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

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Heading for Scotland - And I'd Like Your Help!

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**Authentically Human! Not Written by AI**

I'm heading to Scotland in September.  Interested in helping me get there?  Then please read my Substack at this link.

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Sunday, April 7, 2024

What Does "Painting to See" Mean?

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An explanation of what I mean by "painting to see."  Read it here on my Substack.

Saturday, March 30, 2024

Spring into your Studio!

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Exciting news for artists! I’m thrilled to be able to offer 20% OFF mentorship for your FIRST 2 MONTHS.

Sign up for my mentoring group at

👉 Use coupon code: friend_of_mcj 👈

👉 Find my mentorship group with @mastrius.official

💥 Get mentored by myself alongside a maximum of 8 other artists
💥 Grow your skills – FASTER and with more SUPPORT

ACT FAST! I can only offer this until April 12, 2024

🧑‍🎨 Here’s what you get with mentorship:
🖌 Tailor made guidance and support to help you meet your goals
🖌 Community and accountability through regular online meetings, where we address unique challenges and hurdles you face as an artist
🖌 Personalized assignments and technique demos to help broaden your skills

🚀 Are you ready to take your art to the next level?

🌐 MORE INFO: Visit @mastrius.official to join my mentorship group!

#artcareergrowth #buildyourartcareer #paintingmaster #emergingartist #artistmentor #artmentor #elevateyourart #learntogether #createtogether #artistnetwork #creativecommunity #artcommunity #mastriuscommunity #mastriusartist

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Upcoming Live Painting Demonstration

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Now that I’ve got broadband at my rural studio, I’m able to present live painting demonstrations. As part of my mentoring for Mastrius, I’m giving my first demonstration, in oil, on April 11th, Thursday, from 5-7 PM MDT. I hope to see you there!

Here are some details:

✅ Tickets are FREE with my exclusive coupon code: i_know_michael

🚩 INFO and SIGN UP at @mastrius.official or


THURSDAY, April 11, 2024 / 4–6pm PDT / 5–7pm MDT / 7–9pm EDT / 12am–2am BST (Friday) / 9am–11am AEST (Friday)

In this demonstration, you'll learn how to:

  • Start a painting fearlessly by trusting your instincts

  • Build reliable techniques for consistently strong work

  • Use effective tools, incl. a painting knife and soft plastic wedge

  • Explore and consider your own creative voice and motivation behind creating


🚩 Tickets are only $19 | FREE for Mastrius Members!

✅ Tickets are FREE with my exclusive coupon code: i_know_michael

🎙️ Event recording available for Mastrius Members only!

Sunday, March 24, 2024

Sunday, March 10, 2024

Thursday, February 29, 2024

Reminder: Meet the Mentor

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I just want to remind all my followers that you can join me for FREE in the Mastrius “Meet the Mentor” hour today, Thursday, February 29th, at 5 PM MT. (4 PM PT / 5 PM MT / 6 PM CT / 7 PM ET.) Join me at this link via Zoom.

During the program, I’ll be interviewed briefly, and then I’ll launch into my presentation on “Making Your Best Guess” in pastel. I hope you’ll join me!

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Join Me for my "Meet the Mentor" Session!

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Mark your calendars! On February 29th, Thursday, at 5 pm Mountain Time, I’ll be live on Zoom and interviewed by Mastrius, the group that I am now mentoring for. You can join me for FREE at this link at that time:

(4 PT / 5 MT / 6 CT / 7 ET)

The program will last an hour, and I’ll be talking about what I do, why I do it and how I do it. Then, I’ll give a short demonstration of a painting technique that I call “making your best guess.” Are you a painter and frustrated with that first step in making color choices? In this technique, I show you how making an exact choice doesn’t matter! Just make your best guess, and take comfort in the knowledge that you can adjust that choice in the next phase. The demonstration will be in pastel.

Also, the program is an introduction to me as a Master Artist and mentor for Mastrius. Starting March 10th, I’ll begin mentoring up to 10 aspiring artists. If you’re looking for guidance, consider this online group mentoring program. You can find out more details about my program here.

I hope to see you “live” via Zoom on the 29th!

Sunday, February 18, 2024

I'm Now Over on Substack!

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Did I fail to mention that I'm now over on Substack?  If you're an email subscriber to this blog, I've already moved you over to it to make sure you get every post, uninterrupted.  If you're viewing this blog through its RSS feed, you'll want to change your feed reader to go instead to:

Best, though, is if you simply subscribe either at or here:

I offer both FREE and PAID subscriptions.  Paid subscribers get monthly podcasts and paid-only posts.  Although I may not add new posts to my Blogger blog, I'll keep it up for awhile longer.  Thanks!

Sunday, February 11, 2024

What is Casein?

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Here's my set of casein colors.  Also, I highly
recommend using a Sta-Wet palette to keep the paints moist.

At this point, most of you should be familiar with gouache.  It seems like every painter out there on social media is playing with this opaque, water-based medium.  But do you know about casein?  If you've heard of "milk paint"—once used to paint houses in the 1800s—it's basically the same thing, but with pigment.  This old medium is edging back into the spotlight, and deservedly so.

Casein is similar to gouache in most of its properties except one.  Made with a binder derived from milk, it can't be re-wet once dry, a property which, besides casein's cheapness, made it useful for house painting.  (A dilute solution of ammonia will help clean up any dried-on paint.)  The fact that the surface is durable and can be varnished makes it perhaps a superior medium to gouache.  It should still be framed under glass, though, if the painting is done on paper.  

By the way, casein tends to have a slight odor, which some artists find unpleasant.  I consider its smell, and in fact that of any art material, to be simply part of the magic that goes into making our art.

I first found out about casein from Stephen Quiller, whom I consider the master of water media.  Having painted in it for many years, he finally wrote a book about it, Casein Painting with Stephen Quiller.  He also helped Jack Richeson develop a new line of Shiva casein colors.  (The line is named for artist Ramon Shiva, who created the first casein paints for artists in the 1930s.)  With Stephen's encouragement, I picked up a set of colors and got to work.  You might give it a try.

If you'd like to learn more about casein, the Richeson Art web site has some excellent information here.

Thursday, February 8, 2024

Announcing a New Mentoring Program

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I’m very excited to share with you some good news. Mastrius has selected me to be a Master Artist for its excellent mentoring program. If you haven’t heard of Mastrius, it’s a learning platform for artists with the mission of taking them to the next level in both craft and career. What’s more, it specializes in mentoring, working with both aspiring and emerging artists as well as more accomplished ones. When I researched the company and interviewed, I was very impressed with the program and the good reviews given by participants—and mentors, too.

In my online program, I’ll be conducting group sessions each month, with no more than ten participants, in a non-competitive, mutually-supportive atmosphere. Here’s what I offer:

Our group will focus on helping artists get to where they need to go–which is not necessarily where they think they need to go! We’ll look at recent samples of everyone’s work, listen to concerns and goals of participants, and then determine a mutually-agreed-upon path forward for each individual. As each month goes by, I’ll critique assignments and give further guidance. Because I will be working with aspiring artists, we’ll pay particular attention to some of the basics—design, color and finish—and also to process and technique. We’ll even get into the business and marketing side of things as needed.

I invite you to learn more about my program at this link. Besides our monthly sessions, you’ll have a monthly Q&A session with me, access to ongoing chats, and lots more.

I hope you’ll join us! But don’t wait to long, as my mentoring program starts March 10.

Sunday, February 4, 2024

Useful Practice: Copying the Masters

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Who's the artist?
(, but I'm copying John Singer Sargent)

Copying masterworks is nothing new.  Art students have done it for as long as there have been art students.  It's a useful practice, because it helps you understand the master's process, and it can teach you about composition, color use and more.

Recently, I started taking an online Schoolism course from Nathan Fowkes, one called "Environment Design."  (Perhaps more about that in a future post.)  As one of the first exercises, he asks the student to copy ten paintings that the student admires, paying special attention to simplifying the painting and to exaggerating what each painting's about.

As much as I'd love to go to a museum and plop down my easel in front of a beautiful painting, I don't live anywhere near one.  Intead, I went to my collection of art books—these are big coffee table books that a weightlifter might use to train with—and laid them out on the workbench in my studio.  Paging through them, I put yellow sticky notes on paintings that I've admired over the years.  I went through a lot of yellow sticky notes.

Next, I pulled out my casein paints.  (Not sure what casein is?  I'll write about that next.)  As I worked on each copy, I propped up the book—not an easy task when it seems to weigh 20 pounds—and got to work.  Each copy was small, less than 9x12, and quick, no more than an hour, to avoid having time to add detail.  

With each copy, I posted an image of it on social media and asked followers to guess who I'd copied.  Most folks got them right, but one puzzled all but a friend of mine, a collector who knows his art. I thought I'd share my copies here, along with the names of the artists.  There were so many more I could copy, but I want to move on to the next section of Fowkes' course.

What did I learn from this exercise?  I'm not going to tell you.  Try making some copies yourself, and see what you learn. 

Yes, another Sargent.

Joaquin Sorolla

Granville Redmond
 (A California impressionist, but not a household name.)

Eduoard Manet

Sunday, January 28, 2024

New Plein Air Painting Workshop: Amarillo, Texas

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Georgia O'Keeffe and friends at the Palo Duro Club, at the head of Palo Duro Canyon,
perhaps between 1912 and 1913, when she first went to Texas, or between 1916 and 1918.

(Courtesy Georgia O'Keeffe Museum)

Did you know that Georgia O'Keeffe once taught school in Canyon, Texas, and painted in nearby Palo Duro Canyon?  I invite you to follow in her footsteps in a three-day plein air painting workshop with me this October.  Sponsored by the Amarillo Art Institute in conjunction with its plein air festival, the workshop will be based at the canyon, where we'll explore all of its geological wonders in paint.

Palo Duro Canyon, which has been likened to Grand Canyon, is known for its vibrant red rock formations and rugged cliffs.  As the second-largest canyon in the United States, it offers stunning panoramic views, diverse terrain and a rich palette of earthy colors. Home to much wildlife and native flora, the canyon provides a serene atmosphere for visitors.  Accessible trails wind through the canyon, offering opportunities for hiking and exploration.  The ever-changing landscape, from spring blooms to winter tranquility, make it an ideal destination for nature enthusiasts, hikers and artists seeking inspiration in its natural beauty. 

The workshop, which takes place October 17-19, 2024, from 9-4 each day, will be held at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.  Although we will have a studio available to us in Amarillo at the Art Institute, we will be in the field as much as possible.  I welcome every level of painter, from beginner to advanced, and all media.  Each day I'll start by introducing you to the fundamentals of plein air painting, followed by a full demonstration, after which you will have plenty of time to paint.  As you paint, I'll go from easel to easel, offering help.  Then, if time permits, I'll give a second demonstration in the afternoon.

I hope you'll join me for three days of artistic inspiration amid the vibrant hues and majestic landscapes of Palo Duro Canyon, as we paint together, capturing the beauty of nature on canvas.  To sign up, please visit the Amarillo Art Institute web site at this link.  

Sunday, January 21, 2024

A More Portable Gouache Easel for Plein Air

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This fixed-horizontal setup worked well for me.

As you know, I like to sketch in gouache on my lap, and I also like to sketch when we have snow. Recently, we received about 14", and eager to paint, I dug out the ski poles, strapped on my snowshoes, and stuffed my kit into a small backpack. But I knew I wouldn't be able to sit to sketch—any suitable rocks and fallen trees were deep in snow. So, I decided to stand.

But wanting to keep things light, I chose not to take a tripod. Instead, I took a small pochade box cleverly designed to be used without a tripod; it hangs from your neck by a strap and requires balancing the box on your belly. I'd used it a couple of times for oil painting but found it awkward. You might then wonder why I chose this box. I thought: With the right clamps, shouldn't I be able to juggle the important pieces securely, the watercolor journal, the tray of pan gouache, a water jar? Truth be told, though, I really didn't want to lug out a tripod along with the snowshoes, poles and backpack.

The words "secure" and "juggle" turned out to be contradictory. Most of the time, my goal was to keep the tray of gouache from flipping off into the deep snow and managing the water jar so it didn't wash over my journal.

After getting over the emotional disappointment, I decided that painting in deep snow really requires a tripod. But I wanted a set-up lighter than the tripods I usually mount a pochade box to.

Poking through my Closet of Many Boxes, I found enough parts to put together a very light and portable set-up. I stole parts from an old pochade box, a French easel, a plein air umbrella and a Stanrite 100 easel. I've put some pictures below so you can see how it's assembled. The project took just a couple of hours—most of the time was taking things apart to see if they had what I needed—and only a screwdriver and drill.

This is the handle of my plein air umbrella,
attached to the hexagonal mast of myStanrite 100
easel. I had to drill a hole in the handle
for the screw and knob assembly. 
Let's call this thing the "mount."

This is the palette from my French easel.  I've
attached an adapter plate, which I
requisitioned from an older pochade box,
for the mount (pictured above.)

Here I've flipped over the palette so you can see the
plate with the screw hole for the mount.

The mounting plate on palette
with mount attached.

The hexagonal mast of the mount
inserted into the Stanrite easel.

Final setup with gear attached.

The first 5x8 gouache I did with this setup.
Worked perfectly!

Sunday, January 14, 2024

Plane Tickets: Check!

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Skye Sheep / 6x8 Oil
One of my "gift" paintings for supporters.
We met this little Blackface sheep on the Isle of Skye

Our trip to Scotland is getting closer to reality--we recently bought our plane tickets!  As I write, we are poring over a map and studying ScotRail routes to determine exactly where we might spend our four weeks.  (By the way, I'm finding Google Maps to be very helpful; give it a destination, and it will give me the different ScotRail routes and times to get there.)  Our next step it to start making lodging reservations. Excited? Yes!

As I've mentioned before, I'd love your support.  My goal for this trip is to gather scads of reference material--color studies in gouache, pencil sketches and photos--for a series of studio paintings plus a book.  How can you support me?  There are two ways:

1. You can pre-buy a 6x8 oil painting of Scotland.  I've offered this for past trips, and the feedback has been wonderful.  After I return from my trip, I'll embark on creating a series of these small paintings, and for $300, you can have your pick of them.  They will be nicely framed, and I will ship them for free to the continental US.  (For elsewhere, I'll charge you actual shipping.)

2.  You can pre-buy my new book (signed!) AND get a 6x8 painting of Scotland.  Same deal as above with the paintings, but the book will be shipped separately and a bit later, as I need to not just make paintings for it but also write it and get it printed.  The book will be similar to my past Through a Painter's Brush books, filled with beautiful images of Scotland and essays on my travels.  You can have both of these, the painting and the book, for only $335. 

Here's a draft cover of the new book

 Although I've set up a Patreon page where you can make monthly payments (price is as bit higher because Patreon charges me 5%), you are also welcome to pay the full amount up-front (without the Patreon fee!) For Patreon, go here, and to send me a full payment via Zelle, Paypal or personal check, email me and I will tell you how to do it.

Below I've included images of some of the past 6x8 paintings of Scotland I've made.  I'm looking forward to this project, and I hope you'll join me in the journey.

Sunday, January 7, 2024

Scotland: Kilt Rock, 36x12 Oil

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Kilt Rock, 36x12 Oil
Read on for details! Also, it's available.

This winter, I'm working on some large paintings of Scotland.  (These are for my upcoming book, which will be part of my Through a Painter's Brush series.)  "Kilt Rock" was a fun one to paint, as I wanted to turn a broad, 1:3 format on its head to enhance the somewhat unsettling feeling of the sheer, 180-foot plummet of Mealt Falls, a sea cliff waterfall on the Isle of Skye.  Kilt Rock is the name of the cliff behind the falls.

Here are some progress shots with some explanatory text.  Click on images for bigger versions.

I first made a 1/2-scale design sketch in vine charcoal on newsprint.  You'll note this image is sideways—but that's how I sketched it!  Working with this 90-degree shift helped me see the simple shapes in the abstraction, rather than thinking of shapes as "cliff," "waterfall," and so on.

When I took my reference photos, the day was overcast with a cool light.  I wanted to keep that cool-light effect, so I started off by toning my 36x12 cradled panel with quinacridone magenta.  I also outlined my shapes and blocked in the rocky cliffs with the same.

Moving to viridian and phthalo emerald, I blocked in the grassy areas.  At this point, the magenta was looking rather lurid, so I toned it down by scumbling on some viridian.  Taking a clean brush dampened with Gamsol, I removed paint where I wanted to reshape the waterfall.  I also lightened some of the values elsewhere by scrubbing down these areas with a paper towel.  (No, I don't use Viva—just whatever's cheap and comes in a "select-a-size" version.)

Now I was ready to tone down the color, so I pulled out my set of Portland Greys.  Every mixture from this point on had some grey added to it.  Again, I kept "cool light" in mind as I mixed and painted. By the way, you'll note that, on the horizon, a wedge of land has sneaked in.  This wasn't in my original design.  It has become an unfortunate habit, no doubt picked up while painting countless seascapes with boring, empty horizon lines, that I seem to want something there.  In the final version, I removed it, and I think the painting is the better for it. See the image at the top of the post for the finished version.

Here are the colors I used in this painting:  titanitum-zinc white, cadmium yellow light, naphthol scarlet, alizarin crimson, quinacridone magenta, cerulean blue hue, viridian, phthalo emerald, Portland grey (all three values.)  All colors and mediums are by Gamblin; I used Galkyd Gel at every step so each layer would be dry by the next day.  Brushes used are Rosemary sable flats, except for the initial block-in, when I used cheap synthetic flats to scrub in the color.