Thursday, February 11, 2016

Artist-in-Residence for Goldenstein Gallery and L'Auberge de Sedona

Thunder Mountain Shadows, 11x14 oil by Michael Chesley Johnson
Available at Goldenstein Gallery

As part of my new relationship with Goldenstein Gallery in Sedona, I'll be participating this year in its Artist-in-Residence program.  The AIR program is a cooperative effort by the gallery and L'Auberge de Sedona, one of the town's most scenic and elegant resorts, to present to free, educational opportunities with gallery artists.

For me, this involves demonstrating once a month at L'Auberge down on the banks of Oak Creek.  If you've been following my blog over the years, I've painted there regularly for the Sedona Plein Air Festival.  I'm looking forward to setting up my easel by the creek's quiet, sun-dappled waters and under the sycamores again.  If you haven't been to L'Auberge, you're in for a treat!  Plus, there is a very fine restaurant right on the water.

I'll be demonstrating this Sunday (February 14, 2016, Valentine's Day) from 12-2 by the creekside restaurant.  I hope you'll join us at 301 L'Auberge Lane, Sedona, Arizona.  (Their website is

Also, yesterday I delivered two more paintings to the gallery.  I've added their images to this post, but it's always good to see them in person, which you can do at Goldenstein Gallery, 70 Dry Creek Road, Sedona, Arizona.  (The website is

Warrior 16x20 oil by Michael Chesley Johnson
Available at Goldenstein Gallery


Monday, February 8, 2016

Painting the Ocean While in the High Desert – and a Poll!

Choice A:
"Afternoon at Otter Cliff"
12x24 oil/panel by Michael Chesley Johnson

Choice B:
"Toward Otter Point"
16x20 oil/canvas by Michael Chesley Johnson
Vote for your favorite of the two!  Scroll down to the end of this post for the poll.

This may sound odd, but while enjoying hikes in the high desert in Red Rock Country this winter, I've been spending my studio time painting coastal Maine.

Why? This year marks two important anniversaries for the National Park Service.  First, the NPS turns 100.  To celebrate, the Grand Canyon Association is asking artists who have been invited to the annual plein air event this fall to create one studio painting each that will feature a favorite park.  I've spent a great deal of time painting Acadia National Park in Maine, so I've chosen to highlight one of my special spots there.  It's a view of the famous 110-foot Otter Cliff.  (More about that below.)

A second anniversary is that of Acadia National Park itself.  It, too, enjoys a centennial this year.  Although it didn't become a National Park until 1919, it was established as Sieur de Monts National Monument on July 8, 1916, and that is the anniversary being celebrated.  As part of the celebration, Argosy Gallery in Bar Harbor has asked me to create two dozen small paintings of scenes within the Park.  I'm having a lot of fun selecting locations.  Some you would expect, such as ocean views, but some you might not, such as swamps and gate houses. These 6x8 oils will be exhibited and sold starting July 1st at the gallery.  An opening reception is scheduled for that day; I will post details later plus images of the paintings once they're done.

Now back to Otter Cliff.  When Samuel de Champlain first explored the area in 1604, his ship struck a submerged rock just off the prominence, forcing him to spend the winter in a nearby cove making repairs.  Three hundred years later, in the early part of the 20th century, Otter Cliff was home to an important naval radio station.  John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who donated a good deal of land to create the Park, asked the Navy to move it.  The Navy agreed to include the parcel of land in his donation, so long as he would build another one, which he did on nearby Schoodic Point, across Frenchman Bay.  Today, Otter Cliff is perhaps best well-known as a spectacular headland.  Rock-climbers love scaling its 110-foot, nearly-vertical face.  Although I'm not a rock-climber, I've always enjoyed walking the trail or painting a view of it from my perch among the granite slabs that line the shore.

Although the Park is sometimes subject to awe-inspiring storms, I prefer to paint quieter versions of this part of the coast.  With that in mind, I made two paintings featuring Otter Cliff.  One is a more panoramic 12x24 format; the other is a more square 16x20.  I like them both so much I can't decide which one to send to the Grand Canyon exhibition.  If you have a moment, please vote down below.  Images of the paintings are embedded in this post. Thank you!

UPDATE:  The public has decided!  Choice B, "Toward Otter Point," will be going to the Kolb Studio at Grand Canyon this fall for the exhibit.

Some of the studies and sketches I made
while working on the two Acadia NP paintings.
Here are the poll results:

Overwhelming, the public voted for "B - Toward Otter Point"

By the way, if you'd like to paint on Mount Desert Island, home to Acadia National Park, I will be teaching my annual plein air workshop in Bernard, Maine, this fall, September 26-29. For details, please visit

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

New Work at Goldenstein Gallery

Slide Rock Fault 16x20 oil/canvas by Michael Chesley Johnson
Available at Goldenstein Gallery

Waterfall 36x36 oil/canvas by Michael Chesley Johnson
Available at Goldenstein Gallery

I'm happy to announce that I am now represented in Sedona by Goldenstein Gallery.  Goldenstein is the premier contemporary art gallery in northern Arizona and has a fantastic collection of paintings, sculpture and furnishings.  I recently delivered two new paintings, images of which I've posted here.  You'll note that "Waterfall" is the featured painting for my book, Outdoor Study to Studio:  Take Your Plein Air Paintings to the Next Level.  "Slide Rock Fault" is a piece I painted on-location at Slide Rock State Park.

Goldenstein Gallery is located at 70 Dry Creek Road Sedona, AZ 86336 / 928- 204-1765 /

By the way, I am also part of the gallery's Artist-in-Residence program.  For this program, I will be demonstrating at L'Auberge de Sedona on Sunday, February 14 (Valentine's Day), from 12-2.  L'Auberge is Sedona's favorite luxury creekside resort located at 301 L'Auberge Lane in Uptown.  I'll be demonstrating again on Sunday, March 13, and Sunday, April 17, in case you miss the first one.  The resort's website is

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Who Wants to Paint in Tuscany with Me?

"Firenze" by Simon.zfn - Simone Zuffanelli.
Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -

When you think of Tuscany, what comes to mind?  Wine, art, history—well, that's enough to get me there!

Tuscany is the birthplace of the Renaissance and was home to many artists of that time such as Da Vinci and Michelangelo, not to mention their great patrons, the Medicis.  Today, it's famous for beautiful towns and cities, vineyards and wineries, and museums and restaurants.  It's a popular destination for painters, as well.

With that in mind, I am pleased to announce that I will be leading a painting retreat in Tuscany June  16-23, 2018 in conjunction with Artravelitaly.

We'll be housed at the historic villa of Fattoria Bacìo.  In the heart of the Chianti hills, 20 miles from Florence and 3 miles from Certaldo, you will find our hilltop retreat nestled in 340 acres of olive groves and vineyards.  Fattoria Bacìo, with its 19th century villa and adjoining farm-houses, has been lovingly restored in an authentic Tuscan style.

Fattoria Bacìo
With excursions to the medieval settlement of Certaldo alto, Siena and its spacious piazza, the street market at San Gimignano, the hamlet of Barberino, along with a special visit to the ceramic studio of La Meridina, there'll be plenty to see and paint.  But it won't be all about painting.  This will be a true retreat with lots of time built in for sightseeing and enjoying the culture.

Price: Starts at € 2,200, which includes lodging, transportation to and from the airport in Florence, daily transportation to locations and all meals.  (That's about $2400 USD at today's exchange rate.)

If you're interested,  please follow this link for a downloadable brochure and contact to me to get on the list.

I hope you'll join us!

Certaldo alto
By Davide Papalini (Own work)
CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Sienna Piazza
By O.Strama (Aufgenommen im August/September 2004 von O.Strama)
[GFDL ( or
CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
"San Gimignano" by No machine-readable author provided.
RicciSpeziari~commonswiki assumed (based on copyright claims). -
No machine-readable source provided.
Own work assumed (based on copyright claims)..
 Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Plein Air Painting Essential Tools: Painting Knife, Revisited

In a previous post on essential tools for plein air painting, I wrote about a new painting knife I have. The RGM Ideal Line is stamped from a single piece of metal with no welds to break.  The only problem is that the handle is cold and uncushioned bare metal.  I must have a heavy hand because it cuts into my palm.

A reader (thank you, Angela!) suggested a couple of options. Not having any of the materials handy (Plasti-Dip or bicycle handlebar tape), we tried wrapping the handle with "ouchless tape."  (Thank you, Trina!)  I was surprised at how just a couple of layers improved the situation dramatically.  What's more, the tape holds fast through the most vigorous knifing, and it's easy to remove and replace when soiled.

Here's the knife, followed by a photo of the handle wrapped.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Plein Air Painting Essential Tools: Camera

Outdoor painters working before Joseph Nicéphore Niépce invented photography in 1827 would argue that the camera is not an essential field tool.  But once cameras became portable enough to lug into the field on the back of a mule, painters realized the benefits.  Albert Bierstadt, among others, used photographs to assist in creating his barn-sized masterpieces.

Even some of today's painters will say that a camera's not essential.  I agree.  (Other than brushes, paint and canvas, what else do you absolutely need?)  But it's very handy.  Here's what you can do with one:

  • The viewfinder can be used to crop an overwhelming vast scene to one more manageable.
  • Most cameras will convert a color image of your scene to greyscale so you can see value relationships better.
  • A photo taken of the scene just before painting can provide a reference or "memory jog" if you need to adjust your painting in the studio, especially with regard to details.
  • If you plan to create a larger, more complicated studio piece, you can take photos of different elements of the scene that can be combined.
  • You can take photos of different stages of your painting; you may find you preferred an earlier stage better, and perhaps you can "undo" some of the later work in the studio.
  • Field photos posted on Instagram and elsewhere may make you a rock star among plein air painters.

I'm sure there are other benefits, and please feel free to add them in the comments.  But I would also offer the following cautionary statements:

  • Cameras don't have the excellent color sensitivity of the human eye and sometimes distort color.  (Yes, even if you properly set the custom white balance.)
  • Values are generally distorted.  If the camera takes its light meter reading off the lights, the shadows will be too dark and dense; if it takes the reading off the darks, the light areas will be blown-out.
  • Perspective is distorted, especially in cameras with small, cheap lenses (e.g. point-and-shoots) and when zooming in or out.

They are, however, great for detail and as a memory aid.  This is what I use my camera for.

Today, you don't need a mule to carry your camera.  Point-and-shoots are small enough to fit in your shirt pocket.  And should you forget your camera, you probably have a cell phone with you that will work in a pinch.

You can find more helpful tips and tools in my book, Backpacker Painting:  Outdoors with Oil & Pastel, available at Amazon from this link.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Plein Air Painting Essential Tools: Red Filter

Having trouble figuring out value relationships in the field?  A red filter lets you see the landscape in shades of red.  It makes it easier for the painter to see what's light and what's dark by removing the issue of color.  You end up comparing light and dark values of reds only, which is much easier than comparing a full gamut of colors.  A red filter (shown here), or my personal favorite, a fashionable pair of red secret decoder glasses, is just the ticket.

See how the world looks through the filter?

Naked eye

Through a red filter

But there's a danger in using a red filter.  Red in a scene will appear much lighter, leading you to make mistakes in your value analysis.  Look what happens when you look at red through the filter:

Naked eye

Red filter

What's worse, red also makes green and blue look darker!  So, use the red filter with a degree of caution.  At best, I consider it a "training wheel" for beginning plein air painters.  Use it if you have to, but then train yourself to analyze values with the unaided eye.

You can find more helpful tips and tools in my book, Backpacker Painting:  Outdoors with Oil & Pastel, available at Amazon from this link.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

More Paintings on the Pumphouse Studio Gallery Blog

Tortilla Lady 9x12 oil by Michael Chesley Johnson
Available on Pumphouse Studio Gallery Blog

In case you missed my post, I am now offering for sale demos and sketches from my Arizona inventory in my Pumphouse Studio Gallery Blog.  I'm a productive painter, and now it's time to clear out space for some newer work.

These pieces are personally hand-picked and some of my favorites but priced to sell.  They will be shipped unframed to keep the price even lower.  Shipping within the lower 48 states is included!

One of the best ways to find out about these paintings
is to subscribe to the blog feed via e-mail, below.  You can also see them posted in the right-hand column of this blog.  (If you get this post via e-mail, you won't see it.)  Thank you, and perhaps one of these will find its way happily into your home!

Enter your email address to subscribe to Pumphouse Studio Gallery Blog:

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Saturday, January 23, 2016

Plein Air Painting Essential Tools: Sunblock or Sun Gear

If you're part of the average demographic for plein air painters, you probably already have skin damage from sun exposure.  According to PleinAir Magazine's media kit for advertisers, 95% of its  readership is over 40 and 54% over 60.  Who didn't spend all summer vacation as a teen working on a tan?  And each time you go out with your painting buddies, you're most likely getting at least another two hours of sun on your hands and face.

But "melanoma" and "squamous cell carcinoma" don't have to be part of your plein air painting vocabulary.  Using sunblock or wearing clothing that gives UV protection can go a long way to minimizing unsightly wrinkle build-up and visits to the oncologist.

There are two types of sunblock.  One contains a metal product—titanium or zinc oxide—that reflects light, while the other contains an organic chemical—usually oxybenzone—that aborbs the skin-damaging wavelengths of light.  If you do the research (see this Wikipedia article), you'll find that all of these work to some degree, but have pros and cons.  A few years ago, it was learned that one of these organic compounds actually becomes carcinogenic upon exposure to sunlight.

I do use an SPF 50+ sunblock, especially on my hands if not wearing nitrile gloves.  But an option I like better is clothing that blocks sun.  I have a hat from Coolibar that is rated in the UPF 50+ range, and there are protective shirts available, as well.  Here's the Coolibar site:

And don't forget that you can burn on a foggy or overcast day, too.  A good deal of ultraviolet radiation penetrates cloud cover.  You'll still want to wear sunblock (or a sunhat and gloves) on these days.

Okay, now I'll stop playing mother hen.

You can find more helpful tips and tools in my book, Backpacker Painting:  Outdoors with Oil & Pastel, available at Amazon from this link.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Plein Air Painting Essential Tools: Gloves and Finger Cots

Finger cots

For painters, hand and fingers are as important as eyes.  All the magic happens at the end of the arm.

For a long time, I went painting in both oil and pastel without any protection.  One problem I noticed, especially with pastel, is that my fingers and nails began to dry out and crack after only a day or so.  My fingers actually hurt when trying to paint.  I tried using a barrier cream like Gloves in a Bottle, and although it does work, I didn't like the fact that in the field I couldn't thoroughly wash it off at snacktime.  Who wants to peel and eat an orange with that stuff still on?

Long ago, I worked in restaurants.  At one establishment, we had a bartender who wore finger cots during his shift.  He said that squeezing lemons for drinks made his fingers crack otherwise.  In retrospect and after with my experience with pastel, I am completely sympathetic.  I try to make sure I have a little bag of finger cots in my backpack before I head out.

Finger cots come in different sizes and colors.  Most pharmacies have them, and you can also get them online.  If you're careful, you can also reuse them once or twice before they rip.

I paint with gloves, too.  I prefer the nitrile gloves to the latex; latex can cause an allergic reaction in some people.  But gloves do make my hands sweat.  If I'm painting in pastel, I prefer the finger cots; if I'm painting in oil, I use the gloves.  Although oil painting doesn't make my fingers dry out, some of the paints stain and some contain toxic metals that might be absorbed through cuts.

Remembering to wear gloves or finger cots takes discipline, of course.

Nitrile gloves

You can find more helpful tips and tools in my book, Backpacker Painting:  Outdoors with Oil & Pastel, available at Amazon from this link.

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