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Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thoughts on Artist Web Sites

I'd rather be doing this than building web sites.  Wouldn't you?

The title of this blog post may have you thinking that I am offering my thoughts on web sites for artists.  But actually, I'm asking for your input.  My own web site ( has been up and running for about 15 years.  I'm proud to say I built it with my own two hands.  Well, it's not the Victorian Age anymore.  This steampunk site needs to be rebuilt for the 21st Century.

My fingers aren't as nimble as they used to be, so I am thinking of using a web host that's artist-friendly with templates and the like.  I want this to be simple.

I have a list of features I'd like to have available.  These are:

  • SSL (https).  Google apparently is going to start giving demerits for sites that don't use SSL certificates for security.
  • Mobile/tablet friendly.  Although Google Analytics tells me the majority of my visitors still use desktop computers, the percentage of mobile and tablet users will surely rise.  
  • Easy-to-use and customize templates.  I really don't want to be writing HTML or JavaScript code anymore.  (And I don't want to be learning Drupal.)  Also, I want my site to look different from yours, so I'd like to be able to customize the template easily.
  • Clean, uncluttered and easy-to-use image presentation.  For an artist, it's all about being able to present the images.
  • Social media integration.  Specifically, I want to make it easy to pull in feeds from Facebook, Instagram and my blog.
  • Multiple domain hosting, management and integration.  I have many domain names, and I'd like to manage them all in one spot.  Some have to do with the art, others to do with workshops, and others with my writing.
  • Good tech support.  I'm pretty handy with Internet technology, but when I need tech support, I want it now, and I want to reach someone who knows something.  I'd like to bypass the first tier of support.  By the time I call, I've already tried rebooting my computer and don't need to be asked that.
  • A host that stays on top of the technology.  When IEEE 802.99 comes around (I imagine that it will be a telepathic global network), I want my host to be ready for it.
  • Finally, I need to be able to manage the whole thing under Windows and my Chrome browser.  I don't want to switch to Apple.  If Windows and Chrome go away, I'll deal with it at that time.
  • Oh, and a shopping cart.  I'm not sure I'll ever use this, but it'd be nice to know it's there should the bricks-and-mortar galleries wither away.

So, my questions to you are:
  • What hosting service would you recommend, and why?
  • What is missing from my wish list, and why would I want it?

I appreciate your input very much!  I'm hoping to get this all started very soon.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Paint Sedona Adding Studio Workshops

I don't know about you, but it seems like everyone's painting en plein air these days.  And now there are plein air conventions, plein air magazines, plein air festivals and plein air competitions.  This might be a good thing, but many of us who paint en plein air exclusively are forgetting that the studio is where creative synthesis happens.  In the field, we observe how the elements of light, volume and depth operate; in the studio, freed from the distractions of outdoor painting, we can incorporate these field observations into more meaningful works.  In the studio, we can also resuscitate the inspiration we had in the field and give it new life.

With that in mind, I've decided to give all you plein air painters the opportunity to return to the studio to develop your art more fully.  I am adding studio-only weeks to my Paint Sedona calendar.  We'll paint from any plein air references brought by students, which could include color sketches or even "finished" pieces.  For students willing and who have the equipment, I will suggest optional outdoor painting assignments for outside the workshop day.  (If you've already signed up for a workshop with me and are expecting plein air, not to worry; those weeks will still take place outdoors.)  In the studio, I'll be teaching value and design, color mixing and color use, and adding depth to your landscapes to create that perfect illusion.  We might even give reality a little push here and there.

For those of you who were really looking forward to a plein air workshop with me, don't despair!  There are several scheduled in Sedona this spring.  Also, I will conduct a plein-air-only workshop if you can bring at least two friends, plus I will schedule more plein air weeks in the future.  Finally, my Downeast Maine workshops will continue to be exclusively plein air.  Check out

I look forward to seeing you in the studio!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

2016 Holiday Sale!

Every year about this time, I go through my studio inventory and try to pick out a few, select paintings that I want to offer at a special price for my loyal followers.  This year, I have both oil and pastel paintings, going anywhere from $120 up to $200.  These paintings are all unframed but with free shipping to the USA! *  Scenes range from Arizona to Maine and points in between.

I hope you'll consider one of them for yourself or a loved one for the upcoming holiday season.

Above is a collage showing some of the paintings.  To see the full page, please go to  I'm accepting payment via Paypal.

*I will also ship to Canada and elsewhere for extra.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Albert Handell Mentoring Workshop Wrap-Up

High Desert Juniper 12x18 pastel by Michael Chesley Johnson

"I've always dreamed of coming to Sedona's Red Rock Country and working under a master painter like Albert Handell," one participant said.  For six days, she and 15 other participants enjoyed a rigorous but extremely satisfying schedule of demonstrations, painting time and evening critiques.

For me personally, this has been my fourth time serving as host and coordinator for Albert, and I think it was the best week yet.  Each of his demonstrations was masterful and narrated fully, interspersed with helpful tips and tricks; painting times were long and in beautiful locations among creeks, red rocks and sycamore and cottonwood trees; critiques were right on-point, with Albert seeing immediately what needed to be addressed.  And because this was a mentoring workshop, he generously shared his knowledge of career-building with everyone.   Even though I live in Red Rock Country and have studied with Albert before, I found the week valuable and enjoyable.

Reach for the Sky 18x14 oil by Michael Chesley Johnson

Participants came from Oregon, California, Illinois, Florida, New Mexico and Arizona.   Many of them were eager to "go pro" and found the career-building talks very helpful.   Also helpful was that this was an "immersion" program filled with activities.  Here's how the week went:

We started with an orientation meeting on Sunday evening followed by dinner at a local restaurant.  Then, each morning started with a studio demonstration in oil or pastel at 9:30 that lasted till noon, followed by a short break and then an afternoon of painting time on-location with Albert going from easel-to-easel.  After a dinner break, we all met again in the studio at 7 for critiques and career-building.  One day, we went directly to the field where Albert demonstrated in pastel in "paint-along" fashion, and the rest of us continued to paint for the rest of the day until crit time.  Friday night was the final critique night, which started at 6 and lasted until we'd reviewed each participant's work from the week plus other, earlier work he or she brought in.  Afterward, Albert gave each person an action plan for further improvement.  Finally, on Saturday morning, he gave one last demonstration, and then we all bid each other farewell.  I've included a few photos from the week, including two of my paintings.

Albert has scheduled another mentoring program week for March 12-18, 2017, so I encourage you to sign up now, as this last one filled quickly.  Also, lodging at the studio is available at a very reasonable cost.  With other students staying there, it can become a true immersion experience.  For details on this next mentoring program, please visit

If you weren't able to take this last workshop with Albert and can't take the next one, please remember that I teach plein air painting workshops in the Sedona area.  For details, schedule and to sign up, visit

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Secret Mountain Wilderness 12x36 oil/canvas

Secret Mountain Wilderness 12x36 oil/canvas
by Michael Chesley Johnson
(Final state)

Recently, I've embarked on painting larger pictures.  As much as I like being outdoors, I am creating these pieces in my studio.  The studio affords more time, coffee and a little music*, all conducive to working out problems that can't be dealt with in the field.  With that in mind, I offer you a look at my latest:

I based this on two plein air studies, one recent and one from a few years ago.  The location depicted is one of my very favorite spots, and I love the name of the area:  Secret Mountain Wilderness.  You can imagine yourself wandering between the two mountains and on into the mysterious distance, perhaps on a long, unexpected journey involving trolls and dragons.

Here are the two studies:

Almost There 8x16 oil/panel by Michael Chesley Johnson (study)

Clouds over the Mesa 9x12 oil/pane by Michael Chesley Johnson (study)

In an earlier state of the painting, I included a small juniper bush in the bottom left corner.  My idea was that it would present a bit of foreground that was clearly much closer, thus pushing the mountains farther into the distance, increasing the sense of depth.  I struggled with this bush for some time.  No matter what I did, it kept drawing attention to itself.  I really didn't want that.  I wanted the eye to touch briefly on the foreground and then continue on its way.  Here's the early version:

Secret Mountain Wilderness (early state)

I woke in the middle of the night realizing that I didn't need that bush.  The point of the painting was everything beyond it.  The first thing I did after breakfast was to scrape it out.  Then I repainted the area so it was more in keeping with the middle ground to the right.  I also redesigned the mountain on the left so it more closely resembled the actual thing as depicted in my plein air reference.   Now the painting has exactly the feeling I want to convey.

By the way, I used no photographs for this painting.  It is based entirely on the two plein air references, memory and good judgment.  Here are a few detail shots for you of the finished piece:

This week, my good friend Albert Handell will be in town.  I'm honored to be the host and coordinator for the mentoring workshop he's conducting.  It'll be a very full week, but a very satisfying one, I'm sure.  I'll try to write a post or two about it as it goes.

*While working on "Secret Mountain Wilderness," I listened non-stop to the soundtracks for the three Lord of the Rings movies.  I think this helped me realize the mystery of my chosen view.