All Content Copyright © Michael Chesley Johnson AIS PSA MPAC

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Upcoming: Plein Air Painting Workshop in Santa Fe, New Mexico

View in browser

Springtime is Lilac Time in Santa Fe!

Before you get too far into this post, I want you to scroll down to see the pictures.  I've seen a lot of beauty in Santa Fe over the years, and the photos show only a small sample of it.

Why am I showing you this?  Because next May (May 6-9, Sat-Tue, 2023) I'll be teaching a plein air painting workshop in Santa Fe through Bluebird Studios.  I was very excited when they contacted me about teaching because they've got a good thing going.  Located just seven miles from the historic Santa Fe Plaza, the studio is tucked into the southern edge of the Sangre de Cristo mountains on a sheltered 9-acre horse ranch of rolling hills and arroyos dotted with piñion, juniper, chamisa and sagebrush just off the Old Santa Fe Trail.  Although there'll be plenty to paint at the ranch, this "base camp" offers a departure point for many inspiring painting spots around the city.

Bluebird Studios

Our Studio Space

You'll be treated well at the ranch with a complimentary breakfast each morning, beverages during the day to keep you hydrated (very important!) plus, if you desire, a catered lunch for $15/day extra.  As for the workshop, I've designed it for both experienced beginners and advanced painters, and I will show you everything I know about "capturing the moment" in this beautiful high desert landscape.  Besides painting, I expect we'll have some "cultural enrichment" activities, since galleries and museums abound.  Plus, my good friend and master painter Albert Handell has extended an invitation to visit his studio—an opportunity not to be missed.

I am so looking forward to this, and I hope you'll join me.  Bluebird Studios is offering a 10% discount if you sign up before December 31.  Use the discount code "BLUEBIRD10" when you sign up for the workshop here:  https://www.bluebirdstudiosantafe.com/beautiful-landscape-painting-outdoors-with-michael-chesley-johnson

Lilacs and Adobe Walls

Things You Find

Painting Old Adobes

Santa Fe is Famous for Blue Doors

Painting on the Street

Painting Aspens at the Ski Area

Painting at El Rancho de las Golondrinas

Mountain Stream

A Quiet Spot

Springtime Buds

In Town

At the Ski Area

Albert Handell in his Studio


Sunday, November 27, 2022

Make a Small Experiment and Get a Big Solution - Corrected

View in browser

(My apologies.  An earlier version of this post had a graphic labelled incorrectly.  Here is the correct version.)

"Autumn Glow" 9x12 oil / SOLD
Some places I might experiment to solve problems, as noted in the text.
A.  A good spot to figure out the relationship between sky and mountain.  If I can find a solution in this small area, I can then apply the same solution to the rest of the sky and mountain shape.
B. A good spot to figure out the relationship between the shadowed cottonwoods and the mountain.  Again, if I can find a solution in this small area, I can then apply it to the remaining line of shadowed cottonwoods and this part of the mountain.  One cottonwood here has been "hit" with a lighter, more intense yellow to indicate an area where sunshine illuminates the tree.  Having figured out the relationship of the shadowed cottonwoods and the mountain makes it easy to get the right sunlit note here.
C.  A good spot to figure out the relationship between these sunlit, closer cottonwoods and the rocky cliff.  Again, if I can get a solution here, I can apply it to the whole line of cottonwoods and the cliff side.


Let's say you're working on a large canvas, maybe 16x20. It's a scene of cottonwoods, glowing in all their autumn finery against a distant mountain. You're trying to make those cottonwoods really, really glow—you want them darn near incandescent. But as much as you paint the mountain blue and the cottonwoods yellowy-orange and try a dozen variations of complements and near-complements, you just can't strike the right spark. And you're wasting a lot of paint and time, going back and forth. Your mountain takes up half your canvas, and your trees, a quarter. That's a lot of real estate to cover.

We've all been there. Well, here's the problem: You're trying a big experiment when a small experiment, one that's quick and economical, will do the trick. Here's how to do this.

Pick a smaller area where trees and mountain meet, and try a solution just there. Maybe this spot covers only a couple of square inches, but it should be sufficient to test out your idea. Because you're experimenting in a small area, you can quickly try different solutions until you hit on the right one. Then you can carry this solution to the rest of the painting.

Anytime you have large adjacent areas—and it doesn't have to be just two but can be three or more that meet—and want to get the relationship right, try this approach. I use it all the time. In many of my landscapes, for example, I'll find a small spot where tree, mountain and sky meet, and I work out the color and value relationships. Once I've got the right solution, I can very quickly paint the large shapes correctly.

By the way! Just a reminder about my book. Beautiful Landscape Painting Outdoors: Mastering Plein Air is the perfect gift for your beginning painter friends -- and the advanced painter will enjoy it, too. And hey, it would also make a nice gift for yourself! You can get it at Amazon. (While you're waiting for your copy to arrive, you might like to watch the video interviews I made with several of the artists.)

And don't forget my May workshop at Bluebird Studios in Santa Fe. Santa Fe is an awesome place to hold a plein air painting workshop -- great scenery, but also lots of extracurricular activities like galleries and museums! Details here.

Last but not least, my 50% Studio Sale on Southwest paintings continues through December 24th. Check out the artwork here.

Make a Small Experiment and Get a Big Solution

View in browser

"Autumn Glow" 9x12 oil / SOLD
Some places I might experiment to solve problems, as noted in the text.
A.  A good spot to figure out the relationship between sky and mountain.  If I can find a solution in this small area, I can then apply the same solution to the rest of the sky and mountain shape.
B. A good spot to figure out the relationship between the shadowed cottonwoods and the mountain.  Again, if I can find a solution in this small area, I can then apply it to the remaining line of shadowed cottonwoods and this part of the mountain.  One cottonwood here has been "hit" with a lighter, more intense yellow to indicate an area where sunshine illuminates the tree.  Having figured out the relationship of the shadowed cottonwoods and the mountain makes it easy to get the right sunlit note here.
C.  A good spot to figure out the relationship between these sunlit, closer cottonwoods and the rocky cliff.  Again, if I can get a solution here, I can apply it to the whole line of cottonwoods and the cliff side.


Let's say you're working on a large canvas, maybe 16x20.  It's a scene of cottonwoods, glowing in all their autumn finery against a distant mountain.  You're trying to make those cottonwoods really, really glow—you want them darn near incandescent.  But as much as you paint the mountain blue and the cottonwoods yellowy-orange and try a dozen variations of complements and near-complements, you just can't strike the right spark.  And you're wasting a lot of paint and time, going back and forth.  Your mountain takes up half your canvas, and your trees, a quarter.  That's a lot of real estate to cover.

We've all been there.  Well, here's the problem:  You're trying a big experiment when a small experiment, one that's quick and economical, will do the trick. Here's how to do this.

Pick a smaller area where trees and mountain meet, and try a solution just there. Maybe this spot covers only a couple of square inches, but it should be sufficient to test out your idea.  Because you're experimenting in a small area, you can quickly try different solutions until you hit on the right one.  Then you can carry this solution to the rest of the painting.  

Anytime you have large adjacent areas—and it doesn't have to be just two but can be three or more that meet—and want to get the relationship right, try this approach.  I use it all the time.  In many of my landscapes, for example, I'll find a small spot where tree, mountain and sky meet, and I work out the color and value relationships.  Once I've got the right solution, I can very quickly paint the large shapes correctly.

By the way!  Just a reminder about my book.  Beautiful Landscape Painting Outdoors: Mastering Plein Air is the perfect gift for your beginning painter friends -- and the advanced painter will enjoy it, too.  And hey, it would also make a nice gift for yourself! You can get it at Amazon.  (While you're waiting for your copy to arrive, you might like to watch the video interviews I made with several of the artists.)

And don't forget my May workshop at Bluebird Studios in Santa Fe.  Santa Fe is an awesome place to hold a plein air painting workshop -- great scenery, but also lots of extracurricular activities like galleries and museums!  Details here.

Last but not least, my 50% Studio Sale on Southwest paintings continues through December 24th.  Check out the artwork here.




Sunday, November 20, 2022

G*ft Ideas for the Plein Air Painter

View in browser



(I have used the asterisk in the title, hoping that the title will bypass your spam filter).

Looking for a little something for your favorite plein air painter – or perhaps yourself?  Here are a few ideas!

Plein Air Painting Workshop in Santa Fe, New Mexico

My first workshop of the season in 2023 will be in everybody's favorite art destination, Santa Fe, New Mexico.  It'll be hosted by Bluebird Studios, and they are offering a 10% discount if you sign up before December 31.  Use the discount code "BLUEBIRD10" when you sign up for the workshop here:  https://www.bluebirdstudiosantafe.com/beautiful-landscape-painting-outdoors-with-michael-chesley-johnson

I was very excited when they contacted me about teaching a workshop because they've got a good thing going.  Located just seven miles from the historic Santa Fe Plaza, the studio is tucked into the southern edge of the Sangre de Cristo mountains on a sheltered 9-acre horse ranch of rolling hills and arroyos dotted with piñion, juniper, chamisa and sagebrush just off the Old Santa Fe Trail.  You'll be treated well at the ranch with a complimentary breakfast each morning, beverages during the day to keep you hydrated (very important!) plus, if you desire, a catered lunch for $15/day extra.  As for the workshop, I've designed it for both experienced beginners and advanced painters, and I will show you everything I know about "capturing the moment" in this beautiful high desert landscape.  I am so looking forward to this, and I hope you'll join me.

My New Book

You've already heard about my new book – Beautiful Landscape Painting Outdoors: Mastering Plein Air – but I want to remind you that it'd make a great present for your favorite painter.  It covers every aspect of outdoor painting, from soup to nuts, and even the expert will learn from it.  You can get it from either Amazon or Barnes & Noble.  Plus, if you bring it to my Santa Fe workshop in May, I'll sign it for you!

Here are the links:

Holiday Studio Sale

It's time my holiday sale!  Until December 24th, you can get 50% off my Southwest paintings.  (I'll be having a similar sale this summer on my Maritime paintings.) This year, rather than order off the website, once you find a painting you like, send me an e-mail, and then we can arrange payment either through Zelle, PayPal or check.  I will include free USPS Priority Mail shipping for paintings shipped in the lower 48 states!  You can see the selections here:  https://www.mchesleyjohnson.com/southwest-paintings/

2023 Calendar

And finally, I've put together a calendar for the upcoming year.  I've picked my favorite paintings from 2022.  You can get the calendar ($13.49 + shipping) here:  https://www.lulu.com/shop/michael-chesley-johnson/2023-michael-chesley-johnson-calendar/paperback/product-6pyr4k.html?page=1&pageSize=4

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Autumn Abstract -- And What About Abstraction?

View in browser

Autumn Abstract
14x11 oil


Over the course of my painting career, I've often wished to move from realistic representation to the more abstract.  It doesn't suit my impatient nature to depict scenes that are better (and more easily and more accurately) captured with a lens.  Of course, there's a market out there for realism, and it's hard not to paint to the market.  And certainly, because painting is a craft, there's something satisfying about getting skilled enough to depict every grass blade and twig.  But in my soul, this isn't what I want to do.  I want to paint an abstracted impression.

So I came up with "Autumn Abstract," a 14x11 experiment in oil.  You'll note in the image above that I still haven't managed to unglue myself from realism—the painting is obviously of a tree in autumn.   Still, it's a departure for me.  When I paint a tree in full foliage, I usually "mass" the leaves so they hang together in leafy boughs and look very much like a tree seen through squinted (or myopic) eyes.  Here, I've tried to avoid that, preferring to suggest the masses of leaves with just swatches of color.  For the tree, I've left out the twigs—I don't paint those, anyway—and have removed most of the branches.  Maybe my next tree will have even less of the tree and more of the abstracted "treeness."

Abtraction is prone to laziness.  I've seen many abstract (or non-objective) paintings that have hardly anything to them.  A splash of color, a brush stroke—nothing more.  It's as if the painter was proud of his laziness.  But I want to create a painting that looks like I labored over it, to make it look like it's worth something.  Worth the effort of a viewer to study, worth the leisure of the viewer to enjoy, and perhaps, worth enough to even buy.

Yes, I've heard that good art should look effortless, like it was born wholly-formed.  But I can tell when I look at a seemingly-effortless good painting that much study, practice and thought went into it.  It smells of sweat, not of laziness.  It doesn't matter whether it's a landscape, portrait, still life or something conjured up out of the artist's imagination.  

Here are some notes about "Abstract Autumn":
  • I painted this almost entirely with a 1" foam brush, the kind you might use to paint the mullions of a window.  The very last bit of paint went on with a painting knife.
  • I purposely took my time with this painting.  I painted it over several days, trying to carefully consider what path best to achieve my vision.  (My vision:  I wanted to represent the intense colors and warmth of a tree in autumn.)
  • The first phase consisted of thin washes:  Indian yellow, transparent earth orange, quinacridone magenta.  (All colors are from Gamblin.)
  • Once I'd finished this first phase, I took a hike.  I went out to the canyon behind the studio where the color of the oaks was peak.  When I reached the end of the canyon where the color was best, I stood perched on the canyon's lip and spent several minutes just observing color.  The canyon's end is called the "bathtub," and it's a deep pocket that's been carved by summer rains and melting winter snows.  A huge ponderosa pine is fixed like an axle in a wheel  in the center of this tub, and at its base the oaks have gathered.  It was a spiritual moment, with clouds sweeping alternate waves of shadow and light into the canyon.  My attention to the colors was broken for a moment by the sudden appearance of a lone bald eagle, being chased through the canyon by a pair of ravens.  My plein air experiences are often filled with this kind of memorable event.
  • Back in the studio, I started the next phase:  glazes of phthalo green, sweeps of dioxazine purple, and then all that warmth punctuated with  a few notes of cool radiant blue.
  • The final phase:  more transparent earth orange, cadmium red deep, cadmium red light, olive green, permanent orange and cadmium yellow light.
  • After a few days of letting the painting rest, I made a few adjustments with the knife.
I put together a short video of shots of the different phases. You can view it here:  https://youtu.be/0BNRJRr00gc




Sunday, November 6, 2022

Painting What I See v. Painting What I FEEL I See

View in browser

Painting What I Saw...

...Painting What I FELT I Saw
(both 5x8 gouache)

Do you paint what you see?  Or what you feel you see?

I learned recently the distinction.  I was in Taos at my painting retreat, sketching in gouache.  I was seated on my three-legged stool before the Rio Grande Gorge, observing the scene, adjusting color mixtures to match what I saw before me.  Now, the Gorge is awesome enough on its own—an 800-foot-deep ragged slash through an endless plate of black lava, with the river a mere spider-silk thread far below—but on this day, dramatic storm clouds flew, and brooms of grey rain and yellow sun-rays swept the land.  I wanted to capture the drama.

But when I stepped back from my 5x8 sketch, it wasn't there.  The colors and shapes were right and, yes, I'd painted what I saw, but I hadn't painted what I felt.  

I sat back down on my stool and tried again.  This time, I didn't worry about accuracy of fact.  Instead, I tried to pay attention to feeling as I mixed color and placed shape next to shape.  I can't quite put this into words, but here it goes:  I felt like an untrained singer trying to hit the right notes in a choir by listening to the other singers around me, and then by modulating my voice until it slid into perfect harmony.  If you've ever sung with a group, you know when you hit the right note.  For me, this is painting what you feel you see versus simply painting what you see.