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Saturday, November 29, 2014

Fall Lasts Long in Sedona - and a New Oil Palette

Creek Colors 9x12 oil
Available - $700 - Frame/Shipping Included

A friend recently said, "Fall lasts long in Sedona."  And it does!  You can still find pockets of fall color here and there along the creeks.  Yesterday, I went down to Red Rock Crossing with our plein air group to catch a little before the last of it dropped.

I also wanted to play with a palette revision.  Normally, I use (from left to right on the palette):

  • cadmium yellow light
  • cadmium yellow medium
  • cadmium red light
  • permanent alizarin crimson
  • ultramarine blue
  • phthalo green
  • chromatic black
  • titanium-zinc white

This time, I replaced the mineral cadmiums with organic modern colors and also replaced the alizarin with a modern version of a red earth color.  (Not very scientific, changing so many variables at once.) So, yesterday's palette was:

  • hansa yellow light
  • hansa yellow deep
  • napthol red
  • transparent earth red
  • ultramarine blue
  • viridian
  • chromatic black
  • titanium-zinc white

(Okay, I changed out the green, too.)  In many ways, this new palette looks and acts like the old palette.  The viridian, of course, is a little easier to handle than the phthalo green since it mutes easily.  The most different player, however, was the transparent earth red.  It is not as "clean" a cool red as the alizarin, so it dulls down the blue in mixtures.  That is, it doesn't make as rich a violet.  In fact, it results in a very earthy violet.

For the painting above, I toned the surface first with transparent earth red and then wiped it down to just leave a stain.  (I didn't want it mixing up with my other colors.)  Then I used chromatic black to establish all my darks.  I followed this with more transparent red for all the trees, then blue for the sky, and finally modified the reds with the other colors I saw in the landscape.  Back in the studio, I also added a dash of napthol scarlet to the foreground water for zest.

There's quite a bit of unruly color in this painting, and believe it or not, I did knock down the chroma quite a lot with complements. I used a painting knife exclusively, which probably also account for the strong color.  But who doesn't like color?

All paints are by Gamblin Artist Colors.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Holiday Newsletter

November/December 2014
Sedona, Arizona

The last time I wrote, we were en route from Campobello Island to Arizona. Now, we've been in Arizona for just over a month, but what a jam-packed month it's been! Here are some highlights:
  • As soon as we arrived, I launched into the Sedona Plein Air Festival. We had excellent weather for the event, which included painting at two of the local wineries. I sold my large painting of Alcantara Vineyards during the evening gala there, and then I won a Merit Award, presented by artist Jim McVicker, for a large pastel I painted from beneath Midgely Bridge with a view of Oak Creek Canyon. (You can read more about the event and see my winning painting here.)
  • After the Sedona event, I taught a regular Paint Sedona workshop, but this was quickly followed by seven days of an intense mentoring workshop with master artist Albert Handell. Trina and I spent a wonderful day touring Albert and Jeanine around the area before the workshop, and then it was twelve-hour days until the end. These were incredibly productive days. Albert had such a great time, he's coming back in April 2016. (You can read about the upcoming 2016 workshop here.)
  • Then, as soon as that workshop was over, I had to paint a series of small pieces for the Kolb Studio at Grand Canyon to replenish the paintings that were sold at the Celebration of Art there in September. (You can see the paintings I delivered here.)
  • Finally, I am honored to have been made a Signature Member of the American Impressionist Society. This prestigious label allows me to put "AIS" after my signature on paintings.
And that brings us to today. Now I'm writing two articles for The Artist's Magazine, painting a charity piece for the Sedona Arts Center, and keeping up with an online workshop through Artists Network University, as well as more Paint Sedona workshops. Oh, and I am going to find time to paint a little for myself. Plus, I'll be working on a new book!

The holidays are a time to catch my breath. Last week I hiked up Lizard Head, a famous local landmark, and my thigh muscles are still aching from the trip down . Later, we'll take out our refurbished bicycles to get a jump-start on a New Year's resolution. I'm sure we'll make some field trips during our time off, too. But before we head out on a bike ride, here are some things I'd like to leave you with.
  • 2015 Calendar. My annual calendar has 13 images, half from the Southwest and half from Downeast Maine and the Canadian Maritimes. I hand-picked these from my favorites. This year, the calendar is only $18. You can see a preview and buy it at this link.
  • Holiday Sale. Each year, I try to have a holiday sale. It almost didn't happen this year, but I finally got it together with Trina's help in selecting pieces. This year, each sketch, no matter the size, is an even $50. You can see and purchase items here.
  • Videos. Don't forget that my three new videos are available from North Light Shop as DVDs and as downloads. These videos are a great deal since each one is about two hours long. Here's a link to previews and more information.
  • Paint Campobello. It's not too early to think about signing up for a plein air painting workshop on Campobello Island or in Lubec, Maine, July-August 2015 this summer. Visit
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 for now. Have a truly blessed holiday season!

Michael & Trina & Saba

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Less Expensive than Dinner for Two

Butte Shadows #989 - 5x7 oil

Looking for that perfect gift for yourself or a friend? Look no further! You can purchase an original work of art for less than dinner for two at a fine restaurant. I'm pricing each item for only $50, no matter what the size.  Visit

This time, I'm also including a few watercolor sketches.  When I'm not painting oil or pastel, I enjoy pulling out the watercolor block.  Painting watercolor is a different process for me, so it exercises some mental muscles that tend to not get used.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The 2015 Michael Chesley Johnson Calendar is Ready!

With my busy schedule each fall, every year I wonder if I'll be able to squeeze in a wall calendar.  This year, it almost didn't happen, but people started asking.  When people ask, I do.  And as always, the process of selecting images was quite enjoyable.  Trina and I picked out six paintings from the Southwest and another six from Downeast Maine and the Canadian Maritimes to fit the seasons.

The 2015 Michael Chesley Johnson Calendar is only $18, and you can see a preview and buy it at this link:

Thank you, and I hope you enjoy the calendar!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Video Interview in the Studios of Artists Network TV

In case you missed it, here is a short video interview with me that was shot while I was at the studios of Artists Network TV recently.  (The link is a playlist that will also play the previews of my three new videos, so keep watching!)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

New Paintings for Kolb Studio, Grand Canyon National Park

I've just delivered ten paintings to the gallery at the historic Kolb Studio at Grand Canyon National Park.  As you may recall, the exhibition from the September "Celebration of Art" (the Grand Canyon Plein Air Festival) will run until mid-February.  The artists who were invited are asked to supplement work as it sells.  Since a lot of my paintings from the event have sold, I painted a short series of small paintings on a dusk/dawn theme.

If you're interested in any of the paintings, please contact Robb Seftar, Gallery Manager, at 928-638-2771 or  As a reminder, the exhibition is a fund raiser to support a new art museum at the Park's South Rim.  And yes! They will ship.

Here is the dusk/dawn series:

Dawn's First Light 6"x8" oil - $200 framed

Journey's Start 6"x8" oil - $200 framed

Last Light 6"x8" oil - $200 framed

Mysterious Canyon  6"x8" oil - $200 framed

Shadowed River  6"x8" oil - $200 framed

The Hinterlands  6"x8" oil - $200 framed

And here are some more pieces that went up with the little ones:

Moran Point 12"x24" oil - $1200 framed
This painting was featured in The Artist's Magazine September 2013 issue

Last Night's Storm 9"x12" oil - $600 framed

Cool Day 6"x6" oil - $200 framed
Temple 6"x8" oil - $200 framed
(I based this studio piece on the larger 9x12 plein air piece above, "Last Night's Storm")

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Chauvinism among Painters

Coffee Pot Ridge 9x12 oil - Available

Painters in one medium can learn a lot from painters in a different medium. For example, in my workshops, where I demonstrate in both pastel and oil, I encourage pastel painters to watch the oil demo, and the oil painters to watch the pastel demo. Why? Because pastelists can learn about color mixing from oil painters, and oil painters can learn how to control value from pastelists.

Unfortunately, painters who work exclusively in one medium sometimes are chauvinistic when it comes to other media. I know oil painters who turn up their noses at pastels, and I also know pastel painters who scoff at oils. The problem seems to be worse with pastel painters, probably because pastel was, for many years, considered a lesser medium than oil. The underdog thinks he can't respect himself unless he feels that he's better than the top dog.  (Forgive me, fellow pastelists, but I've seen this time and again.)

All media are created equal. No medium is better than any other medium. It doesn't matter whether it's oil, pastel, gouache, clay, marble or digital bits. What really matters is what you do with it.

If you're a painter who works in just one medium, I encourage you to pick up a second. Not only does one medium inform another, but you will find yourself humbled when you first struggle with it. Humility is a virtue among artists.

Monday, November 10, 2014

My Paintings from Albert Handell Mentoring Workshop

Although Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) has ended, you can still find
a few artifacts here and there in Sedona.  I'm especially amused by the fellow on the right.
This has little to do with the workshop, other than I found them in the Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts
Village while looking for a painting spot.

I promised I'd post some of the paintings I made during Albert Handell's mentoring workshop last week.  I averaged one or two a day, depending on time and energy level.  I made a special attempt to put into practice some of the things he suggested and demonstrated to me during the week.  As he made his rounds to students, he always took the time to make personal suggestions, which I found very helpful.  In all but one of my paintings, Albert added a stroke or two - a darker accent, a lighter accent, richer paint, or thicker paint.

Without further ado, here they are.

City of Red Rocks 9x12 oil

Location shot for above.

This one didn't make the cut, but I'm surprised at how accurate
the drawing of the mountains is.

Coming Storm 9x12 oil

Evening Light, 11x14 oil

My Secret Spot, 12x18 pastel

Twisted Cottonwood, 16x12 oil

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Albert Handell Mentoring Workshop - Wrap-Up

Sunset Over Sedona

I just finished up an intensely wonderful painting workshop with master painter Albert Handell.  Normally when in a workshop, I faithfully blog each day so you can have an idea of what the day is like.  This week, however, it was all I could do to keep up with Albert.

Painting at Airport Mesa

Here's how each day generally went.  I'd roll out of bed at 4 a.m. to take care of necessities like e-mail, showering, breakfast and packing up.  By 8:30, I was at the studio or on-location for a demonstration or individual painting.  At noon, I'd have a short break before heading to the next location where Albert would give help at the easel.  Around sundown, we'd have another break, and then it was off to the studio by 6:30 for critiques.  I wouldn't get home again until about 8:30, at which time I'd immediately drop into bed for a few hours' sleep.  It was twelve intense hours - but those hours were filled with many good things.

This was Albert's mentoring (or paint-along) workshop for more advanced painters.  Prerequisites include having taken a workshop previously with either Albert or a similar instructor.  Albert knew exactly what we needed this week.  Because we were more experienced, Albert drove us a little harder than he would most.

Scoping Out Locations

On Saturday, as program coordinator, I met with Albert and his wife, Jeanine, to scope out possible painting locations.  We went as far as Page Springs and Cornville and found many that met with Albert's approval.  Of course, we couldn't use them all, but they are good to know about for future workshops.  Afterward, we had a nice lunch at Harry's Hideway, which also met with Albert's approval.

Dinner at REDS
Sunday evening, all the participants met at Sky Ranch Lodge, atop Airport Mesa, for orientation.  The sun was setting, and plenty of clouds created some truly grand effects on the mountains.   In fact, it was hard to round up all the painters, because they were all off snapping photos. Afterward, we made a "dry run" to the studio location so everyone could get to know where it was, followed by dinner at REDS.

Albert Demonstrates at Airport Mesa

Monday morning, we met at the scenic overlook on Airport Mesa.  Albert demonstrated how to paint the Sedona landscape in dry pastel by painting a view of shadows on the Coffee Pot formation.  We painted in the same spot until lunchtime, where we went to Reds again.  Afterward, we headed over to the Cultural Park to paint the view there, followed by separate dinners and critiques at the studio.  By the way, in addition to critiques, some time each evening was given to career-building topics:  how to deal with galleries, what are the best advertising venues, record-keeping for artists, and other useful advice from someone who has been a professional artist for nearly 60 years.

Albert Works Magic on my Painting

Tuesday, we met in the studio for a demonstration.  Albert showed his technique for painting dry pastel over a watercolor underpainting and how to paint trees.  Later that afternoon, we painted at the Jordan Historical Park in town, where we had some beautiful light on Mitten Ridge.  Critiques followed again after sundown.

Evening Critiques and Career-Building

Wednesday, we met in the studio again.  This time, Albert demonstrated in oil and showed us his technique for painting water pouring over rocks.   Later that day, we painted the gorgeous and very old cottonwood trees along a quiet bend of Oak Creek.

Albert's Oil Palette

Thursday was another studio start.  Albert worked in pastel again with a watercolor underpainting and demonstrated rocks.  (Always a helpful demonstration in Red Rock Country!)   In the afternoon, we painted along Spring Creek at a spot where there are some quiet waterfalls.  Critiques and career-building followed again.

Painting Spring Creek

For Friday, we had permission to paint the Tlaquepaque Arts & Craft Village in town.  This is a beautiful faux Mexican village with adobe walls, red tile roofs and sycamore trees.  Albert painted on-location and featured a sycamore tree and adobe wall in morning light.  Afterward, I enjoyed a nice lunch with Albert and Jeanine at El Rincon.  That afternoon, we all went to a secret spot along Oak Creek with more beautiful sycamores and cottonwoods.  Evening, of course, was devoted to critiques and questions about making a living as an artist.

Lucy - Our Studio Companion for the Week

Saturday was our farewell day.  We met in the studio to critique a larger body of work.  In addition to the work we created during the week, Albert wanted to see several more paintings that had been made in the last year or so.  His eye is sharp, and he can see in an instant where a painter might improve.  It was instructive listening to all the critiques, and I personally found many things that I could use to improve my own work.

Albert's Pastel Box

Like all the other participants, I was tired by the week's end - but it was, as they say, a "good" tired.  Now it's time to paint many more paintings with Albert's tips in mind.  I do think he's set me on a new and better path.  I highly recommend this mentoring workshop to artists who feel they have hit a plateau or who have questions about the art business.  As Albert says, "Try it - you may find you like it."

In my next post, I will include the paintings I made during the week.  But first, I offer below images of Albert's demonstrations.

Dry Pastel Demo - en plein air

Pastel with Watercolor Underpainting Demo - studio - SOLD!

Oil Demo - studio - SOLD!

Pastel with Watercolor Underpainting Demo - studio - SOLD!

Dry Pastel Demo - en plein air - SOLD!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Albert Handell Mentoring Workshop: Mid-Term Report

The Saturday before the workshop began, we scoped out painting locations.

As I write, I'm in the middle of a mentoring program for painters with Albert Handell.  He's in Sedona this week, and I'm serving as workshop coordinator.  Albert has us reporting at 8:30 each morning either to the studio or on-location, where we work until noon.  After a lunch break, we work until nearly sundown.  Then, each night at 6:30 we report back to the studio for a critique and career-building session.  Including breaks, it's an intense, 12-hour day - but filled with many good things.

Albert Handell working magic on my painting

Career-building in the evening

After the workshop ends Saturday afternoon, I'll write up a more detailed report, but this is all the time I can afford right now.  I've got to eat a quick breakfast and then head over to the studio to open it up for everyone.

But first, I'd like to remind you about my own Sedona plein air painting workshops, which run from now until April.  I'll share with you some of the things I learn from Albert!  For details, please visit

Moonrise over Munds Mountain