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

Saturday, October 28, 2017

To Blend or Not to Blend--That is the Question

Blending Swatches
(Pastels are Cretacolor; paper is Art Spectrum)
A = Two colors (blue, orange) feathered over each other
B = Same, but then blended with a finger protected by a finger cot
C = Blended with the pinky nail
D = Blended with the flat side of a painting knife
E = Blended with a lemon yellow pastel
F = Blended with a yellow-green pastel

Now and then, I have a pastel student who will say, “My last instructor likes to blend with a finger.”   Usually this statement is made in the context of my demonstrating and noting that I like to use hard pastel sticks as blending tools.  But sometimes, I, too, use my finger.  There's no hard-and-fast rule about blending.  I double-checked that much-loved tome, The Pastelist's Standard Desk Reference, and in Volume 43, it mentioned several tort cases involving blending, but no one case established any one method over another.  So, blend with what you will.

But your choice does make a difference.  When I use my finger, it's usually just a quick touch to soften an edge or fill in a spot.  I use the back of my pinky finger's nail to make an adjustment.  Using the pad instead would add oil to the pastel, darkening and muddying it.  If I'm wearing finger cots, this is not an issue.

Other than the finger, just about anything can be used for blending.  Styrofoam peanuts—which can screech like fingernails on a chalkboard—bits of pipe insulation, a variety of erasers applied lightly, painting knives (yes, really), pastel pencils, graphite pencils or vine charcoal sticks.  And cats, which can add a random element to one's approach.

My favorite tool, however, is a hard pastel.  I like a long, unbroken square stick such as NuPastel, Cretacolor or Polychromos.  I hold the stick like a miniature conductor's baton and lightly feather the other end over the passage to be blended.  It requires the most delicate of touches, and the more you work the pastel, the more consistent the color and texture become, and the richer the texture.  (The swatches above are still rough.)  Color choice is also important.  A complementary color will grey down the passage as well as blending or softening it; a richer color can raise the chroma of an area; a cool one or a warm one will cool or warm an area, respectively.

With this post, I've included a few swatches of blending options.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

A New Version: Changing Things Up

Now and then, I have the opportunity to make a studio “copy” of a painting I did in the field.  I put “copy” in quotes, because I never try to make an accurate copy.  Instead, I create a brand-new piece that's based on the first one—and I take liberties with it to keep things interesting.  I don't want to paint the same painting, and to keep from doing that, I may change materials or process or both.

Last fall, I went with my group up to Slide Rock State Park in Arizona to paint the spectacular fall color.  Golds, oranges, tawny greens—we had it all.  I made an oil painting of a cluster of aspen trees, set against Sedona's red rocks, and backlit by the late afternoon sun.

Original:  A Poplar Time
12x9 Oil by Michael Chesley Johnson

It loved that little painting.  But when it sold recently, I decided to make another version for myself before shipping it out.  So, I set up my easel and went to work.

I changed a few things, though.  In addition to my standard palette, which uses only ultramarine for my blue and no violet, I added cobalt blue and quinacridone violet, plus burnt sienna.  (All Gamblin colors.)  In the original, I'd used just ultramarine blue and phthalo green in the sky; the ultramarine made the redder, darker part of the sky and the phthalo green, the lighter, warmer part.  In the new version, I wanted to sandwich a cobalt blue between the two.  Additionally, I wanted to enrich the cool reds of the shadowed rocks in the near distance.  In the original, I used just permanent alizarin crimson, modified with blues and greens.  In the new version, I used the stronger quinacridone violet.  I tempered it with a little burnt sienna and cobalt blue.

New Version: That Time of Year
12x9 Oil by Michael Chesley Johnson

Finally, I used a small painting knife.  I'd employed a brush in the original, and it made blending the shadowy parts of the aspens easy.  In this one, I had to use all my Jedi powers to get the knife to blend effectively.

All these changes kept the job interesting and also made for a whole new vision of this scene.  It's a different painting than the original but presents the same quality of light as in the original—and this was my goal.

By the way, my Holiday Sale continues!  Visit to get a gift for yourself or a friend.

Monday, October 23, 2017

2017 Holiday Sale! Paintings, Paintings, Paintings!

Fifteen Paintings!

Every year about this time, I like to offer some of my smaller paintings at a special holiday price.  It’s an opportunity for you to acquire some nice pieces as gifts for yourself or for friends.  These 15 oil paintings feature either land forms, trees or water–my favorite subjects!

The collage above only gives you an idea of the paintings.  Go to my holiday sale page at this link to see the images in all their glory.   You can order them there directly, too.

Paintings this size sell for $700 framed in my galleries.   But for this sale only, you can get them unframed for only $150, which includes shipping to the lower 48 states in the US.  PayPal, credit card or check accepted.  Paintings will ship after November 15 via USPS Priority Mail.

So, think of that favorite someone–even if it’s yourself!

By the way, don't forget that I am now taking registration for my New Mexico programs:

First is the painting retreat in Santa Fe, April 16-23, 2018.  This will be a small group, and designed for experienced plein air painters.  We'll be painting in the historic areas of town plus some other locations just outside of town that I love.  You an also plan on visits to the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum plus the New Mexico Museum of Art.  We've run the retreat at this time of year before, and it's a beautiful time to visit the city.  The wisteria will be in bloom!  Our retreat will be at the same time as PleinAir Magazine's convention. For only a few hundred dollars more, you can be with us -- and get lodging and breakfast and more days! You don't get lodging and breakfast when you sign up for the convention!   Details at

Second is my "Private Painting Intensive Study" program at my home and studio, again, for experienced outdoor painters.  I'll post more about this later, but for details, please visit

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Painting Demonstration in Sedona, Arizona, for Goldenstein Gallery

Secret Mountain Wilderness by Michael Chesley Johnson
Secret Mountain Wilderness 12x36 oil
by Michael Chesley Johnson

I invite you to join me for a painting demonstration on October 29th, 2017, Sunday afternoon from 1-3 pm, along the shady banks of Oak Creek in Sedona, Arizona.  As part of Goldenstein Gallery's artist-in-residence program, I'll be down at the L'Auberge de Sedona resort, painting by the creek, just off the restaurant's outside deck.  The cottonwoods should be in all their golden finery by then.  You can enjoy a fine brunch, too!

The painting I make during the demonstration will be for sale through the gallery.  To whet your appetite, I'd like to share with you the paintings I currently have at Goldenstein Gallery.  You can see (and purchase them) both at L'Auberge de Sedona and also at the gallery.

By the way, although my November plein air painting workshop in Sedona is filled, if you are interested in another workshop there, please let me know.  I'll be happy to schedule another one!  You can e-mail me at, and if I get enough interest, I will let you know.

A Place to Stand Oil Painting by Michael Chesley Johnson
A Place to Stand 24x12 Oil

Autumn's Turn Oil Painting by Michael Chesley Johnson
Autumn's Turn 24x36 Oil
All paintings available through:
Goldenstein Gallery 
150 SR 179/ Suite 5, Sedona, AZ 86336
928- 204-1765

Evening Light Oil Painting by Michael Chesley Johnson
Evening Light 11x14 Oil

Into the Flow Oil Painting by Michael Chesley Johnson
Into the Flow 12x16 Oil

December Morning in the Desert Oil Painting by Michael Chesley Johnson
December Morning in the Desert 24x30 Oil

Quiet Bend (Marble Canyon) Oil Painting by Michael Chesley Johnson
Quiet Bend (Marble Canyon) 16x20 Oil

Red Rock Rising (Sedona) Oil Painting by Michael Chesley Johnson
Red Rock Rising 9x12 Oil

Slide Rock Fault (Sedona) Oil Painting by Michael Chesley Johnson
Slide Rock Fault 16x20 Oil

Season of Trees (Goldenstein, L'Auberge, Sedona) Oil Painting by Michael Chesley Johnson
Season of Trees 12x9 Oil

Monday, October 16, 2017

Secret Cliffs - and a New Plein Air Painting Program

"Secret Cliffs"
6x8 Oil by Michael Chesley Johnson

As many of you know, Trina and I have been driving cross-country to the Southwest, as we do every fall.  We are now home, but it's a new home.

We've returned to a part of the world where we feel a deep spiritual kinship with the land–New Mexico.  Back in 1999, we quit our jobs in Vermont to follow our dreams, and our dreams led us here.  I wasn't a full-time painter then, but I became one soon after.  Now that I’m back, I'm eager to explore this landscape with a paintbrush that has matured.  Near the Zuni Pueblo and El Morro National Monument, and on the shoulders of the Zuni Mountains at 7000 feet, our home and studios occupy a point in the universe where the air is clear; the sky, blue; and the sun, intense unlike anywhere else.  There's lots to explore, from lava fields to sandstone bluffs, from ponderosa-clad hills to blue lakes.

The location of “Secret Cliffs” (above) is a short, perhaps 15-minute, walk from my home, if I scramble down a cliff and through scrub oak.  It’s better to drive there, and then it’s only 5 minutes.  The lake depicted had been dry for awhile but filled up over the last two winters from snowmelt.  When I went out to paint this yesterday, the sun was going down and the waterfowl were tuning up for an evening of birdsong.  The place is gorgeous in autumn, and there’s a peace that fills the land.

I'm eager to share this new space with students who are experienced painters, as there is so much to paint here.  Starting in February of next year (2018), I will open up my home and studio to one person at a time who would like to study with me privately.  You'll get food and lodging (a tuition-only version will also be available, in case you want to lodge elsewhere) plus five days of intensive painting which I will fully customize after a consultation.  I'll write more about this new Private Painting Intensive Study program in a future blog post, but for now, you can find more information at  And you are more than welcome to sign up now!

Here's a short video of this painting location.  We'll be painting here as part of my new program.  (Link:

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Doug Dawson Plein Air Painting Workshop, Oct 30-Nov 3, 2017

In case you haven't heard, Master Artist Doug Dawson will be teaching a plein air painting workshop October 30-November 3, 2017, in Sedona, Arizona.  I've known Doug for many years, and I've sponsored several workshops with him.  Doug, who was given the title of Master Pastelist by the Pastel Society of America in 1985 and inducted into the Masters' Circle by the International Association of Pastel Societies in 2005, shares so much during a workshop.  Everyone gets a great deal out of the week, and he often has repeat students coming back for more.

The workshop will be based at the same studio I used for my PaintSedona workshops.  The cost of the workshop is $625 (not including lodging).  To register, contact Doug Dawson directly at 303-421-4584 or

You can find out more about Doug at his website, which is  I've included a couple of videos here.  The first (at the top, but here is the link) is an interview with Doug.  The second (below, link here) is a video I put together to advertise a workshop with him in Maine and New Brunswick.  Although it's not Sedona, it'll still give you an idea of the workshop week.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Workshop Report: Durango, Colorado

Two Aspens Study 6x8 Oil by Michael Chesley Johnson

Few places in the world are more beautiful than Colorado in the fall.  The mountains,  quilted with pink, blue and gold, buoy up the heart.  Hike up into some mountain meadow, and the splendor of aspens will wipe away the cares of the world.

Animas River, Durango, Colorado
This past weekend, I had the honor of teaching a private workshop for a group of plein air artists located in Durango.  This historic town hugs the Animas River between two mountain ranges, the San Juan and the La Plata.  From my host’s house and our meeting place, I enjoyed a stunning vista.  On our first morning, thick clouds surrounded the peaks, but as dawn broke, orange and pink seeped into the grey, overpowering it and drenching the world with autumn light.

Looking for something to paint - not so hard!
After a short morning lecture, we headed up to the Silverpick Lodge, located at 8900 feet, to paint the aspens.  A rather chill wind was blowing, but we found a sheltered spot for my first demonstration, which was in pastel.  After lunch, the wind began to blow harder, but I found a little road that led to a spot on the lee side of a hill where it was comfortably sunny and warm.  I set up at the edge of a meadow, in a gathering of aspens that was like a golden chapel.

Silverpick 9x12 Oil by Michael Chesley Johnson

Location shot for "Silverpick"
The next day, because the weather was forecast to be cooler, we decided to start at a lower elevation (7000 feet or so), along Lightner Creek.  Here we had a broad view of a meadow with views of Barnroof Point.  We’d gotten an early start, so the sun was rising over the hill and playing games with the light on the aspens.  It was tough painting, because the effect was so brief. Later, we headed up hill to the Hesperus Ski Area for lunch at the Kennebec Cafe.  From there, we had beautiful views of clusters of yellow and orange cottonwoods and aspens.

Aspen  Grove Study 12x9 Pastel by Michael Chesley Johnson

The happy group, minus one
My students were experienced outdoor painters, and it was a treat to work with them.  They were diverse:  a retired physical therapist, a fiddler/potter, an allergist, a geologist...I could go on.  But gathering them together was the common thread of painting in the beautiful outdoors.   I felt privileged to be in their company in such a beautiful part of the world.

I think private workshops are the way to go.  This group made me feel like a guest, and, I am grateful for their hospitality.

If your group would like to me teach a private workshop, let’s talk!

Sunday, October 1, 2017

A Special Plein Air Painting Retreat

West Quoddy Station

Special Plein Air Painting Retreat

West Quoddy Station, Lubec, Maine
August 13-17, 2018

I invite you to join us for a very special plein air painting retreat for experienced painters this summer. Unlike my usual workshops in Lubec, this retreat will be five luxurious days long, giving us plenty of outdoor painting time. Our base camp will be at the beautifully-renovated West Quoddy Station, a historic US Coast Guard compound right on the water. I have reserved the entire week for our retreat, with check-in on Sunday, August 12, and departure on Friday, August 17, for a total of five nights. (And of course, you are more than welcome to extend your stay!)

West Quoddy Head Light

The Station offers many choices for lodging as there are five buildings. Some are apartments for singles or couples; others are cottages for one or two couples; the Station House has five bedrooms. (All units have kitchens.) Because of the variety, I urge you to bring not just yourself but your painting buddies. If you are a member of a painting group, please extend this invitation to your members. You can find full details and pictures plus pricing on the compound at*

Painting the Bold Coast

The Station is perfectly located for our retreat, as it is right next to Quoddy Head State Park with its trails and lighthouse. If you've never been to this park before, it offers stunning views of the Grand Manan Channel with rocky cliffs and rugged beaches as well as interior trails that wind through bogs and spruce forests. Like I tell my students, I could spend the whole week painting just there! The Station itself, of course, has many picturesque possibilities for us painters.

Lubec, Maine

A short drive from the Station takes you to Lubec, a historic village with a working waterfront that includes fish houses and lobster boats. Lubec also has several restaurants and shops, as well as a nearby medical center and grocery store. (Check out for more information.) Beyond Lubec, there are several trailheads that offer painting opportunities, such as Hamilton Beach and Boot Head. You will need a passport, as we will visit my studio on nearby Campobello Island, which is in Canada, and also paint in the Roosevelt-Campobello International Park, which has 3000 acres of natural beauty. You won't want this retreat to end!

One of my favorite spots to paint!

Each day will start at 8 a.m. with critiques of the previous day's paintings. Following this, I will give some helpful pointers on painting in the area. After that, we'll paint as a group for the morning. Although I won't be giving any formal instruction, I will be offering demonstrations to anyone who wants to watch and also painting along with you. After lunchtime, I will give you optional painting assignments for the afternoon. Or, if you prefer not to paint, you can explore—go on a whale watch, take a hike, or visit some of the other villages.

More Bold Coast painting

To hold your space for the retreat, I will need a $150 deposit.** The price of the retreat is $300, which does not include lodging or meals. Please e-mail me at first to make sure I have space, and at that time I will give you information about where to send the deposit. After I receive your deposit, I will send a confirmation letter with details. Final payment is due one month before the retreat starts.

To reserve your lodging or to check on availability, please make your arrangements at West Quoddy Station by calling them at 877-535-4714 or emailing to You cannot book directly online. Make sure you tell them it is for the “Michael Chesley Johnson Plein Air Painting Retreat.” Once you have made your lodging arrangements, let me know where you will be staying and how many.

I'm looking forward to this retreat, as it is so different from my usual workshops here in Lubec. I hope you'll join us!


*Participants must stay at West Quoddy Head Station, as this guarantees the use of Quoddy Hall for our studio. Although the plan is to be outdoors painting as much as possible, it's important to have indoor studio space for critiques and rainy days. We will paint outdoors unless weather dictates otherwise.

**Deposit is non-refundable unless another participant can be found to take your place. You can read the full cancellation policy here.