Monday, February 8, 2016

Painting the Ocean While in the High Desert – and a Poll!

Choice A:
"Afternoon at Otter Cliff"
12x24 oil/panel by Michael Chesley Johnson

Choice B:
"Toward Otter Point"
16x20 oil/canvas by Michael Chesley Johnson
Vote for your favorite of the two!  Scroll down to the end of this post for the poll.

This may sound odd, but while enjoying hikes in the high desert in Red Rock Country this winter, I've been spending my studio time painting coastal Maine.

Why? This year marks two important anniversaries for the National Park Service.  First, the NPS turns 100.  To celebrate, the Grand Canyon Association is asking artists who have been invited to the annual plein air event this fall to create one studio painting each that will feature a favorite park.  I've spent a great deal of time painting Acadia National Park in Maine, so I've chosen to highlight one of my special spots there.  It's a view of the famous 110-foot Otter Cliff.  (More about that below.)

A second anniversary is that of Acadia National Park itself.  It, too, enjoys a centennial this year.  Although it didn't become a National Park until 1919, it was established as Sieur de Monts National Monument on July 8, 1916, and that is the anniversary being celebrated.  As part of the celebration, Argosy Gallery in Bar Harbor has asked me to create two dozen small paintings of scenes within the Park.  I'm having a lot of fun selecting locations.  Some you would expect, such as ocean views, but some you might not, such as swamps and gate houses. These 6x8 oils will be exhibited and sold starting July 1st at the gallery.  An opening reception is scheduled for that day; I will post details later plus images of the paintings once they're done.

Now back to Otter Cliff.  When Samuel de Champlain first explored the area in 1604, his ship struck a submerged rock just off the prominence, forcing him to spend the winter in a nearby cove making repairs.  Three hundred years later, in the early part of the 20th century, Otter Cliff was home to an important naval radio station.  John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who donated a good deal of land to create the Park, asked the Navy to move it.  The Navy agreed to include the parcel of land in his donation, so long as he would build another one, which he did on nearby Schoodic Point, across Frenchman Bay.  Today, Otter Cliff is perhaps best well-known as a spectacular headland.  Rock-climbers love scaling its 110-foot, nearly-vertical face.  Although I'm not a rock-climber, I've always enjoyed walking the trail or painting a view of it from my perch among the granite slabs that line the shore.

Although the Park is sometimes subject to awe-inspiring storms, I prefer to paint quieter versions of this part of the coast.  With that in mind, I made two paintings featuring Otter Cliff.  One is a more panoramic 12x24 format; the other is a more square 16x20.  I like them both so much I can't decide which one to send to the Grand Canyon exhibition.  If you have a moment, please vote down below.  Images of the paintings are embedded in this post. Thank you!

UPDATE:  The public has decided!  Choice B, "Toward Otter Point," will be going to the Kolb Studio at Grand Canyon this fall for the exhibit.

Some of the studies and sketches I made
while working on the two Acadia NP paintings.
Here are the poll results:

Overwhelming, the public voted for "B - Toward Otter Point"

By the way, if you'd like to paint on Mount Desert Island, home to Acadia National Park, I will be teaching my annual plein air workshop in Bernard, Maine, this fall, September 26-29. For details, please visit

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