Thursday, April 16, 2015

Website Temporarily Offline

For those of you trying to get to my website,, my web host is temporarily offline due to a problem with its network provider. In the meantime, you can go to my mirror site:

I'll post a note here when the full site is up and running again.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Sizzling Reds in The Artist's Magazine

My article on reds for the oil painter, "Sizzling Reds," is in the latest issue of The Artist's Magazine.  I had a lot of fun writing this article and creating the demonstration paintings.  What I am most proud of, however, are the test swatches!  I sampled fifteen different reds with regard to masstone, undertone and tints and learned a lot about how each of these reds work.  (All the paints were courtesy of Gamblin Artists Colors.)

Get the June 2015 issue and look for "Brushing Up:  Sizzling Reds."  If it's not out just yet, it will  be, soon!

Friday, April 10, 2015

Looking Forward: Downeast Maine & Canadian Maritimes

Now that my Paint Sedona plein air painting workshop season has ended, I'm eager to get to my summer studio for my Paint Campobello workshops.  Campobello Island, New Brunswick, and Lubec, Maine, offer so much for the plein air painter.   Think lighthouses perched on rocky points, cobble beaches and bold cliffs, broad meadows and apple trees, working harbours and boats - and, of course, lobster! For me, there's nothing I enjoy more than painting on a bluff that overlooks one of the quiet bays.  Quite often, my only companions are a bald eagle overhead and maybe a whale breeching offshore.

This year, I am offering only nine (9) sessions.  Two sessions are already filled.  And keep in mind that I only take four (4) students at a time.  So, if you're interested, please don't wait to sign up.  For more details and to register, please visit

I hope you'll join me!  In the meantime, here are some photos from last summer:

Monday, April 6, 2015

A Look Back at this Past Season in Sedona: Plein Air Painting Workshops & More

Our time here in Sedona is just about up.  I have one more plein air painting workshop to teach before we pack up the house and head back to Campobello Island.  I thought I'd share with you some images from this past season in Sedona.  (By the way, I'm already taking signups for the October 2015-April 2016 Paint Sedona season.)  Enjoy!

The season started off with the Sedona Plein Air Festival...
(photo courtesy Kelli Klymenko)

...where I sold my big painting of the Alcantara Vineyard right off the easel.
The Handells (Albert and Jeanine) came to town...

...and Albert Handell taught a fantastic workshop.
I went on a couple of overnight painting trips with my friend, M.L. Coleman.
My plein air painting group had at least one paint-out a month in beautiful spot.
I had a one-man show in Sedona City Hall...

...and Her Honor, the Mayor, got to enjoy a few pieces in her office.
I sold another large piece to a happy collector.
I taught a four-day pastel-only, studio-only workshop that went so well I'm doing it again next year.
And, of course, I taught many outdoor workshops.  

I got to meet a lot of new people and make a lot of new friends!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Art Business: Name Change, Game Change - Update

The butterfly "chop" of The Artist Formerly Known as Whistler

I've had so much feedback on my question about changing my professional name that I felt I needed to write a followup post.  I don't have time to reply to each one.  But believe me, I do appreciate your response!

About half the comments were in favor of the change with the remainder dissenting.  Opinions were strong, whatever the stance.   Those in favor were mostly in alignment with my reasons for changing; for the others, the top issue was that I might confuse collectors and followers and hurt my continuing success as an artist.  Many came from women who have dealt with a name change because of marriage or divorce.

Several also gave suggestions.  Here are a few:

"Is this an April Fool's joke?"  Uh, no.  I posted the original blog post on April 3.

"I do think your existing name is very nice, though.  How about M. Chelsey Johnson?"  In this case, the reader misspelled my middle name—exactly what I am trying to avoid.  I'll add that this wasn't the only commentor who misspelled it.  Point proven.

"Have you thought about using a chop?" A chop is a seal that is used to stamp a painting, often used in place of a signature.  You'll see it on Asian artwork as pictographs or logograms.  Whistler used a butterfly.  But just putting my chop on a painting won't work.  A glyph can't be used in marketing when everyone else is using the Roman alphabet to create a pronounceable name.  The musical artist Prince found that changing his stage name to a symbol didn't work very well; so now we call him The Artist Formerly Known as Prince.

"The three-name-thing worked for John Singer Sargent and William Merritt Chase."  Yes, but today we have Twitter and the necessity of fitting one's name into a space the length of which is dictated by a software programmer raised in the era of MTV and ADD.  My Twitter handle is @mchesleyjohnson.  I'd prefer my whole brand, @michaelchesleyjohnson—but sorry, says Twitter, that's too long.

There are other many excellent comments, which you can find at the end of my previous post or on my Facebook studio page:

I do like my name.  It's a family name and has a great deal of personal meaning for me.  But as I wrote in my previous blog post, it has caused a number of problems professionally.  I do agree that it is hard to build a brand from scratch.  But I have a plan!

Friday, April 3, 2015

Art Business: Change Your Name, Change Your Game?

West Fork Reflections, 9x12 oil
Should I sign it as "Michael Chesley Johnson" or "Mac Braxton"?

I plan to change my name for plein air painting events, starting in 2016.  After reading the below, please feel free to share your opinion.  Is it a good idea, or isn't it?  Why or why not?

There are 30,192 men with the name "Michael Johnson" in the United States.  (My wife's name, on the other hand, is shared by only 18 women.)  Such a common name as mine has caused a number of problems over the years.  Back when I was writing fiction, my byline was sometimes erroneously given as "Michael Jordan" or "Michael Jackson."  As a painter, I found that sometimes people did get the name right, but got the wrong Michael Johnson.

One day, the BBC called me up asking if I would give permission to use one of my paintings in a film they were shooting over in the UK.  When they described it to me—a western with horses and cowboys, subjects which I've never painted—I sadly realized it wasn't mine.  But it had my name signed to it:  "Michael Johnson."  Over the years, galleries, collectors and yard sale browsers have asked me to value other cowboy art painted by that Michael Johnson, thinking the work was mine.  (I assume it's the same person, anyway; but who really knows, with the name being so common?) I finally found out a little about him in old newspaper article on an old website, but I couldn't find out much more.

My wife suggested that I make my name less common by using my middle name.  So, I became "Michael Chesley Johnson".  Even so, the middle name has been misspelled as "Chelsey," among other variants.  Another problem is that the name is long—21 letters, not including spaces.  This causes problems for plein air painting event organizers. Often, because my name is the longest of all the invited artists, they want to shorten it for advertising.  I've seen "Michael C. Johnson" and "M.C. Johnson."  They seem to have a hard time understanding that "Michael Chesley Johnson" is my brand.  Also, Twitter and other social media platforms don't allow such lengths for user names.

I'm beginning to think that many of these problems could be solved with a shorter, less common name.  Digging into my family tree, I've come up with one that fits the bill.

Meet Mac Braxton.  I've already started signing studio paintings with this name.  Starting in 2016, anywhere I appear as an artist, such as at plein air painting events, I'm planning to be Mac.  (I'm delaying on this because some festivals have already started advertising with my old name.)  I think the name is snappier, easy to remember, and according to my research, there aren't any other Mac Braxtons in the U.S.

Of course, there is work ahead of me to replace the old Michael Chesley Johnson.  You can imagine the issues:  websites and advertising need changing, plein air festival organizers need to be told, professional organizations need to be notified, signature memberships changed, and so on.  But, in the long run, I think it'll be worth it.  And I'll probably wish I'd done it 20 years ago.

But before I go down this path, I'm curious to know your thoughts.  Will changing my name change my game?

Sunday, March 29, 2015

What's It All About, Ozzy? or, The Future of Our Art

The "Cardboard Bernini" - Before

...and Going, Going, Going...

Most of us, when we embark on our art careers, hope that we will be making art for the ages.  We'd love it if our art would survive us to either enlighten, entertain or inspire future generations.  (Maybe there's a selfish desire for fame in there, too.)  My personal hero when I first dabbled in oil as a youngster was Monet.  Although he'd long been dead, the beauty of his paintings stirred something inside me—enough so that I, too, ached to pick up a paint brush.

But how long will my art last?  I use only archival materials that are acid-free.  I think Monet did, as well.  Still, our materials are wood, linen and linseed oil.  These are all organic things and will decay, however powerful the magic of art conservators.  Will our paintings be around in another 100 years?  1000 years?  10,000 years?  And what's more, will there be anyone around who cares?

Last night, I watched "The Cardboard Bernini," a short film about an art project created by James Grashow.  Grashow is interested in the process of making art.  In the film, he observes that the beginning of a work of art is often well-documented; its deterioration, however, is not.  He believes that the entire life cycle of art is important, and that the demise of a work of art is also worthy of study.  In this film, he decides to re-create Bernini's famous sculpture from 1622, "Poseidon", but not in marble.  He chooses instead highly-perishable cardboard.  The massive sculpture is three years in the making.  Four weeks after going on exhibit outdoors, it literally melts away in the rain.  The destruction, planned by the artist, is meant to raise existential questions about art and artists.

He's not the first artist to intentionally construct perishable works of art.  You may know of Andrew Goldsworthy, who assembles objects found in nature into exceedingly complex constructs, and then lets the forces of nature return them to their earlier, unassembled state.  Amy Adler painted a series of portraits in pastel, which she photographed.  Then she destroyed the original paintings and exhibited photographs of the portraits.  Both Goldsworthy and Adler are worth investigating to see what their purpose was in creating and then destroying, or allowing to be destroyed, their work.

These three artists don't seem to be concerned about "art for the ages."  Should I be, then?  Other than doing my best to choose archival materials, and in hoping that conservators will discover new techniques to make my paintings last, there's nothing more I can do.  I think of the Taliban, and their destruction of statues of the Buddha; of the Islamic State, and their destruction of archaeological sites; and of course, who can forget Shelley's famous poem, "Ozymandias"?
I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away."
So, what's it all about, Ozzy?  For me, making art is a vital, natural function no less than breathing and eating.  It's the making of art that's important to me; the paintings just document the process.  Others may see value in the paintings, but for me, the value is in the experience, and not necessarily in the paintings—although I certainly like to have them hanging on my wall and love it when people buy them!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Master Pastel Artist Doug Dawson Coming to Lubec, Maine

Doug Dawson

Master pastel artist Doug Dawson will be giving a mentoring workshop August 24-28, 2015, in Lubec, Maine.  Doug has been to the area several times before, and each time, he's had something new and wonderful to offer.  If you haven't worked with Doug before, he is a very generous instructor, and it's always a treat to work with him.  For details on the workshop, please visit

Doug is a founding board member for the The Art Students League of Denver and teaches 8 to 10 workshops around the US each year. He has received numerous awards from a number of different art organizations such as The Pastel Society of America, American Watercolor Society, Knickerbocker Artists, The National Academy of Western Art, Southeastern Pastel Society, Pastel Society of West Coast, Audubon Artists, Kansas Pastel Society, Pastel Society of the Southwest and the International Association of Pastel Societies. To honor his achievements, he was given the title of Master Pastelist by the Pastel Society of America and elected to the Master's Circle of the International Association of Pastel Societies. In 2008, he was named a Pastel Society of America Hall of Fame Honoree.

A mentoring workshop is a different experience from a typical painting workshop. There will be no demonstrations or lectures or personal help at your easel. Instead, you will paint along with Doug as a colleague or, if you prefer, watch as Doug paints. As your mentor, Doug will critique work and talk informally about painting. You can expect a very intense, "immersion" experience in some of the world's most scenic locations.

If you are new to Doug's work, below are a few examples.  If you'd like to see more, see his website,  I hope you'll join us!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Scotland Painting Retreat Filled! Waitlist Only

Stirling Castle, one of our destinations

As some of you may know, I have scheduled a painting retreat to Scotland June 12-18, 2016.  Good news!  This retreat has filled.  However, because the trip is still several months away, I have started a waitlist - someone may need to drop out.  So if you are interested, read on!

The retreat will be held at the Duchally Hotel & Country Estate in the glorious Perthshire countryside in central Scotland. Duchally is a timeshare complex and hotel in a beautiful rural setting on the outskirts of Auchterarder and within a mile of the world-famous Gleneagles Hotel.

Artist Margaret Evans, who lives in Scotland and hosts these retreats regularly, is our organizer.  She is intimately familiar with all the locations and has personally selected the best for our week.

Our itinerary will include:
I have much more detail on the retreat at

E-mail me at to be put on the waitlist.

Here's the nitty-gritty:
  • 7 night package £1170 per person per week based on twin sharing; includes breakfast and dinner plus daily transportation. 
  • Maximum of 12 students.
  • For single occupancy of double room add £165 per week (only 1 single is left as of this moment.) 
  • There is no "non-painter" discount, since this is a retreat with all of us traveling together, and not a workshop; non-painters pay the same price. 
  • Non-refundable deposit of $550 (note: US dollars, which is the deposit converted from £ ) per participant to secure rooms. 
  • Balance of £795 due 12 weeks before departure date. 
  • Cancellations after balances are paid cannot be refunded as monies are passed on to hotel and the organizer. 
  • Travel insurance is highly recommended. 
  • Airfare and travel arrangements are your responsibility. Transfers can be arranged to/from Glasgow or Edinburgh airports (included in the package.) 

** We also have the option of extending this for a second week (June 19-26) if we can get a minimum of 10 to commit with extra deposits**.  We will have a different itinerary for the second week for those who do both weeks.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Embarking on a Big Painting: The Finish

"Waterfall" 36x36 oil/canvas
Final State

In a recent post, I wrote about starting a large studio painting based on a variety of reference material.  The painting is now complete, and it's taken me six days to paint it.

First, I arranged all my reference material, as you see here.  The tablet holder is one of the best pieces of equipment I've bought lately.  It is very stable. By the way, one negative to using a tablet for photo references is that it's all too easy to check e-mail.  On the plus side, it's great for playing my Pandora playlist!

Day 1
Next, after toning my canvas with Gamblin's FastMatte transparent earth red and letting it dry, I blocked in the darks with a soft, three-inch brush, using raw umber thinned with Gamsol.   Where necessary, I "pushed" the raw umber toward the cool with ultramarine blue and toward the warm with cadmium red light.  As to the design of the block-in, I spliced together two different views made at two different times of year.  For the upper half, I used the waterfall pencil sketch I'd made in the winter; for the bottom, the 9x12 plein air sketch I made last spring.  You'll note that the composition is split in half at the waterline.  I did this intentionally because I wanted to give equal importance to what was above and below the surface.

Day 2

After the block-in, I went to work on the waterfall with a painting knife.  To me, this was the primary center of interest, and if I couldn't get it correct right from the start, there'd be no point continuing.  For this, I used only my pencil sketch for form and my 6x8 color sketch for color notes.

This would be a good point to mention the colors I used.  My palette consisted of all Gamblin paints:  ivory black, yellow ochre, raw umber, cadmium yellow light, cadmium red light, permanent alizarin, ultramarine blue and titanium-zinc white.  I also used a little Solvent-Free Gel for my  medium when I required a little extra looseness in the paint.

Day 3

Next, I brushed in the hillside to the right of the waterfall.  This is a more distant area in the scene, so I kept the painting more abstract; the contrast, low; and the color, cool.

Day 4

As I continued to paint other areas, I kept in mind how I wanted to lead the eye around.  In a way, I was working backwards from my center of interest along this path for the eye.  The next step was the little area of sunlit rocks and grasses on the left, connected to the waterfall by a warm, green passage; and this was followed by the submerged but warm rocks in the foreground.

Day 5
The area I saved for last was the upper left quadrant.  For much of the time, I honestly didn't know what needed to go there.  What's interesting is that the painting really worked with nothing there but the underpainting, so I knew whatever I added had to be dark with little contrast.  Shadowy trees and bushes were the obvious solution, and I used my photo references for that.  I added a transition between the waterfall and the clump of rocks and weeds on the left with a few highlit branches.

Day 6
After addressing that area, I felt the painting was nearing closure.  But as much as I liked the quiet feeling of the water,  it needed a little more interest.  I added some very soft reflections and ripples.  As a final touch, I added floating bubbles—tiny bits of pure white, applied by a knife just barely touching the surface.  The irregular bumps in the weave were just enough to pull the paint off the knife.

Below are some details shots, followed by the finished painting again.

"Waterfall" 36x36 oil/canvas, finished state

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