All Content Copyright © Michael Chesley Johnson AIS PSA MPAC

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Department of Checklists: Plein Air Painting Events

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My pile of stuff for the Prescott
Plein Air Festival the other weekend.
Did I forget anything? No, because I used
a checklist!


I'm a big maker of lists.  I love lists.  With my historically faulty memory, I've come to rely on them.  They've saved me many a time as I'm about to rush out the door on a trip, only to check and discover that I've forgotten some important item.

Lists are particularly important for plein air painting events.  In the excitement – and anxiety – that precedes these events, things are easily overlooked.  Even though I've done dozens of events and have most items (finally!) memorized, I still double-check, just in case.

I thought I'd share my list with you.  It's posted below as an image you can print out on letter-size paper.  Even though the event season is coming to a close in the Northern Hemisphere, you'll find it useful for any field painting session.

Print out this handy checklist
for your next plein air event

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Painting Retreat: Taos Report

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The Mountain
9x12 oil / Available


Situated on a sagebrush plateau between the Rio Grand Gorge, an 800-foot-deep knife-cut in the earth, and the base of New Mexico's Sangre de Cristo mountains, Taos is a little village with a big art history.  Way back in 1893, the first Anglo artist arrived.  Joseph Henry Sharp, from Cincinnati, came because he was interested in painting the already-vanishing American Indian.  He told his artist friends, and it wasn't long before they began to flock to Taos.  Soon they founded the Taos Society of Artists to market their work to folks back east.  Others followed, including Georgia O'Keeffe and socialite and art patron Mabel Dodge.  Coming to visit but not to stay were writers like D.H. Lawrence (even though he bought a ranch here) and photographers such as Ansel Adams.  Last week, my little group of painters added their names to the roll.

Five of us gathered in Taos to paint a variety of scenery:  ranch fields and aspen-clad mountains, historic adobe homes and towering cottonwoods, and streams running noisily from a long summer of rain.  The weather predicted for the week called for more rain, and that proved true.  But we found dry times to paint in, always keeping an eye on the clouds.  (The monsoon season, a period characterized by sudden and sometimes violent afternoon thunderstorms, has been plentiful this year.)  We even had a couple of truly sunny days.  Even so, the weather pattern gave us an abundance of clouds to paint.  This year, on the highest peaks, we were lucky enough to get a dusting of snow.  I've included a few of my paintings and sketches in this post.

Although I usually like to give critiques in the morning, this year it was cool enough that we delayed those until later in the day.  On the day when it rained most of the morning, I gave a demonstration under a comfortable porch.  Otherwise, we painted together each morning and most afternoons.  I always like to add cultural activities to my retreats, so we toured the Couse-Sharp Historic Site and the E. L. Blumenschein Home and Museum and also got our fill of galleries.

Overall, it was a great time, with old friendships being renewed and new friendships being forged.  If you're an experienced painter and are interested in a future retreat, please check my web site.

El Prado Pasture
9x12 Oil / Available

The Gorge
9x12 Oil / SOLD

The Pink House
(Where Georgia O'Keeffe stayed when first
visiting Taos)
9x12 Oil / SOLD

Me, selfie

First day crits

Joseph Sharp's paint box

Painting aspens at 9400 feet


Saturday, October 15, 2022

Prescott Plein Air Festival: Almost Done

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It's been a fun few days, painting here in Prescott, Arizona, for the Prescott Plein Air Festival.  We've had beautiful, sunny fall weather...until today!  Although I got a good painting in this morning, as I write, it's raining heavily and thundering ponderously.  So, since I can't paint, I'm spending the afternoon framing and getting ready for tomorrow's final event, which is the meet-and-greet and sale.  (Full details are here:  https://highlandscenter.org/prescott-plein-air/)

With that in mind, I thought I'd share my paintings, below.  Wish me good luck tomorrow!


"Along Granite Creek" / 9x12 oil

"Fall Colors " / 12x9 oil

"Below the Dam" / 12x16 oil

"Willow Lake Hills" / 12x16 oil

"Uplifting Granite Dells" / 16x12 oil

As a bonus, here are a few random photos of me painting in the field.  You'll note that in one of them, I'm holding an umbrella.  That was this morning, when the first drops began to fall.





Sunday, October 9, 2022

Paintings, Interrupted

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Hanging On / 8x10 Oil / Available


Rattlesnake Cliff / 9x12 oil  Available


You've all heard the joke.  How many people does it take to paint a painting?  Two—one to paint it, and another to say when to stop.

I've been painting long enough that I've developed an internal monitor that stops me before I overwork a painting.  (Well, not always—sometimes, apparently, he's nodded off.)  Once in awhile, though, external factors stop me, and often prematurely.  Case in point is the active monsoon season we've had in New Mexico this year.

If you're not familiar with monsoon season, it's characterized by daily afternoon thunderstorm activity, followed by clearing and cool evenings.  Although we're thankful for these storms because they slake the thirst of our high desert, dangerous lightning often accompanies them.  They make hiking—and outdoor painting—risky outings.

Why?  Because the storms rise up quickly.  You can start your hike on a perfectly clear, blue-sky morning, and by noon, the first thunderheads are already billowing up.  Moments later you'll hear the first crack of thunder.  The clouds then swell into a black wall and unleash a cannonade of blinding flashes, earsplitting cracks and the occasional deep, rolling boom that lasts almost forever and occupies such a low spot on the auditory register that you can feel it deep in your gut.  These storms are not to be toyed with.

So, I offer to you two paintings that I began on a beautiful morning that became victim to monsoon season.  In each case, I painted about 30 or 45 minutes before that first crack of thunder.  As I tend to favor cliff tops and other high perches, which are the worst places to be in a storm, I quickly retreated before becoming a statistic.  (Check out this link on lightning fatalities.)  The good news, though, is that I was able to go out the very next day and finish—but only moments before the next round of storms started up.

Sunday, October 2, 2022

Upcoming: Prescott Plein Air Art Festival

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Otherworldly Watson Lake and the Granite Dells in Prescott.
How will I paint this?  Will I even try? Stay tuned!


This week, I'm leading a painting retreat in Taos (more on that in a future post), but right after, I'll be heading off to Arizona.  This is for the Prescott Plein Air Art Festival, October 13-16, 2022.  As most of you know, I lived in the area for many years and participated often as an invited artist for the Sedona plein air event.  Prescott was always over the mountain—I usually took the twisty, windy road through Jerome—so it wasn't somewhere I went often.  But I've always wanted to paint there, as the town in planted among some of the central highland's most beautiful natural landscapes, and the town itself has some scenic historic architecture.

You can visit the web site for full details (https://highlandscenter.org/prescott-plein-air), but here is the general schedule:
  • October 13- 15 Plein Air Painting Days
  • October 14- Plein Air Demonstration  Art Education for families at Constellation Trail 9am – 3 pm
  • October 15- Plein Air Demonstration at Sharlot Hall Museum 9am – 3pm
  • October 16- Plein Air Reception at The Finn at Touchmark at the Ranch
Some of my old friends will be there, too, including Betty Carr, Gretchen Lopez and Dawn Sutherland.  I'm looking forward to painting with them again—and to making some new friends!  I hope to see you there.

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