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

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Painting New Mexico's High Desert

Find the Painter!
At La Ventana Natural Arch

Jack strapped on his backpack, eager to paint.  This 76-year-old rheumatologist, though he continues to practice medicine full-time, has a passion for painting, and he freed up a week to join me for last week's Private Painting Intensive.  On this day, under crystal blue skies, we made our way from the parking lot and down a single-track gravel road to a view of my favorite lake and its unique, candy-striped cliffs.  We stopped at the first scenic spot we came across and set down our packs.  Red willow and poplar edged the water, gently riffled by a breeze.  Coots croaked and squawked among the islands of pickerel weed.  A couple of mallards sounded the alarm, erupting into the air.  But otherwise, we were alone in that beautiful spot.

Later in the week, we visited other special places.  We painted the white cliffs of Inscription Rock; the butterscotch-colored outcrops near La Ventana Natural Arch; and on a private ranch nestled against the foot of the Zuni Mountains with a broad view of grassland and ponderosa-studded mesas.  Painting doesn't get any better.

Each week of the Private Painting Intensive has a different focus, depending on the student.  After a consultation, I create a plan tailored to the student's needs.  ("Needs" combines what the student thinks he needs with what I think he needs. These "needs" may be different or overlap.)  My job this week was to help Jack, who has a terrific color sense, get a better handle on values and to show him how to gather good field references so he could continue work later in his studio.  One day, we started off with a quick, grey-scale sketch (using Gamblin's Portland Greys) to help us understand what was happening with values, followed by a full-color sketch.  Another day, we did what I call "center of interest" painting, where we avoid the common practice of working the canvas all over but focus instead on the subject, placing color note against color note, striving to get the relationships correct right from the start.  In this post, I've shared some photos as well as images of my paintings from the week.

If you're an experienced painter and would like help in reaching the next level, I still have weeks available next spring.  In this customized program, you'll be working side-by-side with me and getting lots of attention.  I'll also be sharing my world, which sits among the piƱons and ponderosa pines of New Mexico's high desert.  The program takes two forms—a tuition-only version ($700) and a version in which you lodge and eat with us ($1400.)  If you'd like more information, please visit

And please don't forget my April 7-10, 2020, plein air painting workshop in Sedona, Arizona.  This is for any painter who has some experience in the studio but who is a beginner at painting outdoors, and also for experienced outdoor painters who'd like to fine-tune their skills.  Details are at

The grey study (top) and color study (bottom)
12x9 Oil

Charlie's Ranch - 6x12 Oil - Available

Near Los Gigantes - 9x12 Oil - Available

Raven Cliffs - 12x9 Oil - Available

Southern Cliffs - 9x12 Oil - Available