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Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Painting Locations I Have Known

We always enjoy some free time between Christmas and New Year's.  Most folks with whom we do business take time off, so there's little point in writing e-mails or picking up the phone.   For us, it's a period of reading books, watching movies and taking hikes.  But it's also about looking ahead to the new year and for making plans, both business and personal.  I usually end up one day scrolling through photos from the year to see where we've been.  Between our cross-country trips, which come both spring and fall, and our excursions for day- or weekend-trips, we have painted and photographed in more places than I can count.

This season, I went back a little farther in my photo archive—right to the beginning of my career as a professional artist.  It amazed me to see how many photos I have of me painting in one scenic spot or another.  I thought I'd share these with you in a video.  (Can't see the video?  Go to this link:  I discovered I didn't have photos from every workshop, retreat or outing, so what follows is just a sampling of my adventures.  Maybe you'll join us on a future one.

By the way, as I reviewed the video, I was surprised at the variety of headgear, coats and jackets, and plein air equipment I've used over the years.  If you can figure out how many different easels I've used in the last 17 years, please let me know!

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Pumphouse Studio Gallery is Back!

My Studio at Pumphouse Studio Gallery

Whatever happened to Pumphouse Studio Gallery?  It's alive and well in New Mexico!

As you may recall, Trina and I opened Pumphouse Studio Gallery in Sedona, Arizona, several years ago.  Located in a small plaza just across the road from the famous Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village, the studio gallery was a quiet, peaceful place in the cool shade of giant sycamore trees beside Oak Creek.  We had a good time of it, running the gallery and using it as a base camp for my Paint Sedona plein air painting workshops.   After a couple of years, tired of “sitting retail” day in and day out, we sold the space and moved everything to our home south of town.

Just a sampling of artwork in the studio gallery!

Because we lived in a gated community with a vigilant HOA, we couldn't run the gallery publicly.  We had students over to visit it, and if anyone else was interested, we were open quietly by appointment.

But this year, we moved from Arizona to the Zuni Mountains of New Mexico to a large home with two big studios and lots of wall space.  When we finally unpacked all the artwork, we spent several pleasurable days hanging items.  We now are proud to announce that Pumphouse Studio Gallery is once again in business!

We are only one hour from Gallup and two hours from Albuquerque in the historic ranching community of Ramah.  We'd love to have you visit.  To entice you further, we have other attractions nearby:  El Morro National Monument, El Malpais National Monument, the Bandera Ice Caves and the Zuni and Acoma Pueblos.   And if you want to make more than just a day trip, we also have some good local restaurants—Ancient Way Cafe, Stagecoach Cafe, the Village Bistro and Chu-Chu's—plus lodging options at El Morro RV Park & Cabins, the Inn at Halona and more.

For now, we're open by appointment only.  To visit, please contact me at and we'll arrange a time!

And don't forget, this is also "base camp" for my Paint the Southwest plein air painting workshops!

Elahkwa!  (“Thank you!,” in Zuni.)

Thursday, December 21, 2017

December 2017 Holiday Letter from Michael

Capilla de la Noche
12x16 oil by Michael Chesley Johnson

(What follows is my December newsletter.  You may already have received this via e-mail as part of my mailing list.)

Trina and I are enjoying our new place in New Mexico very much. I can sit by my studio window in the warm sunshine with a cup of tea and enjoy vistas of ranches and hills. If I need a break from painting, several trails right outside the house lead me to high sandstone cliffs where I can look down upon our quiet lake or, more distant, out toward the Chain of Craters. The lake is now nearly covered in ice, and most of the ducks and coots have flown for open water to the south. Although nights are cold, daytime is wonderfully warm in the strong sunshine. Most times, a fleece jacket is all I need for a midday hike.

Below is some news of my doings, past and future.  You may find that perfect holiday gift for the special someone--who might even be you!


This winter, I plan to work on my studio series of what I call Transformative Paintings
. I've made one so far with more to follow. You can see them as they are posted at These paintings move beyond the physical plane and into the spiritual. Living where we do now, sandwiched between two very spiritual places—the Zuni and Navajo reservations—I feel as if I have one foot on Earth, and the other in the spirit world. I'm excited to be working on these.

I'll also be working on a big painting for the 2018 Grand Canyon Celebration of Art, which will be due at the end of March so it can be included in the catalog. Will this painting be part of my Transformative series? We'll see! You can read more on this prestigious event below.

The “Acadia Invitational III” invitational exhibition continues at Argosy Gallery in Bar Harbor, Maine. I attended the opening last July, and I can say this is a stunning show with many masterful paintings. The exhibit will continue until October 2018, but don't delay! Paintings are selling. You can get more details at and see the paintings online at

By the way, for those of you who enjoy seeing the process behind my work, I've begun posting demonstrations on my website. You can find these at


September 2018 will make my fifth appearance as an invited artist at the Grand Canyon Celebration of Art!
I can't tell you how pleased I am to be part of this event again. I'm happy not just because I do well with regard to sales, but also because I get to meet old friends and make new ones—plus I get to paint some of the world's most stunning scenery. Dates for the event are September 9-16, with the sales continuing till January 14, 2019. Details at

Workshops & Retreats

I have many workshops and retreats coming up
. You can find the full list of plein air paiting workshops on my website, but here are a few ones that I want to make sure you know about.

Plein Air Painting Intensive. How'd you like to work right next to a professional artist for a week and bring your painting to the next level? In this new program, we'll work together, one-on-one, to establish and work toward a goal I design specifically for you. I've set aside weeks in February, March and April for this program for painters with experience. Details at under “Private Painting Intensive Study.”

Sedona, Arizona. I am now scheduling only two all-level workshops a year in my old stomping grounds of Sedona, Arizona. The next and only one this spring will be March 27-30, 2018. If you'd like to paint the beautiful red rocks—and sycamores, canyons and creeks—please visit under “All Level Program.” All level, all media.

Lowell, Michigan. This workshop runs May 7-9, 2018, at the Franciscan Life Process Center, a beautiful setting for painting. This will be springtime in rural Michigan! All levels, pastel or oil. For details and to register, please visit

Certaldo Alto, Italy. June 16-23, 2018. Join me at Villa Fattoria Bac├Čo in Tuscany for a week of sketching and exploring! We'll have excursions to Siena and other romantic spots. All levels, all media. For full details, download the flyer at

Lubec, Maine. August 12-17, 2018. I have just a few spots left in this painting retreat in Downeast Maine. Lodging is at West Quoddy Station, a beautifully-renovated US Coast Guard campus. All media, experienced painters. For details, download the flyer at

Also this summer in Lubec, I'll be teaching all-level workshops in July and August. For full details on this “paint by the seaside” program, visit One week, August 21-24, 2018, I'll be teaching in Bernard for Acadia Workshop Center. This is a very popular time of year to go to Mount Desert Island, so make sure you sign up soon. Sign up at

The Ohio Plein Air Society has invited me to judge their annual exhibition and to teach a workshop for them in Cincinnati October 1-3, 2018. I'm looking forward to working with this group! Details on the workshop will be announced soon.

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona. October 24-27, 2018. This is a once-in-a-lifetime workshop for me, since the workshop is sponsored not only by the Grand Canyon Field Institute but also Grand Canyon National Park. We'll have special access to the park and a van, so we won't have to ride the shuttles. After several years of painting up at the Canyon, I have many great spots picked out for us. Also, if you like to camp, you get complimentary (free!) camping during the workshop—as well as free access to the Park. Sign up now at

That's all for now. Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Monday, December 18, 2017

New Demonstration: Planning a Painting

"Afternoon at Otter Cliff"
12x24 Oil by Michael Chesley Johnson
Available - $1800 incl frame, shipping

I've posted a new demonstration on planning a painting on my website.  In the demonstration, I show you how I went about creating the painting at the top of this post, including design sketches, color explorations and more.  You can see the demonstration here.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Transformative Paintings—and Gamblin Cold Wax Medium

Dream of Futures Past
14x18 Oil/Cold Wax Medium
Michael Chesley Johnson

I want to share with you a studio painting I finished this week.  You may ask, What does this have to do with plein air painting?  Well, it has to do with my yearning to take what I've learned from years of painting outdoors and to apply it in the studio to an idea with which I've been playing.  The idea concerns a world beyond the physical one we inhabit.  Call it a movement toward a more spiritual form of painting, if you will.  But don't get me wrong, since I do love painting outdoors.  But I felt something was lacking in my artistic life.  Now that I've moved to an area sandwiched between two places that overflow with the spiritual—the Zuni and Navajo reservations—I find myself exploring.  The studio painting I present here is, I hope, the start of a transformative process.

Unlike my landscape paintings, the meaning and beauty of which are accessible to all, this painting is intensely personal.  I don't expect anyone to understand it as I do.  I won't write an essay to hang next to it to explain things.  But I will give you some help.  In Zuni mythology, the raven represents transformation; the duck, the soul of someone who has died.  Other symbols are unique to me, perhaps.  What do you see in this painting?

Gamblin's Cold Wax Medium

Now a technical note.  I've had a can of Gamblin Cold Wax Medium on the shelf for some time now, but I haven't done anything with it.  Normally, I let the paint “stand on its own” and use no medium.  But this time, I thought, since I was trying something new, I should go all the way.  I opened up the can and dug out a lump with my knife, stuck it on the glass palette, and got to work.  A little bit mixed in with the paint gave it a paste-like feeling; a little more pushed the paint toward transparency.  (The medium is, indeed, a paste, made of beeswax, Gamsol and a touch of alkyd resin.)  I liked the texture, since the paint, once applied, gets slightly tacky during one painting session.  It's very helpful in getting the broken color that I prefer in my work.  What's more, it has a matte finish, eliminating any glare and making it easier for me to judge color relationships.  Overall, the paint surface has a translucent quality that enhances the “dreamy” feeling of the piece.

I thought you might like to see the different stages in this painting, so I've put together a short video.  (Don't see it below?  Here's the link.)  It was difficult to get the camera and lighting consistent with each shot, but you should get the idea.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Judging Warm and Cool

Can you tell what colors are warm and cool in this scene?

At the beginning of my plein air painting workshops, I usually ask my students:  What problem would you like to work on most this week?  You might be surprised to learn that color temperature baffles many.  “I have trouble telling warm from cool” is something I hear often.

You're probably now saying:  “That's easy.  If it's yellow, it must be warm, and if it's blue, it must be cool.”  Well, yes, that's true in a macro sort of way.  We have this innate understanding because we associate yellow with fire and blue with ice.

But as most painters know, you can have cool and warm versions of a particular hue.  (I am considering a hue not to occupy a specific point on the color wheel but rather a pie-shaped region; in scientific terms, a hue isn't a specific wavelength of light but rather a range of wavelengths.)   Orange, for example, runs from yellow-orange to red-orange.  But how do you tell which of these two tertiary colors is warmest?

Context is vital.  You can't just say that yellow-orange is a cool or warm.  It depends on what color lies beside it.  Next to blue, yellow-orange appears so hot as to be incandescent.  But next to red-orange, it will appear cooler.

You can't look at isolated patches of your painting and say that this one over there is warmer (or cooler) than the one down here.  You have to place these patches right next to each other.   When I'm painting, I'll even place a dab of a mixture right on top of another to discern which is warmer.  I can easily wipe out or cover up this spot after I've rendered judgement.

Of course, this is all well and good when I'm actually applying paint.  But what if I'm observing my subject?  How can I judge the relative temperature of this bit of sunlit grass compared to the sunlit leaves on that tree over there, which may be feet—or miles—away?

The ViewCatcher

Experience helps.  But there's a tool that will aid you if you haven't developed the observational skills yet.  This is the ViewCatcher from The Color Wheel Company.   Many of us, including my students, are familiar with this tool as a compositional aid.  But there's another feature that many miss.  It's a little hole in the center of the slider.  Surrounding this hole is a square of mid-value, neutral-grey plastic.  By looking at a patch of landscape through this hole, you can gauge all four color properties of that patch:  hue, value and chroma, but also temperature.  Memorize the apparent temperature of one patch, then look at another—and you'll easily see if that second patch is warmer or cooler.

I've taken the same scene as above and have laid over it two (simulated) ViewCatchers.
You can see easily how the two color patches, though similar in value, are different in temperature.
The top one, which isolates the blue of the background hill, shows the blue as cool.
The bottom one, which isolates the shadowed side of a bare cliff, shows the shadow as a cool red--but
it is still warmer than the blue of the distant hill.

This process of memorization and analysis also takes some practice, but it's far easier than trying to compare temperature without it.  You can, of course, make your own “color isolator,” but the ViewCatcher is durable and can be stuffed into your paint kit without crushing.

Monday, December 11, 2017

My Top Blog Posts for the Year

As we approach the end of 2017, it seems that everywhere you go on the Internet someone is offering the "top" somethings from the past year.  I thought I'd jump on that bus before it leaves.  With that in mind, here are my ten most popular posts out of the 77 written in 2017.  And, keeping in mind that the custom is to start with the least first, I start with No. 10.

(If you don't already know, you can see an index of posts from all time in the right column on my blog, and you can also search the blog through the search field in the upper left corner.  If you're getting this post via e-mail, you will need to go to the actual blog site to see these.  By the way, it's all well and good to just go back and read my blog posts, but I have so much more that I offer in my workshops.)
No. 10:  "The Selfishness of Art"How can an artist work without guilt in today's hurting world?
No. 9:  "Pochade Boxes I Have Known"I unload my closet to share some of my vast collection of paint boxes. 
No. 8:  "My Favorite Books"Books every painter should read--and then some. 
No. 7:  "What Makes You Happy?"How can the artist achieve happiness? 
No. 6:  "A Walk in the Woods: Texture Too Beautiful to Paint"Not everything can be--or is meant to be--painted. 
No. 5: "New Online Self-Study Course-Study to Studio"Lots of outdoor painters are realizing they aren't doing their best work in the field.

No. 4: "Goodbye to Our Dearest Friend"Saba was not just family but also my painting pal.

No. 3: "Smartphone Apps and Painting"Moving into the 21st century with social media and painting. 
No. 2:  "To Blend or Not to Blend--That is the Question"I answer the generations-old question, and without causing fistfights. 
No. 1:  "Etiquette for Plein Air Painting Groups"Politeness is an esssential tool for the outdoor painter.

You'll note that product reviews aren't included in the list.  I filtered them out, as I was more interested in presenting something other than reviews.  However, three product reviews were in my top posts:

No. 3:  "Product Review:  PanelPak 
No. 2:  "Product Review:  Travel Painter Art Box" 
No. 1: "Product Review:  Gamblin's Gamvar Matte Varnish"

That's it!  Please remember there's plenty more on my blog site to read, and don't forget my books at Amazon and videos at North Light and my plein air painting workshops!

Friday, December 8, 2017

Pochade Boxes I Have Known

I've been painting outdoors for nearly 20 years now.  You'd expect that over that time I'd have gathered quite a collection of paint boxes--and I have!  I thought you'd enjoy hearing about a few of them. With that in mind, please enjoy the following video.  (Don't see the video?  Go here.)

By the way, I just received word that I've been invited back to one of the most prestigious plein air painting events--the Grand Canyon Celebration of Art.  This will make my fifth year as an invited artist.  I'm very honored to have been invited again.  I'll have more details on this event in the near future.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Links You Need to Know About

Quiet Cove 12x16 Oil
Featured in my first demonstration for my website

One of my projects this year is to put up several demonstrations on my web site.  These demonstrations are free, and they will show you some of the techniques and methods I use, both in the studio and out.  You can bookmark the link below and check back regularly to see the latest demonstrations:

My first demonstration, "Study to Studio," shows how I take field studies and use them as a reference for finished studio paintings.  The painting above is featured in this one.

Lake in the Desert 9x12 Pastel
Small painting featured on my website

If you like small paintings, you should know that I regularly post small sketches and studies, all reasonably priced, on my website as well.  These are different from my larger, studio pieces that you'll find on the website.  This is a link that you can follow through a blog reader or news reader such as Feedly.  Here's the link you need:

Blue Boat 12x16 Pastel
Demonstration painting for my article in Pastel Journal as noted below

Finally, Artists Network occasionally posts some of my magazine articles from Pastel Journal and The Artist's Magazine for free.  Again, these are free articles, complete and exactly as they appear in the magazine.  Here's one they posted today, which is about limiting pastel palettes as a way of controlling color harmony:


Saturday, December 2, 2017

The Countdown's Begun—Have You Started Yet?

Are you drowning in a flood of email with subjects like “Christmas Gift Ideas”?  Well, I hope this one makes it through your spam filter, because I believe my list will take your paintings to the next level—all with the idea of helping you fulfill your New Year's vow of becoming a better painter.

Over the years, I've produced a number of educational products with that very goal in mind.  Many feature techniques I've learned or discovered that have really worked for me.  With that in mind, here is a holiday wish list just for you.

For Beginners

Are you just getting started in plein air painting?  Don't know where to start or what tools to buy?  Then my series of Plein Air Essentials courses is for you.  These online, self-study courses will show you everything you need to know through video demonstrations and downloadable material.  These are priced very reasonably, and the site also offers discount codes that take the price lower yet.  Even if you are an experienced outdoor painter, you'll find these courses useful as a refresher.  Visit .


I've published a number of helpful books over the years.  This list includes how-to books, books that offer my thoughts on painting, and books that feature favorite, very special locations.  They are all available through Amazon in both paperback and Kindle editions.  If you want a signed copy, bring the book to a workshop and I'll be happy to sign it!  Visit my author page at


As many of your know, I've written scores of helpful articles over the years for Pastel Journal and The Artist's Magazine.  Not too long ago, F&W Media, the parent organization, invited me to its video studio in Ohio to produce three videos on topics of my choice.  I chose topics that I thought would be most helpful for the painter in a video format, and I was very pleased with the results.  Although you no longer can order the DVDs, they are available for as downloads and as streaming video.   You can get “The Secret of” videos here.


Self-study courses, book and videos have their place, but there's nothing like taking a workshop with me.  It's the only way you'll get on-the-spot feedback and personal attention.  Plus, I teach in beautiful places, so you won't be disappointed with the scenery!  Treat yourself to a week by the seaside in Downeast Maine painting the stunning cliffs and vistas of a historic fishing village.  Or, come to New Mexico and take a one-on-one painting intensive with me to paint some gorgeous Southwestern landscapes.  I have a full list of workshops in Maine, the Southwest and elsewhere on my website at  And yes, I do gift certificates!


Of course, besides the instructional material, I'd also love to sell a few paintings!  I have hundreds of paintings on my website,, which you can purchase directly from the site.  I also offer sales now and then.  My holiday sale is still going on as we speak, and if you order right away, you'll get your painting before Christmas.


If you can't afford a painting, maybe you'd like a calendar for $13.99?  I've gone through and selected my favorite 13 paintings from this past year.  The calendar will provide you with a visual feast that will feed you all year!  You can preview and buy it here:

I hope you'll find something in my list that you or another painter will enjoy. Now get out and paint!

Friday, December 1, 2017

A Feast for the New Year: 2018 Calendar

Every year about this time, I get into the Christmas mood by going through the year's paintings and selecting my favorites for a calendar.  Well, I just finished my 2018 calendar, and it's a visual feast that will feed you for a full year.  I hope you'll consider this as a gift for yourself or for your friends and family.

The price of the calendar is only $13.99.  You can preview and purchase it by clicking the button below.  (If you need the actual link, it is

Support independent publishing: Buy this calendar on Lulu.

Here's a collage showing my selections for this year: