Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Upcoming Introduction to Pastel Class in November


I don't teach my Introduction to Pastel workshop very often, but I have scheduled a three-Saturday workshop for November 15, November 22, and December 13 in Sedona, Arizona, at Gandolfo Studios.  If you are in the Sedona or Verde Valley area this fall, here's your chance!  We'll be covering pastel basics, starting with materials (paper and pastels) and moving on to a variety of techniques to get the most out of pastels.  In the studio, we'll work initially from photos and move on to the still life.  Weather and time permitting, we  may go out to do a little plein air painting. Cost of the workshop, which runs 1-5 on Saturdays, is $200.  For more information or to register, contact me at mcj.painter@gmail.com.

Pastel is the medium that got me back into painting.  When I picked up my first pastel stick, it was like seeing for the first time.  Pastel is an immediate and tactile medium, and each stick is filled with luscious color.  It's a perfect cross-over medium from drawing to painting, so if you've always drawn but have never painted, you'll be a natural!


Sunday, August 24, 2014

Choosing the Right Dimensions for your Painting

Some Common Painting Sizes and Their Proportions
(Please excuse the hand-crafted artisanal chart; I realized that neither my Photoshop nor Excel skills are good enough to create the chart through software.  Sometimes the low-tech way is more efficient.)

As a plein air painter with an always-ready-to-go painting kit, I sometimes get locked into a particular size for my paintings.  Usually, I keep my kit packed with 9x12s.    But this isn't necessarily the best dimensions for a landscape.  It's great if I want to get a quick sketch or color reference but often, some other size might make for a stronger design.

For a broad landscape, such as ocean vistas, deserts or canyons, a panoramic format will do a better job of conveying the breadth.  These landscapes are packed with horizontal elements, and so  emphasizing the horizontal will enhance the feeling of "being there."  A double square (12x24) or even a triple square (6x18) can be much more appropriate than the 9x12 or the more squarish 8x10.

If I'm in a landscape that doesn't offer a vista, such as densely-wooded interior Maine where you have to fight the trees for a view, I look for a closer, more intimate scene such as a cluster of dead snags gathered at the edge of a swamp.  In this, verticals and horizontals seem to have equal weight, just as they do in a square.  Choosing a squarish format will help you convey the same sense of intimacy (or perhaps claustrophia.)  But I do think a square is the most difficult format because you are already at a disadvantage at having all the sides boringly equal.   Still, you can get some very exciting results with the square; all the paintings in my "Fifty for the Fiftieth" project are squares, and I enjoyed both the challenge and the results.

Moving beyond the square, there is the vertical.  Just as a more horizontal format conveys breadth, the vertical conveys height.  Anytime I want to show the magnificence of a tree or the depth of a canyon, I aim for the vertical.   Looking down into the landscape - as with a canyon - can be dizzying, though.  Looking up, I feel a little more sure of my footing.

When I have a choice, I will make several thumbnail sketches and try out different possibilities.  Why get trapped in the same old 9x12?  I have cut down both pastel paper (with scissors) and painting panels (with a utility knife) to get the dimensions that best fit my idea.  To be sure, you may end up with a custom framing job, but you are more likely to recoup your expenses, since the best fit will be more attractive to your buyer.

At the top of this post is a chart.  I thought it would be interesting to show the more commonly-used dimensions and their width-to-height ratio in a graph.  This will give you a better idea of where they sit with respect to the square.  I have calculated out the ratio by dividing width by height; that is, a 9x12 is 12/9 or 1.33.

Below are a few of the different dimensions I use.  (All are for sale!  Contact me for details.)

SQUARE: Duck Pond Fog, 6x6 oil/panel

DOUBLE-SQUARE: End of the Road, 12x24 oil/panel

TRIPLE-SQUARE: Head Island, 6x18, oil/canvas

VERTICAL: Water Street, 12x9, oil/panel

Thursday, August 21, 2014

New Exhibition Space for Artists - Google Open Gallery



Recently, I was invited by Google to be a test user of Google Open Gallery.  (Along with probably a million other people!)  Google has taken its Cultural Institute platform, which it's been using to present high-resolution images of museum collections, and tweaked it for individual artists to use.  I  decided to upload the fifty images of my "Fifty Paintings" Kickstarter project.  Here is a link to my site:  https://pleinairpainting.culturalspot.org/

I found the interface extremely easy to use, and although the system permits uploading images that are up to 50 megabytes big, I chose to upload much smaller ones.  I don't know anything about the download capabilities of the system - that is, can a Chinese sweatshop download my high-resolution images and then set about mass-producing paintings based on them? - but it would bear investigating if you are concerned about copyright.  I've had a few people look at my site, and they seem to find it a pleasure to use.  You can also really zoom in on the images to see the fine brushwork.

If you would, please take a look.  I'm eager to hear your thoughts.  Here's that link http://pleinairpainting.culturalspot.org

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Painting in Public Places and the Dangers Thereof

A Quiet Painting Spot
("Kindred Spirits" by Asher Durand, depicting Thomas Cole and William Cullen Bryant))

A reader writes:  "I am shy about painting outside such as at the public park because of people stopping and asking questions on what I am doing. How do you remain focused when you have an audience?"

When I teach workshops, many of my students are beginners at plein air painting.  They are happiest when we go to some remote, godforsaken yet beautiful corner of the world where no one will find them.  Sensitive to their need to focus, I take them to quiet places where an audience is unlikely.  Sometimes, though, we do get a few visitors.  When this happens, I  intercept them, politely let them know we are having a class, and then, usually, they leave.

When I'm painting alone, though, it's a different matter.   I, too, prefer to paint in a quiet spot, but sometimes I can't, such as at a plein air painting event, where it is expected for artists to be available.  (The idea is both to educate the public and also engage them for the sales event.)  When this happens, I try to keep the chat on-topic.  That is, I talk about my process and what my brush is doing at that moment.  I may stop and hand them a business card - I always carry them - and give an invitation to visit my website and gallery; if it's a painting event, I invite them to the exhibition and sale.  Most folks are polite and will watch a little longer but then wander off.

But sometimes you get the talker.  This person is legendary among plein air painters.  I'll tolerate this for a few minutes, but I have no problem saying, "I'm sorry, but I have to get back to work."  Being blunt is important, since talkers are so narcissistic they don't read body language or understand the subtle hints.

There are times, especially when I am painting for myself, when I don't want an encounter.  In this case, I'll find that remote, godforsaken spot of incredible beauty.   But even though the chance of an encounter is small, it still can happen.  To prevent this, here are a few tips:

  • Paint off the trail where you can't be seen (if you're on public land, make sure off-trail hiking is permitted)
  • Back yourself into a corner so you are difficult to approach
  • Scatter your gear around your easel in such a way as to create an obstacle
  • Take along a non-painting friend who is happy to hang out with you (quietly) and who can intercept visitors

Oh, I could tell you stories - but I'll wait until you have that brush loaded and ready to go.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Quoddy Artists Studio Tour 2014


Nine professional artists around the Passamaquoddy Bay area will open their studios to the public Saturday, August 23, from 9-4 local time.  Artists will give demonstrations or informal, educational talks as well as offer the opportunity to purchase works.  For full details including directions to the artists' studios, visit the website www.QuoddyArtists.com.

Artist Michael Chesley Johnson, who started the original "Two Countries, One Bay" studio tour, which ran successfully for several years, says he wanted to bring back the tour with a focus on working artists with studios.  "Over time, the tour began to lose the educational focus.  Art is vital to the survival of our culture, and so many people today have lost this understanding.  In this new, revitalized tour, professionals whose focus is art will share their love and knowledge with visitors."

Participating artists are:

  • Fred Hartman, Drawings, Watercolors, Whiting 
  • Bonnie Beard, Painter, Lubec
  • Shanna Wheelock, Potter and Fiber Artist, Lubec
  • Trina Stephenson, Fabric and Digital Designs, Lubec
  • Sheryl Denbo, Assemblages, Multi-Dimensional Structures, Mixed Media, Lubec 
  • Joyce Morrell, Painter, Campobello Island
  • Michael Chesley Johnson, Painter, Campobello Island
  • Roland LaVallee, Woodcarver, Eastport
  • Lisa Marquis Bradbury, Painter, Eastport

Visit the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/quoddyartists) where updates about the event will be posted.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

New Locations for Plein Air Painting in the Paint Sedona Program!



Although it is only mid-August, time is flying.  I'm already looking forward to another season in Sedona and to my Paint Sedona plein air painting workshops.  For the 2014/2015 season, I've located a number of new painting spots.  If you've taken a Sedona workshop with me before, consider coming back - you will most likely see some new scenery!

Additionally, I've scheduled two special workshops for advanced painters:  Exploring the Verde River Valley  (January 13-16, 2015) and Advanced Color (January 20-23, 2015.)  Of course, I also offer the advanced/retreat weeks for advanced painters and the "all level" weeks, which are suitable for beginners to plein air painting.  You can find out details on all these weeks and also register at www.PaintSedona.com.

Also, I will gladly customize a workshop for you and your friends if you can bring at least three people.  This could be a pastel-only workshop, or an advanced workshop on a particular theme, subject or technique.  Your choice!

If you've not been to Sedona before, it is a wonderful winter getaway.  (Keep in mind that I teach from November into early April, so it's not just winter but also fall and spring.)  We may get a couple of storms in winter that may drop an inch or two, but the snow is gone the next day and just makes the red rocks that much more breathtaking.  When the sun is out, which is most of the winter, it can be quite toasty when we paint. Daytime temperatures are generally in the 50s.

To whet your appetite, here are a few photos from some of my new locations.  We'll have a big variety of subject matter to paint, and I'm eager to get into it.














Monday, August 11, 2014

Why I'm Not in Many Galleries


Once people learn I'm a painter, the inevitable question is:  "What galleries are you in?"  I often feel that my answer will validate - or invalidate - me as a professional.

To be honest, I'm in only two galleries today, both of them artist-run.  (Green Drake in Milheim, Pennsylvania, and Symbiosis Fine Art in St Andrews, New Brunswick; and if you include my three studio galleries, Pumphouse Studio GalleryFriar's Bay Studio Gallery and Artist's Retreat Studios & Gallery, that's five.)  Oh, I've been in lots of other galleries, even one that was in Santa Fe.  Some folks feel that if you're in a Santa Fe gallery, you've made it.  Well, that gallery closed within a year and didn't sell a single painting of mine.

I have lots of issues with galleries.  First, you're just one artist of many; if a gallery has 30 artists, you will receive at most 1/30th of its efforts.  Unless there's a reason to receive more, such as if you're a personal friend of the owner or a superstar, you might even receive less.  Second, since a gallery is not a democracy, you have no say on how the place is run.  Some galleries have sales staff on the phone all day who ignore walk-in traffic; others have inconsistent hours or bad marketing approaches; still others hang your work behind a door on the second floor and then kick you out because you haven't sold anything.  Finally, thanks to the Internet, many galleries are finding it hard to survive.  Too often, they end up killing themselves:  A constricted cash flow leads to desperate - and often poor - business decisions that, in turn, lead to acccidental self-strangulation.

All that said, if you're a gallery without these problems and think we can forge a successful partnership, I'll be happy to give you a try.

I like artist-run galleries.  The artists who run them are interested in more than just closing a deal; they have more blood in the game than just some investor's money.  Quite often, they sink their soul into the business with the necessary belief that art will be civilization's salvation.  (I believe that, too.)  They will work hard for an honest artist.  I've had my artist-run galleries frame up pieces to help me save on shipping and assist me in organizing local workshops.  They didn't have to, but they did.

So what really validates you as a professional artist?  Having an M.F.A.?  Having seven galleries, one of which is Santa Fe, L.A. or New York City?  Or, like me, simply being able to say that you quit your day job back in 2000 and have been making a living ever since with your art?

I'm interested in hearing your thoughts about what validates you as a professional and about your gallery experiences.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Book Available: Fifty Paintings


Today, August 9th, 2014, is the official celebration day for the 50th anniversary of the Roosevelt-Campobello International Park.  Everyone who enjoys the Park should thank those who donated the Roosevelt Cottage and its 2,600 acres of natural beauty to the people of the US and Canada.  I, for one, have certainly enjoyed the Park over the last decade.  I've hiked all the trails time and time again and have painted just about everywhere in it.  There are few public parcels of land on the east coast like it.  Most comparable, perhaps, is Acadia National Park in Maine, but Campobello is far less crowded in the summertime.  (Visit http://www.fdr.net/calendar-event for a full list of events.)

To celebrate the Park in my own way, I recently painted fifty small paintings of scenes either within or from the Park.  These paintings are currently on exhibit at The Fireside, the Park's new restaurant, until August 16.  Most of the paintings have sold, but I wanted to share them with more people.  So, I have created a small book.    Fifty Paintings:  Roosevelt-Campobello International Park - Celebrating the Park's 50th Anniversary contains images of all the paintings plus a personal essay.

On a technical note, all of the paintings were painted with Gamblin Artist's Color's FastMatte line of alkyd paints.  I had limited time to create the series, and I needed the paintings to dry quickly.  Also, I really like the matte, almost-pastel-like finish of the paintings.  It's easy to create "broken color" with this paint.

The book is available through Amazon both as a paperback and in Kindle format.  For details or to purchase, please visit my author page at Amazon:  http://amazon.com/author/johnson

Monday, August 4, 2014

Road Trip Report: Miramichi and St Andrews, New Brunswick

Ritchie Wharf, Miramichi NB
I apologize for my long absence since the Castine Plein Air Festival, but I have been on the road, teaching workshops.  If you're not from New Brunswick, Canada, you may not have heard of Miramichi. It is about two hours north of the provincial capital of Fredericton.  A group called the Miramichi Art Core, which consists of mostly studio painters, contacted me to see if I would visit and give their plein air painting efforts a jump-start.  Always an evangelist for outdoor painting, I jumped at the offer.

 I'd never been to that part of the province; most of my travels have taken me along the coast.  After two ferry rides, I finally reached the mainland and took a less-traveled route due north (785) to Fredericton through fifty monotonous miles broken only by the occasional logging road.  (It's not a place I'd want to travel at dusk or in the dark; I imagined vast herds of moose roaming dangerously across the road.)  This dullness was broken, however, when I began to get fleeting glimpses of a brook with sandy banks.  It was quite pretty, and I began to think of painting the picturesque.

After Fredericton, it was another two hours to my destination through little river villages along Route 8, which follows the Miramichi River and offers some lovely vistas. The landscape opens up near the town of Miramichi and is filled with rolling hills.  Miramichi didn't exist as a municipality until about 15 years ago, when the twin river communities of Newcastle and Chatham joined.  Prior to that, over two hundred years ago, Newcastle was settled by the Scots and, on the other side of the river and a little downstream, Chatham, by the Irish.  These two mill towns had their differences, both political and religious - the Scots were Protestant and the Irish, Catholic - but they laid these aside for their mutual benefit.  Once surrounded by farms now mostly gone, Miramichi has lately recognized the importance of culture and tourism along its beautiful river, and so groups like Miramichi Art Core have sprung up.

The group's home base is the Ritchie Wharf, which was home to a thriving shipbuilding and salmon fishing industry.  Today, it is one of the town's many public parks and offers river tour boats, a playground, snack bars, coffee shops and gift stores as well as the Miramichi Art Core's gallery.  The gallery is a quaint, two-story building that's a perfect space for showcasing the group's art.

Painting at Ritchie Wharf; Miramichi Art Core Gallery has the yellow doors
View of the Trestle Bridge, 9x12 pastel

Miramichi River and Clouds (oil demonstration) 9x12
This workshop was only for two days, but we covered a lot of material, and now the group is ready for their plein air festival, which is scheduled for August 23-24. I always enjoy giving groups a hand in learning about plein air painting.  If you think your group would be interested, please contact me.  By the way, I also teach custom studio classes; some topics might be color usage, composition and design, or plein air sketch-to-studio.  I do plan my schedule over a year in advance, and I'm already booking for 2015 and 2016, so don't delay!

Pendlebury Lighthouse, St  Andrews NB
 St Andrews is always a treat.  I've been teaching my plein air painting workshop there for several years.  Immediately after my Miramichi workshop, I drove the four hours back to the coast.  St Andrews, a historic resort village, sits on a peninsula at the mouth of the St Croix River, and has restaurants, galleries and shops, whale watch tours and options for lodging.  There's also a new gallery in town, Symbiosis Fine Art, which I'm proud to be part of.  Besides my paintings, it also offers fine jewelry made by friend, Matt Watkins.  (It's right next to the best coffee shop in town, Honeybeans.)

Pottery Cove, 9x12 pastel

Painting at Pottery Cove, St Andrews



Here, I teach for Sunbury Shores Art & Nature Centre.  The building recently underwent a huge renovation, and I was pleased to see how much light now fills the space.  They have truly maximized their view of the river.  They also expanded their print shop, run by master printmaker Robert Van de Peer, and spiffed up my classroom.  The Centre also houses a gallery, and currently on display is a show of instructor work.  I have a piece in it, as well.  The show runs until August 20.

My painting is in the gold frame, just to the right of the large painting.
This time around, my students in St Andrews were mostly local.  (In the past, I've had students from  as far as Calgary and Ottawa.)  Despite the ongoing early morning fog and persistent daytime haze, we had a great time painting the misty Maritimes.  Views of the town wharf and Pottery Cove are some of my favorites.  It was a busy weekend, what with Monday being New Brunswick Day and a holiday. The town had lots of events going on.

Summer in St Andrews, 9x12 oil (painting knife demonstration)
Now I'm back on Campobello Island and preparing to teach another workshop at my home, Friar's Bay Studio Gallery.  I'm ready to be home now for a few weeks - but it won't be long before I'll be flying out to the Grand Canyon for the Celebration of Art plein air painting event!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Castine Plein Air Festival - Day 3

Honorable Mention: "Severe Weather" 9x12 oil 

Morning

As I write, I'm sitting on the cool porch of our "summer cottage," enjoying the breeze and the sublime sense of release that comes after a hard morning and a hot shower.  I was up early - others were today, too - and down to the waterfront by 6.  After communicating with the world (despite the Cloud's vagaries), I lugged my French easel and a 12x24 panel to a remote part of the docks.

As much as I was thinking that, if I were to paint a larger piece, I wanted something easy, when I saw the view of the T/S State of Maine, I knew I had to paint it.  (And Trina rightfully urged me to try something a little more ambitious than a quiet cove.)  The scene was complicated.  It wasn't  just the rocket-nosed State of Maine, which lay like a Leviathan at dock, but maybe two dozen dinghies and a variety of sailboats, and it all became increasingly fractalized and daunting as I stared at it.  To make matters worse, it was Saturday morning, and on a summer weekend, there would no doubt be a lot of coming and going of boats.

But I knew this was the scene for me, and I set up.  To get the drawing right, I spent a great deal of time making a pencil sketch.  Even though much of this would disappear with my block-in, it was useful because it helped me figure out and memorize line, angle and proportion.   I simplified the scene greatly, removing all the dinghies but one small outboard craft, another with some sort of cowl over it, and then the tugboat and a line of smaller boats behind it.

I worked over three hours on the painting.  As I knew they would, boats came and went; the tide went up; people stopped by to watch or take photos (thank you for asking), and to ask a question or two about the event.  When I packed up, I realized how beat I was.  I treated myself to a very early lunch of fish'n'chips and then went home to frame and inventory.

Here are the steps in the painting process for "Home Port (T/S State of Maine)":








"Home Port (T/S State of Maine)" 12x24 oil
Available - $750

One secret to framing plein air work during an event is retouch varnish.   Even in a day or two,  paint will start to dry, and colors will become less saturated.  I bring a can of retouch with me, and I give each painting a quick spray before popping them into the frame.

After the Show

I was pretty pleased with my line-up of five 9x12s and one 12x24.  Paintings had to be dropped off between 2:30 and 4:30 at the Academy student center, and it was "first come, first served" for space.   I got there early, but there were already painters in line.  As we waited, some of us joked about fans camping out overnight for tickets for a major concert.

After setting up my "store," I took a walk.  Judging was at 4:30, and we were wanted back at 5:30 for the awards, so there wasn't much else to do.  It was a beautiful evening - I would have loved to have had one more painting session - so I took photographs for future reference.  Castine has some very lovely architecture.

One of my paintings, "Severe Weather" (at the top of the blog), won an Honorable Mention.  The best part of the event, though, was that I got to paint in some really great locations and to make some new painting friends.  Thanks to everyone - my lodging hosts, the festival committee, sponsors and all the volunteers - for putting on a great festival!

Below are the rest of the paintings that were in the show, plus one that was not.  Keep in mind, that the paintings always look better in person than they do on the Internet.  (I am making that a bumper sticker.)  Now, it's off to Miramichi, New Brunswick, to teach a plein air painting workshop, followed immediately by another in St Andrews.

"Eaton's Boatyard" 9x12 oil
Available - $500

"Early Morning on the Wharf" 9x12 oil SOLD

"Sunny Side of the Street" 9x12 oil
Available - $500

"Flag with a View" 9x12 oil
Available - $500
"Clouds Over the Cove" 9x12 oil (not in the show)
Available - $500

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