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

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Video News: Videos Now Available as DVDs, Downloads

Whenever I finish with a plein air event, I come home to find my desk piled high.  Some things have to wait, like bills, inventory updates and flu shot appointments.  One piece of news I didn't get until today is that my three new videos are available not only as DVDs but also as downloads.  So, for those of you who got rid of their DVD player at the last yard sale, this is good news!

Here are links to the product pages so you can order either the DVD or the download.  (Each page also features an 8-minute preview of these two-hour videos.)

The Secret to Oil Painting with Light & Color

The Secret to Oil Painting Wet-into-Wet

The Secret to Pastel Painting En Plein Air

This week, I am back to teaching my Paint Sedona plein air painting workshops in the Sedona area.  These will continue throughout the fall and winter.  (A perfect winter getaway!)  Also, don't forget I am offering my new "Paint Sedona Intensive" where you can get lodging, meals and one-on-one guidance.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Sedona Plein Air Festival: Merit Award and Endgame

Award of Merit:  Canyon Light
11x18, pastel

Friday was the last day of painting, followed by a rehanging of walls before that evening's reception.  I wanted to get one little painting in before heading over to the galleries, so I took my gear down to Spring Creek, where the early morning sun was creating some beautiful, warm reflections in the otherwise shadowed creek.

Fluid Fall, 6x8 oil

After a break, I drove into town to rehang my walls.  For judging, we were permitted only two paintings in the main gallery.  In the second gallery, we were allowed to hang as many as we wanted, but the work had to be from our week.  Other pieces, painted elsewhere at other times, had to be removed.

I drove home, showered, ate lunch, picked up Trina and then drove back into town in time to vote for the Artists' Choice award.  At 4, the invited patrons began to filter in, and at 5, the doors opened to the general public.  Awards were announced at 6.

I was very pleased to win one of four Awards of Merit given out by artist Jim McVicker.  This was for my pastel, Canyon Light.  (The only other award he gave was Best of Show; there was no First, Second or Third Place award.)  After seeing his presentation the other night and learning about his 40-year journey as a painter, I came to respect and admire him a great deal, and so this award means a lot to me.

I spoke to him afterward, and he said, "I just kept coming back to this painting again and again.  When looking at it, I really felt like I was there."

Today, Saturday, artists will again be at the Sedona Arts Center from 10-3.  If you haven't bought an award-winning painting yet, this is your chance!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Sedona Plein Air Festival: Day 6

Afternoon at Alcantara Vineyards

Thursday morning came, and went.  So did the painting I made.  It doesn't happen as often as it used to, but now and then a painting just doesn't work out.  One of the hallmarks of the mature artist is knowing when to scrape a painting in the field.

Trina was meeting her hiking group in Uptown around dawn, so after dropping her off, I headed up to Midgely Bridge where I'd painted earlier in the week.  I knew there was some standing water in the side canyon and thought that it, along with some backlit hills, would make a winner.  I took my biggest panel, a 14x18, and my cumbersome French easel, and walked back to the spot I picked out.

The canyon was all in deep shade when I began, but I felt confident enough in my skills to anticipate what the scene would look like when the sun got high enough to throw some light into it. I couldn't have been more wrong! Instead, the sun just turned the scene into a boxful of meaningless puzzle pieces.  To make matters worse, it cast a strong light on the hill directly behind me, throwing an orange glare on my panel. Value and color in my paint choices became unreadable.

I scraped off the panel.  I didn't feel my morning had been wasted, though.  I'd seen a beautiful sunrise.  But I'd also learned that the sun is a powerful agent of change and must be respected.  It can make - or break - a scene.

The Wall of Oil

On my way home, I stopped by the Sedona Arts Center and rehung my "Wall of Oil," adding my painting from the Page Springs Cellars afternoon.

After lunch, I drove down to Cottonwood for the "Confluence of the Senses" event.  This was at Alcantara Vineyards, right along the confluence of Oak Creek and the Verde River.  This magnificent estate has many beautiful buildings, lots and lots of vine rows and a fantastic location.    I didn't have a lot of time, though - paintings had to be framed and on display by 4 pm - so I settled in by the Chapel and got started.

At 4, the festivities began.  Music, wine and fine art provided a fun evening for both artists and collectors.  I am pleased to say that my piece, "Alcantara," sold to a couple from Dallas who were planning to put it in their newly redesigned kitchen.

Alcantara, 14x18 oil (sold)

By the way, the painting that sold was painted on that same 14x18 panel that I'd scraped down earlier.  I wonder:  If I'd painted a successful piece in the morning, would I have painted the one that sold that evening?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Sedona Plein Air Festival: Day 5

New this year is painting at local vineyards.  What, you didn't know Arizona has vineyards?  We have wineries, too, and they are winning awards.  On Wednesday, artists were invited to paint at Page Springs Cellars.

But first, I stopped by the Sedona Arts Center to "refresh" my wall of paintings.  I had several new pastels and oils that I wanted to put up before the week got away from me.  I didn't notice it while I was hanging, but one of my paintings, "Detachment," a Grand Canyon painting, had been sold and wasn't on the wall anymore.  I'm happy about that - it just gives me more room for the new work!

The Wall of Pastel

The Wall of Oil

After helping out a fellow artist who needed some paint and varnish (another advantage of having my home studio nearby is that I have supplies to lend out, if need be), I hurried down to Page Springs, about 10 miles south of Sedona.  Page Springs Cellars is a beautiful vineyard situated on rolling hills right along Oak Creek.

Location Photo for "Gold in the Vineyard"
"Gold in the Vineyard" 11x14 oil
The day was getting hot, so I found some shade to work in.  I've never painted vineyards before, so I stayed on the small side - 11x14.  I kept things somewhat abstract, too, not wanting to get lost in all the detail of leaves and vines.  By the way, for those of you interested in the technical aspects of painting, I painted this one (as well as yesterday's "Ghost") on Multimedia Artboard mounted on foamboard.  This is how it came from the manufacturer.  But because I feel the board is too absorbent, even for me, I brushed on a coat of acrylic matte medium and toned it with yellow ochre acrylic.  It's still absorbent, but not as much.  I did my block-in with a brush and then completed the painting with a knife.  I like the look - it reminds me of pastel.

After that, I had a bite to eat and headed home to clean up.  For the evening activity, the Festival had arranged for painter Jim McVicker to give the keynote address.  McVicker also is teaching a three-day plein air workshop here and will be the judge of awards Friday evening.  His talk consisted of a retrospective of his work over the last 40 years and his thoughts toward painting large  (really large, like several feet across) in the field.

One more day of painting!  Today all the painters will be at Alcantara Vineyards, where another set of awards will be dispensed.

Painters frolicking along Oak Creek

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Sedona Plein Air Festival: Day 4

The View from Cellar 433 in Jerome

Tuesday was the traditional "Jerome Day."  This is always a popular day with the artists, partly because they get fed.  The Sedona Arts Center sets up a tent in the middle of town with bagels, doughnuts and coffee; and then for lunch, each artist gets a coupon good for a meal at one of the fine restaurants in town.  But food isn't the only attraction.  Jerome has some beautiful, run-down buildings.  Plus, there is the Gold King Mine!

After grabbing a doughnut and a cup of coffee and checking in, I drove on up the hill to the mine. I got there early, just before they opened, and talked a little with Don, the owner.  Don has spent 30 years gathering scores of antique vehicles around this abandoned mine and making it a tourist attraction.   Sedans, pickup trucks, steam shovels, fire engines, ambulances, police cars - everything  to please a painter (or a five-year-old.)

Location shot for "Ghosts"

Ghosts 11x14 oil
(You can see how much I edited out from the photo above!)

Debra Joy Groesser found the best spot before I did but graciously shared it with me.  We were tucked up in a remote corner where we painted a '51 Ford truck.  While we were painting, Don came over and gave me a history on that truck as well on several of its siblings and close cousins.   Later, I had a look at his Studebaker, which he drives around town once in awhile.


After painting, artists turned in the day's paintings (framed) to Cellar 433, for a reception and sale later that afternoon.  After turning in mine, I located a few other artists to have lunch with.  Bruce Gomez, Michelle Byrne, Rachel Pettit, Caroline Jasper, Robert Burridge and I ended up at the Mile High Grill, where we dawdled until 2, when it was time for the reception.

It didn't take long for the downstairs gallery of Cellar 433 to get packed.  Besides the fresh artwork, a free taste of wine was the draw.   By 3 pm, the sun had begun to tip down behind the mountain that looms over Jerome, so I followed many of the artists down the hill to other adventures.

Today (Wednesday) artists will be painting at Page Springs Cellars from 11 until close.  There is also an art and wine tour associated with this day; the public can buy a ticket ($40) that will give them a tour of the plein air pieces currently hanging in the Sedona Arts Center gallery followed by a tour of the winery in Page Springs plus a wine tasting.  See you there!

(For a full schedule of events, please visit

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Sedona Plein Air Festival: Day 3

Scott and Me

Monday morning came with a noticeable chill in the air.  It is fall, after all.  I was planning to meet Scott Gellatly (Gamblin Product Manager) just after dawn to go up Oak Creek Canyon to paint.  It can be cool up the canyon, so I hunted for my down vest and red wool cap.  Scott showed up at our meeting place in shorts, but it wasn't long before it warmed up and I doffed both vest, cap and fleece jacket.

We painted at Midgely Bridge.  Or rather, just under it, perched on the edge of a cliff.  Traffic roared and bucked overhead as we worked.  We had a great view of Oak Creek far below.  Many of the cottonwoods and sycamores were beginning to show some fall color.  The low angle of the sun made for some beautiful shadows below us.

Canyon Light, 11x18 pastel

By the way, this was my "pastel day."  My pastelist friends have wondered if I would ever paint in pastel at one of these festivals.  To be honest, I find working in  pastel in a situation that requires me to frame on the spot cumbersome.  With oil, it's so easy to carry along a plein air frame and just pop in the painting when done.  But with pastel, there is glass, maybe a mat - and certainly more care to keep things clean.  (I do know several pastel painters who manage quite well, though.)  For the Sedona festival, I decided to do some pastel after all, since I have the advantage of a home studio I can retreat to for framing.  For those times when I do have to frame on-location, though, I will be sticking to oil.  (We have three events that require me to frame on-location:  the initial Main Street event, "Jerome Day," and the Alcantara Vineyard afternoon.)  All that said, I painted three pastels today, and I am very happy with each of them.

After finishing up at Midgely Bridge, I wandered slowly down to Red Rock Crossing (Crescent Moon Ranch) to paint.  As much as possible, I am trying to avoid red rocks this week, having painted a surfeit of them over the last decade.  Red  Rock Crossing has water, sycamores and cottonwoods - and shade!  It's a beautiful spot, and it wasn't too busy with tourists.  I painted a lovely sycamore and then the wonderful colors of Oak Creek.

Location Shot for "Colors of the Creek"

"Colors of the Creek" 9x9 pastel

Location Shot for "Red Rock Sycamore"

"Red Rock Sycamore" 12x9 pastel

Afterward, I went home to do a little cleanup and to organize for tomorrow.  Tomorrow is the ever-popular "Jerome Day."  Artists paint all morning, get a free lunch courtesy of the supportive restaurants, and then we will have a show at Cellar 433 from 2-5 pm.  Each artist will hang one painting from the day.  Awards will be given out by Guerrilla Painter and Gamblin Oils.

(For a full schedule of events, please visit

Monday, October 20, 2014

Sedona Plein Air Festival: Day 2

I don't think it was in the forecast, but I woke before dawn yesterday to lightning and rolling thunder.  The rain fell steadily through breakfast.  By 7:30, I decided to head up Oak Creek Canyon to paint at Midgely Bridge.  What was I thinking?  The rain continued to fall as I made my way up the hill and into the parking lot.  I sat there for about an hour, waiting for the rain to pass and reviewing a magazine article I'm in the middle of writing.

By the time I'd finished, the rain had, too.  I thought about trying to paint the view from the bridge overlook, which is a deep chasm.  But it looked like more rain was on the way.  Plus, I wanted to see Scott Gellatly's (Product Manager, Gamblin Artist Colors) presentation on color palettes at 10.  I only had an hour.  I couldn't possibly create a painting in an hour could I?  No, of course not.  So, I drove down to the Sedona Arts Center and found Scott, who was in the parking lot, painting.  I talked with him a bit.  Then, dithering further, I walked up the street from the Sedona Arts Center to find us some coffee.

When I got back, the guilt really laid in.  I had 45 minutes before Scott's presentation.  So, I whipped out the easel and used a quick knife to paint "Clouds & Peaks."  I think it evokes the energy and tension of the moment I felt at the time.  By the way, this painting  was done using a different palette than my usual split-primary one.  I used mostly raw umber, ultramarine blue, cadmium yellow deep and Gamblin's new Warm White.

Clouds & Peaks, 9x12 oil

Scott always gives a good presentation.  This time it was on a variety of oil palettes available to the painter, from Classic (earth colors) to Impressionist (mineral colors) to Modern (organic colors.)  After Scott finished, Carl Judson, founder and owner of Guerrilla Painter, gave us a tour of some of his new equipment and took questions from the audience on how to minimize one's baggage.

Scott Gellatly demonstrating

Carl Judson presenting

By the time I stepped out of the auditorium, the sun was shining like it should in Arizona.  I decided to eat my sandwich - plein air painters should always bring  food - and then to drive over to Dry Creek to see if I could find a little standing water to paint, and maybe a nice sycamore, too.

Despite the rain, there was no standing water.  But I found my sycamore.  I had painted this little undercut bit of cliff a few years ago for one of the Plein Air Southwest events sponsored by the Outdoor Painters Society.  But then it was March, and there'd been snow in the creek.  This day, there was heat.  No breeze, lots of intense sun, and heat.  I tried to capture that heat in this piece.

Sycamore's Delight, 9x12 oil

As I finished, storms were building up again.  I could see curtains of rain off to the north.  As I drove home to clean up, the clouds followed me home.  Toward sundown, a beautiful partial rainbow - just a shard - appeared against the clouds.

(For a full schedule of events, see

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Sedona Plein Air Festival: Day 1

Sunset at the Sedona Arts Center
It sure was good to see all my plein air painting buddies at the orientation for the Sedona Plein Air Festival.  Although 10 a.m. was the official start time for hanging the paintings that we'd brought with us, many of us were there at 9:30 or even earlier.  It was hard to talk over the echoing explosion of hammers as artists pounded nails into the wall.  Here are the six paintings I brought, all of which are now on exhibit and available for sale at the Sedona Arts Center:

Paintings are hung from my eye-level and below;
I'll be filling the rest of the space as the week goes by.

After getting our canvases stamped, we met for a brief orientation presented by Vince Fazio and Kelli Klymenko.

They'd put together a sweet little video of what our week was going to be like and where we would be painting.  You can see the video here:

Lunch followed, and then we went out to pick our painting spots for the "Paintout on Main Street" event.  I was hoping to do something a little "edgier" for me - that is, something that didn't involve  red rocks - but I found it a little hard to get started this first day.  I wondered how the newbies were doing with Main Street.  If you've never painted in Sedona before, it is unsettling to say the least to not only have to paint unfamiliar subjects but also to be surrounded by tourists and traffic.

The scene immediately behind where I set up to paint

We painted from 1:30 until 3:30, at which time paintings had to be set up on easels in front of the art center for judging.  Carl Judson of Guerrilla Painter and Scott Gellatly selected one painting each for an award.  Carl chose a piece by Charlie Hunter, and Scott, a piece by Gretchen Lopez.  Both judges were looking for something that evoked a sense of Sedona but that also included the unexpected and perhaps a different approach to painting.  Here's my piece, in situ, and you can see I  did end up painting red rocks after all:

Afterward, the galleries opened from 5 to 7 for the opening reception.  The hors d'ouevres were really good, and I had a chance to talk to several of the other artists.  If you'd like to come to the Festival, you can see a full schedule of events here:

Now it is Sunday morning, and as I write, it is still dark, and rain is falling and thunder cracking.  I am hoping to get out early to paint, but I may have to wait awhile.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Sedona Plein Air Festival: Pre-Game

Me painting at the 2012 Sedona Plein Air Festival
(Photo:  Carl Judson)

After a long haul of over 3600 miles and nearly three weeks, we have made it to Arizona.  It's great to be able to sleep in my own bed now.  But there's no time to rest - the Sedona Plein Air Festival begins tomorrow!

After a two-year sabbatical, I am back at the Festival for my seventh time.  As one of 30 artists invited from across the country, I feel honored to be in the company of some of the top plein air painters.  Plus, every year the Festival just gets better and better.  This time, in addition to the traditional paintout on Main Street and the "Day in Jerome," we'll be painting at some of the area's vineyards and wineries.  In fact, the theme for 2014 is "Art & Wine."  Who needs to go to France to paint a vineyard?  We have plenty of excellent ones here.

In addition, artists are being asked to "prime the pump," as it were, by bringing six plein air pieces to hang in the galleries tomorrow so folks will have some representative pieces to look at during the week.  The Festival has invited the artists to bring work from their home locales.  I've opted to bring a selection of pieces from Campobello Island, Maine and Arizona.  These paintings will also be available for sale.  Here is one you can see (and buy!):

"Apple Tree & Fir" 16x20, oil/canvas

I spent today re-organizing the painting gear (always important after 3600 miles!) and getting my panels ready to stamp.  This year, I will be working in two media - pastel and oil - so my lists are a little longer and I have to be a little more meticulous in making sure I have everything I need.  Here's the studio at the moment:

Tomorrow, in addition to hanging our plein air paintings, orientation and canvas- (or paper-) stamping, all the artists will be painting on Main Street from 1-4 pm.  At 4 pm, awards will be given out by Gamblin Artist Colors and Guerrilla Painter, Inc., two of the event's long-time sponsors.  From 5-7 pm, the galleries of the Sedona Arts Center will be open for the public to view the paintings we brought from our home areas.  For a full schedule of Tenth Annual Sedona Plein Air Festival, please visit

I hope to see everyone during the Festival!

Friday, October 10, 2014

A Good Student Passes Away

Yellow Daylilies - Kaleidoscopic Creation by Trina Stephenson

Recently, I sent out my bi-monthly newsletter with news about workshops, shows and travels.  I always get some nice notes in return, usually from students and collectors with some wonderful news of their own.  This week, however, I received a sad note.  It was from the husband of a student, who also happened to be a collector.  She passed away just after receiving my newsletter and after a two-year battle with cancer.  One of her final wishes was for him to contact me and to let me know she valued my guidance and dedication.

She was young, maybe in her 50s.   Like many of my students, she was an accomplished professional in an unrelated field but enjoyed an avocation that allowed her to exercise her creativity in other ways. A brilliant pharmacologist, she was also an excellent painter.  She pursued her art with the same love and energy that she pursued her career as a scientist. 

It's important to know that life is sometimes short and also to understand that you should follow as many dreams as you can.  If you want to be an artist in addition to being a scientist (or accountant or homemaker), then by all means, go for it.  You will be a more fulfilled person because of it.  And when your last day comes, you can be satisfied with the knowledge that you left no dream unchased.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Monadnock Workshop Report

I just finished up a two-day plein air painting workshop for the Monadnock Area Artists Association - a really "together" group!  Everything was well-organized, the thirteen students were eager and patient, and even though the first day we had torrential rain and were forced indoors, everyone stayed cheerful.  The group had arranged to base the workshop in the Westmoreland (NH) Town Hall, and it was a perfect space for a rainy day.

The second day, as so often happens after a strong cold front and the accompanying rain, dawned bright and sunny with a fall chill in the air.  Imagine Keats' "season of mists and mellow fruitfulness."   Morning mists gave way to intense sunshine and deep blue skies.  Our painting spot host for the day was Poocham Hill Vineyards - a beautiful hilltop farm with many barns and outbuildings, views, sugar maples and, of course, views of the mountains.  We couldn't have asked for a better location.

I would like to thank the MAAA for their hard work and also our lodging hosts, who are also artists, for providing a comfortable, quiet environment for us.  (If you'd like to stay at Mountain View Studio, you can visit the listing here.)

Here are some photos from the weekend plus a couple of my demonstrations, below.  In the morning we will be heading south.

Winery, 9x12 pastel

Poocham Hill Maple, 12x9 oil