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Friday, May 31, 2013

Road Trip: Mount Desert Island and Pemaquid Point – Days 1, 2

Pemaquid Point Light
Each year, the Pastel Painters of Maine gathers at famously scenic Pemaquid Point to paint.  This year, I realized I had some room in my schedule, so I decided I'd go.  I was delighted when they asked if I would also present the traditional Saturday morning demonstration and do an afternoon critique for them.  So, yesterday, with Trina's blessing, I packed up the car and headed down the coast.

The Margaret Todd 9x12 oil
I wanted to spend a day on Mount Desert Island, so I made sure to arrange a night at a friend's house.  (I stayed with Gail Ribas, director of Acadia Workshop Center; she and her husband have become good friends of ours over the years.)  I arrived in the fog, but by the time I got to Bar Harbor, the fog had started to “scale,” as the locals put it.  I wanted to paint boats on my visit to MDI, so I was happy to find the schooner Margaret Todd at dock and not scheduled to leave until afternoon.  The fog made for a particularly mysterious scene.

Thurston's 9x12 oil
After a little lunch, I wandered on down to Northeast Harbor, which usually has some good boats.  But,  it is still early in the season, and the sailboats aren't really out at their moorings yet.  I prefer to paint working boats, anyway, so I drove to Bernard, near Thurston's Lobster Pound, where I can almost always find a hard-working boat.  I found this scallop dragger sitting at dock.

By the end of the day, I was beat, but the weather had turned out fine, so I took a nice hike at Ship Harbor before heading to Gail's.

This morning, I headed out at the crack of dawn for Pemaquid.  Hot weather was forecast, and I was shocked when I got all the way to Waldoboro, where you turn off the main highway to follow the peninsula to Pemaquid,  and the car thermometer already read 81 degrees – and it was only 9 a.m.!  But it was breezy and cool at the lighthouse.  I unpacked my gear and headed down to meet the other painters.

By the way, I painted in oil all day at MDI, and I decided to use up my paint and paint in oil my first day at Pemaquid.  (I'll return to pastel tomorrow for the demonstration and for the rest of the weekend.)

Pemaquid Fuel Oil House 9x12, oil
After my first painting, which was of the “fuel oil” building, I checked into my room at Hotel Pemaquid.  This is a beautifully-kept historic hotel with a carriage house.  The carriage house is functioning as our studio, should the weather turn.  From my second floor room, I have a good view of the ocean.  I could probably even see Monhegan Island, if the air weren't so thick out over the water.

Bell House 9x12, oil (painted with a knife)
I worked through lunch and did a second painting.  This was of the brick bell house.  (You can tell I am fascinated by these little structures; they could almost be hermit homes.)  Afterward, at the afternoon critique session, I caught up with my friends Caren-Marie Michel and Nita Leger Casey.  We all had dinner at the little restaurant next door.  This is a really great group – serious painters who know how to have fun.  I'm looking forward to tomorrow!

Hotel Pemaquid

Monday, May 27, 2013

Diptychs and Natural Dividers

A Walk in Springtime 12x24 oil/panel
On my recent hikes, I've been taking my camera and composing scenes with it.  My Canon Powershot SD780 IS can shoot wide-angle, 4000x2248 photos, which is a little wider than a 12x24 panel.  Since a 1:2 format is a natural for the landscape, this wide-angle framing helps me plot out ideas for compositions.

I know that this sounds obvious, but it wasn't until recently that I began to walk with just the camera and no painting gear, and with the specific goal in mind of composing paintings on the LCD screen.  Thinking hard about composition - and not about color - makes a difference.

One idea I'm playing with is the diptych.  With the camera, I try to find a natural divider to split the composition.  Most diptychs I've seen are two paintings in the same frame with a piece of moulding for a divider.  Or, they may be framed separately with wall space as a divider.  Eitiher way, in my mind, the two halves never read properly as a unit.  The wood moulding or the wall space seems to affect the aesthetics negatively.  (As a reminder, in a diptych, each of the two paintings should be well-composed, but they should also make a good composition together.)   I find that by keeping the diptych all on one panel and by using a natural divider - a fence post, a tree or some other prominent feature in the landscape - both halves are unified and my aesthetic demands, satisfied.

To show you how this works, at the top of the post is a piece I created based on a photo I took on a walk last week down by Cranberry Point.  Below are the two halves.

For those of you interested, I used an unusual (for me) palette:  Burnt Umber, Thio Violet, Phthalo Green, Cerulean Blue, and three new colors from Gamblin, Green Gold, Cadmium Chartreuse and Nickel Titanate Yellow.

This weekend, I will traveling down to Pemaquid Point to join about 30 members of Pastel Painters of Maine for a few days of painting.  I'll also be presenting a plein air pastel demonstration to the group on Saturday.  I believe I have Internet access at the hotel, so stay tuned!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Painting as Journey, Not as Journey's End

Monet - 1864
As artists, we need to look deep into our souls to see what it is about painting that thrills us.  Some of us yearn to create a work that is as finished as our craftsmanship will allow.  If we love detail, we may delight in putting in every last leaf.  If we love color, we may delight in getting that final glaze just right.  If we love brush work, we may delight in adding that final, well-placed stroke of bravura.

As craftsmen, whether or not we delight in these small tasks, they are necessary pains of our trade.  The point is to arrive at a superlative degree of finish that satisifies.

Yet what if this kind of finish work - exacting craftsmanship - doesn't thrill you?  Imagine, if you will, a furniture maker who is content with just roughing in the "idea" of a chair and not bothering with the sanding and varnishing.  But if you consider yourself more an artist and not so much a craftsman, does it matter?  As an artist, can  you stop short and call it done?

Monet - 1903
I include two images with this post, both paintings by Monet.  The first was done in 1864; the second, in 1903.  For each of these, what were Monet's goals with respect to painting as a craft and painting as an art?

Although I always try to hit a high degree of craftsmanship, I have to confess that, for me, I enjoy the process more than the finish.  I am quite delighted with, say, observing a tree closely, noting the wonderful shifts between warm and cool colors in its bark, and then mixing and placing spots of color accurately.  This kind of active observation gives me endless pleasure.  So much so that I often feel that bringing the painting to a high level of finish would be anticlimactic.

Still, if I didn't come up with a finished product, I'd have nothing to sell and would be forced down a different path for income.  So, as part of my vision when I start a painting, I try to keep this finish in mind as I work.  (Monet may no longer have cared about "finish" by 1903.)  My method must be working, because I'm still making a living at it.

When I retire from being a professional painter, I joke with my peers, I'll travel with just a single painting panel.  With it, I'll "capture the moment" in paint and then, after I've enjoyed the piece a day or two, scrape it clean.  I'll use this same panel over and over, enjoying the process without having as my goal a finished, material work.  And it sure would save on closet space.

By the way, my Campobello workshops are filling fast for the summer!  If you want a week of beautiful beaches, lighthouses, boats and other maritime scenery - not to mention lobster - please visit

Monday, May 20, 2013

Return to Campobello Island - and the Traveling Palette

"Lake Shadows" 9x12 oil/panel - $150 unframed + $12 shipping

We've been back on Campobello Island for about a week now, and things are quiet.  It's always quiet in May, but I enjoy that because it's my time to clean the dust out of the studio, take stock of my painting supplies, get the gallery set up and even paint a little.  I haven't gotten to the painting yet, but as soon as this patch of rain moves offshore, I'll be out there.  For the time being, I thought I'd post the above painting that I did just before leaving last fall.  I'll start posting this season's work soon.

We're also working on the house over in Lubec.  This is our Artist Retreat Studios and Gallery project.  As I may have mentioned elsewhere, our idea is to make the house into an apartment and studio suitable for an artist who may want to come up for a week, a month or longer, to use as a base camp for explorations.  We've just about got the apartment done, and now we're working on the rest of it.  If you're interested, drop us a line or follow the link to the blog where we post updates:

Although we're pretty busy right now, we're taking breaks, too.  Yesterday we went into the park (Roosevelt Campobello International Park) to see how the season is progressing.  Fiddleheads are still unrolling, and the grass is just about the greenest I've ever seen it.  By the way, in our yard, the apple trees are poised to bloom.  I'm excited to be painting those again soon.

(That's not a bear - that's Saba the dog!)

When people learn we go back and forth between Arizona and Campobello, they have one question:  Do I change my palette based on location?  No, I don't.  Certainly, seascapes and maritime paintings tend to use more blue and green; my paintings of the Southwest tend to have more reds and yellows.  But I don't change my palette.  For oil, I use the same six colors plus white (and a little Chromatic Black for muting mixtures).  For pastel, I use the same 120 colors.  This is because both palettes, oil and pastel, are based on the color wheel.  From this, I can mix just about anything I need.  The only time I change my palette is when I want to experiment with color.  Soon, I hope to play with some brand new colors I got from Gamblin.

For the record, here are my standard oil colors (Gamblin brand):

  • Cadmium yellow light
  • Cadmium yellow deep
  • Cadmium red
  • Permanent alizarin crimson
  • Ultramarine blue
  • Phthalo emerald
  • Chromatic black
  • Titanium-zinc white

For pastels, I use the full, 120-color set of Faber-Castell Polychromos pastels plus a selection of Mount Vision pastels that follow the same color wheel concept.  (See my book, Backpacker Painting: Outdoors with Oil and Pastel, which is available at Amazon, for details.)

Thursday, May 16, 2013

May Newsletter from Michael Chesley Johnson

 "Mabel's Gate" 9x12 oil - $300 unframed, contact Michael
A view of Mabel Dodge Luhan's historic front gate in Taos, New Mexico

May Newsletter from Michael Chesley Johnson

May, 2013
Campobello Island, NB, Canada

 We logged another 3600 miles on our cross-country trip from Arizona to Campobello Island, New Brunswick.  Looking back, it seems like it was an easy trip.  Having stops along the way broke things up, and life slowed to a leisurely pace.  We spent a week in Santa Fe exploring galleries and taking photos of buildings in the historic parts of town; and then we had a week in Taos, where I led a painting retreat with five talented artists.  Next, I taught a workshop at the Art Barn in Valparaiso, Indiana -- this was my fourth time teaching there -- and followed that with a second workshop in nearby South Bend for the Northern Indiana Pastel Society.  I also had the pleasure of giving a lecture for the Society at the South Bend Museum of Art.  I was honored when the Museum made me their featured "First Friday" speaker.  I had over 50 in the audience!  Finally, we ended our travels with a visit to family in Vermont and then a day in historic Castine, Maine.  (By the way, you can always find details of my trips on my blog, plus tips and techniques for the outdoor painter.  Follow to stay current.)

Upcoming Plein Air Events in Castine and Pemaquid Point, Maine

I wanted to stop by Castine on the way home because I've been juried into the first annual Castine Plein Air Festival and wanted to scope it out.  The Festival lasts only one day -- Saturday, July 27th -- but there'll be many good painters plus prizes and a sales event.  If you've not been to Castine, you're in for a treat.  It's off the beaten path, which means it is quiet and still unsullied by the modern world.  I love to paint architecture, and you can bet I'll be on the street painting some of the beautiful, old buildings.  (For details on the event, visit

Another event I'm participating in this summer is the Pastel Painters of Maine's annual retreat at Pemaquid Point.  This is in late May, and about 30 of us will be based at Hotel Pemaquid and painting at the lighthouse.  Also, I have been asked to give a demonstration to the group as well as do an evening critique of participants' work.  This will be exciting for me because I love that lighthouse and look forward to demonstrating for this group of serious painters!

Here Comes the Judge

In June, I'll be jurying in work and giving awards for the annual Great Lakes Pastel Society Members' Exhibit.  I'll be doing the same for the annual national show for Pastel Artists Canada in August.  Finally, in October, I'm serving as juror and judge for the Southern Appalachian Artist Guild National Show in Blue Ridge, Georgia.  All three organizations have wonderful artists among their membership, and it'll be exciting to see the work they send to the shows.

The Geometry of Nature: Two Visions, August 14-September 3, Lubec ME

Trina and I will have a two-person show in Lubec, Maine, August 14 – September 3, at Lubec Landmarks.  The show is called “The Geometry of Nature:  Two Visions.”  Trina will be showing some of her wonderful kaleidoscopic art; I will be showing new and smaller paintings of the area.  Work will be priced to sell!  If you're in the area, we hope you'll visit!

I'll be Featured in The Artist's Magazine

I am pleased to announce that I will be featured in The Artist's Magazine in the upcoming September issue.  This is a real coup for me.  Although I've written for TAM and Pastel Journal for over a decade, I've never had an article written about me. The article will show several new paintings plus at least one new demonstration.  Additionally, both magazines have articles authored by me "in the hopper" and should appear in the next few months.

Paintings for Sale - Online!

For those of you wondering where my online store has gone, have no fear.  Now that we're settled at the summer studio, I've restocked my Daily Paintworks store and have begun posting to the Friar's Bay Studio Gallery blog.  As before, the Daily Paintworks store offers affordable art -- demonstrations and sketches.  The Friar's Bay Studio Gallery blog offers finished gallery-quality pieces.  In both cases, the paintings will be unframed to save on shipping costs and to keep the price down.  I'll continue to post work to both locations over the summer.

Books Now Available at Amazon

I'm proud to announce that all of my books are now available at Amazon!  You can visit my Amazon author site here to buy the books:

The books are:

Prices are the same as they have been through  I don't make much money on these books; I wrote them for painting students and collectors so they can become more knowledgeable about the process of painting and also about the places I live in and travel to.  These books are eligible for free "super saver" shipping, and Amazon being what it is, you can order them at the same time you buy your health and personal care items (among other things.)

At this point, I only have the paperbacks.  (Kindle versions will be coming once I have time to work out formatting issues.)  In the meantime, you can still order digital versions (ePub, PDF) from my Lulu store.

Registration for Paint Campobello Is On!

My Paint Campobello plein air workshops are starting to fill!  Similar to Paint Sedona, Paint Campobello workshops are four half-days with time left to explore or paint, and it's been very popular with painters who bring along family or friends.  Campobello Island has some of the very best maritime scenery.  Think quiet beaches, bold cliffs, broad meadows, working harbors, lighthouses and, of course, lobster!  Workshops run from July into September.  For details, please visit my Paint Campobello plein air workshop site.  Also, don't forget that Friar's Bay Studio Gallery will be opening in July, but we're also happy to have visitors before then.  (PS We'll be open Memorial Day Weekend.)

By the way, I am reserving one week for a "US-Only" workshop, which will be based in Lubec.  For those of you in the US without passports, you can rest assured that we will not leave the country!  Dates are September 10-13.  You can register through

I'm also teaching a four-day workshop in St Andrews, NB, September 5-8.  This is my 7th year teaching for Sunbury Shores Art and Nature Centre.  Over the years, I've taught there in mid-August, but some of the local students asked if I could switch the date to September, when the weather is cooler.  If you are one of those local students who asked, I am expecting you to sign up! You can find details on this and all the other workshops at the end of this letter.

Albert Handell Workshop - A Rare Opportunity with a Master Painter

I am hosting a studio/plein air painting workshop with master painter Albert Handell in Lubec August 26-30.  If you're not familiar with Mr Handell, he has been teaching for many years and is a much-sought-after instructor.  In 1987, the Pastel Society of America inducted him into its Hall of Fame, and in 2000, the Pastel Society of the West Coast honored him with a Lifetime Achievement Award for Pastel.  He has won Master signature status from Oil Painters of America, Pastel Society of American and the American Impressionist Society.  You don't want to miss this rare opportunity to work with Mr Handell in Downeast Maine!  The workshop, which will be based in Lubec, Maine, will cost $675 and run from August 26-30.  For full details, please visit  I am very excited to have him here.

So that's all for now!  Have a great summer!


Michael Chesley Johnson
575-267-2450 /


Prepare for Plein Air:  Not sure how to go about painting outside? 
Check out my online course! Great for beginners.  Visit

Remaining 2013 Workshops

July-September:   CAMPOBELLO ISLAND, New Brunswick - All media.  Michael's 7th summer!  $300/4 half-days.  See website
September 5-8: NEW BRUNSWICK, St Andrews.  All media.  Four-day.  Price: $295. Contact:  Sunbury Shores Arts & Nature Centre,,,  506-529-3386
September 10-13: MAINE, Lubec.  Price: $300.  See website
October 8-10:  PENNSYLVANIA, Millheim.  Price:  $300 (also 2-day option for $200).  Contact:  Green Drake Gallery, 814-349-2486.
October 12-13:  MARYLAND, Towson.  Price:  $150.  Contact: Diane Margiotta, 410-664-1004,
October 18-19:  GEORGIA, Blue Ridge.  Price: $160.  Contact:  Blue Ridge Mountain Arts Association, 706-632-2144,
October 21-23: FLORIDA, St Augustine.  Price: $350.  Contact: Lyn Asselta
October 2013-April 2014:  ARIZONA, Sedona.  Paint Sedona resumes! For full details, see

2014 Workshops

January-April 2014:  ARIZONA, Sedona.  Paint Sedona continues!  For full details, see
April 21-27:  UTAH, Zion National Park. Painting Retreat.  FULL, waiting list only.
September 29-October 2:  MAINE, Acadia National Park.  Price: TBA.
October 4-5:  NEW HAMPSHIRE, Monadnock Region.  Price: TBA.
October 13-15:  TEXAS, Amarillo.  Amarillo Art Institute.  Price: TBA.

2015 Workshops

May:  NEW MEXICO, Santa Fe.  Painting Retreat.
October 6-9:  MAINE, Acadia National Park.  Price: TBA.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Interlude in Castine: 2013 Castine Plein Air Festival

On our way back to Campobello Island, we decided to stop in historic Castine, Maine, for a night.  If you've not been to Castine, it's a wonderful town with beautiful old buildings and a historic waterfront.  It's also going to be the location for the juried 2013 Castine Plein Air Festival, in which I will be participating.  Having not been to Castine before, I thought it would be a good idea to detour and scope out the scenery.

Castine's not very big, just a few large blocks.  We parked down at the public dock and walked from there, taking pictures of some of the older houses.  (The oldest date from the 1790s; and as a side note, I should add that some of the earliest homes were moved via boat from Castine to St Andrews, New Brunswick, by Loyalists at the end of the Revolutionary War.)  We then had a bite to eat at Dennett's Wharf Restaurant.  We split an order of fish and chips and a cup of seafood chowder.

We observed to our waitress that the town seemed curiously empty.  "Oh," she said, "the boat just left this afternoon."  It turns out that the Maine Maritime Academy, which is in Castine, ended its term today, and the T/S State of Maine, a training ship used by the Academy, set sail on a two-month training cruise with the students.  We heard its horn blow as it departed.  I'm not sure if all 800 students were aboard, but they certainly were not in town!

After supper, we walked some more and stopped in at Lucky Hill Gallery.  As luck would have it, the gallery is owned and run by painter Dan Graziano and his wife, Kristin Blanck.  Dan is also the organizer of the Castine Plein Air Festival.  (It is being sponsored by the Castine Arts Association.)  It was a pleasure to run into them both, and we talked about the event.  It's shaping up to be a good one, and I'm hoping my readers and collectors will think about coming to Castine for this event, which will on July 27th.

After our walk, we went to our hotel, the Manor Inn.  This Inn is – you guessed it – another historic building in Castine.  Built in 1895 as a summer cottage for a Commander Fuller of the South Boston Yacht Club, it's now also includes a restaurant.  We have a lovely room with a view of Penobscot Bay and the fog creeping along its shores.

Tomorrow, we're off off to Campobello Island and our new project in neighboring Lubec.  It is going to be a busy summer!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Workshop Report: Northern Indiana Pastel Society

Indiana Dunes

After leaving Valparaiso, we made the short drive over to South Bend, where I was scheduled to teach a two-day workshop for the Northern Indiana Pastel Society.  But first, we made a quick stop at the Indiana Dunes National Seashore for a walk.  Overcast, somewhat foggy and 44 degrees made for a cool stroll.  The wind was up, too, throwing some big waves on the shore – waves big enough that we might have been at the ocean!  But most impressive were the 50+ foot dunes.  I'd love to paint them some day.

Like several other locations managed by the National Park Service, Indiana Dunes has an artists-in-residence program.  The Visitor Center has an ongoing exhibition of work donated by the artists over the years.  I was inspired to see the paintings, many of which featured the dunes.

In South Bend, after being greeted warmly by our hosts, I got ready for my lecture.  NIPS asked me to talk about my life as a travelling painter – how my palette differs from place to place, and so on – and the South Bend Museum of Art graciously made me their featured speaker for ""South Bend Downtown First Friday".  We had a good turnout with perhaps 45 or more.

The workshop I taught Saturday and Sunday was a little different from my usual plein air painting workshop.  This was "plein air sketch to studio."  The twelve of us spent Saturday gathering reference material in the form of pencil sketches and notes, color sketches and photographs.  Because we didn't want to waste time dealing with the technology of learning how to download or print images from a dozen different cameras, I asked students to gather as much information as they could without using a camera.  (I suggested we take Frederic Edwin Church as our role model; he painted his magnificent "Heart of the Andes" of 1859 without photo references.)   There was plenty of scenery right outside the Museum, which is located along the St Joseph River.  Many of us chose to focus on the interesting geometry of bridges.

One of my sketches, but I decided not to paint this scene
Sunday, we went to the studio and used our references to create finished pieces.  I discussed formats, composition and design, as well as color harmony.  Then, as I worked on my piece, I had the students work on theirs.   When I played with format choices and designs, they, too, took out their pencils; and when I played with color, they took out their pastels and color wheels.  We also discovered that one of the benefits of having gathered material near the Museum was that, if we had questions about our subject, we could just step outside and take another look!

Here are two photos, one of my reference material followed by the finished demonstration painting.  I'm happy to say that the Northern Indiana Pastel Society bought the painting for its permanent collection and will be used to promote the South Bend Art Museum, which is featured in the piece.

On the St Joe River, 9x18 pastel
(shown in the demonstration mat)
We had a great group -- 11 students -- from Indiana, Illinois and Michigan.  Thanks, everyone, for coming!

Now we are on our way east again.  1893 miles down, and only 1219 miles left to go!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Workshop Report: Art Barn, Valparaiso, Indiana

(Photo by Trina Stephenson)

On our way east each year, I always look forward to my workshop at the Art Barn.  The Art Barn, less than an hour east of Chicago, occupies 69 acres of rolling hills in rural Indiana.  Established over 40 years ago by artist and teacher Janet Sullivan, the property offers plenty for the outdoor painter including a pond, woods, meadows and, of course, the barn, which has a spacious studio for indoor work.  And, if anyone wants to paint animals, there are chickens, ducks, a donkey and even a pony.

(Photo by Trina Stephenson)
Many artists have taught here over the years, including my late mentor, Ann Templeton.  (She recommended the Art Barn to me.)  This year, besides myself, the teachers include watercolorists Ken Hosmer and Frank Francese as well as oil painter Lesley Rich.

Indiana Trillium

I always teach at the Art Barn in the spring.  This year, my fourth season, almost everything was blooming – spring beauties, trillium, forsythia and bridal veil.  Only the dogwood in front of the barn was slow.  Last year, it had already come and gone by the time I arrived; this year, I'm sure it bloomed right after I left.  Every year is a little different.

(Photo by Trina Stephenson)

I had a good group of students, including Janet Sullivan, who always takes my workshop.   Most came from a few minutes away, but some came from Fort Wayne and Chicago.  We had some wonderful painting sessions with plenty of sun and a chicken or two.

(Photo by Trina Stephenson)
I'm looking forward to returning to the Art Barn for another plein air painting workshop in 2014.  Once I've got the date - probably in May - I will let everyone know.

Now I am on my way to South Bend, where I am teaching a weekend workshop for the North Indiana Pastel Society.  Friday evening, May 3rd, I am giving a lecture at the South Bend Museum of  Art at 6:15, with reception to follow.  If you're in the area, I hope you'll come by.

Barn with Chickens, 9x12 oil - Michael Chesley Johnson

Barn with Dogwood, 9x12 pastel - Michael Chesley Johnson
A Hint of Spring, 9x12 oil - Michael Chesley Johnson