.  The cottonwoods are turning a beautiful, golden hue.   Here's a painting showing you how the color looks now.

For those of you who have thought about - or are thinking about - a Paint Sedona workshop this winter, what can I do to entice you? I have a survey for you.  (Visit if you have questions about the program and look at the "Important Info" page for answers.) No personal information will be tracked!

Here is the link to the survey.  It'll only a take a minute!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Advice for Galleries

Fall in the Canyon, 12x9 oil

While I was in Carmel, California, last week, I had an opportunity to visit most of the fine art galleries in town.  I found some really nice ones, but I also went into some that could have done a better job at what they do.  Over the years, I've visited lots of galleries, done business with many, and have even run a couple.  So, I thought I'd give them some advice, as follows:

1.  TURN DOWN THE VOLUME.  I went into one gallery that was like going into The Gap at the local shopping mall; the music was so loud and pulsating it drove me out.  Although the gallery represented some top name painters, I couldn't stay long enough to look at the art.  If you must play music - and nothing in the rulebook says you must - let it be soft and stay well in the background.  But if your market is teenagers, then by all means, crank it up!

2.  DON'T IGNORE ME.  In a couple of galleries I visited, the salesperson didn't even say hello.  Staring fixedly at your computer screen sends the signal that you don't want to be bothered.   (In one gallery, but in another town, the clerk was reading her Kindle and never once looked up.)  Or, if you're talking with another client, failing to greet me, even if it's just with a smile and a nod, sends the signal that I'm not as important.  If I'm buying toothpaste at the local Walgreen's I don't really care, but when I'm in a gallery and looking at multi-thousand-dollar paintings, it's a different situation.

3.  ... BUT DO LEAVE ME ALONE TO LOOK.  In another gallery, the salesperson was a real chatterbox.  This affable guy just wouldn't stop talking.  He was doing a great job of following me and telling me about the paintings I was looking at, but after awhile I just wanted to spend some time looking without distraction.  After you've asked the obligatory questions ("Where are you from?" and "Are you an artist?"), please go away.  I'll let you know if I have a question, trust me.

4.  IDENTIFY THE ARTIST WITH A LABEL.  A few galleries didn't do this, which forced me to squint and try to decipher the signature.  Many artists have poor penmanship skills, especially when it comes to scrawling a signature in paint.  Sure, a painting should stand on its own merits, but knowing, for example, that a spectacular still life was painted by an artist known mostly for landscapes will increase my interest.  Knowing right off that a certain piece was painted by a master will do the same.   (And while we're on labels, why not put the price?  I hate the "if you have to ask, you can't afford it" school of thought.)

5.  WATCH THE GLARE.  When you have lots of paintings on the walls, it's tough, I know, to give everything adequate lighting.  There will always be shadows.  But one thing you can do is watch for glare and reflections.  One gallery had some paintings for which I literally couldn't even identify the subject.  It was like driving blindly into the rising sun on the Interstate.  How are you going to sell a painting like that?

6. Finally, LIKE YOUR ARTISTS.  I went into one gallery in which the talkative owner pointed to some work that had just been brought in and wasn't yet hung.  "I really don't like that artist's work," he said.  And this was the gallery owner saying this!  So why the heck did he have the paintings in the first place?  You just can't sell work you don't like.  Duh.

These problems aren't limited to Carmel.  You'll find them in Scottsdale, Santa Fe and in every other big art town.  I find that the best galleries, really, are the ones that are owner-staffed, and where the owner really believes in his artists and understands what it takes to present the artists well.  I'd love to hear your comments, and what advice you might give galleries.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Finishing Up in Carmel

Overlooking the Dunes Trail - 9x12, oil

The weather finally shifted yesterday, and intermittent rain and clouds moved in over California's Central Coast.  Fortunately, Carmel has many galleries, and I always say that if the weather is too unreliable to paint, visiting galleries is a good alternative.  One of the best is James J. Rieser Fine Art, located on Dolores Street between 5th and 6th Avenues.  Although there is much good art in town, this gallery has what appeals to me most, which is landscapes by both contemporary and Early California artists.  Guy Rose, Robert W. Wood, Ray Roberts and Charles Movalli are some of the names I found there.

The rain became more intermittent as the day wore on, so I seized an opportunity late in the day to do some more painting.  I hadn't yet painted a Monterey cypress, and I wanted to include at least one, even if in a peripheral way, in a sketch.  I found a bluff overlooking some sand dunes and a trail with a nice specimen close by.  I also wanted to get in some of the coloration of the ice plants (a pretty but invasive plant that is common here on the cliffs and dunes).  This overlook had it all.  Rain began spitting down again just as I was finishing up.

This exploratory painting trip is nearly over.  After one last day in Carmel, we'll be heading back to Sedona, where I'll be busy again with my Paint Sedona plein air painting workshops.  But I also want to work on some larger, more finished studio paintings of the Carmel area.  I'll go home with many photographs and sketches to work from - and, of course, many good memories.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Plein Air Painting at Asilomar and Pacific Grove, California

Near Pacific Grove - 9x12, oil

The beautiful weather continued yesterday.  After a few morning clouds, the sun came out, casting a brilliant light on the long waves sweeping to the beach.  We decided to head out on Sunset Drive toward Asilomar and Pacific Grove to stroll and, of course, to paint.  The rocks along the bluff are full of wonderful nooks and crannies for the waves to explore; I could watch the play of surf on rock and sand for weeks and never get bored.   The birds here are engaging, too.  I spied an egret clinging to a rock, and he was also apparently watching the waves.

Now, here are some images from yesterday.

Near Asilomar - 9x12, oil

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Plein Air Painting in Carmel, California Continues!

View from Pebble Beach - 9x12, oil

Yesterday, we paid another $10 - this time to the Pebble Beach Club so we could travel the famous 17-mile drive.  We took a stop near the golf course so I could paint a view of some of the waves along the beach.  It was a brisk morning with a stiff wind and plenty of clouds, but I managed to find a zone of calm.  It was a good day to paint waves and clouds.

A couple stopped by to chat as I was finishing up.  They admired the painting, but lamented that their house is already full of paintings.  They have so many, in fact, that they have closets full and have to rotate their inventory from wall to closet and closet to wall.  They're hoping their kids will soon buy homes so they can give them some of the art and start buying again.

I've run into the "house is already full" issue before.  It's an interesting problem to have.  I usually recommend the inventory rotation idea.  For those whose closets are also full, I recommend selling some of the art to make way for the new.

It looks like we'll get one more day of good weather, so I'm off to Asilomar.

If the horizon is tilted, a tsunami must be on its way


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

More Plein Air Painting in Carmel, California

Sand Hill Cove Overlook, 12x16 oil

Point Lobos is such a special place that I decided to pay another $10 for one more day of painting there.  (You can avoid the fee by parking on the highway and walking in - this is actually allowed by the park - but since I'm also doing a lot of hiking on this trip, I didn't want to wear myself out lugging in my gear.)  I found a nice spot to paint overlooking Sand Hill Cove.

For this painting, I used two new products - Archival Lean Medium and Gamblin's Gold Ochre.  The Gold Ochre, I found, is perfect for creating areas of warm, sunlit water as well as the highlights on the rocks when mixed with white.  The Archival Lean Medium is something I've wanted to try for awhile.  Ann Templeton recommended it to me years ago, but this was my first time using it.  It's surprisingly thin, much thinner than other alkyd mediums I've used, and it dips with a brush  more easily.  In other words, it's not goopy.

Painting here is a fully-loaded sensory experience.  When the sun hits the sage-covered cliffs, the air is filled with a wonderful, herbal scent.  When the tide is right, some of the little "sea caves" that occupy the space between water and cliff make a thunderous noise.  Yesterday, sea lions bawled in the distance as I painted at my overlook.  And I could smell them, too!

Sea lions

Trina managed to snap this photo of me with me painting far away

Here's a short video of surf and rocks:

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Plein Air Painting in Carmel, California

Point Lobos Sketch - 9x12, oil

This week, we're in beautiful Carmel, California, for a little R&R.  For me, it's a "busman's holiday."  A busman's holiday, if you're not familiar with the phrase, is a holiday in which you do what you do at work.  So, even though we're getting in a good bit of hiking and sight-seeing, I'm also painting.  If you're a painter and you come to Carmel, bring your paints - you'll regret it if you don't do at least a little sketching.

Our trip to Carmel took us from the vast almond-tree groves near Bakersfield and the endless acres of roses in Wasco through the rolling, vine-laden hills of Paso Robles to the quiet beauty of coastal Cambria.  From there, we went north up Route 1 to Big Sur.  Last year when we drove that 100-mile section of road, it was raining, and rocks the size of cinderblocks were hurtling off the cliffs and smashing into the pavement.  (The road is notorious for rockslides .)   This time, we had perfect weather and a clear path.  The road wasn't any less twisty, but the unclouded views were breathtaking.

Now we are in our little weekly rental, perched above Carmel with a view of the Pacific.  The weather is predicted to be mostly good this week, so I'm trying to get in some painting (and hiking) before the weather turns.

Yesterday morning, I painted at Point Lobos State Nature Reserve.  It's a painter's all-you-can-eat buffet - picture Monterey cypresses twisted like giant bonsai and sea cliffs riddled with caves and windows and both broad vistas and intimate spaces.  Late in the afternoon, Trina and I went back for a long hike, and the light was golden and beautiful.  It's a tough choice:  paint, photograph, hike or just sit and soak it all in?

Friday, November 9, 2012

Hiking to Paint: Plein Air Workshop Wrap-up

This week marks the first of several special topic plein air painting workshops I am hosting this winter.  "Hiking to Paint" was intended for the student who isn't content to just paint out of the back of the car.  As I get older, I do find that a parking lot offers many excellent and satisfactory views.  But there really is something special about hiking in a half-mile or so.  I suppose one might say it is also more sporting.  It's the difference between bagging a deer from the edge of the highway and tracking one down across miles of woodland.

(You can find out about my other special topic weeks at

This week, we had it all.  Intense sun and unseasonable warmth early on, and then, this last day, wind and intermittent but heavy rain showers.  We ended up finishing today in the studio.

Here are some photos from the week, plus two of my paintings.  Now, we are off to Carmel, California.  I'm looking forward to painting Monterey pines and crashing waves!

Cool light on a distant formation (9x12, oil)

Warm light on a closer formation, 9x12, oil

Monday, November 5, 2012

Announcing My 2012 Holiday Studio Sale!

As you can see from the photo above, we're having some nice autumn color happening right now in Sedona. I'd love to be painting it. But instead I've been laboring in the studio, selecting treasures for my 2012 Holiday Studio Sale. For this holiday season, I've pulled out 31 original oil paintings with subjects as varied as architecture, water, trees, Sedona's red rocks and more. There's something for everyone, as they say.

The paintings are 9x12 plein air sketches and demonstrations from some of my workshops. I'm selling them unframed, but they are on hardboard panel, so you can frame them yourself very easily.

I've priced these pieces to sell - $100 each. And that includes shipping!

I'll be shipping these as soon as I can. I have a trip planned next week, but if you order while I'm gone, I'll ship as soon as I get back.

By the way, I still have openings in this winter's Paint Sedona workshops. Just like the paintings, a workshop would make a nice holiday gift!

Thank you so much for your support, and happy holidays!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Monitoring Your Work - How Does It Look On-Screen?

Oak Creek Blues - 9x12, pastel - Tweaked Image

I am about to start pulling work for my annual web-based Holiday Sale.  As I get paintings ready, the problem of posting good images of the work raises its ugly head.

Other than doing paperwork, one of my least favorite tasks as a professional, working artist is the imaging of my work.  Back in the old days, it was bad enough.  You'd get out the photoflood lamps, buy a roll of tungsten film, bracket your shots, and with a bit of luck, you ended up with some slides that looked reasonably similar to the actual paintings.  But these days, what with the differences between models of cameras and scanners, monitors and printers, it's a lot tougher.

Recently, I decided I'd gotten pretty good with my digital SLR or, if the work was small enough, my flatbed scanner.  With a few tweaks in Photoshop, I could get what looked to be an accurate image.  (In the camera, I set a custom white balance and bracket my exposures; in Photoshop, I fine-tune the temperature and exposure.)  Images uploaded to my blog and web site looked decent - or so I thought.

But at shows and galleries, people were remarking, "Your paintings look a lot better in person than they do on the Web!"  Things finally came to a head this summer.  Over the course of last winter, I'd been making my adjustments on my Dell laptop; but when I got to my other machine, a Dell desktop, at my summer studio later, all the images looked alarmingly warm and washed out.  Prints looked just as bad, too.  I had to run all those images back through the Photoshop mill to correct them.  They look better now - but who really knows?  Your monitor is different from my monitor.

I understand that there are calibration tools available to make the image on-screen look just like the original, and similar tools for printers.  Photoshop uses concepts like "color profile." (My Photoshop CS2 is set for color profile sRGB -IEC61966-2.1.)  I'm sure there are other adjustments I could make, but I honestly don't know what they would be.  I'm envious of the painters who effortlessly take a snapshot and throw it up on the web, and get great results.

For comparision, I wanted to see how one of my images looked on different screens.  At the top of this blog is an image that looks to me pretty close to the original.  Below are some shots of the same image on a variety of monitors; plus the original scanned image and a shot with my little Canon Powershot. (I didn't feel like dragging out the DSLR.)

So, I'd like some feedback from fellow artists.  How do you get successful shots of your work - and are you sure that they do, in fact, look close to the original?

Tweaked image on Trina's laptop - too blue, cool, but still better than my laptop below

Tweaked image on my laptop (left) and big monitor (right);
laptop is too cool, big monitor looks warmer and about right

Original, untweaked image from Canon PowerShot - too cool;
set on auto white balance and shot on a covered porch on a sunny day

Original, untweaked image from Umax flatbed scanner - still too cool