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Friday, September 21, 2018

Heading West - Again

Atop El Morro National Monument

I've just barely returned to Campobello Island from Grand Canyon, but guess what?  I am heading out again!  This time, it's for our annual migration west.  Along the way, I'll teach two workshops as well as judge a show.  For the Ohio Plein Air Society, I'll serve as Judge of Awards for the 15th Annual Ohio Plein Air Competition on September 30.  This will be followed immediately by a workshop for the group, October 1-3, the theme being "outdoor study to studio."  Right after that, October 5-6, I'll teach a workshop for the Central Ohio Plein Air Society.  It will be a fun week in Ohio!

Then it won't be long before we arrive at our winter studio in New Mexico.  I'm eager to start up my "Painting Intensive" program again. If you haven't heard of this, it's my one-on-one plein air painting program for experienced painters, and it's completely customized to the participant.  What's more, the price includes lodging and all meals.  (I also offer a tuition-only option.)  Last year, I very much enjoyed working one-on-one, and every participant had good things to say about the program.  For this new season, I still have a few weeks available; you can find full details at

In addition to my "Painting Intensive" program, I will be teaching two all-level plein air painting workshops this fall and spring in Sedona, Arizona.  Sedona is a wonderful place to paint with gorgeous Southwest scenery.  Dates this season are November 13-16, 2018, and April 2-5, 2019.  If you're worried about lodging costs in a tourist area, please know that the studio offers limited lodging for only $80/night.  I have space available in both weeks.  Full details are at

I'll post again once I'm on the road.  In the meantime, here are a few photos from the last season of the "Painting Intensive."

Monday, September 17, 2018

Grand Canyon Celebration of Art: Wrap-Up

River Trip 9x12 Oil
One of my favorites from the event

This marks the tenth anniversary of the Grand Canyon Celebration of Art plein air painting event and my fifth time as an invited artist. I always enjoy painting at the canyon, and this was no exception. This year, we had a week of rather warm weather -- it was in the 80s each day -- and an abundance of sunshine and a scarcity of clouds. Without the clouds, most of my paintings have horizons that I placed high in the composition to minimize or even eliminate the empty sky. You will see, though, that one of my paintings features a few; that was the one day with enough to cast interesting shadows over the canyon.

Me at the Quick Draw
I normally don't sit to paint, but the week
had been rough on my back!

As much as I love the views from Yaki Point, this year I seemed to be drawn more toward the section of rim west of that, between Mather Point and the Yavapai Geology Museum. This part of the trail seems to be little-traveled by walkers, and I found a great deal of peace and quiet there. I think I spent as much time just gazing down into the canyon, enjoying the infinity of features and details, as I did actually painting it. Often my eyes would get stuck on some feature, and I’d wonder if any human -- Anglo, Spanish, Havasupai or other -- had ever set foot there.

Quick Draw auction about to begin

Artistically, I found the event rewarding. I believe I pushed my painting in a new direction with color and contrast, avoiding the tendency to mimic the rather dull colors one finds in nature. This is something I hope to work more with in the future. I also enjoyed meeting the new painters and renewing my acquaintance with old ones. But I’m a bit of a loner, so I also enjoyed my solo hikes. Very early one morning, when most of the hikers were still prepping for their journey to the river, I hiked down the Bright Angel trail a ways. It was so quiet I could hear birdsong echoing off the canyon walls. On my way back up, though, I encountered dozens of hikers making their descent. I grew a little tired of saying “good morning.”

Sunrise over Battleship (photo, not a painting!)

You can see all the paintings at this link:
Some are sold, but some are still available.  In a few days, the paintings will be up on the Grand Canyon Association's website and available for sale there, as well as at the Kolb Studio on the canyon's South Rim.  The exhibit and sale continue now until the end of January. For details, visit

The Grand Canyon Association staff and volunteers did a fantastic job of organizing the event and supporting the artists, and the National Park Service welcomed us as fellow stewards of the land, giving us special access to the park. Finally, I thank my lodging hosts, who made sure I got enough sleep and food and didn’t mind me waking up at 4 each morning to make coffee.

Now I am on my way home to Campobello Island, where next week Trina and I will pack up the car and head west. My next big event will be to judge the annual show for the Ohio Plein Air Society and to teach a workshop for the group. By the way, I still have room in that workshop, which runs October 1-3. If you’d like to join us, please see the registration flyer here

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Grand Canyon Interim Report

There are many places in the world more remote than Grand Canyon, but sometimes Grand Canyon seems very remote indeed.  Normally, I would be posting to my blog almost daily with entertaining and enlightening reports on this painting business, but I am hobbled somewhat by telecommunications issues.  Be that as it may, I am here now, happy to report midway through the Tenth Annual Grand Canyon Celebration of Art.

As I write, it is Tuesday.  The event started Friday with an evening orientation and canvas-stamping, and painting began Saturday.  I went right in, full-throttle, painting four pieces on Saturday and again on Sunday. This, despite the heat.  Temperatures have been in the 80s, and if you’re in the sun, you bake. I am glad I had a change of heart about bringing my umbrella; I think I have used it for every painting session.  I’ve hoped for clouds, hoped to find a pinon or cedar tall enough to give me shade, but it’s the umbrella that has been a lifesaver. This is my fifth time as an invited artist, and I can’t remember a hotter week.

The organizers requested that some of the artists provide painting demonstrations.  I agreed to do one on Monday at 10 a.m. at the far east end of the park, at the Desert View Watch Tower.  (This is a historic structure in the form of a faux Native American building--a fantasy, really, since no Native American culture ever built such a thing--designed by architect Mary Colter in the 1930s.)  I wanted to be fresh for the demo, so I decided to take a hike rather than paint. I’ve been heading out before dawn each morning, so I did the same on Monday, and hiked from Mather Point to Yaki Point and back.  The demo went well, and although I thought about painting on the route back to Grand Canyon Village, which is where I am lodging, I didn’t. Later I went out to the Hermit Road on the west side of the park, which is where I’ve been painting most of the week, along with sessions at Yaki Point.

My raven overseer

My companions this week:  the ravens. I love to have them tumbling in the air overhead, playing with and talking to one another.  I feel a mystical connection with the raven. I’ve never felt this with any other animal. When I stand on the brink of the canyon, I can feel what it would be like to spread my wings and ride the thermals.  I see through their eyes.

By the way, my mantra this week is “Color and Contrast.”  For color, I’ve added a couple of new pigments to my standard palette.  These are quinacridone red and manganese violet, all Gamblin colors. These are perfect, I find, for the shadowed rocks walls.  So, my complete palette is as follows: hansa yellow light, hansa yellow deep, naphthol red, quinacridone red, permanent alizarin crimnson, manganese violet, ultramarine blue, cerulean blue hue and phthalo emerald, plus titanium-zinc white.  Also a little solvent-free gel. As for contrast, I start each painting with the idea that shadowed areas are to be painted in cool pigments; sunlit areas, in the warm pigments. The fact that I’m starting with color “right from the tube" makes for a very cartoonish start, but then I adjust this in later stages.  I’m starting each painting with a brush but doing most of the finish work with a knife. The color stays richer that way.

I’m afraid I haven’t photographed any of my paintings yet.  I want to take proper photos of them rather than sharing poorly-lit field shots.  I do think my work is good this week. So instead, I will leave you with some photos of some of my locations.  By the way, rather than posting regularly to the blog, I am posting regularly to my Instagram feed. Visit for the latest.

My next report will most likely be after the event.  Wish me luck! The exhibition opens on Saturday night with a ticketed collector’s opening.  It opens to the public on Sunday. For full details, visit


Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Grand Canyon-Bound

After the Rains 16x24 Oil by Michael Chesley Johnson
For the Celebration of Art invitational, artists will display a studio  painting at the
exhibition.  This is mine, and you can see (and buy!) it at the beginning of the week
at the Kolb Studio.

Ever since Colonel John Wesley Powell rode the wild horse rapids of Grand Canyon's Colorado River in 1869, artists have struggled to depict the canyon's transcendent grandeur.  The struggle doesn't always show up in the finished painting—and most of us artists are happiest when it does not—but as someone who has made the attempt, I can say that the struggle is always there.  But personally, I find the effort to be immensely satisfying, whatever the outcome.

And that is why I'm heading out to the Grand Canyon this week.  This will make my fifth time attending the Celebration of Art, which also marks its 10th anniversary this year.  I'm looking forward to seeing old friends, making some new ones, and to enjoy whatever the canyon throws at me.  Over the years, I've seen everything from incandescent sunsets to fogged-in dawns and daily monsoonal storms hurling lightning while I paint at my favorite spots.  Whatever comes, it will be beautiful and memorable.

Painting Grand Canyon in 2016

Here's a summary of the events:

  • Artist Demonstrations and Plein Air Painting - September 8-13, 2018
  • Welcome Gathering - Friday, September 14, 5:30 p.m.
  • Quick Draw - September 15, 8:00 a.m.-10:00 a.m.
  • Quick Draw Auction - September 15, 11:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.
  • Exhibition Grand Opening - September 16, 11:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m.
  • Art Exhibition and Sale - September 16, 2018 - January 21, 2019, 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.

There's much more scheduled, including a demonstration by me (Monday, September 10th, at 10 a.m. at Desert View Watchtower), but you can see the full schedule here:

Dawn at Grand Canyon

Like the other 23 invited artists, as I paint during the event, I'll be letting the Grand Canyon Association know my location via text.  If you want to find me, check in with the GCA at any of their shops along the South Rim, and they'll tell you where I am.  I tend to get started early, break in the middle of the day, and then paint again in the late afternoon.  The lighting is best for painting at these times.

If you can't come to Grand Canyon personally, you can follow me here on my blog, on Instagram, or on my Facebook studio page.  I'll try to engage in social media as much as possible—but of course, I'd rather be painting!

I hope to see you there!

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Throwing Away Opportunity

Who would not have wanted to study with a master like Edgar Degas?
Self-portrait, 1895.  Collection Metropolitan Museum of Art.
In the public domain.

I know of aspiring artists who only take workshops with true masters.  But they don’t follow up.  Yes, they do the painting required in the workshop, but they don’t paint again until the next workshop with another master.  I consider this an opportunity thrown away.

The opportunity is this:  To take what is taught and practice it, thereby improving your craft.  Or, if what is taught doesn’t help you, to understand why through the trial of practice.  The trial will clarify the authority of your personal process for making art.  (After this, no one will be able to tell you that you don’t have a valid reason for making art the way you do.)

Study with a master artist is expensive.  Besides the cost of the workshop, it often involves travel, hotels, meals out and time away from family and work.  But what the master gives you in return is a very valuable thing.  However, it does have a certain shelf life.  No matter how many notes you scribble down, no matter how many photos you take of the demonstrations, the knowledge will go stale quickly unless it is used soon.

Painting is a physical process.  You can’t just think about it and become a better painter.  You actually have to move paint around with a brush.  After that workshop with a master, make sure you take time to paint and try out what you’ve been taught.