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Sunday, July 28, 2013

Plein Air Event Report: Castine Plein Air Festival

I've just returned from a wonderful weekend at the First Annual Castine Plein Air Festival.  We had great weather for painting, a beautiful and very welcoming town to paint in, and a jam-packed exhibition with good sales.  But when I drove out Friday, I wondered if the weather would cooperate.

The weather that day certainly wasn't promising.  In fact, I did the three-hour drive from Campobello Island in a continuous downpour that made me think of some tropical Bangladesh monsoon.  (We had 5" of rain in about 24 hours.)  I packed my golf umbrella, raincoat and L.L. Bean "duck" boots just in case.  By the time I got to Castine, though, the rain had pretty much petered out. Low clouds scraped their bellies over the treetops.

I arrived a couple of hours before the scheduled pre-event gathering of artsits.  After checking in with my hosts and with Dan Graziano, the artist who founded and spearheaded the event, I drove around to re-familiarize myself with the area.  (I'd last been there in May.)  Of course, with nearly 40 artists participating, it was impossible to not run into some of the other painters.  One was sketching the Dyce Head lighthouse and a couple more were taking photos of the same.  I was wondering how many more were lurking in the bushes.

I finally ended up at the waterfront for dinner with the artists at Danny Murphy's Pub.  I ran into some old friends and quickly began to make some new ones.  We all retired early, since we had to be at the town green to get our panels stamped at 7:30 a.m.   After meeting my two artist housemates, I went to bed promptly and fell asleep to the sound of a bell buoy ringing plaintively in the harbour.

"State of Maine and Pentagoet" - 9x12, oil - available

Morning arrived with a dry breeze. Clouds still lingered, but I could tell it wouldn't be long before the sun came out.  I took a short walk to get a feeling for the day, got my panels stamped and then headed down to my first location.  At the waterfront, I picked out a spot with a good view of the Maine Maritime Academy's training ship, the 449-foot T/S State of Maine and its attendant tug, the Pentagoet.  Who wouldn't want a painting of a cute tug, I thought?  Apparently,  I wasn't the only one, for at least five other painters set up to paint the same scene.

"Blue Angel" 9x12, oil - SOLD

As the sun came out, the heat began to build up, and I was glad I'd put on sunblock that morning.  After finishing the tug and wanting to take advantage of my ideal parking space on what was becoming a busy Saturday, I went over to the nearby boatyard.  I painted a sailboat in drydock, the Blue Angel.  When I'd finished this one, I ordered some fish and chips at the waterfront take-out and sat and watched the other painters interact with the public.

Painting while the public mills around is always a tricky thing, especially for an event like this.  You want to do your best, most salable work -- after all, sales are the goal of a fund-raiser -- but you don't want to turn off a possible buyer.  Creating finished work requires concentration; chatting up customers requires you to break that concentration.  You can't do both.  I am polite when people visit, but if I start losing focus, I let them know - politely - that I am "on the clock" and need to get back to work.  Some folks don't fully understand why you're out there, so sometimes you have to spell it out for them.  Most people do understand, though.

"Wadsworth Cove - Red Barn" 9x12, oil - SOLD

After lunch, it had gotten hot enough that I decided to look for a breeze.  I found one on the other side of the peninsula, at Wadsworth Cove.  Also, for me boats require a great deal of effort, and I was looking for a scene to relax with.  I really enjoyed the clouds and the glimpse of the red barn in the distance.  For this piece, I was awarded Honorable Mention.

I then had about two hours remaining before I had to frame and deliver work to the Academy's Harold Alfond Student Center, where the sale would be.  I'd already done three paintings in a day, which is my norm for events like this, but I felt like painting one more.  I decided to hit the lighthouse, and I'm glad I did.  The keeper's house was nicely backlit, and I always love painting a backlit scene.

"End of the Road" - 9x12, oil - available

Finally, it was back to the house to frame, photograph and document the work.  I'd pre-wired all my frames and had boxes to carry them in; this is always a good idea, and I'm surprised more of the painters didn't do this.  I'd overheard many saying that they had to wire up frames.  That cuts into painting time!  Since I'd pre-wired mine, I even had time for a quick shower.

At this point, I don't know how many people attended the sale or how many paintings were sold, but I will say that the hall was packed like sardines most of the evening.  (I know that's a tired cliché, but it fits.)  I was glad to get there a few minutes early to take a photo of the food table and to preview the paintings.  Besides the Honorable Mention award, I'm happy to say that I sold two of my four paintings.

All of the artists said, when I spoke to them at evening's end, that they were tired.  But, as they say, "it was a good tired."  I went home and crashed and then got up early this morning to head home.

I want to thank Dan Graziano, the Castine Arts organization and all the volunteers and hospitable residents of Castine who made this a successful event.  Thank you, and I hope you will do it again next year!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Featured Artist in The Artist's Magazine - and the Castine Plein Air Festival

Michael Chesley Johnson, Featured in September 2013 Issue of The Artist's Magazine

I received my subscription copy of the September 2013 issue of The Artist's Magazine, and lo, and behold!  There on page 20 was a feature article on me:  "Poetry of Earth."

Yes, I do write for the magazine, but not every writer who is also an artist gets to be featured.  I feel honored and special to have the magazine focus on me and my work out of the thousands of other excellent artists it could have featured instead.

The article includes several of my paintings and an oil demonstration.  (On the magazine's website, you can also see a pastel demonstration that I created for the article.)  And if you've ever wondered how I got started in painting or about my background, that's all there, too.

On another note, the 2013 Castine Plein Air Festival is coming up this weekend.  It's a one-day event - Saturday, July 27th - and I'm looking forward to painting this historic, seaside hamlet.  Some 30+ artists will be there, so it should be a fun and entertaining event.  I also understand that some of the historic buildings will be open to the public that day.  Finally, the event will culminate with a public show and sale at the Maine Maritime Academy at 6 pm.  Saturday evening.  I don't think I'll have time to post to my blog during the day, so look for a post most likely on Sunday.

See you there!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Five Boats

During my continuing exploration of panoramic diptychs, I wanted to paint a piece that included a number of boats from Head Harbour, one of Campobello Island's little inlets.  Because I wanted to get a good composition, I chose to work from photographs mostly.  Boats, even ones tied up to the wharf, are notorious for moving.  Moored boats swing in the tide and wind, and boats at the wharf are likely to be taken out to fish.  So, I combined a series of three photographs into a 1:2 panorama with Corel Photo-Paint.  (I'm finding the Corel product a bit easier to use than Adobe's Photoshop.)

After I printed out my new design, I felt that I needed to move the blue boat elsewhere, so rather than go through the complexity of digitally cutting it out, flipping it around and pasting it in another location - and  possibly with perspective errors - I changed the boat position when I made my full-size sketch on a 12x24 panel.  The observant reader will note that even so, I still got the perspective a little wrong on the blue boat.  I didn't notice that until near the end of the painting process.

You'll note that the photos show a sunny day, but I wanted a moody, Maritime feeling to the painting.  So, I softened the light, choosing to add some spotty sunlight at the end.  In addition to the photos, I also used a plein air color reference, which was itself painted on a moody, Maritime day.  You'll note that this reference has an odd shape.  It is a narrow piece I sliced off a larger painting that needed cropping.  (I ended up selling the other portion.  I'll sell this narrow piece for $50+shipping if anyone's interested.)

Along the way, I felt that the painting needed something else.  An astute student, who in the past has helped with chicken-wrangling at some of more rural workshops, suggested a chicken.  Before actually painting one in, though, I decided to Photoshop it in first (or rather, Photo-Paint it in) to see how it'd look.  I really liked the surreal feeling the chicken added to the piece, but decided the painting would be a hard sell to tourists who might want a chicken-free scene.  So, I added some floats instead.

In the process of making adjustments, I corrected some perspective problems and added a little soft sunlight spilling down on the blue boat.  What makes this panorama a "natural divider" diptych?  The little island rock in the center serves to split the painting; each half could be a complete painting on its own.  It's much more subtle a divider than in some of the earlier paintings.

"Five Boats" (finished) 12x24 oil/panel
$1500 - contact me

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

New Studio Gallery Opening!

I know, I know, I promised to start posting more plein air work here, but Trina and I have been busy with our project in Lubec, Maine.  Trina has spent the last eight weeks renovating the building space, and this week we are finally beginning to hang work.  So, put next Wednesday, July 24, on your schedule.  Artists Retreat Studios & Gallery will open for the first time that day from 1-5 pm Eastern Time.  The gallery is at 45 Washington Street, just a couple of streets off the waterfront and a short walk from the international bridge.  Normal hours for the gallery will be afternoons from Tuesday through Friday.

If you've been following the blog for Artists Retreat Studios & Gallery, you'll know that it will feature not only my landscapes but also Trina's kaleidoscopic designs and images.  Additionally, we'll be renting out space in the building to other artists for retreats and also give them an opportunity to hang their own work.  We think it's a great concept for Lubec, which increasingly is becoming an art town.

Here are some websites to know about:

The blog -
The website -
The Facebook page -

Finally, here are a few interior shots of the gallery space as it now stands.  There are many, many more walls and lots more work than is pictured here.  It's not completely hung, as Trina still needs to add her work plus I'll have some more.

Finally, the 2013 Castine Plein Air Festival is coming up very soon.  The event is Saturday, July 27th, which is a little less than two weeks away.  I'm looking forward to painting in that beautiful, quiet harbor town.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Plein Air Painters of the Bay of Fundy Annual Paintout

Liberty Point and the "Frog Rock"
Yesterday marked the seventh annual paintout for the Plein Air Painters of the Bay of Fundy.  In case you're not familiar with us, we are an international group with members from both Canada and the US.  We paint along the Bay of Fundy, anywhere from Nova Scotia and down the coast of New Brunswick and on into Downeast Maine.  Each year, we alternate our paintouts between the two countries.  This year, members from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Maine and even Florida painted on Campobello Island in Canada.

Mary Ann Archibald of Halifax, Nova Scotia

Although some painters arrived on Friday, nine of us, with an assortment of spouses and friends, drove out Saturday to Liberty Point in the Roosevelt-Campobello International Park to paint the scenery.  Another goal was to escape the heat!  With temps hitting a very humid 85 degrees (29 °C) elsewhere on the island, it was a cool 59 degrees (15 °C) at the point.  Fog, densely blanketing the Grand Manan Channel, drifted in and out, but it wasn't long before the sun came out.  Later in the day, clouds gathered and a few raindrops sprinkled down, but nothing serious.

Theresa MacKnight of St Andrews, New Brunswick

At Liberty Point, there is a wealth of subject matter for the outdoor painter.  I like to call it a "rich"  painting spot, since you can almost pick a place to set up your easel and have a 360-degree panorama to choose from.  Views of Sugar Loaf Rock (called by the locals "Frog Rock"), Ragged Point, West Quoddy Head over in Maine and an assortment of cliffs, storm-beaten spruces and jagged rocks provide lots of opportunities.

Evelyn Dunphy of Bath, Maine

I chose to wander out on a trail toward Ragged Point for one of my paintings and was visited by a family of four weasels.  Bright-eyed and sharp-toothed, they watched for a few moments before hissing a warming at me and then scurried off.  Others at the point were treated to views of a bald eagle, the sounds of a loon, visits from inquisitive seals and even a tourist or two.

Bruce Newman of Fredericton, New Brunswick
Later that evening, we all gathered for a tour of Friar's Bay Studio Gallery followed by a barbecue.  It was great to have everyone together and to talk about painting.  Next year, we'll do it again, this time over in the US.

Caren-Marie Michel of Portland, Maine
By August 1, I will have posted paintings from the group's efforts at our website,  I'll send out a note when the online gallery is open for business. Stay tuned!

The Crew
Ragged Point View, 9x12 oil/panel - by Michael Chesley Johnson

Friday, July 5, 2013

American Impressionist Society National Show, September 28-November 2

I've just learned that my painting, "Apple Tree & Fir (16x20 oil), has been accepted into the American Impressionist Society annual exhibition.  Of almost 1300 paintings, only 165 were accepted.  I was in the top 13%!

The exhibition will be at the prestigious M Gallery of Fine Art at 125 Meeting Street in Charleston, South Carolina.  Show dates are September 28 - November 2, 2013.

I'm excited to be part of this show!  Here's the painting that will be for sale and on exhibit.  It was painted en plein air over two different sessions with minor tweaking in the studio.

Apple Tree & Fir, 16x20, oil