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Tuesday, May 29, 2018


No, this isn't the Canadian Maritimes -- it is the coast of Scotland.

Today, Trina and I leave for Scotland!  A short hop from Halifax, Nova Scotia, where we will meet up with our painting friend, Lyn Asselta, takes us to Glasgow, where we'll enjoy some time with museums, and thence via train to Mallaig to board a ferry for the Isle of Skye.  Once on Skye, we'll make our way to our painting retreat on the shore of Loch Portree.  From there, we'll join other artists for several days of painting.

We're all very excited by this retreat, but I don't know how much time I'll have to blog.  (Of course, if we have lots of rainy days, I will be blogging more!)  Another way to follow me will be on Instagram:  and my studio page on Facebook: I will, of course, issue a full report in my blog upon my return.

After the retreat, Trina and I will head to the very northern tip of Scotland and to the Orkney Islands.  You still have an opportunity to support me on this last leg.  For only $200, you can get a 6x8 oil painting of Scotland, framed and shipped, with the money helping me with the travels.  For details, please see this blog post.

For now, I leave you with some photos from my last trip.  A different part of Scotland, to be sure, but at least it will put you in the mood.

Oh, and I'll mention again that I still have some space in my summer Maine plein air painting workshops, including one I'm teaching near Acadia National Park.  For details:

Friday, May 25, 2018

Upcoming Exhibition: Plein Air Painters of the Bay of Fundy

Low Tide, Cranberry Point 12x24 Oil by Michael Chesley Johnson

Later this summer, Plein Air Painters of the Bay of Fundy, a group of outdoor painters I organized over ten years ago, will be having its annual summer exhibition and sale.  Since our members are spread across the maritime area of two countries, the US and Canada, we try to alternate exhibits between the two.  This year, the exhibit and sale will be in Canada.

Rocky Point 9x12 Oil by Michael Chesley Johnson

I look forward to this show every year.  We always have a paintout.  This year, it'll be in the historic seaside resort town of St Andrews, New Brunswick.  I also enjoy seeing my painting friends again.  But perhaps best of all, the artwork displayed is superb!  I've included in this post
some of my paintings that are possibilities for the show this year.

Apple Tree Dance 16x20 Oil by Michael Chesley Johnson
Exhibiting members this year include:  

Anne Johnston
Bruce Newman
Caren-Marie Michel
David Reeves
Helen Shideler
Matt Watkins
Michael Chesley Johnson
Poppy Balser
Theresa MacKnight 
Simone Ritter

Details on the exhibit:

Opening Reception: Friday, August 3, 5-7 pm Atlantic Time
Exhibition Dates: August 3-25, 2018 
139 Water Street, St. Andrews NB  E5B 1A7
Phone: 506.529.3386 E-mail:
July/August Hours: Every day 9am-5pm
Closed Sundays & Holidays 

By the way, if you'd like me to share my techniques for creating paintings like this, and you are an experienced outdoor painter, please consider my workshop for experienced painters, August 28-31, 2018.  I have full details at

Castine Bay 12x16 Oil by Michael Chesley Johnson

Fog Lifting, Dead Spruce 16x20 Oil by Michael Chesley Johnson

Islands 6x8 Oil by Michael Chesley Johnson

Lazy Light 11x14 Oil by Michael Chesley Johnson

Ready to Sail 12x0 Oil by Michael Chesley Johnson

Sugar Loaf Rock, High Tide 16x20 Oil by Michael Chesley Johnson

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Placing Your Subject (with missing video link)

Mr Roosevelt's House - 12x24 Oil - AVAILABLE
This is the cottage made famous by "Sunrise on Campobello" and in which the
US President Franklin D. Roosevelt (and of course, Eleanor Roosevelt) spent much time.
By Michael Chesley Johnson.
Imagine painting this house on-location as I did, using the "envelope" method!

How many of us have been so smitten by our subject that we start painting ... and then realize too late that it doesn't quite fit on the canvas?  With a building, you can sometimes get away with part of it running off the edge; with a figure, you can't always do that.  Fixing the problem after the fact often becomes a headache.

Lately, I've been teaching what I call the "envelope" method, whereby you can guarantee that the whole building (or figure, or tree) will fit.  And what's more, the subject will also be correctly proportioned--and positioned exactly where you want it.

The below video shows you how.  Although the method is quite simple, it's difficult to describe and is better seen in action, in the field.  If the method isn't clear to you, I encourage you to take one of my plein air painting workshops, in which I will be happy to explain--and demonstrate--at length.  (Can't see the video below?  Here is the link:

By the way, at the top of this post I show a building in which I used the "envelope" approach.  It's not the same building as in the video, but you get the idea.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Packing for Scotland

Ready to Plant 5x8 Gouache
by Michael Chesley Johnson
Practice painting for the Scotland trip

The kit, as listed below.  I've also included a few extra clips--you never know
when you'll need them--and a cream cheese container for water with a strong button magnet
to keep it in place.

By yon bonnie banks and by yon bonnie braes—this traditional Scottish song is sweeping through my head as a I write.  In just a few days, Trina and I will be returning to yon bonnie banks and braes for a painting retreat.  As you may recall, two years ago I enjoyed a fabulous visit and came home aching to return.  (Click here for a series of posts on that trip.) This time, our adventure will involve the retreat on the Isle of Skye as well as travel to the Orkney Islands, far to the north.

In 2016, I took both oil and pastel.  But for our upcoming trip, I want to trim down my gear, since we'll be carting luggage between planes, trains and automobiles.  With that in mind, I am replacing all that gear with simply gouache.  Over the last few weeks, I've assembled a kit based on advice from fellow artists James Gurney and Douglas Runyan, and I have taken it out for a spin.  A relative newcomer to gouache, I found Gurney's video, Gouache in the Wild, very helpful with the painting process.

Why not oil?  I didn't want to take tubes of paint, which I find all too easy to squish when carting luggage here and there.  I'll be using pans of gouache.  Plus, with oil I like to use mineral spirits, and mineral spirits are hard to come by and to manage when traveling.  I also wanted my paintings to dry quickly for travel.  (Yes, I know one can find workarounds to these issues, but I want to simplify things as much as possible.)

And why not pastel?  Last time, I took a very limited selection, and I found myself bemoaning the fact that I hadn't brought enough of a variety of greens.  I'll be able to mix that variety in gouache.  Pastel sticks are also rather fragile.  Finally, I didn't fancy myself working in my lap with pastel and getting pastel everywhere; as part of my load-lightening, I'm also not taking a tripod.

If you haven't used gouache before, I recommend it.  Unlike watercolor, it's opaque, so you don't have to go through the mental gymnastics of “saving your lights.”  It also dries quickly to a matte finish, which makes it easy to photograph.  You can also re-wet it easily, so brushes are a snap to clean up with water.

So here's what I have in my kit:

plus a French easel palette to use as something to clip these items to with bulldog clips.  Although I can stand with the basic set-up, I can also sit.  To cushion myself on a rock and to protect the seat of my pants from the damp, I have a garden knee pad that I can stuff in my pack--and discard when the trip is over.

The kit as it looks when held standing.  Brush kit, etc. will be handy but not attached.
I plan to sit, mostly, but when I will be able to paint when I need to stand with
the kit asssembled this way.

By the way, if you'd like to help me extend my trip and get a small framed oil painting in return for your sponsorship, check out this post.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Return to Campobello Island and Some Paintings

"Sugar Maple" 9x12 Oil by Michael Chesley Johnson
Nashville, Brown County, Indiana
Our nearly month-long road trip came to an end yesterday.  We arrived on Campoello Island, New Brunswick, to find everything in good order--until we turned on the water and found a leak.  Fortunately, we were able to track down a plumber quickly to fix things.  Now, we are settling in and unpacking, raking up leaves and uncovering the tulips and hostas.  Although the trees are still bare, the daffodils are yellow and radiant, and the grass is greening--and growing--quickly.  Once this blog post is done, I'll fire up the lawnmower for the first mowing of the season.

Now that we're back, I've had a chance to image some of the paintings I did on this trip.  I thought I'd present them here.  Some are sold, some are still available.

"Randall Davey's House" 9x12 Oil by Michael Chesley Johnson
Santa Fe, New Mexico

Ghost Ranch Cliffs 9x12 Oil by Michael Chesley Johnson
Ghost Ranch, New Mexico

By the way, I still have some room in my Acadia Workshop Center plein air painting workshop, August 21-24.  I've taught this workshop for nearly 15 years, and I still love it.  Based on Mount Desert Island's "quiet side" off the Maine coast and near Acadia National Park, the workshop has a great studio space for critiques and is close to lodging, beautiful painting spots, and Thurston's Lobster Pound.  For full details:

Antiques 9x12 Pastel by Michael Chesley Johnson
Nashville, Brown County, Indiana

Redbud Farm 9x12 Oil by Michael Chesley Johnson
Nashville, Brown County, Indiana

Spring Comes to the Pink House 9x12 Oil by Michael Chesley Johnson
Santa Fe, NM

Friday, May 4, 2018

Road Trip: Painting Retreat Part 2 – Brown County, Indiana

Redbud Farm - 9x12 oil demonstration - SOLD
by Michael Chesley Johnson

Our plein air painting retreat in Brown County, Indiana, continued Wednesday evening with a cookout at a local collector's house.  Our painters enjoyed barbecued pork tenderloin, served the way they do it in Brown County on a bun with lettuce and tomato, and mayonnaise, plus persimmon pudding.  Unlike the large southern persimmons I knew in my youth, the wild Indiana persimmon is smaller and needs to be gathered only after a frost knocks them off the bush.  I'm not much of a gourmand, but I did enjoy this tasty novelty.  We also enjoyed seeing many more paintings by the historic Brown County Art Colony artists.

Thursday took the prize with a visit to the T.C. Steele house and studio, just north of Nashville.  T.C., living in Indianapolis, wanted a place to escape the summertime heat, so in 1907 he purchased a hilltop farm with no running water and, of course, no electricity.  Life was tough, but over the next 20 years T.C. and his wife, Selma, managed to bring in a generator, install some plumbing and build not one but four studios.  T.C. spent the summers painting the local landscapes with friends, but in the winters he traveled back to Indianapolis to paint portraits, which were his bread-and-butter.  The day we visited, it rained, so we had only a glimpse of the lovely grounds.  Lilacs, redbuds and dogwoods—we could see why Steele liked it here.

Bust of T.C. Steele, with Selma in the painting

Steele's "fourth studio" - he rarely painted here, preferring to use the studio more as a show gallery

Steele's painting area

Steele's "fourth studio"

Painting by Steele - Selma gardening

Another Steele painting

The rain abated by lunchtime.  We headed back into town for lunch at the Hob-Nob Restaurant (strawberry shortcake—again!) and afterward, I demonstrated in oil the view from our cabin, which included a redbud tree.  Pretty clouds scurried over the hilltops, so I made sure to include them.  After all the dry weather in New Mexico this winter, I enjoyed seeing clouds and rain again.  Later, Trina and I went into town again to revisit the Brown County Art Gallery.  There were several paintings I wanted to see one more time.

Afternoon demo on the porch

Redbud Hill - 9x12 oil demonstration - Available
by Michael Chesley Johnson

On Friday, we got a tour of the painter Adolph Shulz' house.  (His studio, which is across the street, is owned by another party, and we didn't have access to that.)  This small log cabin has been enclosed in a larger structure, so the hand-hewn logs are visible on the inside.  Again, this house was filled with beautiful examples of not just historic painters but also contemporary ones.  As an extra bonus, we got to see a fine collection of Brown County pottery from the beginning of the last century.

Morning critique on the porch

Adolph Shulz house

Interior of house, showing log cabin

More of the Shulz house

Our happy painters.  Doug (right) is holding a painting of the house he made.
For the rest of the morning, we headed off to another amazing property:  log cabin, log outbuildings, redbud and dogwood trees, plus lots of perennials just starting to bloom.  The owners, who once ran the property as an antique store, also served us lunch—real Hoosier hospitality.  For my painting, I decided to complete a little log cabin I'd started at the camp we visited on Wednesday, and to incorporate some of the scenery around me.   I'd felt the start had something worth saving, and in the end, I was very happy with the piece and even sold it.


You can see the finished painting at the top of this blog post.

It was interesting to see how the landscape changed over the week.  When we first arrived, there were few or no green leaves on the trees; the starkness of bare beech, oak and maple was alleviated only by beautiful constellations of redbud flowers.  After a day or so, the green suddenly appeared, in a small way, but ominous.  Now the leaves have nearly taken over the delicate redbud blossoms.  The thick green curtain of summer isn't far behind.

Our the retreat has now ended.  Our little group has dispersed, and Trina and I are the only ones left at our hilltop cabin.  Tomorrow, we head out well before sunrise on our way east.  My next post will probably be after we reach Campobello Island next week.  Happy trails!

PS Douglas is also an authority on historic Cape Ann paintings and painters.  He has agreed to help us with a painting retreat there, possibly next year.  If you'd like to join us, remember:  Past students get priority for signing up!  If you haven't taken a workshop with me yet, now's the time.  You can find full workshop information at

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Road Trip: Painting Retreat Part 1 – Brown County, Indiana

Springtime Maple 9x12 oil demonstration - Available
by Michael Chesley Johnson

A few years ago, Brown County, Indiana, wasn't on my bucket list of places to visit.  Being a painter of the East Coast and the Southwest, I didn't know much about the art scene in the middle of our country.  But while I was teaching at the Art Barn in Valparaiso (also in Indiana), a student of mine, Douglas Runyan, who is a very fine painter and art historian, told me about T.C. Steele.  Steele, sometimes called the dean of Indiana painters and who was a member of the Hoosier Group, moved to Brown County in 1907 to set up shop.  Other artists soon arrived, and in short order, the Brown County Art Colony began.  Other artists of note include Gustave Baumann, L.O. Griffith, Carl Graf and Will Vawter.  Douglas also touted the beauty of the rolling hills of Brown County, so it wasn't long before I scheduled a springtime painting retreat in Nashville, which was the center of the art scene.

Brown County!

After a long drive on Sunday from Bentonville, Arkansas, we arrived at our hilltop log cabin, nestled among the blooming redbuds and pale spring greens of new foliage, in the town of Bean Blossom.  Our participants were staying at the same cabin or very nearby.  We met Douglas, whom I had invited to help steer the retreat's educational program, at the Hob-Nob for dinner and to talk over plans for the week.  (The restaurant's strawberry shortcake alone would make Nashville famous.) After a drive through town to visit some of the paintings spots he'd selected—besides being an authority on the Brown County Art Colony, he also has painted many of the local scenes—we went to meet with our group and lay out the week.  Douglas also gave us an introductory lecture on Brown County artists.

Our happy group at breakfast at the Artist's Colony Inn

Lyn Letsinger-Miller introduces us to the Brown County Art Colony

Gustave Baumann process prints

Monday morning, we all met for breakfast at the Artist's Colony Inn.  It was hard to concentrate on breakfast what with the fine art on the walls, all of which was from our historic artists.  Surprisingly, some of the them not only painted Brown County, but also spent time with the Cape Ann (Massachusetts) painters, so the walls sported a few paintings of boats and harbor scenes as well as the green hills of Nashville.  Next, we headed over to the Brown County Art Gallery.  Although it's a gallery that features living local artists, it is primarily known as the core of this historic colony and offers a large collection of work by these artists.  Lyn Letsinger-Miller, author of The Artists of Brown County and, like Douglas, also an authority, presented a short video on the colony and gave us a tour of the gallery's collection, assisted by Douglas.  Together, they pulled out some choice pieces from the vault for us to see.

Demonstrating at Brown County State Park

Our painting stop for the afternoon was Brown County State Park.  The nice thing about a springtime workshop in Brown County is that you can still see the land—once the trees come out, I'm told, the land lies hidden behind a impenetrable green curtain.  The hills around the park were dotted with redbuds and the occasional dogwood.  Some of us painted the “opalescent haze” that colors the most distant ridges; I painted an oil study of a sugar maple, which I did as a demonstration.  (Although this isn't a formal workshop, I like to add value by demonstrating and running the critique sessions.)

Morning critiques

Demonstrating at the Flower and Herb Barn

Antiques 9x12 pastel demonstration - SOLD
by Michael Chesley Johnson

On Tuesday morning, we met for critiques just outside our cabin where we have a wide porch to line up paintings.  After that, we drove to the Flower and Herb Barn to paint.  A retail nursery, it was jam-packed with annuals and perennials, all crowded around a historic 1800s farm.  Later, we had lunch at the Farmhouse Cafe, which is part of the farm, and then wandered back to town to visit the Brown County Art Guild.  Like the Brown County Art Gallery, it has a large collection of historic works as well as paintings by living members.  Once part of the BCAG, in the 1950s some members, due to some disagreement, split off to form the Guild.  (We all know how artists can be.)

Painting at the summer camp

Douglas Runyan at work

Spring Greens 9x12 oil demonstration - Available
by Michael Chesley Johnson

Wednesday we paid a visit to a summer camp, where we were given free reign.  Old log cabins, barns, a little stream that wandered through the meadow—it doesn't get better than that!  I painted a view of one of the barns and focused on the strong spring sunshine.  After lunch, I painted an oil demonstration from inside one of the barns.  The weather, which has been surprisingly dry and moderate all week, suddenly turned hot on this day.  After standing in the sun at 84 degrees, we all welcomed the cool shade of the barn.  This humid weather promises another change; rain is expected tomorrow and Friday.

That's all for now.  I'll post a blog on the rest of the retreat later this weekend, when we get to Vermont.