Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Two Objectives

While I'm traveling for the next few weeks, I'm re-posting some of my older blog posts.  Here is my next re-post, from May 25, 2008.

Going out to paint yesterday, I had two objectives. I wanted to demonstrate a "disciplined palette," where I keep my mixtures organized by light and cool, and also dark and warm. Second, I wanted to show how one could do several quick sketches from a single spot if it is rich in material. I picked a comfortable location by my father-in-law's vegetable garden, which overlooks a forsythia hedge to Friar's Bay.

I took an 8x10 panel and divided it in half with a 1/2"-wide strip of artist's tape, which gave me two 4.75"x8" rectangles. I limited myself to 30 minutes for each sketch. In the first one, the sun shone in all its glory. But 30 minutes later, when I started the second, clouds swept in and it began to sprinkle. You can really see the difference in the quality of light in these two pieces.

"Thirty Minutes"
8x10 diptych, oil, en plein air
by Michael Chesley Johnson

Here's the actual setup:

Guerrilla Painter 9x12 Pochade Box

I took a shot of my palette after I finished the first one. It shows how I managed to keep my mixtures organized. In the heat of the moment, it's easy to forget that staying organized will give you cleaner mixtures and make it possible to compare one with the next.

(First posted May 25, 2008)

Monday, April 25, 2016

Goodbye, Sedona - Until the Fall

Trina and I are now on our way, heading for eastern parts.  Just before we left, we hit one of our favorite trails in West Sedona.  Trina took a picture of me, which gives you an idea of the scenery we've been enjoying this year.

We'll be back in the fall, just in time for the Sedona Plein Air Festival.

I would here like to give my thanks to Goldenstein Gallery and all the great people that work there.  I just started showing with the gallery, and they've already sold a painting of mine.  If you're in Sedona and would like to see my work in person, please visit them at 70 Dry Creek Road.  Above is a panorama of the gallery with a beautiful view of Thunder Mountain behind it.

While we're on the road, I'll be re-posting some old (but valuable!) blog posts as well as updates on our travels.  It won't be long, though, before we arrive on Campobello Island, where I'll be teaching plein air painting workshops in Maine.  Happy trails to us!

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Avoiding Slipped Values

While I'm traveling for the next few weeks, I am re-posting some of my older blog posts.  With that in mind, here is my next re-post, from May 30, 2008.

Sometimes I like to premix my values. I do this especially if I find a scene that might give me some trouble with slipping values. Such a scene is one where trees cast large areas of dense shadow surrounded by strong sun. The shadows usually show bits of sunlight breaking through. Also, a great deal of light bounces into these shadows from nearby sunlit objects. You may get a good fix on the value relationships initially, but as the sun moves, the bits of sunlight come and go, and the bounced light can get brighter or dimmer. Unconsciously, you perceive these shifts, and you will try to capture the change without realizing you are doing so. This can make for a painting full of slipped values.

Here's a demonstration I did yesterday. First, my premixed values. I don't usually use a paper palette, but I wanted to create a grid for my darks, mid-darks, mid-lights and lights. (You can click on any image for a bigger version.)

Next, here's the first layer of paint applied with a knife.

Finally, the finished painting. I ended up never getting to the brushes and did it entirely with a knife. Thanks to my premixed values, I was able to keep the values from shifting, and the painting represents the original values closely.

"Yellow Morning"
8x10, oil, en plein air
by Michael Chesley Johnson
(First posted May 30, 2008)

Tuesday, April 19, 2016


While I'm traveling for the next few weeks, I thought you might enjoy reading some of my older blog posts.  Not everyone's aware of the over 1200 posts I've written over the years, many of which contain good information on both plein air and studio painting.  With that in mind, here is my first re-post, from September 3, 2006.

A still life painter uses a box to contain his oranges, apples and pears as he paints. This box gives him more control over lighting. But it also serves another purpose. It separates the arrangement from distracting backgrounds and the clutter of the studio.

Lobster Pound, Mulholland Light
8x10 oil by Michael Chesley Johnson
Private Collection

The plein air painter has no such box. Whatever his subject, it sits in a world that writhes with distractions. Another interesting tree-shape, a building with a curious door, a colorful swath of meadow -- all things he didn't see at first, and all of them just outside his chosen frame -- compete for a place in the painting.

If we plein air painters had such a box, fewer of our paintings would go astray. If we could carry out to the field, say, a duck blind on wheels, and paint inside that looking out, we might have better luck. But since "portable" is our motto, we must seek a better option. That option is the very portable one that consists of sheer will power. It's the ability to give up what else we would like to include and to stick with our first choice.

Where I live, which is by the broad ocean with breathtaking vistas of sea cliffs, I am often tempted to take in an extended range worthy of Albert Bierstadt. But when I set up my pochade box and my usual 8x10 panel, experience tells me to settle for less. If my first choice was a stunted, storm-blasted tree jutting up out of a field of wild roses, that is what I paint. I forgo the scenic piles of driftwood just outside my chosen view, and the scallop boats trawling the bay, and the waves crashing on the most distant cliffs, and -- but you get the point.

I tell myself that life is long, and I will eventually paint all those other scenes. This is not true, of course, but it does take the pressure off.  (First posted September 3, 2006)

Friday, April 15, 2016

Sedona Workshop 2016 Season Wrap-Up

Crabapples blooming at the Sedona Heritage Museum!

My final Paint Sedona workshop just finished up today.  It's always a bittersweet feeling on that last day—I'm ready to move on to new adventures, but not quite ready to stop sharing this amazing place with students.  This is especially true this year since we have stayed a little later than usual and spring is now in full stride.

Every workshop week includes a visit to my studio.

Painting out at Goldenstein Gallery.

I thought I'd share a few images from the season with you.  I teach in Sedona and the Verde Valley from late October until mid-April each winter, so you'll see a variety of weather as the season progresses.  If you'd like to join me next time, I already have my schedule up for the 2016/2017 Paint Sedona season, and you can register on-line, all at

(If you'd like to see  some of my paintings from the year, please visit my Facebook Studio page.)

Painting water is always a popular subject.

Next in our life is the annual migration back to the East Coast.  This time, we'll be idling a few days in Santa Fe to visit the galleries, followed by a brief visit to Salida and Buena Vista, Colorado; then a couple of nights in Denver to visit Doug and Sue Dawson, who have become good friends over the years; followed by two workshops in Illinois and Indiana before we finally arrive on Campobello Island, New Brunswick, for the summer.

Painting rocks is also popular, too!

By the way, I still have room in my two Midwest workshops.  In Illinois, I'll be teaching for two days (May 6-7) in Batavia, just outside of Chicago, at Water Street Studios.  In Indiana, I'll be teaching for three days (May 9-11) at the Art Barn in Valparaiso.  I've taught in both of these locations before, and I promise there is some excellent scenery at both.  I hope you'll consider joining me at one or the other.

We also usually enjoy a trip to Jerome a few times in the season.

Saba enjoys Jerome, especially if there's a little snow left

Although we'll get to Campobello Island in mid-May, my workshops there won't start until the end of June.  They will run until the end of August.  This summer, I'll be teaching exclusively in Lubec, Maine.  So, if you are from the States and don't have a passport, you won't have to worry about a border crossing.  (I still recommend that students bring passports if they have them because Campobello is such a beautiful island to visit.)  Space is already starting to fill for these workshops, so if you are interested, please visit or

That's all for now.  My next blog post will most likely be from on the road!

#pleinairpaintingworkshops #pleinairpainting #sedona #campobelloisland #pace16 #pace2016

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Observer Effect and Plein Air Painting

Secret Shadow Creek
9x12 oil by Michael Chesley Johnson
Plein Air Painting Workshop Demonstration

I enjoy teaching and sharing.  Part of my teaching involves painting demonstrations.   I get a lot of painting done that way.  But as tempting as it is to take the easy way out and just paint for demonstrations, I still seek time to paint by myself, for myself.  Most instructors admit that it's difficult to grow as a painter when painting only for students, although that well-trod path does sometime present pleasant detours where even the instructor learns something.  However, I believe you grow more quickly as a painter when bushwhacking on your own.

But what about when not teaching but painting in groups, or with a friend or someone who just wants to tag along?  Can you reach new places when not painting alone?

In physics, there is something called the "observer effect."  The usual example is that of measuring pressure in a tire.  You can't use a tire gauge without losing a little air; thus, you can't get a true reading because the measured pressure will always be less than what it was before applying the gauge.  For me as a painter, the observer effect seems to hold true.  Just having another person present changes the game.  You may be as quiet as a mouse, but I know you're there.  I have no proof, but I sense that I paint differently then.  Not necessarily worse or better, just differently.

(This is not to say my demonstrations aren't good.  It would be immodest of me to state that they are good.  But my students say they not only learn a lot from them, but that they are good paintings, too.)

Let me break down the different painting situations I run into:

Paint-alongs.  Here, students paint along beside me.  Usually, they're beginners who want to follow step-by-step.  Since I'm not painting for myself but for them, I choose a simple, easy subject that they can handle.  In paint-alongs, there is no "flow," as the process is interrupted repeatedly by waiting for students to catch up.  This can be a good thing, though, since it forces me to slow down and to consider my next step more carefully.

Demonstrations.  Again, I am painting for the students.  My goal isn't to create a masterpiece but to illustrate a painting concept and, depending on the skill level of the group, this concept may be something more or less difficult. Things generally flow well in this situation, since I am narrating as I go and without much interruption.  The subject and time of day, however, are dictated by curriculum.  Still, because I'm trying to demonstrate live and in the field, I have to roll with whatever nature sends me, and I almost always learn something.

Plein air group.  In this case, the group has determined where and when we are going to paint, which of course limits subject matter and time of day.  Also, since I'm a recognized instructor, I sometimes get a few questions in the field.  Most times, participants honor the painting time and get personal chat and technical questions out of the way once the brushes get moving.  Still, I'm always aware someone may come over to take a peek at my work, and I feel a need to be accessible.  After all, I have my reputation as a generous teacher—and good painter—to maintain.

Buddy painting.  I only have a couple of buddies I paint with.  Usually it's a road trip to a place we both really want to paint.  We paint all day, quietly, and then in the evenings we share what we painted (both failures and successes) and talk about art.  These times are incredibly valuable to both of us because we get feedback from someone we respect for insight and honesty.  Of course, when painting, we're aware of each other but it's more like a pair of lions hunting together—each is focused on the hunt.  Still, if my friend wants to point the RV to some special place he knows, I'll go with him and trust for the best.

Painting alone.  When I'm painting alone, I don't have to turn out a demonstration that is both beautiful and educational.  I can make mistakes.  I can scrape down the canvas as many times as I need to get a particular stroke right.  If I fail, I've probably learned something, anyway.  I can experiment, work on a difficulty I'm having, or push a project further ahead—all with the goal of becoming a better painter.

I'd love for you to share some of your thoughts on painting by yourself and with others.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Product Review: En Plein Air Pro Professional Series Oil Easel

Setup from the Rear
Setup from the Front
(NOTE:  This review has been recently updated.)

Like most professional painters, I've collected enough easels and pochade boxes that I could make a good living on eBay.  However, I'm not ready to part with any of them just yet.  Each has some quality that makes it better for some situations than other boxes.

One new easel I've added recently is the En Plein Air Pro "Professional Series" Oil Easel.  Right off the bat, I discovered three things that I like.  It can handle a panel or stretched canvas up to 22" tall.  For these larger sizes, it offers a large mixing area that is 9"x18.5"—that's over 166 square inches.  But better yet, I can set it up in under two minutes.  I can't do this with my French easel.  If I want to go out and paint an 18"x24" and not have to fuss with gear, this is the easel I'll take.

For testing, I took this setup out a dozen times with a variety of different size surfaces, both panel and stretched canvas, and in windy conditions.  Overall, I was very pleased with the system.  See the video below for a quick overview:

Palette Box

The heart of the system is the palette box.  As I mentioned earlier, it offers just over 166 square inches of mixing space, and it's made of lightweight ABS plastic and PVC reinforced with aluminum.  The lid pops up and attaches with a tiny magnet to the tripod so it shades the palette from the sun; this is a very nice feature.  Two shelves slide out on either side of the box and have pre-drilled holes that you can stick your brush handles in.  The right shelf also has a hole into which you can insert the turps jar.  Both shelves have enough room for other items like painting knives and paper towels.

The palette itself has a mixing area made of a clear PETG panel.  (Unlike acrylic, PETG is resistant to solvents.)  Beneath this palette is a value scale.  For the beginning painter, this is handy, but even advanced painters will find it helpful to have something to test values of paint mixtures against.  Although the PETG is advertised as scratch-resistant, be careful if you use a painting knife.  Mine, which has become literally razor-sharp over the years, dug into the plastic slightly when mixing.  (I get a little careless in the heat of the moment.)  The surface can easily be replaced, though, for a couple of dollars.  For cleaning, the maker recommends scraping the surface gently with a palette knife, followed by wiping with turps.

The whole box attaches to the two front legs of the tripod and is secured by gravity, making for a sturdy paint mixing unit.

Panel Holder

The panel holder, a lightweight aluminum bar fitted with ABS brackets that attaches to the quick release mount, can hold anything from a 6"x8" panel to a 22" stretched canvas.  Cleverly, it also functions as a wet panel carrier that you can tote in your hand.  The brackets that hold the panel sometimes get a little tight, making it hard to making minute adjustments without unscrewing the bracket and re-seating it.  This isn't a big deal, but it'd be nice if the brackets slid up and down more easily without having to loosen them so much.  (Update:  The maker tells me this has been corrected.) Mounted on the tripod, the panel holder can be adjusted to a variety of positions quickly.  It's nice to have the panel holder separate from the palette, since you can keep the palette flat and level but still change the angle of the panel.

Panel Holder
Panel holder used as wet canvas carrier

Turps Jar

This 4-ounce jar, made of the same PETG plastic as the palette, fits neatly into the right shelf of the palette box.  Although the directions say to not leave OMS or other solvents in it for very long, I've left OMS in it for a couple of days without any problems.  The butyl gasket on the jar doesn't leak, even though it turned over in my backpack a few times.


A couple of years ago, I reviewed the En Plein Air Pro "Advanced Series" easel for Pastel Journal and discovered that the included tripod was rather flimsy.  Good news!  The "Professional Series" offers a better, medium-duty tripod, the SLIK U800.  It has a plastic head, which I usually don't care for.  Plastic heads tend to flex no matter how hard you tighten them, but this wasn't the case here.  It performed well on my largest test canvas, a 12"x16," on which I painted aggressively with both brush and knife.  The only problem I had was with the tripod head tilt mechanism.  If I pressed hard at the top of the canvas, maximizing my leverage on the mechanism, it would slip a little.  I wasn't able to tighten it sufficiently to stop this.  On the other hand, the tripod set up and adjusted quickly for field work.  On one day, when gusts were hitting 50 mph, I fastened my backpack to it for weight, and it held up just fine.

Showing how the palette box attaches to the tripod


The Everest backpack, which comes with the system, is large and spacious.  I had no trouble fitting in everything I needed for my painting sessions.  I was even able to shove in the tripod, though I found that strapping it outside the backpack made for a tighter, more compact package.  It has plenty of pockets for all those miscellaneous things a painter needs to carry.  Over all, the package is a little heavier than I like, but then when you want to deal with a bigger canvas and larger mixing area, it's hard to avoid this.

Backpack, with tripod strapped to outside

The En Plein Air Pro "Professional Series" Oil Easel is a well-thought-out system.  If you're looking for an easel that offers a large mixing area, can set up in a snap and handle formats large to small, this is it.  It's priced reasonably at $325.  For all that you get, it's a good deal.   For full details, visit

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Albert Handell Mentoring Program Report

Albert Handell discusses his painting process
Some of our scenery for the week

Master painter Albert Handell returned to Sedona, Arizona, this past week to conduct another in a very popular series of mentoring workshops for landscape painters.  I've had the honor of assisting him in three of these programs, which cover not just advanced painting topics, both studio and en plein air, but also career-building advice.  This is a very useful program for painters desiring to jump to the next level in their painting and also for those interested in pursuing galleries and collectors.

Albert's pastel box
Albert's traveling oil palette
The Master Mixes

If you haven't had the pleasure of being part of his mentoring program, it is a true immersion experience.  After a Sunday evening meeting and an ice-breaker dinner, we met each morning at 9 and, with stops for lunch and dinner, went until about 9 each evening through Friday.  Mornings consisted of a full painting demonstration by Albert in oil or pastel.  After lunch, participants painted in the field as he went from easel to easel offering guidance.  Just about everyone crammed in as much painting as they could until sunset.  We painted in some beautiful spots with a variety of subjects:  Graceful sycamore trees, old gnarled cottonwoods, red rock mountains and cliffs, and rushing creeks were some of the motifs we enjoyed.  One morning, Albert had a paint-along, and we were in the field the entire day.  Each evening, we met in the studio for critiques and career-building talk (although this also happened freely throughout the day.)  Friday evening, participants brought in all the work from the week plus a selection of recent paintings, and Albert gave each of us a direction for moving forward.  For an even deeper immersion, some of the students lodged at the studio.

Rock demonstration

Lecture on oil palette colors

Painting sycamore trees

There's a great deal more I could say about this program, but I'll let the pictures speak for me.  By the way, this session filled up early, and we already have signups for the next one.  If you missed the Sedona program this time around, Albert is offering it again this fall (November 6-12, 2016) and again next spring (March 12-18, 2017).  For full details, please visit

Here are three of my paintings from the week.  Although I've worked with Albert many times, I always learn something new, and I always enjoy his generosity.

A Steep Climb 12x16 oil/canvas by Michael Chesley Johnson

Old Cottonwood 18x12 pastel by Michael Chesley Johnson

Sycamore Study 12x9 pastel by Michael Chesley Johnson

Monday, March 21, 2016

Review: Multimedia Artboard

Arroyo 8x10 pastel by Michael Chesley Johnson
Pastels Girault on Multimedia Artboard Pastel Panel
Detail of above
You can see the texture of the pastel panel

Every once in awhile, a maker of art materials asks me to review a product.  For me, this is very enjoyable because I get to try something new and learn a little.  Recently, I had the opportunity to try a few new products from Multimedia Artboard.

Multimedia Artboard (MA) has been around for 30 years.  This board is very thin (1/32"), rigid and archival, and can be used "as-is" for oil and other liquid media.  For pastel and colored pencil, it comes in either of two grades of grit (#320 or #500) in a ground that is silkscreened on.  People love this board because it is pure white, which is great for glazing techniques, and it doesn't buckle with wetting and can be painted on both sides.

But one of the complaints I've heard about the unmounted board is that it is somewhat brittle and prone to chipping if dropped.  However, the new products solve this problem.  You can now get the MA dry-mounted to a 1/8" Sintra backing.  Sintra is a thin, lightweight but very hardy substrate made of extruded PVC.  It's much sturdier than foamboard and completely eliminates the chipping problem.  It's also a lot lighter than hardboard panels.

Another product is the Ultra-Light Artists Panel.  Oil-primed Claessen's Belgian linen, which is available in a variety of grades and priming levels, is dry-mounted to MA.  Besides being a traditional surface to paint on, the linen also reinforces the MA and, again, prevents chipping.  Or, you can get it dry-mounted to Sintra, which makes for a slightly thicker but more stiff board.  The linen/MA package is also available with no substrate but just a self-adhesive backing.  This lets you mount it easily to any surface you choose—hardboard, plywood, birch or even Dibond.

For my tests, I used the pastel version, mounted to Sintra; the plain (oil/liquid media) version, also mounted to Sintra (the "Ultra-Light Artists Panel") ; the linen/MA package, again, mounted so Sintra; and the adhesive-backed linen/MA package.

After using the pastel surface, I initially found it isn't quite "toothy" enough for my technique.  I tend to use harder pastels (Girault), and that's why.  A softer pastel, I find, holds just fine.  I first toned the surface selectively with the pastel, rubbing it in with a paper towel; I followed this with little strokes of these and then softer pastels to finish the painting.  I did spray on a little workable fixative after my first layers of Girault to hold the pastel better; I didn't, however, use any after adding the softer pastels.  In the detail image, you can see the initial toning plus the succeeding layers, and this will give you an idea of the tooth.  This was the coarser board (#320),

Toward Chicken Point 8x10 oil by Michael Chesley Johnson
On Multimedia Artboard mounted to Sintra

Detail of above

I next tried the Sintra-mounted MA with oil.  The MA is very absorbent, and if this doesn't suit you, the manufacturer recommends applying a coat of clear gesso first to cut the absorbency.  Rather than do this, though, I diluted a little paint with odorless mineral spirits and toned the surface first, in effect "priming" it so the next layer of paint went on effortlessly.  I like the rough texture of the board, especially when using a painting knife; it gives an "active" look to the paint that I find very pleasing.  I toned the panel first with yellow, and in the detail image you can see the rough edges created with the knife against this tone.

Early Spring on Oak Creek 8x10 oil by Michael Chesley Johnson
Painted on Ultra-Light Artists Panel (on Sintra)

Detail of above

Below the Rim 8x10 oil by Michael Chesley Johnson
Painted on Ultra-Light Artists Panel (on Sintra)

Detail of above

I then tried the Claessen's linen on Sintra.  I enjoyed painting against this rigid, lightweight subtrate.  The linen performed as one would expect from Claessen's—that is, perfectly.   In the detail shot, you can see the weave and how it grabs the paint.  I'm not sure what grade of linen this was, but I liked it.

The linen/MA package with the adhesive-backing is just like the one mounted to Sintra, except that you can mount in on anything.  I had a little trouble peeling off the silicone backing—it is a very thin sheet—but once I got it started with a knife point, it separated nicely.  You have to take care, though, that you are actually separating the silicone sheet and not separating the different layers of the Artboard.  Start at one corner, gently, and then it'll become obvious to you how it works.

MA is also now available in several different colors in both the pastel and oil/liquid media versions.   I have not tried these yet, but when I do, I will post an update.  But for now, you can see the full list here:

Saturday, March 19, 2016

How I Judge a Show

Some of the paintings I juried into and then judged at the
Northeast Pastel Society's exhibition in 2015.

I want to expand on my last post, "Painting in the Spirit of Plein Air."  A question I am often asked is, How do I judge a show?

There are two things that happen before awards are given.  First, a Juror of Entry juries paintings into the show.  These days, jurying is done by looking at digital images.  Second, the Judge of Awards views the work and identifies those most deserving of praise.  This is usually done by viewing the actual paintings.  Sometimes Juror and Judge are the same, but most often not.

Jurying in Work

I like to receive images on CD so I can import them into my own software for viewing and sorting.  (Sometimes, I am asked to view them online through a site such as  This is always more cumbersome than my system, but I don't let it affect my judgement.)  The show committee often gives me a spreadsheet on which to record my decisions.  The images are coded so I don't know the names of the artists.

The committee tells me how many pieces to jury in.  Sometimes they have specific guidelines such as "no more than two entries juried in per artist."  Otherwise, I'm allowed to use my own judgement.  Sometimes after I've made my choices, the show committee may make adjustments.  If there's a dedicated volunteer who needs recognition, or if the organization is young and trying to build membership, a few may be added to my list.

But before I go to the spreadsheet, I make a quick pass through the images, sorting them into three categories:  Yes, Maybe and No.  I go quickly for two reasons.  One, I think my initial reaction to a painting is very important; although this may seem subjective, my reaction actually comes from a broad base of experience.  Second,  it gets the process going.  Of course, I will go back several times to re-evaluate my decision.  I always keep this fact in mind:  Behind every painting is an artist who loves what he does and works hard.  And for some, this may be the first time they've ever submitted to a show.  Each painting deserves respect and consideration.

Next I go to the spreadsheet and add columns for Design, Drawing, Color, and Handling.  For these categories, my decision is deliberate and founded on skill basics.  I award up to four points for each category.  I also add one more column where I can note my subjective response.   Some paintings possess an inscrutable quality that appeals to me immediately.  For these, I award an extra point.  I then tally up each row and sort on score.  I go through the images three or four times to make sure I haven't misjudged a painting.  It's not uncommon for me to change my mind as I do this.  Finally, from this spreadsheet I select the top paintings.  Quite often, they are the same ones in my initial "Yes" pile.

By the way, looking at images on a screen is far from ideal.  As much as the artist may have adjusted his image so it looks true to him, the appearance may vary from screen to screen.  The best we can do is look at the images relative to one another on the same screen.  Still, an image that looks warm and inviting in person may look cool and less inviting on a screen with slight blue cast, and it may suffer in the scoring.  Another issue is size.  Large paintings tend to look better on a screen because they are reduced; small paintings, worse, because they are enlarged.

Judging for Awards

If I am both Juror and Judge, I always get a treat when it comes to award time.  I finally get to see the works in person.  I'm often pleasantly surprised when a piece is even better than it looked on-screen; though once in a while, I'm disappointed when the craftsmanship isn't what I'd expected.  When this happens, it's usually at a micro-level where the mark-making, an aspect that is hard to discern on-screen, shows a lack of skill with the brush or pastel.  But this is why we give awards usually after inspecting the work in person.

When I enter the exhibition space, the doors are shut behind me and I am alone.  Armed with a yellow pad and a list of paintings, I make several rounds.  The first round is to see what appeals to me immediately, just as I did in my initial pass as juror.  I put a yellow sticky note on each one so I can go back to it.  I make a second pass through the gallery looking at all the works again, keeping skill basics in my mind.  Sometimes the yellow sticky notes get shifted around.  I then make a third pass, paying special attention to the more subtle paintings that I didn't select in the first round.  I don't want to overlook a painting that whispers beauty.   I may go back again and again, re-thinking my decisions.

Once I'm satisfied that I've found the best, I need to narrow down my choices to fit the number of awards.  Giving awards is always difficult because those under consideration often rise above the merely well-crafted.  Sometimes they rise into the realm of the genuinely masterful, and are true showpieces made with compelling artistry.  When two or three vie for the top award, I have to go with what appeals to me personally.  There's no other way to choose.

I prefer having one award, a Best of Show, followed by Merit Awards.  Discerning between First Place, Second Place and Third Place is often a coin toss.   By giving Merit Awards instead, the judge isn't forced to make up a reason why he chose one painting over another.  By the way, Purchase Awards, which are sponsored by local businesses, are an excellent addition to any show.  Sales are guaranteed to the artist this way.  It's a win-win situation for everyone.

I've judged many shows and events over the years.  If your group needs a juror or judge, please feel free to contact me as I charge a reasonable fee.  I am also happy to teach a workshop for you in conjunction with your event.  If you'd like a consultation on the jurying and judging process, I'd be glad to do that, as well.

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