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Saturday, August 29, 2015

Doug Dawson Advanced Workshop – Final Report

That's my painting, "Twin Spruces," on the left and in-process

I first came across Master Pastellist Doug Dawson 15 years ago, when I began painting in pastel.  His book, Capturing Light and Color in Pastel, was the perfect resource for me at the time.  (It's still a valuable resource, and although it's out of print, I recommend it.)  Soon afterward, I took a workshop with him when he judged one of the Pastel Society of New Mexico's annual exhibitions.  I was awed by his knowledge, generosity and spirit, and especially by how he could articulate concepts very clearly—a skill many master painters don't have.  Since then, I have helped him organize advanced workshops in Lubec, and he has been a real pleasure to work with.

This was Doug's fifth time giving this workshop.  He had students from Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, both North and South Carolina, New Mexico and Prince Edward Island.  The group included a retired high school principal, a professional artist, a retired financial analyst and two doctors whose services, fortunately, were not needed.   A variety of skill levels and media provided a rich environment for everyone.  During lunches and other informal gatherings, I enjoyed listening to everyone's "art story."

I won't give a day-by-day, detailed diary, but I do want to describe how Doug runs his advanced landscape plein air painting workshop.  Although there are no formal lectures or demonstrations, participants are invited to watch him paint--during which time he will narrate his process and thoughts--or to paint the same scene along side him, or even to paint something different nearby.  Between these painting sessions, he gives critiques of work done by participants and also addresses topics that may come up as a result of the critiques.  This week, topics included massing and simplification of shapes, edge design and control, and creating color interest.  I won't elaborate on these much other than to say that even with my 15 years as a professional painter and instructor, and after a lifetime of painting, I learned something new every day.

Except for one day of torrential rain, we had warm but excellent weather with sometimes a little morning fog.   Our painting locations in Lubec included Quoddy State Park and the village itself.  On Campobello Island, we painted at the Head Harbour Lightstation and, within the Roosevelt-Campobello International Park, Liberty Point and near Lake Glensevern.  For the rain day, we had a comfortable, dry studio to work in, and we always met there for critiques and post-painting discussions.

Below I've posted some of my work from the week.  I especially focused on simplified masses and interesting edges.  They are for sale, so if you're interested, please let me know and I will provide pricing.

By the way, you can paint this very same scenery next year at one of my own Paint Campobello plein air painting workshops.  I am now taking reservations from weeks for July, August and early September 2016.  Visit for details and to register.  I hope you'll join me!

Barrier Beach, 9x12  pastel

Dead Spruce, 16x20, oil

Heart of the Island, 9x12 oil
(I am reminded of Frederic Church's "Heart of the Andes")

Off School Street, 9x12 oil

Twin Spruces, 12x18 pastel

2 PM, 9x12 oil

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Doug Dawson Advanced Workshop – Interim Report

If you've been following my blog, you'll know that this is Doug Dawson week. Doug and Sue have come all the way from Denver to lead an advanced workshop in Downeast Maine. I believe this is his fifth time in the area teaching. It's always a pleasure to have this master painter here, as he is such a giving teacher.

So far, we've had two mornings of fog followed by sunnier afternoons. Doug loves the fog, since it simplifies shapes and leads to more abstract painting, and it also does interesting things to color. The sunny afternoons have been good, too, since that is weather more typical of the area in August. We're liking all of it, though! 

I'll post a more complete report after the week, but for now, here are some photos.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Another Plein Air Workshop Week Done - Not Many Left for the Summer!

Find the Painter!

The summer is flying by, and yet another plein air workshop has just finished up.  This week, I had students from New York, Wisconsin and Maryland.  They were all cheerful spirits, and the unusual fog we've had every morning for well over a week now didn't bother them.  Here in Downeast Maine and in the Canadian Maritimes, we just roll with the punches.  (Every day in this beautiful, quiet corner of the world is a gift.) I've included my demonstrations in this post so you can see what the weather was like.

Mysterious Meadow, 9x12 oil by Michael Chesley Johnson
(Underpainting was a monochromatic block-in with Gamblin Portland Greys)
Cranberry Point Fog - 10x8 oil by Michael Chesley Johnson
Available - $300 uframed
(Raymar panel with cotton duck surface, toned with Gamblin FastMatte Transparent Earth Red)

Next week, I have a break - sort of.  Rather than teaching a workshop, I'll be facilitating an advanced/mentoring one for Doug Dawson.  Doug has been designated a Master Pastelist by the Pastel Society of America and has been inducted into the Pastel Hall of Fame by the International Association of Pastel Societies.  I've worked with Doug several times over the years, and he and his wife, Sue, have become good friends.  I always look forward to his visits, and I'm always learning something new.  Doug will keep us all busy, but I will do my best to post some reports of the week here.

Not a painting, but if it were, it would be worthy of Constable

After that, I have one more workshop that I'll be teaching on Campobello Island.  Following that, I'll be teaching for Acadia Workshop Center in Bernard, Maine, October 6-9.  I still have some room left in that, so click here for details  Then, it's off to Arizona!  I'm excited about being an invited artist at the Sedona Plein Air Festival again.  And don't forget that my series of Paint Sedona workshops begins immediately after that.  If you'd like to paint some of the Southwest's best scenery, please visit for details.

Quiet Point - 9x12 oil by Michael Chesley Johnson
Available - $400 unframed

Friday, August 14, 2015

How Long HaveYou Been Painting En Plein Air?

6x8 oil by Michael Chesley Johnson
Available - $100 unframed

"How long have you been painting en plein air?" is a question students sometimes ask me at workshops.  Short answer:  The summer of 1999.  I took a one-day pastel workshop, which entailed a session of painting from life outdoors.  (Coincidentally, that was also my first exposure to pastel.)    I was immediately hooked.  I didn't want to be in the studio anymore.  From that point forward, I painted almost exclusively outdoors for many years.

"Spruce" - in process in the field
Art Cocoon in use!

But that wasn't my first exposure to painting outside.  I started in college, at the University of Georgia in Athens.  A friend across the hall at my dorm was an amateur painter, and one day he invited me to take my paintbox out.  We drove to and then hiked into the university's vast botanical gardens.  We set up along the shadowed banks of the muddy Oconee River.  I don't know what happened to that first plein air painting, but I remember I liked the experience very much.

Behind the Barrier Beach, Fog
9x12 pastel by Michael Chesley Johnson
Available - $150 unframed

How many of you remember your first plein air painting outing?  I'd love for you to share your memories in the comments.

Eastern Head
9x12 oil by Michael Chesley Johnson
Available - $150 unframed

On another note, I just finished up another workshop this week.  I had students from Florida, New York City and Maine.  Despite the fog, we had a great time and did some good painting.  I've sprinkled some photos of mine throughout this post.

Spring Tide
6x8 oil by Michael Chesley Johnson
Available - $150 unframed

By the way, I am eager to get more students for my first two workshop weeks in Sedona.  I have openings for the October 27-30 and November 3-6 sessions.  For details or to sign up, please visit

Bold Coast Cliff
9x12 pastel by Michael Chesley Johnson

Not a painting!  But a pretty picture nevertheless.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Last Week's Plein Air Painting Workshop: Oil & Pastel

Painting at Liberty Point

I am blessed this summer with full workshops, eager students, and good weather.  This past week was no exception.  Although we had a bit of fog early on, it too is beautiful to paint, and my students, both oil painters and pastel painters, quickly learned to handle its flighty temperament.

I painted four nice demonstrations this week that I want to share with you:

Noon Glare
9x12 oil – available, USD $500 unframed incl. shipping

Offshore Fog
9x12 pastel – available, USD $170 unframed incl. shipping

Glen Severn Stream
9x12 oil – sold

Liberty Point Rocks
9x12 pastel - sold

Also, I have some workshops coming up this fall that I still have some space in.  I hope you'll join us!

Oct 6-9:  Bernard, ME.  Acadia Workshop Center.  $595.  Details:

Oct 27-30:  Sedona, AZ.  Paint Sedona program, right after the Sedona Plein Air Festival.  $300. Details:
Nov 3-6:  Sedona, AZ.  Paint Sedona program.  $300 Details:

Friday, August 7, 2015

Book Excerpt and Demonstration in PleinAir Magazine

I'm proud to announce that PleinAir Magazine has published an excerpt from my new book in the August-September 2015 digital edition.  "Eight Reasons to Base Studio Paintings on Plein Air Sketches" is a modified chapter from Outdoor Study to Studio:  Take Your Plein Air Paintings to the  Next Level.

The article also features the below demonstration painting, "Quiet Cove," to show one of my methods of using plein air references to create a larger studio painting.

Quiet Cove 12x16 oil/panel - Private Collection

The book features several more demonstrations and thorough explanations.  Outdoor Study to Studio: Take Your Plein Air Paintings to the Next Level can be ordered directly from at in both paperback and Kindle editions.

By the way, I am now taking reservations for my Sedona (Arizona) plein air painting workshops.  For full details for this fall/winter 2015 and winter/spring 2016 series of plein air painting workshops, please visit 

Finally, I'm also looking for a few more students for my upcoming workshop in Bernard, Maine, October 6-9.  It's a beautiful time of year on Mount Desert Island! Here are details for this one:

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Underpainting with Transparent Earth Red

Skyward 12x9 oil
by Michael Chesley Johnson - Available unframed, $300 incl. shipping
Will ship when dry

Lately, I've fallen in love with a new oil color and, for me, a new approach.  My new color is Gamblin's Transparent Earth Red.  This earth pigment, Venetian Red modified by a modern process so it is transparent, has a beautiful orange tone.  Because it is transparent, it allows light to pass through the paint layer and then bounce off the white canvas beneath, which makes the color really glow like stained glass.

I'm using the FastMatte version of Transparent Earth Red to tone my canvas or panel.  When I'm painting en plein air, I use a towel to scrub in the color with just a minimum of Gamsol.  Because FastMatte is an alkyd, it becomes tacky enough so I can brush on my next layers of paint without worrying about getting mud.

But I'm not using a brush – I'm using a small painting knife.  My approach is to apply the color quickly and intuitively and not worry about all the little orange spots showing through.  The orange  enhances the other colors, especially the cool blues and greens that one encounters in maritime scenes.  (The approach might not have that effect on a desert scene, which already has warmer colors.)  If there's a really big chunk of orange showing through, I  might cover it, but I try hard to preserve all those beautiful flecks of orange color.

At the top of this post is a 12x9 I did this weekend with this method plus some detail shots, below.  I've also included a photo of my favorite painting knife.  (It has gotten as sharp as a razor with use, and I have to be very careful when wiping it clean so I don't cut myself.  I've already done that a few times.)  I've created several other paintings with this cool color recently, such as the Castine Plein Air Festival.  You can see them in these earlier posts.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Paint Some of the Southwest's Most Dramatic Scenery

Fall in Sedona

Plein Air Painting along Oak Creek Near Sedona
Quick Link to this Exciting Program!

Every year about this time, people start asking about – and signing up for – my Paint Sedona plein air painting workshops. Why? Because I take my students to paint some of the Southwest's most dramatic scenery. Think spires and chimneys of red rock, tall cottonwoods and sycamores, lush creeks and canyons, plus generally excellent painting weather. What's more, my workshops are small (typically no more than 4 students) and since we work from 9-1, students have afternoons free to paint more on their own or, if they come with friends or family, to go exploring. Your time in Sedona can be treated either as an intense period of learning or as a holiday in which study is balanced with recreational activities. (I always encourage students to come early or stay late so they can take advantage of the area's many national parks and monuments.)

Painting the Mexican-style villa at Tlaquepaque
Since my Paint Sedona program runs for several months (late October through early April), I offer a variety of workshop types. I schedule workshops for all levels of painter, plus weeks for intermediate to advanced painters. I also offer mentoring and special topic weeks. This year, I offer "Exploring the Verde Valley" and "Advanced Color" in addition to my more basic weeks. I will also customize a week to suit you if you can get a total of four students. For example, if you belong to a pastel painting group, you might have some of your group come out for a "pastel only" week. 

Sunny Cliffs 9x12 oil by Michael Chesley Johnson

The cost is very reasonable. It's only $300 for the four days (Tuesday through Friday.) Plus, I always include a day of visiting my studio where you can tour my private working space and also enjoy painting along Oak Creek and Spring Creek, which are virtually in my back yard.

For details on the Paint Sedona program, please visit I hope you'll join us!

Mitten Ridge Reds 12x16 oil/canvas by Michael Chesley Johnson

Hues of Spring 9x12 pastel by Michael Chesley Johnson
Spring Comes to Arizona 12x12 oil by MIchael Chesley Johnson