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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Mid-Winter 2014 Newsletter from Michael Chesley Johnson

"Grand Canyon Winter" 16x20 oil/panel - $2000
Visit me at the Grand Canyon Celebration of Art this September!

Sedona, Arizona

While much of the US has been buried under snow and ice, it's been a surprisingly warm and dry winter here in Arizona. The last measurable precipitation came in the form of rain, which was on December 21. Although this has been a wonderful winter for plein air painting, one wonders about the sustainability of growing populations in the Southwest. Of course, it's hard to think of that when you're out painting by a creek with bald eagles flying overhead and river otters playing nearby!

I've had two paintings curated into an upcoming exhibition at The Phippen Museum.The Phippen is a prestigious museum of Western art located in Prescott, Arizona. I am honored to have my work chosen for this exhibit, the theme of which is "Architecture of the Southwest." I love to paint old buildings. One painting features some old structures in the ghost town of Jerome, Arizona; the other features an historic apple-packing barn near Slide Rock in Oak Creek Canyon. I don't the have exact dates on this exhibit, but I do know it will be in the spring. Once I have dates, I'll write a special blog post.

I've had four paintings curated into an upcoming exhibition at the Phoenix Airport Museum. This exhibition, which will run from June 15 - November 30, 2014, features work related to the Verde River. As you may recall, last year I participated in an event in which several artists were invited to raft this endangered waterway and to create work that would then be displayed and auctioned off to raise awareness and funds for its protection. This exhibition is a spin-off from that. I am delighted to be one of several artists who have been invited to display in this special exhibition. The work will be shown in Terminal 2 of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.

I have been invited to the offices of Artists Network TV, also home of F&W Media, The Artist's Magazine and Pastel Journal, to shoot three new art instruction videos this spring. The three videos, which will cover pastel, oil and plein air techniques, will be part of Artists Network TV's video collection. I'm excited to have a professional team doing a professional job on these. When the videos are available, I'll be sure to let you know.

For the third year, I've been invited to participate in the Grand Canyon Association's "Celebration of Art: Plein Air on the Rim." This is quite an honor, and I love this event. There really isn't a more spectacular - and challenging - place to paint. What's more, the event was created to raise funds for the establishment of an art museum on the South Rim to house Grand Canyon National Park's burgeoning collection. I've had a personal tour of the collection, and believe me, these are pieces that deserve a home! The event runs September 13-21, 2014.

There are still a few days for a chance at sponsoring my Kickstarter project, "50 for the 50th Anniversary." As most of you know, I have committed to creating 50 small oil paintings for the Roosevelt-Campobello International Park's 50th anniversary. The paintings are reasonably priced, and it is first-come, first-served. There are still several spots left, and I would be delighted to have you as a sponsor. I will also be creating a book, notecards and calendar, all based on these paintings, and these items will also be available. For details, please visit this link.

Here are some important workshop/retreat updates I'd like you to know about:
April 8-11, 2014: Paint Sedona Advanced Retreat. For this special retreat, I've arranged lodging for students. Space includes, besides bedrooms, a full kitchen, dining area, plus studio. Students will live together for a true "immersion" experience. Please contact me right away if you're interested, as it will be a small workshop with limited space! Price for lodging is very affordable at $50/person/day. Details on other aspects of the retreat are at
April 26-May 1, 2015: Santa Fe Painting Retreat. (Please note, this is in 2015!) In our ongoing series of annual retreats in special places, we will be in Santa Fe. For details, please visit We are still working out arrangements, so please bookmark that site. This retreat is only for advanced painters who have studied with me previously. Let me know if you are interested!
After hosting a very successful workshop for Albert Handell in August, I am setting up a mentoring workshop with him in Sedona, Arizona, for November 2-7, 2014. Several of the students from this past workshop will be joining us in Sedona next fall, so if you are interested, don't delay! We are already getting signups for this special event and registration is limited. You can find details at

Finally, I know it's hard to be thinking of next summer already, but in addition to my usualPaint Campobello workshops, we are offering lodging at our Artists Retreat Studios and Gallery for painters, writers and other creative types. We are already getting signups for the summer. Visit for details or to reserve your own quiet, creative time!

And don't forget that all of my books are now available at Amazon! You can visit my Amazon author site here to buy the books:

That's all the news. Have a great spring!

- Michael

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

2014 Workshops
January-April 2014: ARIZONA, Sedona. Paint Sedona continues! For full details,
April 8-11, 2014: ARIZONA, Sedona. Special lodging/studio-included version of Paint Sedona. For full details, see
April 21-27: UTAH, Zion National Park. Painting Retreat. FULL, waiting list
May 2-3: ILLINOIS, Batavia. Price $200 members, $240 non-members. Contact: Water Street Studios, 630-761-9977,
May 5-6: INDIANA, Valparaiso. The Art Barn. Price $215 (includes lunch.) Contact:, 219-462-9009,
May 8-9: OHIO, Toledo. Toledo Art Club. Details TBA.
July-September: CAMPOBELLO ISLAND, New Brunswick - All media. Michael's 8th summer! $300/4 half-days. See website
September 29-October 2: MAINE, Acadia National Park. A very popular workshop, and Michael's 8th summer! Price: $595. See website:
October 4-5: NEW HAMPSHIRE, Monadnock Region. Price: $160 members, $185 non-members. Monadnock Area Artists Association. Download registration form here.

2015 Workshops
May: NEW MEXICO, Santa Fe. Painting Retreat.
October 6-9: MAINE, Acadia National Park. Price: TBA.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Pastel, Oil? - Don't Pigeonhole the Artist

Red Rock Evening, 12x9 pastel
Up for auction!  Starting at $75
Click to view/bid

Not too long ago,  I visited a gallery and struck up a conversation with the manager.  I was there just to look at art; I wasn't planning to try to get into the gallery.  But of course, when you talk to the manager, you want to give her your card.

She looked at my card and said, "Oh, we're not looking for a pastel painter at the moment."

But wait - I also paint in oil!  Although the card clearly states I paint in both oil and pastel, maybe she saw the letters "PSA" and "MPAC" after my name first.  Or, maybe my reputation preceded me.

Regardless, she pigeonholed me as "just" a pastel painter.

I've run into a similar situation with pastel groups when I approach them for lectures or workshops.  Sometimes I hear, "Don't you mostly paint in oil?"  They've pigeonholed me as "just" an oil painter.  I'm a little mystified at this, as I don't have OPA after my name.  Perhaps it's because people aren't seeing as many pastels from me these days on my blog.  (I've included a few recent pastel pieces in this blog to let everyone know I still paint in pastel.)

Porch Time, 5x7 pastel

The Barn in the Landscape, 5x7 pastel

I can honestly say that about half my output is pastel, and the other half, oil.  Maybe I do have a slight preference for pushing around paint, but I happily paint in either.  I'm a strong believer in variety, and when I get tired of pastel, I move to oil, and vice versa.

But it's easy to be pigeonholed.  Writers struggle with this all the time.  A novelist pens a series of  blockbuster crime novels, but when he writes a romance, no publishing house will touch it for fear of hurting a successful brand. That's why writers use pen names.  Some very successful, prolific writers have several.  Crime writer Lawrence Block, for example, wrote as Chip Harrison, Paul Kavanagh, Lee Duncan and Sheldon Lord, among others.

Maybe painters should have different pen names - or perhaps brush names - for different media.  From a marketing standpoint, it really is about branding.

By the way, speaking of writing, you might not know that I was a professional science fiction and fantasy author of short fiction before I became a professional painter.  I even had a short story personally selected by Marion Zimmer Bradley for her popular anthology series, Sword & Sorceress.  More recently, I self-published a novel, Dream Sector, which you can read about here.  I wrote it under my pen name, Mac Braxton.

But maybe I shouldn't tell you about my fiction writing; it might affect my brand.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Small Grand Canyon Painting Series

As a sort of warm-up for my Kickstarter project (follow this link to see what it's all about), I am painting a series of small (6x6) paintings of Grand Canyon.  These paintings will be for sale at Grand Canyon starting in March.  As one of the 26 invited artists for this September's Grand Canyon "Celebration of Art," the Grand Canyon Association has asked me to paint these small pieces for their store.

As many of you know, I'm no stranger to painting small pieces.  I've done lots of 5x7s in my day.  These new pieces are only 1 square inch bigger.  But it's not the size that's the issue here, it's the proportions.  Painting to a square format creates design challenges.  I'm finding it to be a fun task.

They are all 6x6, all-on-panel.  They'll be nicely framed when I deliver them.

I mentioned my Kickstarter project at the beginning of this post.  The funding period continues until February 15. I hope you'll support me in this project, as it celebrates the 50th anniversary of my favorite painting place, the Rooosevelt-Campobello International Park.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Mounting Oil-on-Paper to Board with Beva Film

In case you haven't seen it, Artist's Network has posted a free article by me on mounting oil paintings made on paper to board.  It's some extra material that didn't make it into the print edition of my article on painting oil on paper that will appear in the March 2014 issue of The Artist's Magazine.

In the free article, I use a product called Beva film to mount the painting.  This is a wonderful, heat-activated adhesive that comes in sheet form.  It's a lot cleaner than using a product like Miracle Muck and, unlike Miracle Muck, it is reversible with heat.

Here is a link to the article:

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Thoughts on Hanging Paintings

Fremont Cottonwood

Now that the leaves have fallen, I'm spending a lot of time looking at trees.  I take a couple of walks each day down by the creek among the cottonwoods, sycamores and willows.  Each species shows its own grace and strength, and even within the species, every tree displays an individual character.  I particularly enjoy the muscular arms of the Fremont cottonwood and the curving dance of the Arizona sycamore.  These are tall trees, and sometimes you hurt your neck looking up at them.

As a painter, I look at these trees with an eye to representing their majesty.  If I place the horizon low in my painting and a big canvas, I'll be able to capture the whole tree, but I'm not sure this will necessarily convey the visceral sense.  That is, I want to create a real feeling in my viewer of standing on the creek bank and tilting his head back to take it all in.  How could I do this better?

When I look at these trees, I am tilting my head back so much it makes me dizzy.  And my neck hurts.  How can I reproduce this (but with a little less neck pain) in a gallery setting?

I think that if the painting is hung so that the horizon line is at eye level, it may work.  In fact, to get a true sense of any landscape, maybe every painting should be hung this way.

Here is an example below of how this might work.  Rather than use my creek scenes, where the horizon level is often obscured by vegetation, I've used some shots of the Grand Canyon.   Eye level is represented by the horizontal red line.

Of course, hanging paintings this way would be problematic for many galleries and domestic situations.  I'd love to hear your thoughts on it.

By the way, I have a three-day plein air class coming up with the Sedona Arts Center.  This "Plein Air Essentials" class will take place over three Saturdays - February 15 & 22 and March 1 - from 9-4 each day.  If you've always wanted to paint in the Great Outdoors but felt overwhelmed by the prospect, this beginning-level class is for you!  Visit  for details.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Top 10 Posts for A Plein Air Painter's Blog

Starting 2013 right in Jerome, Arizona, last January.
Hopefully, it'll be a little warmer this January!

Is New Year's Day a time for looking forward, or a time for looking backward?  Personally, I prefer to look forward - it's like anticipating the unwrapping of a gift.  But just out of curiosity, I thought it'd be interesting to see what my top ten posts were in 2013.

Interestingly, the top four weren't my usual essays on plein air painting issues.  Instead, three were about other people, and one was a product review.

Encounter: Casey Baugh
Strangely, the top post is about a popular portrait painter and instructor, Casey Baugh.  I sat in on a demonstration he did for the Scottsdale Art School and learned a great deal from him.

Product Review: Palette Garage
The second top post does have to do with plein air, but it was about the Palette Garage, a device that helps painters keep paint workable longer.  (It also works for the studio, too.)

In Memoriam:  Maggie Price
Coming in third is my memoriam for noted pastel painter and Pastel Journal founder Maggie Price.  I started writing for Maggie not long after she began the magazine, and although we both lived in New Mexico at the time, it was years before I finally met her in person.

Albert Handell Workshop
Fourth is my advertisement for a workshop that master painter Albert Handell taught under my sponsorship in Lubec, Maine.  By the way, Mr Handell will be teaching a mentoring workshop for me in Sedona in November 2014.  (See for details.)

New Colors from Gamblin
Fifth on the list is another product review, this time about some new greens that Gamblin introduced in 2013.  I still love these colors and have made them a standard part of my "expanded" palette.  They really cover a good range of springtime colors.

Help Me Pick a Painting
In the sixth most popular post, I asked for some help on deciding what painting to donate to the Verde River Artist Challenge, a fundraiser to help protect the Verde River.  By the way, the exhibition will shortly be making its way down to the Arizona State Capitol Executive Tower (January) and then the Audubon Center in Phoenix (February).  Also, these paintings are all up for auction, and you can help save this vital river by bidding on my painting here.

More Ideas on Transporting Wet Panels
Always on the lookout for new ways of dealing with wet paintings, in my seventh post I write about a homemade solution that anyone can make with some simple tools.

Starting with Greys
Post eight shows one approach to plein air painting, starting with a monochromatic block-in done with grey.  It's a great way to start a painting, especially if you have trouble dealing with color and value at the same time.  In this post, I show you how to start first with value and then, after the values have been firmly established, to add color later.

Light and Time of Day
Post nine talks about how the quality of light changes with time of day.  The best time of day to paint outside isn't the middle of the day; you get richer color in the landscape either in the early morning or late evenings.

Common Pigments in Tube Oil Colors
Finally, the tenth most popular post is about the composition of oil paint.  Sounds like a dull topic, I know, but when you start wondering how different "King's Blue" is from ultramarine blue, it's important!

By the way, I'm always looking for topics, so feel free to drop me a line if you have a topic you'd like me to discuss.