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All Content Copyright © Michael Chesley Johnson AIS PSA MPAC

Saturday, June 24, 2023

Bog Meditations

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One of Campobello Island's bogs.  Can I paint this to my satisfaction?

Well, let's start with some sketching...

...and move on to some color...
(5x8 gouache)

For many years while living on Campobello Island, I focussed on the shore:  rocks, water, islands, fishing boats, views both distant and close.  After all, isn't this what one comes to an island for?

But Campobello has more than that—it has bogs.  A bog sits away from the shore, often behind a barrier beach and its companion brackish pond.  Sometimes, the bog occupies a spot that was once a kettle pond, a watery depression in the earth left behind by a chunk of melting glacial ice.  Over time, bog plants take root.  As time passes, decaying vegetation builds up and compresses into peat—a process that takes thousand of years. 

In this deepening richness, many species enjoy a slow existence:  dwarf versions of trees like black spruce and tamarack; sphagnum moss and reindeer moss (actually a lichen); plus baked apple berry, cotton grass, rhodora, leatherleaf and bog laurel.  And because the bogs have carnivorous plants like sundew and pitcher plants, I'm sure there are some tiny animals living there, too, although I haven't seen them.  There are birds a-plenty.

Bog laurel



Leatherleaf in bloom

This season, I'm finding myself turning away from the shore and inward to the bogs.  (Perhaps mirroring the psychological turning inward that I seem to be undergoing this year.)  As I saunter on the boardwalk that the more-accessible bogs have, I often linger to look.  A visual artist, I am easily seduced by texture and color—both of which the bogs serve up in spades.  The bog is a wild tapestry, tightly woven out of the thinnest of threads, and my eye wants to pick apart this dense fabric to enjoy every inch.

Seeing this beauty is one thing; painting it is another.  My enjoyment of the seeing is so great that I'm afraid I will fail in the painting.  At this point, I am engaging only in making quick gouache sketches for color notes and pencil studies of the dwarf trees.  Will I go beyond this to something more ambitious?  I'm not sure yet.

Two 5x8 gouache sketches for color notes

Saturday, June 17, 2023

My Art History: Thomas Moran

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"Chasm of the Colorado" by Thomas Moran, 1874
Oil on canvas mounted on aluminum, 84 3/8" x 144 3/4"
U.S. Department of the Interior Museum

I’m not sure when I first heard of Hudson River School painter Thomas Moran (1837-1926.)  For a long time, he seemed to be somewhere just off-stage, a minor character sketching away.  But once I started painting at Grand Canyon, he stepped into the limelight:  I saw some of his work on a visit to Grand Canyon National Park’s art collection, and it took my breath away.

Born in Lancashire, England, to a family of handloom weavers, Moran moved with his family to the United States when he was seven.  When he was a little older, he apprenticed to an engraver in Philadelphia.  He found the work tedious and preferred painting in watercolor, which he did in his spare time.  His watercolors were fine enough that he soon moved up to creating illustrations for the company.  Engraving and printing, however, remained a foundation of his practice, and later in life, he learned how to make chromolithographs, using the process extensively to create popular colored prints of his work.

He ended up at Grand Canyon through a convoluted set of events.  In 1871, he was recommended to the US Geological Survey, which was looking for staff artists for expeditions, as “an artist of Philadelphia of rare genius."  Subsequently, he was invited to travel with a team to Wyoming’s Yellowstone area, a wilderness that remained mostly unexplored by white men.  Moran spent 40 days there, sketching and recording his impressions.  After he returned home, Scribner’s Magazine—one of the trip’s underwriters, along with the Northern Pacific Railroad—featured his illustrations.  The US Congress, wowed by Moran’s depictions of the raw beauty, established Yellowstone National Park just a year later.  But the article not only helped our first national park come into being, it helped Moran in his career.  It wasn’t long before the railroad industry began to invite him regularly on trips to promote scenic destinations.

Grand Canyon was one such place.  Moran first glimpsed the Canyon from the North Rim after a trip to Zion in Utah with John Wesley Powell’s 1873 expedition.  He wrote: “The whole gorge for miles lay beneath us, and it was by far the most awfully grand and impressive scene that I have ever yet seen.”  He returned again and again to sketch it, with the ultimate prize being the sale of “The Chasm of the Colorado” to the US Congress for $10,000 in 1874.  (See the painting at the top.) In 1892, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway hired him to create illustrations of the Canyon for their promotional material, and thus began a flood of calendars, menus and posters that sustained Moran over the years.

 “Of all places on Earth,” Moran said, “the great Canyon of Arizona is the most inspiring in its pictorial possibilities."  I’ve painted at Grand Canyon many times over the years, and now, every time I set up my easel, I ask myself:  "What would Moran do?"

Portrait of Thomas Moran
by Howard Russell Butler, 1922
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; transfer from the Smithsonian American Art Museum; bequest of Ruth B. Moran, 1948

Thursday, June 15, 2023

Teaching at Art Fest, October 2023, Mesa, Arizona

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I'm pleased to announce that I'll be teaching not one but TWO workshops at the Artists Network-sponsored conference, Art Fest, this October in Mesa, Arizona.  I've been working on an "Outdoor Study to Studio" workshop for several years now – I even wrote a book on it – and I'm excited to be able to present this material to you.  If you'd like to take your plein air paintings into the studio where I can show you how to bring your work up to the next level, I hope you'll join me.

The first workshop, October 26, runs a full day and will be in the studio.  For this workshop, I will have you gather reference material in the field in advance.  To help you prepare for the class, I will share with you video and written instructions on how best to gather this material.  Then, when we meet in the studio, I will take you through my studio process and work with you on taking your material and turning it into a finished painting.  Using your field references, you'll explore design ideas, color palettes and give your finished work the attention and consideration that just isn't possible while in the field.

The second workshop – and you can take one or both – runs for two full days, October 27-28.  For this workshop, we'll spend the first day on-location at a beautiful place not too far from our home base, which is the Mesa Convention Center.  I'll show you how I gather reference material in the way of pencil studies, color studies and photography, and then I'll help you gather yours.  For the second day, we'll be in the studio, taking this material and creating a finished work from it, just as my first workshop did.

Oil, pastel and acrylic are welcome for these workshops.  You'll need to have some painting experience – how to handle a brush, how to mix color – in order to get the most out of them.  To get more information on the workshops or to sign up, go to

I hope to see you in Mesa!

Saturday, June 10, 2023

Summer on Campobello Island...and Affordable Paintings

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A sampling of the Maritime paintings I have

My senses, so accustomed to the high desert of New Mexico, have come alive again here by the ocean.  The sea air, misty and cool, brushes softly against my skin.  The slightest of breezes pushes ashore the iron smell of seaweed.  Round pebbles the size of my thumb roll beneath my step.  Sea birds cry before me and jump into the air, only to descend a dozen feet ahead and to then rise again as I approach.  

There are many islands in the world, but none of them are like Campobello Island, where I find myself now.  I'm eager to spend the summer exploring the trails and painting my way through the season.

This year, to make room for the new paintings, I am offering 50% off any Maritime painting priced at $300 or higher.  I will ship the paintings unframed, and the price includes free shipping to the US or Canada. (US dollars only and offer good only through August 15.)

You can see the paintings at this link.  (I have over 70 paintings on the website, so make sure you go through all the pages!)  When you checkout, use the code “summerdays”.  I prefer payment by check, but I will also take Zelle or Paypal.  After your purchase, I will contact you with the payment information.

Here's an even better deal:  If you come to Campobello Island to see my studio and buy a painting, I will give you 60% off the purchase price.  Contact me at if you'd like a visit.  I'm more than happy to show you my studio.  I have many, many sketches that are not on the website, and you can only see them in my studio.

Friar's Bay, where I live

Sunday, June 4, 2023

Podcast Interview by Mary Ann Archibald

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(I'm traveling, so here's a post I thought I'd share with you again.)

Mary Ann Archibald, an artist and writer from Nova Scotia, last year interviewed me for her ongoing series of interviews with artists.  In the interview, we talk about my new book and about how I got started in plein air painting, plus much more.  You can hear the podcast here:

It was a pleasure to talk to Mary Ann, who is also a longtime member of Plein Air Painters of the Bay of Fundy and very active in the arts community in Nova Scotia.  You can find out more about her and her projects at her web site: