Monday, July 27, 2015

Upcoming Plein Air Painting Workshop at Acadia Workshop Center


Each year in early October, I look forward to spending time on Mount Desert Island, home to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park.  Fall is a beautiful time to visit that area, and it's a great time to be painting there, too!  Nature puts on her prettiest colors then.

Just about every year since 2004, I've taught a plein air painting workshop for the Acadia Workshop Center in Bernard, on Mount Desert Island's "quiet side."  I've been painting and teaching in the area long enough that I've found many special spots.  I'd like the share these with you.

This year, I'll be teaching October 6-9.  Cost of the workshop is only $595 for the four full days.  Although my maximum number of students is 12, we usually have just a few.  This makes for a more intimate and personal experience.  For the workshop, I'll demonstrate each day in oil or pastel how I paint coastal features such as fishing boats, rocky beaches and beautiful, storm-blasted trees.  In addition to my daily lectures on plein air painting, you'll have plenty of time to paint.  I'll go from easel to easel offering help and then the next morning we'll critique what we painted the day before.

For details and to sign up for this workshop opportunity, please visit http://www.acadiaworkshopcenter.com/MCJohnson.html

(UPDATE:  A reader has reminded me that spouses, significant others and friends would also enjoy the area as there are many hiking and photography opportunities!  So don't come alone!)

Here are some photos from previous workshop years to whet your appetite.  I hope you will join us this year.











Sunday, July 26, 2015

Castine Plein Air Festival 2015 - Day 3 and the End

My table at the show.  (A little more space would have been nice so
all the paintings could be displayed upright.)

After yesterday's magnificent thunderstorm, today dawned chilly and overcast. Despite the uninspiring weather, I think all the artists decided to paint till the last second. (Paintings were due to be delivered framed between noon and two.) Although I'd caught my limit of six really good paintings, I, too, felt compelled to go out, despite the rather flat light and uninteresting shadows.

I found a little yellow house on Water Street that I liked. I'd come across it on a walk earlier, and I thought that if we had a grey morning like this one, it would be a good color note. A passerby asked me if I didn't think the colors were more interesting on a grey day; and it's true. Hike in the autumn on a rainy day, for example, and the colors will seem much more intense than when you take that same hike on a sunny day.

This didn't help me, though. Although the painting was competent, it was uninspired. I felt that my paintings this week had an "extra touch" thanks to the beautiful skies Nature had given me. I was very happy with the six I'd chosen, so I didn't feel the need to try yet again. Instead, I had an early lunch at Castine Variety down by the dock. I highly recommend the Thai Curry; the chef said she makes her curry from scratch.

Afterward, I went home to frame. Of the nine paintings I'd made, my choices were obvious. I pulled out the six I loved. By the way, I also tried that rose garden painting in a frame to see how it'd look; I guess I was still trying to convince myself that it was good enough for the show. Sadly, I put it back in the box along with the other two that didn't make the cut. (I'll put it up in the studio and try to figure out what it is I like about it.)

This year, artists didn't have to wait in line to grab tables like concert-goers camped out for tickets to the Rolling Stones. In a smart move, the organizers decided to assign tables. The show was held at the Alfond Student Union at the Maine Maritime Academy over three different rooms. My paintings were in the dining hall, which has many large windows and lots of natural light. Others weren't so lucky, in that one room was filled with photographs of MMA notables, both living and dead (imagine this for a backdrop for your paintings), and the third was illuminated mostly by banks of fluorescent lights. My paintings showed well on my assigned table.

Some of the comments about my paintings:

  • "Your skies are the best of anyone's here"
  • "These frames go really well with these paintings"
  • "I really like the way the orangey underpainting shows through the paint"

I won an award each of the past two years, but not this year. There were many fine paintings, so I'm sure it was a tough call for the two judges. Having judged shows both national and regional, I understand the difficulty of viewing over 200 paintings in about an hour, which is all the time they had.

More important to me are sales. Although artists got free lodging (thank you, Jack and Sue!), there is still a financial commitment from the artist to attend these events. For me, I had to close one of our two galleries and give up some teaching in order to come. I sold only two paintings, for which I am grateful. Although it's hard to count people as they mill about, I got the sense that there were fewer visitors to the show than in previous years.

It was a fun event, and I'll probably sign on for it again next year. It was a pleasure, as always, to see old friends and to make some new ones. The residents were very supportive of the artists in giving us access to locations, and the Castine Arts Association staff and volunteers did a superb job of organizing the event. I'm hoping that next year they can arrange for the same beautiful skies.

I'll be heading off to Campobello Island early Sunday morning. The unsold paintings will go to Artists Retreat Studios & Gallery in Lubec. As I said, I really like these pieces, and in some ways, I'm reluctant to put them up for sale because they are some of my favorite works from this summer. But onto the wall they will go!

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Castine Plein Air Festival 2015 - Day 2

Before the storm
After the storm
(No, the boats weren't all wiped out by the storm; this is a different cove)

Morning broke with sunshine and scattered clouds. Somewhat recovered from my marathon session yesterday, I headed down to Perkins Street and the little Catholic church that is there. Perched at the edge of the sea, the church offers a good view of Castine Bay. The atmosphere was thick and still, and the no-see-ums were hungry. I could tell from the clouds that we'd have rain later in the day, so I got busy painting the view. I was pleased with this one.

Incoming Weather 9x12 oi/panel by Michael Chesley Johnson
Available - Contact Michael

Afterward, I drove over to the town dock for a cup of coffee and to hob-nob with some of the other painters. I was feeling good about my run of paintings - maybe too good. When I found my next location, a lovely yard edged with roses, I faltered. Fell, is more like it. I'll blame it on the swift-changing light that confused me on the old "warm light, cool shadows; cool light, warm shadows" adage. (You painters know what I'm talking about.) I was in mud over my boot tops. Still, I kept going. I was loving my Thio Violet (Grumbacher) and how it made the roses glow. But I wasn't loving anything else in the painting.

Despondent, I headed home for an early lunch and some tea. I looked at the painting a few times in different light. Anytime you have to really work to convince yourself that the painting is okay, you know it's not. So, I stopped trying to convince myself. Ultimately, I didn't scrape it because it might be a good reference down the road. I'm note quite ready to share this one with the world!

I recovered after my break and headed out to paint the British Canal. I'd wanted to paint it last year, but it was all grown up in grass and, I was sure, thick with ticks. This year, the path to it has been nicely mown, so I pulled my socks over my pants legs and sprayed on the DEET. Clouds were building as I painted, and I could feel a thunderstorm developing behind me. Still, I had plenty of time to work. One thing about canals - they are straight. They don't meander. Fortunately for this one, time had created little serrations along the banks, and that made it a bit more interesting. Most fascinating was the incredible variety of color in the grasses.

British Canal 9x12 oi/panel by Michael Chesley Johnson
SOLD

By the time I'd finished, a huge thunderstorm the color of a bad bruise had crossed the town line. I drove downtown to check my e-mail quickly and then went home to close windows. Actually, I kept the ones to my room open. I love smelling the rain and feeling the cool, damp breeze when a storm moves through. I'm still reading the Metropolitan Museum's Degas exhibition catalog, and that's how I passed the time.

A couple of hours before sundown, the rain finally petered out. I took a long walk with my camera. Although there were some pretty scenes (see the photos as the top), they were so soft and subtle that the act of observing to paint would have ruined the experience. I parked at Wadworth Cove - not another soul was there - and just sat in my car taking in the view. The clouds were magnificent, and hardly a breath of wind disturbed the mirror-like bay.

Tomorrow (Saturday) will be the last day of painting. Our paintings are to be delivered between noon and 2 for the exhibit. I'm not sure how much painting I will get done before noon, as I need to frame and inventory everything. I'm hoping to get at least a 9x12 done. After today's storm, we should have a truly beautiful sunrise.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Castine Plein Air Festival 2015 - Day 1

Dyce Head 9x12 oil/panel
by Michael Chesley Johnson
SOLD

"Make hay while the sun shines," the saying goes. Today was sunny with a few clouds; for tomorrow, they are predicting showers. To make the most of the sun, I pushed myself and made five paintings. Three 9x12s before lunch; a 12x16 after lunch; and then a final 9x12 after an early supper. Was I tired? You bet!

Morning dawned clear and cool, and I was up early for coffee. Although there were a couple of hours of sunlight before the 7:30 canvas stamping, I decided to not scope out painting spots. After two times at the Festival, I have a good idea of possible locations. Instead, I lingered over a book, saving my energy for what I knew would be a long day.

Like a few other painters, I got to the canvas stamping tent a few minutes early to beat the rush. As soon as I loaded my pile of stamped panels back into the car, I headed down to Wadsworth Cove. The Cove is on the other side of Castine's little peninsula, opposite town. It's a popular beach, but it has good views, and I knew that early it would be empty of swimmers. Also, the clouds in the sky looked promising, and the Cove would be a perfect place for painting them.

For this event, I've decided to work exclusively with a small painting knife. I like the rich color a knife gives me, and also the fact that I don't have to clean any brushes. It's hard, however, to completely cover a surface with a knife; little white spots of any untoned canvas will shine through like Christmas tree lights To moderate this effect, I am toning all my panels with Gamblin's Transparent Earth Red FastMatte oil color. I just take a paper towel, dampen it slightly with Gamsol, and then work the FastMatte into the panel. This gives a warm background, somewhat like burnt sienna, and it dries fast enough that I can lay more paint on top without getting mud. I'm really pleased with the results I'm getting.

I did two paintings of Wadsworth Cove from the same spot; one looking south, and the other looking east. I like a location where I can get two or more paintings out of it without moving my easel! Only one other painter showed up here, and that was as I was finishing.

Afterward, I headed over to the Dyce Head Lighthouse. Here, there were several painters already set up. It was later in the morning and getting close to lunchtime, so I figured it would be a popular spot. I found a place to park and set up in front of my car. My timing was perfect, because the lighthouse and the keeper's cottage were lit from the left; any earlier, and they would have been front-lit; any later, back-lit. I took some liberties with a set of houses on the left. I chose to bulldoze them so I could have a view of the bay.

When lunch came, I wasn't sure what I was going to do the rest of the day. I was pretty tired already -- the sun really takes it out of you -- but lunch and a cup of Earl Grey tea energized me. I drove around and found a new spot. It's a little higher up with a view of the bay and, surprisingly for Castine, it's a vacant lot. This painting was a 12x16, and I blocked in the color with a big brush before going back to the knife. Large paintings made with a knife go faster if you can get color laid in with a brush first. (And I just used the one brush, so cleanup was quick.)

Now I was hungry again. I headed down to the town dock for supper at Dennett's Wharf restaurant. While enjoying my haddock sandwich, I decided I'd had it with painting for the day, so I took a walk afterward. My legs took me to the rooftop viewing area of the Maine Maritime Academy's wharf building. There I found four painters busily capturing the evening light. Feeling guilty that I'd knocked off so early, I dashed back to the car and retrieved my gear. I set up and painted a westerly view. Once again, the sky was my focus -- it was just so beautiful with the setting sun.

I'm only allowed to have six paintings in the show. But although I've already painted five that I am very pleased with, I'm certainly going to keep painting. You never know if a better painting might come along.

Castine Bay 12x16 oil/panel by Michael Chesley Johnson
Available - Contact Michael

Evening Clouds 9x12 oil/panel by Michael Chesley Johnson
Available - Contact Michael

Wadsworth Cove, East 9x12 oil/panel by Michael Chesley Johnson
Available - Contact Michael

Wadsworth Cove, South, 9x12 oil/panel by Michael Chesley Johnson
Available - Contact Michael


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Castine Plein Air Festival - Pre-Event


Roses in Castine

When I strolled down to the Castine town dock yesterday, something seemed missing. Everything looked just as it had the last two years, so what was it?. A variety of pleasure craft sat moored in the water, a few tourists lingered by the fish'n' chips shack, and the usual late afternoon crowd occupied the deck of Dennett's Wharf restaurant. I scratched my head and wondered.

And then it hit me. The Maine Maritime Academy's training ship, the USS State of Maine, was gone.

It's funny how it took me a few moments to realize that the largest man-made structure in town was absent. I'd painted a picture of it each of the last two festivals. It was just as well. I wouldn't be tempted to to try painting it again, and I could go for something easier.

Castine is one of Maine's most historic waterfront towns. Home today to the Maine Maritime Academy, it has been occupied since 1613 by various groups including the French, the Dutch, the British and now the Americans. My favorite story about the town tells how during the Revolutionary war Loyalists dismantled their homes and shipped them and their families safely out of harm's way to Saint Andrews, New Brunswick. Things have calmed down considerably since then, and now Castine is a peaceful village with many beautiful historic homes. (The Loyalists didn't take them all away.) Tall elms line many of the streets, and there's always a breeze off Penobscot Bay.

This year, 42 painters have been juried into event, which is now in its third year. That's a lot of painters for such a tiny town; there'll be no escaping us as we mill up and down the streets looking for painting spots. I'm not sure yet what I'll be painting, but there's a lot to choose from. I'll be looking at some of the historic homes, the waterfront, the natural scenery and possibly even the Dyce Head lighthouse. I'll be painting 9x12 oils and hopefully at least one 12x16.

The weather is forecast to be pleasantly warm and sunny, with a chance of showers late Friday. We have two and a half days to paint in, so we should have no problem creating our six allotted paintings for Saturday's exhibition and sale. These paintings will need to be signed, framed and delivered between noon and 2 that day. Later that afternoon, you'll be able to see all of (and purchase any of ) the 252 paintings between 4 and 6 at the Maine Maritime Academy's Alfond Student Union on Pleasant Street. (For details on all of this, see http://www.castinearts.org.)

Now it's time to head to the town common to get my painting panels stamped. All artwork submitted on Saturday will need to have a special stamp on the back to prove that it was created during the event. This means, of course, that I won't be able to sneak in the 12x24 painting of the USS State of Maine I did last year. Of course, somebody would have figured out it wasn't painted this week anyway, since the boat seems to be missing.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Castine Plein Air Festival 2015

Me at the 2013 Castine Plein Air Festival
If you haven't heard, the Castine Plein Air Festival will start in just a few days.  This will be the third year for the Festival, and I am honoured to be an invited artist again.  I won an award each of the last two years, which automatically gets me an invitation.  Otherwise, it is a juried event, which guarantees there will be many fine painters.

This year's festival runs for three days, July 23-25, as it did last year.  Forty-two artists will arrive Wednesday evening, July 22nd, at which time we'll have a reception so we can meet each other as well as the organizers and support staff.  Early the next morning, Thursday the 23rd, we'll meet on the town common to get our canvases stamped – and then we're off!  We'll be painting boats, wharves, lighthouses, quaint old houses beneath the elms and, yes, even the natural landscape.  Then on Saturday the 25th at noon artists will turn in their framed paintings.  The reception and sale will be that afternoon from 4-6 pm at the Alfond Student Center at the Maine Maritime Academy.  For details on the event, visit http://www.castinearts.org/plein-air-festival/.

USS State of Maine 12x24 oil/panel by Michael Chesley Johnson

I painted this 12x24 oil painting last year of the USS State of Maine.  It's an impressive boat!  If you have a connection with the Maine Maritime Academy, which is located in Castine, perhaps you'd like to have it.  I will be taking it to Castine with me and can deliver it, or you can pick it up.  (I can also ship it.)  Contact me for price.

I'm really looking forward to being in Castine again for the festival.  After two years of participating, I have some great locations in mind for this year.  I hope to see you on the street or at the reception and sale!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Some 8x8s - And About Gallery-Wrap Canvas

Passage 8x8 oil/canvas by Michael Chesley Johnson
(Mulholland Lighthouse, Campobello Island, New Brunswick)
Available - $170 includes shipping

Above is one of four little paintings I made recently.  I'm experimenting with two things in these.  First, with gallery-wrap canvas.  I long have had an objection to this method of frameless presentation, partly because it is so often badly done.  Either the edge is painted a flat color, which can be uninteresting, or the image on the front is continued around the edges with the same degree of detail, which creates an unrealistic, high level of focus throughout the painting.  For mine, I've toned the canvases with Gamblin's transparent red earth Fastmatte oil paint to give them a warm tone.  On the edges, I've continued the coloration of the shapes in a simplified manner, forgoing detail.  The peripheral areas of a scene are never seen with the same focus as what you are looking at directly.  The periphery is always softer, more simplified, and my approach mimics this effect.  In some cases, I left the warm orange-red tone revealed.  I really like the look-and-feel of these little paintings.

Showing the edge of the gallery-wrap canvas, no overpainting,just the undertone

Showing the edge of the gallery-wrap canvas, overpainting over the undertone

Second, I'm experimenting with representing the scenes as a collection of simplified shapes.  A knife works well for this, since I can block in a shape with a few swipes and then add complexity with successive layers of color rather than by brushing on detail.  Objects are identified more by the profile of the silhouette than by what is within the silhouette.   (You can tell a maple from a spruce by the shape's contour; leaves are not necessary.)  Also, because of the way thick paint behaves at the knife's edge, detail happens automatically, and it can be surprisingly realistic.

These are all 8x8, which is a rather small canvas.  Next, I'll be working with a triple square – 8x24 – and I'll post those after I paint a few.

Here are the other three paintings:

Ready to Paint 8x8 oil/canvas by Michael Chesley Johnson
(Lubec, Maine)
Available - $170 includes shipping

Hillside Harbor - 8x8 oil/canvas by Michael Chesley Johnson
(Lubec, Maine)
SOLD

East Quoddy Lighthouse 8x8 oil/canvas by Michael Chesley Johnson
(Campobello Island, New Brunswick)
SOLD

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Two Countries, One Bay Open Studio Tour

Fabric art by Trina Stephenson

What is summer without an open studio tour?  This year, both Artists Retreat Studios & Gallery and Friar's Bay Studio Gallery will be part of a two-country studio tour.  The tour runs Saturday and Sunday, July 18-19, 2015.  Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. local time.  (ARSG is in Lubec, ME, on Eastern Time; FBSG is Welshpool, NB, on Atlantic Time, one hour ahead.)

At Friar's Bay Studio Gallery, I'll be on hand to show you some of my latest oil and pastel paintings of local scenery.  Also, I'll be working on a small oil painting or two, and you are welcome to visit and watch me work, and I'll be happy to answer questions.  The studio gallery is at 822 Route 774 in Welshpool on Campobello Island, New Brunswick.

At Artists Retreat Studios & Gallery, Trina will be on hand to show you some of her photographic mandala kaleidoscopes featuring views of the natural world and also her fabric art.  (I have work at the gallery, too.)  She'll be available to answer questions about her process, too.  The studio gallery is at 45 Washington Street, Lubec, Maine.  For full directions, pleaes visit the website links above.

For details on this and other particpating studios, please visit the Artsipelago site.  

Pastel Landscape by Michael Chesley Johnson
"August Fog" 8x10 pastel - available framed, $400 US incl. shipping





Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Paintings Delivered to Symbiosis Fine Art

My gallery in Saint Andrews, New Brunswick, has been very good at selling my work this summer, so today I'm delivering four more paintings to it.  Here they are:

Flood Tide at Dawn, 12x16 oil/canvas by Michael Chesley Johnson

July 9x12 oil/panel by Michael Chesley Johnson

June Noon 9x12 oil/panel by Michael Chesley Johnson

Water Street 12x9 oil/panel by Michael Chesley Johnson

I'm delighted to be in this gallery as the artwork is very well-presented and the owner, an artist himself, truly understands the business.  Also, Saint Andrews is a delightful seaside resort, and I love going there so I can poke around the shops and photograph (and even paint!) the historic homes.

Symbiosis Fine Art is located at 157-B Water Street, right next to Honeybeans Coffee.  Also for sale is beautifully-crafted jewelry by Matt Watkins of Earthforge Design, paintings by Cedar Sky, soda-and-lime glassworks by Jamie-Lynn Gardner and fine art photography by Jorgen Klausen.  Here is the website:  http://www.symbiosisfineart.com/  I hope you'll stop in!

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Painting: The Bootleg Tapes

"Ready to Paint" 8x8 oil/gallery wrap canvas
by Michael Chesley Johnson
Available!  $150 incl. shipping

I listen to music when I paint. My tastes are eclectic, and my large collection spans the spectrum from Bach to Björk. But do you know what my favorite music is? Bootleg tapes.

Bootlegs are unofficial releases of music. Back in the early days of rock'n'roll, a fan at a concert might sneak in a tape recorder, and he'd share the tape with friends. Over the years, the technology improved, and soon the bootlegs began to sound as good as the official releases. (Some of the Grateful Dead bootlegs are like this.) The music industry quickly realized there was a market for bootlegs, so today we have "official" bootleg releases. And although they aren't quite the same as bootlegs, there are studio session outtakes. Sometimes, the publisher will even include bits of these outtakes – informal dialogue, for example – on the official album release. I fondly remember the first time I heard some of this on The Beatle's White Album.

Bootleg sessions are far from highly-polished album releases. These, along with outtakes from raw tape, show the artists in unedited moments. You can hear the process of preparing for the performance: one artist runs scales on the keyboard while another tunes up his guitar. You can hear the process of creating music: one artist fumbles, while another hits a note too early. And you can hear the finish: maybe things were a little off, and one of the artists will comment on it. When I listen to these sessions, there's something pleasing about hearing all the elements the producer edits out. I almost feel like I'm right there with the performers, and the experience is all the richer for it. The music is "live."

My favorite paintings are like that. They're not highly-polished, and they may even be unfinished. Although a lot of editing may have been done, much of the process remains visible for me to see and enjoy. I can spot the initial line drawing of shapes and bits of underpainting; I can tell where a knife has scraped down an ill-stated passage; I can see how a bravura stroke was applied just right at the end. When I look at a painting like this, the painting is "live." I'm right there in the studio, watching the artist at work.

Recently, I've been reading the exhibition catalog for an exhibit of paintings by Degas that was shown at the Metropolitan Museum several years ago. Degas was an inveterate experimenter, and many of his paintings show his process. At the bottom of this post is an unfinished piece. I enjoy looking at it because it shows a great deal of the thought behind it.  (And at the top of this post, you can see one of my finished pieces in which you can see my process.)

I think most painters enjoy seeing this kind of painting. I believe many collectors, especially those among the cognescenti, do as well. This kind of painting isn't for someone who just wants a pretty picture for the dining room; instead, it is for someone who wants to connect with the maker, his process, and his vision.

"Woman with an Umbrella" by Edgar Degas c.1876

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