Authentically Human! Not Written by AI!
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Saturday, August 26, 2023

New Mexico Arts Project: The Start

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**Authentically Human! Not Written by AI**

Good news, it seems, is always just around the corner.  Recently, I learned I'm one of five finalists for the New Mexico Arts/Gallup Arts McKinley County Courthouse Commission Project.  I'm due to present my proposal in early November, and if I win, I'll have a year to complete and install the work.

This is the biggest project I've been involved with.  The courthouse rotunda, where the art will be installed, consists of three areas, totalling around 360 square feet of space.  It's a little hard to visualize that number, so let me convert it to something most plein air painters are familiar with, the 9x12-inch panel.  The amount of space to be filled is equal to around 485 of those little panels. 

It's possible I won't win the whole project; up to four artists may be selected.  I may be selected for one, two or all three areas—or none at all.  The budget, the total of which is $100,000, gets split up by area.

I thought my readers might like to follow me on this project, so I plan to post updates as time goes by.  Right now, I'm working on my proposal and scratching my head on a technical problem.  How does one install work permanently on curved walls—yes, curved walls!—and can a security hanging system handle that?  I have research to do, for sure.  Then I need to think more on my chosen theme and see how I can make it work if I don't win all three areas.  Will it make sense if I just get one or two areas?   And finally, I need to create a body of exciting but informative visuals.  The more, the better, I'm told.  I've already picked out the graphics tablet I'll order when I get back to New Mexico.

Wish me luck!

Saturday, August 19, 2023

Preserving Paintings for the Next Millenium—and Beyond

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**Authentically Human! Not Written by AI**

Image: Redo-Sanchez, from Wikimedia Commons. License.
Breylon Immersive Virtual Monitor 

Will your paintings outlast you?  Even after one lifetime, many paintings start to show damage.  Nothing's worse than having a bright sunset fade to monochrome tints or for the surface to become disfigured due to alligatoring.  (Here's an exhaustive list of all the things that can happen to an oil painting.)  To ensure the physical integrity of our work, we artists are admonished to use archival materials and procedures.

Some paintings have outlasted their creators by centuries.  The oldest surviving oil paintings are nearly 1400 years old; these are Buddhist murals made around 650 AD in Afghanistan, but they are in poor shape.  Looking a bit better are the Fayum portraits, painted in encaustic in Egypt in the 1st century AD.  Even much older are some frescos, also in Egypt, lining a Bronze Age tomb from 3500 BC.  They've survived over 5000 years!

What helped these priceless artworks survive was a combination of things:  the right materials, the right painting process and the right environmental conditions. If I use the right materials (maybe a wood panel sealed with Gamblin's PVA sizing plus an oil ground) and the right process (painting fat-over-lean with lightfast pigments) and store the painting under the right conditions (perhaps a climate-controlled museum), how long can I expect it to last?

The problem with physical objects is that they break. You can't avoid it. I worked in IT for many years, where I learned about something called MTBF or "Mean Time Before Failure."  Every hard drive was stamped with "MTBF" and a number, which would give me an idea of how reliable a drive was.  The engineers who designed the drives expected them to fail at some point.  As they say, sh*t happens—even if you do everything you can to ensure that it won't.  

If I do everything I can, maybe my painting will last as long as the Mona Lisa.  But is there a way for it to last thousands of years?  Perhaps even milllions?

Prompting these thoughts is a book I read recently.  In the first half of Scatter, Adapt and Remember, science writer and science fiction author Annalee Newitz outlines several possible scenarios of global catastrophe, from asteroid strikes to thermonuclear obliteration and pandemics.  In the second half, she presents several possible solutions, such as colonizing other planets or even uploading our brains to robots.  As I read, I started to wonder how our cultural artifacts—our artwork—would fit in.

Perhaps someday science will find a way to take a painting and preserve it for a million years.  But as I noted earlier, anything physical will eventually deteriorate.  (I do worry about all those frozen heads in cryogenic tanks, waiting for resurrection.)

Maybe there's a better option.  What if we scanned the artworks and preserved them digitally?  We already have high-resolution 3D scanners and printers, and this technology will continue to improve.  I predict a time when the printed copy will be indistinguishable from the original, right down to the finest brush hair embedded in the paint.  The original could delaminate and eventually turn to dust, but we could print another copy whenever we wished.  

But does it make sense to create yet another physical copy that will someday also turn to dust?

And what about that digital scan?  Is it protected from the whips and scorns of time?  Not at all.  It's a binary code not stored in some virtual place but on physical hardware as a set of voltage or magnetic charges.  And remember what I said about a physical object.

Even so, the best bet to ensure that a painting survives is to keep it digital and put it in the metaverse.  (By the way, the term "metaverse" predates Mark Zuckerberg by three decades; it was first used by fiction futurist Neal Stephenson in his novel, Snow Crash, published in 1992.)  Here's my own possible solution for an end-of-the-world scenario:

Over time, the technology for virtual reality will improve, and we (or some future generation) will be able to experience the painting in its perfect, original (but virtual) state in the metaverse.  To make sure that there will always be some kind of physical platorm available to support this virtual world, we'll have a continually-maintained, continually-running infrastructure of self-healing computer systems, all run by artificial intelligence.  This physical platform may be on Earth or Mars, or in some distant galaxy, far, far away—or perhaps it'll be everywhere, buried in the fabric of space-time.

Unless, of course, some of the cosmologists are right, and the entire universe will eventually collapse in the "Big Crunch" to a dimensionless point.  And what did I say about things physical?

Maybe I'll just keep painting the way I do and let future generations figure it out.

Saturday, August 12, 2023

Report: Plein Air Painting Retreat for Experienced Painters: Lubec, Maine

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Bog Brook Cove / Michael Chesley Johnson
9x12 Oil / SOLD

Quickly following on the heels of last week's workshop was my retreat for experienced painters.  Ten artists from New Brunswick, North Carolina, Maine, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire joined me for a great week of painting in Lubec and on Campobello Island.  Despite the occasional showers—what's a Downeast Maine experience without a little weather?—we had a fantastic time. 

Each day started off with a show-and-tell of the following day's work over coffee and tea.  After that, we headed out as as group to a beautiful location where we painted until lunchtime.  Afternoons were more free-form, but most of us ended up painting together at yet another stunning location. For dinner, rather than going as one large group, we went out as small parties to enjoy lobster or some other local catch and to deepen our friendships.  One rainy morning, I did a demonstration in oil, and we discussed as a group various painting topics.  Throughout the retreat, we shared lots of information and ideas.

I've already scheduled my week for next year:  August 5-9, 2024.  If you're an experienced painter—that is, you can handle a brush, mix paint and set up gear on your own—and would like to join me, don't delay, as this retreat fills up fast!  (Several of this year's group have already committed to next year, and it is just about full.)  You can find more details about it here:

Until next time, here are some pictures followed by some of the other paintings I made this week.

5x16 gouache NFS

5x8 gouache NFS

5x8 gouache NFS

5x16 gouache NFS

5x8 gouache NFS

5x8 gouache NFS

Those Who Came Before
9x12 oil / $700

Tide's Out
9x12 Oil / $700

Saturday, August 5, 2023

Plein Air Painting Workshop Report: Lubec, Maine

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**Authentically Human! Not Written by AI**

Life doesn't get better than this!

After six very unusual weeks of rain and fog, we finally had several days of more seasonable and truly sunny weather—all just in time for a plein air painting workshop!  Six students from North Carolina, Massachusetts, Vermont and Maine painted in some spectacular locations along our beautiful rugged coast.  I wanted to share a few photos from the week and also some of my demonstrations.

I've already scheduled my week for next year:  July 29-August 1, 2024.  If you'd like to join me, don't delay, as this workshop fills up fast!  And I'm only teaching a couple of these popular workshops each year these days.  You can find more details about it here:

(By the way, if you're a more experienced painter and would like to join me in a painting retreat, the dates for next year are August 5-9, 2024.  Learn more here: )

Oh, and here's a short video I shot while out with the group:

Here are some pictures:

And now some demonstrations:

Drowned Coast, 8x10 Oil $300 /contact me

Headland, 8x10 Oil $300 /contact me

Morning Light, 8x10 Oil $300 /contact me

Rock Study, 5x8 Gouache, NFS