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

Sunday, December 31, 2023

Another New Year with Workshops, Travels, Books and More!

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Reflecting on the passing of another year has become somewhat of a cliché, but I'll indulge in it nonetheless: It's remarkable how swiftly time flies. But rather than dwelling on the past, I find solace in embracing the belief that life is best lived looking forward, with only the occasional glance in the rearview mirror.

As we stand at the threshold of 2024, the future holds both anticipation and excitement. Here's a glimpse into what the upcoming year will offer:

Winter: Paintings of Scotland, and Hoping to Get Broadband!

My winter endeavor is dedicated to crafting a series of large paintings capturing the essence of Scotland, destined for an upcoming book. (See below.) Drawing inspiration from color sketches and photographs from previous trips, this series aims to explore inventive expressions of color and abstraction.  And as for broadband, the prospect of it reaching our rural community soon will open doors to longer YouTube videos and the possibility of hosting Zoom workshops.

April: Sedona Plein Air Painting Retreat?

In the spirit of continuous exploration, I'm considering a "Hiking to Sketch and Photograph" retreat in Sedona, Arizona. Set against the backdrop of enchanting Uptown Sedona, this retreat will center around daily hikes on uptown trails, catering to experienced outdoor painters with a penchant for adventure. April is the tentative timeframe, and if this resonates with you, let me know.  General details on my retreats can be found here.

July/August: Maine Plein Air Painting Workshop & Plein Air Painting Retreat

Lubec, Maine, and Campobello Island, New Brunswick, remain my preferred summer painting havens. An all-level plein air painting workshop is slated for July 29-August 1, with openings still available. Following that, a plein air painting retreat from August 5-9 awaits, currently at full capacity but open for waiting list sign-ups. Click here for details on the workshop. Click here for details on the retreat.

September: Scotland Trip

Embarking on a four-week immersive journey through different regions of Scotland in September, my focus will be on hiking, painting and photography. While fellow painters expressed interest in joining, we're reserving this adventure just for Trina and me at this time.

October: Plein Air Painting Workshop at Palo Duro Canyon, Texas

Trace the footsteps of Georgia O'Keeffe at Palo Duro Canyon in a three-day plein air painting workshop sponsored by the Amarillo Art Institute. Details are forthcoming, but mark your calendars for October 17-19 for a painting experience in this mini-Grand Canyon.  (I'll send out more details as they are finalized.)

November: Sedona Plein Air Painting Retreat?

A second "Hiking to Sketch and Photograph" retreat is in the works for mid-November, echoing the April proposal. The allure of Sedona in November promises stunning colors in the cottonwoods and sycamores.  Again, if you're interested, please let me know.

Winter 2024/2024: The Scotland Book and Wee Paintings of Scotland

Post-Scotland trip, my focus turns to crafting Through a Painter's Brush: Scotland, a book akin to its predecessors, filled with essays, diary entries, and captivating images. To support this venture, my revamped Patreon page offers two support levels, each with its unique perks. (And yes, if you'd prefer not to deal with Patreon, you can pay in full, up-front.)   As the snow shovel beckons in anticipation of a wet winter, I invite you to consider joining me on this artistic odyssey. Your support, whether through Patreon or direct engagement, is immensely appreciated. If you've already enlisted, my heartfelt thanks! Click here for details.

That concludes the current update—now, off to find that snow shovel! Winter's forecast promises precipitation, and I'm ready to embrace the artistic challenges it brings.

Wishing you all a productive and peaceful New Year!

Sunday, December 24, 2023

Thoughts on Seeing

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**Authentically Human! Not Written by AI**

As plein air painters, we are told one of our best tools is the squinted eye.  Sure, that's great for seeing a simplified version of the scene—detail and color are reduced, shapes and values massed—but it doesn't help with seeing more than that.  And to paint well, we ultimately need to see everything.  This means you have to open your eyes.

But what are we looking for, exactly?  For me, it comes down to comparing line, shape, value and color:

  • How does the angle and length of this line compare to that one?  Is it more or less acute, longer or shorter? 
  • How does this shape compare to that one?  Is it rounder or less round, bigger or smaller?
  • How does the temperature and saturation of this area compare to that one?  Is it warmer or cooler, richer or duller, in a different hue family?

As an experienced outdoor painter, I often rely on my naked eye for these comparisons.  But sometimes I need help. The handle of a brush or a pencil helps me measure angle and length.  A "color isolator," such as the hole in the center of my ViewCatcher, lets me isolate a tiny patch of the scene so I can judge the different aspects of its color.  The tool is a mid-value, neutral grey, so the questions I ask it include:  Is the color lighter or darker than the grey?  How much more saturated does it feel than the grey?  Hue is easier to see against the grey, too.  Additionally, I can compare different patches with the tool.

But what about depth?  I'm sure you already know how the atmosphere creates a sense of distance through reducing value, contrast and saturation, and by softening edges.  Yet there's more to it than that.  There is the "roundness" of form, the contours of the land or a tree, something you can only see with both eyes, binocular vision.  If you have experience drawing the human figure from life, you know what I mean.  There's all the difference in the world between a drawing done by someone who works exclusively from photographs and that done by someone who works from life.

By the way, you don't have to be painting or even drawing to learn to see.  Just go outside, find yourself a comfortable spot, and just look. Observe the scene as if you were painting it.  You'll be surprised how much just this simple exercise can improve your painting.

Sunday, December 17, 2023

What Do Plein Air Painters Do in the Winter?

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**Authentically Human! Not Written by AI**

Ready, set -- go!
A 36x12 toned for a painting of Scotland.
Why violet?  It'll go well with all that green.

What do plein air painters do in the winter?  Well, if it's not too cold and not too snowy, I go out.  You've probably seen some of my snow sketches and paintings over the years.  But what if the weather is worse?  Then I retreat to the studio.

These past couple of weeks, we've had cold mornings (18°F or lower) and snow.  (Should I mention that the snow turns to mud here?) Sure, I've painted in worse.  But honestly, the only thing I get out of bad-weather painting is bragging rights.  I've realized it does nothing to advance my skills as as painter.  These days, I'd rather take a photograph.

For me, winter weather is the time for a studio project.  As you may have read, I'm planning a month-long trip to Scotland next fall.  One of my goals for that trip is to gather enough reference material for a book on Scotland as part of my Through a Painter's Brush series.  

As of this moment, I have enough material from previous trips to forge ahead on a few large studio paintings for the book.  (By the way, if you'd like to support my trip and get a small painting and/or the book, you can get details here.)  

Going through my photographs, video clips and plein air sketches helps me relive the moment and re-creates the excitement I felt while traveling.  (I'll share some photos of my past Scottish travels below.)  I've already got the first canvas toned and on the easel, so I'm ready to go.  I'll be posting all the work on my Instagram account, so stay tuned!  

In Scotland, I've painted through
sun, showers and...

...even sheep.

Sunday, December 10, 2023

For the Painter

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**Authentically Human! Not Written by AI**

Since giving seems to be on everyone's mind right now, I thought I'd jump in with my own "Top Ten" list of suggestions.   These are things I've found useful in my own painting practice in the past year, so maybe you'll find them useful, too.  In no particular order:

Tempered Glass Cutting Board.  Sure, you could chop onions on this, but I find it better to use as a painting palette.  They come in different sizes, and they are easy to clean, either with a quick scrape of a blade or a wipe of a paper towel.  The one I have has little plastic feet so it doesn't slip.  Although I use a large, homemade glass palette at my easel, I've found that having one or two of the smaller cutting boards is handy for any small project that doesn't require a big mixing area.  

Bluetooth Headband.  I listen to music when I'm in the studio, whether at the easel, bench or desk.  Because I tend to wander a bit, and also to flail my hands about when painting, I find cables a hazard, so wired headphones aren't an option.  What's more, my music often doesn't suit the other inhabitants of the house, so speakers don't work for me, either.  Sure, I could wear wireless headphones, but I find them a bit clunky.  My solution:  a Bluetooth headband.  The tiny speakers are fine—I can almost feel the bass—and the band itself is made of a material that keeps my head warm.  There are many brands out there, but mine is a MusiCozy.

Wacom Intuos Tablet.  I'm not a digital artist, but I've found that digital art can be handy in improving my paintings made with traditional media.  To do this, I take a photo of my work-in-progress, pull it into my favorite image editing software, and then experiment with the image using my graphics tablet.  I can simulate many of the tools I use in traditional painting – brush and knife, in many sizes and shapes – and play with different ideas in color and value.  Once I've come up with something that looks good, I return to my easel and make it real.

Rosemary Brushes.  I'm hard on my brushes, and it's disappointing to have an expensive brush wear down in no time.  I'd heard a lot about Rosemary Brushes, so hoping for a more durable product, I ordered the Michael Richardson Plein Air Master Brush Set.  (Most of the brushes it has are the sizes and shapes I typically use.)  Despite my scrubbing, grinding and general mistreatment, these brushes are still in great shape.

Gamblin's Gesso and Ground Blades.  These plastic scrapers I've found perfect not just for spreading gesso or oil ground on panels but also for painting with.  They're flexible and easy to clean.  Scraping down, spreading paint, making fine lines—all great uses for these.  I find them a great supplement to Gamblin's painting knives.

Gamblin's Painting Knives. These came out last year, but I've been using them this year on projects. The big handles make them easy on the grip, the one-piece stamped metal has no weld to break, and they clean with just a wipe. They're a bit big to take plein air painting, but they are great in the studio.

Mako Panels.  I started painting with these for a recent project, and I love them.  Well-crafted with good edges, plus a superior surface to paint on.  They come on ACM (aluminum composite material) panels or Gatorboard.  You can get them unprimed or primed with acrylic gesso or oil ground, or mounted with Claessen's linen. By the way, if you're a first-time buyer, you can get 10% off the order with the code FIRSTMAKO10.

And now it's time for some self-promotion!  Here are some other things you might enjoy:

My Calendar.  Twelves images of some of my favorite paintings from this past year.  Images are seasonally appropriate and feature Southwest landscapes and the Maine coast and Canadian Maritimes.

My Paintings.  In case you missed it, the studio clearance still goes on!  Get 50% off any Southwest painting over $300 with FREE shipping to the continental US.

My Books.  Each of these books contains useful demonstrations, tips and more for both the beginning plein air painter and the seasoned pro.  The most recent one is Beautiful Landscape Painting Outdoors: Mastering Plein Air, which features a dozen master artists offering demonstrations and instruction.

Sunday, December 3, 2023

Some New Panels for Oil Painting

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**Authentically Human! Not Written by AI**

"Circle of Light" 11x14 Oil - Available
I painted this on the 3mm ACM panel that had been prepped
with an oil ground.  I really liked the slight texture of the panel.
Using a knife and a Gamblin Gesso and Ground blade, I was
able to make the most of the texture.  (See farther down
for a close-up of the texture.)

While researching materials for a recent painting project, I came across a company that was new to me, Mako Art Supply. I was looking specifically for ACM panels prepped with a ground for oil painting.  (ACM stands for aluminum composite material, and one brand is Dibond.)   Mako, a company founded in 2022, makes exactly what I was looking for, so I contacted them about my project.

I was surprised when a box landed on my doorstep with a generous assortment of samples.  Inside was a set of 11x14 panels: a 3mm ACM panel prepped with an oil ground, another with acrylic gesso, a third unprimed, plus a Gatorfoam panel mounted with Claessen's 09 linen.  Each panel is beautifully crafted and finished with nice edges.

I've tried one of the panels so far – the oil ground one – and it has been a delight to work on.  It has a slightly textured surface that holds the paint well, and being an oil ground, it's not as absorbent as acrylic gesso, so I can easily wipe down areas to the "white" if I want to.  I'm looking forward to trying the others.  As for the unprimed panel, I'll be prepping it with Gamblin's Oil Ground.  Stay tuned!

Here are a few images of the panels.  By the way, if you're a first-time buyer, you can get 10% off the order with the code FIRSTMAKO10.

Backs of the four panels

Close-up of three of the panels.  Sorry I didn't
get a photo of the oil ground one, but I had
already painted on it by the time I decided to
write this post!

Detail of the "Circle of Light" painting.
You can see the slight texture of the panel coming through.

By the way, the 50% Studio Sale continues! You can get 50% off any painting over $300 with free shipping to the continental US.  For details, click here.