Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Outlands of Sedona - Road Trip

Painting at Palatki
At least once a season when I'm in Sedona, I like to take a painting road trip with my friend, M.L. Coleman.  M.L. has a Lazy Daze motorhome that's perfect for several days or even weeks on the road.  Together, we've traveled up to the Grand Canyon, both the North and South Rims, and the Vermilion Cliffs.   There's plenty of room in the Lazy Daze for our painting gear and wet paintings.


This time, in advance of a predicted cold front moving in with rain and snow, we headed out for a more local trip.  There's much to explore just outside of Sedona.

Forest Road 119
Our first stop was on the east side of  Interstate 17 in the Red Tank Draw area.  Unfortunately, a forest road that overlooks Beaver Creek with some fantastic cliffs was closed, no doubt because of a heavy rain last week.  (Red dirt roads here are quick to turn slimey with rain, and they stay that way for a long time, even after several dry days.)   We decided to explore a little more, taking a forest road past the V-Bar-V Ranch and on down to Camp Verde.  This road was basically a two-track road that could be rough in rain or snow.


We crossed a bridge with some interesting, exposed red rock and running water.  We went down to explore, and I came across what appeared to be a miniature version of crop circles, only made in rock.  Three sets of these on one side of the creek and three sets on the other side indicated the foundation of a bridge that must have washed out long ago.  I love finding odd things like this when I'm poking around for a painting spot - it makes for a much richer experience.


But we preferred a vista, so we headed south on this primitive road to Camp Verde and then went back north on I-17.   As fate would have it, we ended up finding a good spot to paint not far from where we started by Red Tank Draw.  We'd gotten a late start that day, so we decided to camp here as well.  The sky was grey and leaden, and the light, absolutely flat.  But we made the best of the view and did a little painting before sundown.  (We are fast approaching the shortest day of the year.)  Afterward, we cooked up a couple of cornish game hens for dinner, accompanied by a little merlot.  Later, I poked my head out the door before bed and saw stars overhead, so I thought the weather might be better than predicted the next day.

Evening Toward Rarick Canyon 9x12 oil - $700 framed, includes shipping
Morning dawned with lots of scattered clouds, which was much better than the grey lid that clamped down on us the day before.  According to the weather forecast, the cold front was still en route, but it looked like we were going to enjoy a respite before the rain.  (Our cell phones worked out there so we were able to call home for weather reports.)

Palatki

After breakfast and coffee, we drove over to Sedona, heading down Boynton Canyon Pass toward Palatki.  Palatki is an archaeological site complete with cliff dwellings left by the ancient Sinagua peoples.  You can feel their spirits when you stand amongst the hills painting.  Their spirits didn't help me much, though, because I ended up scraping both a 9x12 and a 5x7.  I did get one 9x12 I was very happy with, though.


Sacred Space - 9x12 oil - $700 framed, includes shipping

We liked this area so much that we went farther in and toward the other Sinagua site (Honanki).  The road, however, got narrower and rougher.  It was also all red clay, and if the rain came during the night as predicted, we would have a time coming out.  So, we got onto a better forest road and slowly made out way back so we wouldn't be so far from the paved highway.  We found the perfect hilltop camping spot with a 360 degree view.

Sunset Over Mingus - 9x12 oil - $700 framed, includes shipping
After painting the sunset, we sat until it got cold, watching the lights of Jerome come on, far across the Verde Valley.  Then we withdrew into our warm home and treated ourselves to a dinner of baked ham and cauliflower.

Before bed, I stepped out again to check the sky, and I saw no stars.  I woke in the morning to rain drumming on the roof.  That spelled an end to our adventure, but I'd gotten out of it three nice paintings plus some excellent conversation.

By the way, for this trip, I changed my palette.  Although I teach and use the traditional split-primary palette  for oil, it is always a struggle to make color harmonious.  Because I wanted a more relaxing trip, I used just yellow ochre, burnt sienna and Prussian blue (plus white, of course.)  You can't go wrong in color harmony with this palette.  The two earth colors are naturally muted, and  the Prussian blue greys down nicely with them.  To be honest, though, for the one sunset painting, the yellow ochre just wasn't intense enough, so I added a tiny bit of cadmium yellow light to the halo around the sun.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Artist as Migrant Worker

Photo courtesy of Life Magazine
The LIFE photo archive of more than 10 million pictures has been made available on Google, free for personal and research purposes. Copyright and ownership of all images remains with Time Inc. A majority of the images have never been publicly displayed before. They appear among the results of any Google search, or are available separately at LIFE.com.

The 1950s photo above shows a caravan of Airstream trailers, camped out for the night.  Back when I was a very young boy living in rural New Jersey, I remember seeing something like this.  Once a year, and literally overnight like mushrooms, a camp would spring up in a nearby vacant field.  The sleek, shiny Airstream trailers seemed to be a party that I very much wanted to join.

I envision something like this today for painters - plein air painters on wheels.  Maybe not so many, though.  Maybe three or four like-minded artists (early to bed, early to rise and serious about our craft) in a mini-caravan composed of trailers with each being a complete artist's studio.  We would travel with our spouses and partners and a like-minded dog or two, camping and painting wherever the spirit takes us.

But for a working professional who depends on his art for a living, this poses a problem.  It's hard doing business while on the road.  For the past several years, though, I've been doing exactly that.  I'm a migrant worker.  I move to where the money takes me.

I work in the Canadian Maritimes in the summer and in Arizona in the winter.  Why?  As beautiful as the Maritimes are in the winter, students won't come for workshops, collectors won't come to buy paintings, and although I do like the occasional foray into the snow to paint, it's not my preferred method.  So, I head to the southwest for the winter, where it is warmer and everything is possible.  My friends say I have the best of both worlds, and I completely agree.

But the traveling life has perils.  It is difficult to be part of a community in either location.  You are either treated as "not really a resident" or as an interloper.  Although you can make friends, I tend to be a solitary sort, and it's hard for me to do that.  Galleries and collectors also have a hard time categorizing you, and if they can't, they move on to someone they can.  As an example, a local writer asked to profile me for a book she was writing about Sedona area artists.  Well, once she found out I am in Arizona for less than half the year, she disqualified me.  Yet, I probably paint more paintings in Arizona than I do anywhere else all year.

It's also tough to enter shows.  Quite often, shows seem to have deadlines that fall on or around my travel dates.  (It usually takes me three weeks to go east or west because of teaching workshops along the way.)  It's inconvenient to lug around a large, framed painting and box halfway across the country and then ship it when the shipping time comes - or not ship it, if it doesn't get juried in.   And of course, there is the whole tax issue.   I file multiple tax returns for multiple tax jurisdictions including two countries.  You can't imagine how much time and effort this takes.

Still, it works.  It's a living, and I enjoy it.  And, thanks to modern technology, when I travel my main phone number gets forwarded to a cell phone, I check e-mail at hotels and coffee shops, postal mail gets forwarded, bills are paid automatically through Bill Pay, and my magazines are digital versions that get download to my tablet.  When you contact me, you don't know where I am.  (I turn off the location services on all my devices.)

Some day, I may find it not necessary to sell paintings and teach workshops.  When that day comes, look for me and my friends on the road, coming to a vacant lot near you.

Monday, December 8, 2014

What Inspires Me - and Where in the World is Plein Air



Next summer, I'll be taking part in the second annual "Where in the World Is Plein Air" juried event.  The event lasts three days, June 10-12, 2015, and participating artists will be creating one painting a day and posting three video segments daily to show the paintings in process.  The paintings will be available for sale the day they are completed, and two weeks after the event, you can see both the sold works and the remaining pieces at the Illume Gallery of Fine Art in Salt Lake City, Utah.

I came across this event last year and enjoyed looking at the field videos and, of course, the paintings, too.  (Here are some of last year's videos.)  I'm excited to be part of the event this time around.  To see the list of 2015 artists, visit:  http://www.whereintheworldispleinair.com/

Preparatory to the event, I was asked to write an artist's statement about what inspires me to paint. Here it is:

I am easily inspired to go outside and paint. Sometimes it's a momentary, alchemical mixture of light, color and shade that does it. A stream running through a meadow whispers in quiet contemplation; thunderclouds over a mountain crackle with urgency. At these times, it's all about capturing the moment. At other times, though, it's my need to go out often and seek my roots in nature. This isn't so much about 'capturing the moment' as it is about nurturing my relationship with the landscape, a relationship that has been ongoing for more than half a century now. Rather than working quickly to get the moment down, I spend more time not just looking but also using all my senses to discover, trace and reinforce the patterns that connect me to the land. This type of painting is very spiritual and extremely fulfilling.

Friday, December 5, 2014

After December Rains ... and the Finger Cot Test

After December Rains
12x9 pastel
Available - $ 300 - unframed, shipping included

As you may recall, in my last post I wrote about cracked fingertips and split fingernails as a result of my pastel addiction.  After trying a variety of gloves, creams and alchemical concoctions, I settled on finger cots.  Today was my first test with the finger cots, and I am  happy to report they work as advertised.

With the ones I got (blue, pictured here), I was able to take them off and re-use them a couple of times before one of them split.  Not a problem, since four bucks bought me a gross of them.  They go on easily, come off easily, and they sweat a lot less than full gloves.



Best yet, though, is that I discovered they make the perfect blending tool!  Better than a moist (or oily) fingertip, better than a color shaper, better than a styrofoam packing peanut.  But the ultimate discovery is that they are great for "putting out the lights" - Doug Dawson's phrase for removing the little light spots in the dark areas.  (This happens if the paper tone is lighter than the darks you apply.)  A touch is all it takes.

In the test painting above, I left some of the "candles" (as Doug calls them) because I liked the sparkly effect of a sunny day.  (This, after two days of rain!) Here's a detail shot:


(Try this Amazon search to find the finger cots:  Medi-First Latex Finger Cots, Blue, Large #70035, made by Medique Products, Fort Myers, FL 33967, 1-800-634-7680.  There are a variety of places to get them at a variety of prices.)


Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Heartbreak of ... Pastel

If you're of a certain age, you'll remember the phrase, "The Heartbreak of Psoriasis" from a TV commercial.  Well, there's a more terrifying scourge for the pastel painter - split fingernails and cracked fingertips.  Working with pastel is like working in the garden.  Dirt sucks all the natural oils out of your fingers, and so does pastel.



The unhappy creature depicted above is my right thumb.  I've been painting in pastel all week, and this is the result.  The cracks are painful and sometimes, they bleed.  Other fingers on that hand look like that, too.  If you're asking, yes, I did remember to use a barrier cream (Gloves in a Bottle) but that only carries me so far.  I've also tried gloves, but they aren't tight enough around the fingertips to keep from getting in the way.

The stylish decorator-color finger cot

The solution is the finger cot.  Yes, it does look like its cousin, and it, too, has a preventative use.  It comes in different sizes - I have big hands, so this is the "large" version - and also in latex or nitrile.  You can get it in white, blue, purple and probably other colors, as well. (Try this Amazon search to find them:  Medi-First Latex Finger Cots, Blue, Large #70035, made by Medique Products, Fort Myers, FL 33967, 1-800-634-7680.  There are a variety of places to get them at a variety of prices.)

Now, stop snickering and get back to work.

But wait - I forgot to remind everyone about my 2015 calendar and my holiday art sale.  Christmas is coming!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Fall Lasts Long in Sedona - and a New Oil Palette

Creek Colors 9x12 oil
Available - $700 - Frame/Shipping Included

A friend recently said, "Fall lasts long in Sedona."  And it does!  You can still find pockets of fall color here and there along the creeks.  Yesterday, I went down to Red Rock Crossing with our plein air group to catch a little before the last of it dropped.

I also wanted to play with a palette revision.  Normally, I use (from left to right on the palette):

  • cadmium yellow light
  • cadmium yellow medium
  • cadmium red light
  • permanent alizarin crimson
  • ultramarine blue
  • phthalo green
  • chromatic black
  • titanium-zinc white


This time, I replaced the mineral cadmiums with organic modern colors and also replaced the alizarin with a modern version of a red earth color.  (Not very scientific, changing so many variables at once.) So, yesterday's palette was:

  • hansa yellow light
  • hansa yellow deep
  • napthol red
  • transparent earth red
  • ultramarine blue
  • viridian
  • chromatic black
  • titanium-zinc white


(Okay, I changed out the green, too.)  In many ways, this new palette looks and acts like the old palette.  The viridian, of course, is a little easier to handle than the phthalo green since it mutes easily.  The most different player, however, was the transparent earth red.  It is not as "clean" a cool red as the alizarin, so it dulls down the blue in mixtures.  That is, it doesn't make as rich a violet.  In fact, it results in a very earthy violet.

For the painting above, I toned the surface first with transparent earth red and then wiped it down to just leave a stain.  (I didn't want it mixing up with my other colors.)  Then I used chromatic black to establish all my darks.  I followed this with more transparent red for all the trees, then blue for the sky, and finally modified the reds with the other colors I saw in the landscape.  Back in the studio, I also added a dash of napthol scarlet to the foreground water for zest.

There's quite a bit of unruly color in this painting, and believe it or not, I did knock down the chroma quite a lot with complements. I used a painting knife exclusively, which probably also account for the strong color.  But who doesn't like color?

All paints are by Gamblin Artist Colors.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Holiday Newsletter



November/December 2014
Sedona, Arizona

The last time I wrote, we were en route from Campobello Island to Arizona. Now, we've been in Arizona for just over a month, but what a jam-packed month it's been! Here are some highlights:
  • As soon as we arrived, I launched into the Sedona Plein Air Festival. We had excellent weather for the event, which included painting at two of the local wineries. I sold my large painting of Alcantara Vineyards during the evening gala there, and then I won a Merit Award, presented by artist Jim McVicker, for a large pastel I painted from beneath Midgely Bridge with a view of Oak Creek Canyon. (You can read more about the event and see my winning painting here.)
  • After the Sedona event, I taught a regular Paint Sedona workshop, but this was quickly followed by seven days of an intense mentoring workshop with master artist Albert Handell. Trina and I spent a wonderful day touring Albert and Jeanine around the area before the workshop, and then it was twelve-hour days until the end. These were incredibly productive days. Albert had such a great time, he's coming back in April 2016. (You can read about the upcoming 2016 workshop here.)
  • Then, as soon as that workshop was over, I had to paint a series of small pieces for the Kolb Studio at Grand Canyon to replenish the paintings that were sold at the Celebration of Art there in September. (You can see the paintings I delivered here.)
  • Finally, I am honored to have been made a Signature Member of the American Impressionist Society. This prestigious label allows me to put "AIS" after my signature on paintings.
And that brings us to today. Now I'm writing two articles for The Artist's Magazine, painting a charity piece for the Sedona Arts Center, and keeping up with an online workshop through Artists Network University, as well as more Paint Sedona workshops. Oh, and I am going to find time to paint a little for myself. Plus, I'll be working on a new book!

The holidays are a time to catch my breath. Last week I hiked up Lizard Head, a famous local landmark, and my thigh muscles are still aching from the trip down . Later, we'll take out our refurbished bicycles to get a jump-start on a New Year's resolution. I'm sure we'll make some field trips during our time off, too. But before we head out on a bike ride, here are some things I'd like to leave you with.
  • 2015 Calendar. My annual calendar has 13 images, half from the Southwest and half from Downeast Maine and the Canadian Maritimes. I hand-picked these from my favorites. This year, the calendar is only $18. You can see a preview and buy it at this link.
  • Holiday Sale. Each year, I try to have a holiday sale. It almost didn't happen this year, but I finally got it together with Trina's help in selecting pieces. This year, each sketch, no matter the size, is an even $50. You can see and purchase items here.
  • Videos. Don't forget that my three new videos are available from North Light Shop as DVDs and as downloads. These videos are a great deal since each one is about two hours long. Here's a link to previews and more information.
  • Paint Campobello. It's not too early to think about signing up for a plein air painting workshop on Campobello Island or in Lubec, Maine, July-August 2015 this summer. Visit www.PaintCampobello.com.
And don't forget that all of my books are now available at Amazon! You can visit my Amazon author site here to buy the books: http://www.amazon.com/author/johnson.

That's all the news for now. Have a truly blessed holiday season!

Michael & Trina & Saba

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Less Expensive than Dinner for Two

Butte Shadows #989 - 5x7 oil

Looking for that perfect gift for yourself or a friend? Look no further! You can purchase an original work of art for less than dinner for two at a fine restaurant. I'm pricing each item for only $50, no matter what the size.  Visit http://www.michaelchesleyjohnson.com/holiday/holiday_sale.html

This time, I'm also including a few watercolor sketches.  When I'm not painting oil or pastel, I enjoy pulling out the watercolor block.  Painting watercolor is a different process for me, so it exercises some mental muscles that tend to not get used.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The 2015 Michael Chesley Johnson Calendar is Ready!


With my busy schedule each fall, every year I wonder if I'll be able to squeeze in a wall calendar.  This year, it almost didn't happen, but people started asking.  When people ask, I do.  And as always, the process of selecting images was quite enjoyable.  Trina and I picked out six paintings from the Southwest and another six from Downeast Maine and the Canadian Maritimes to fit the seasons.

The 2015 Michael Chesley Johnson Calendar is only $18, and you can see a preview and buy it at this link:

http://www.lulu.com/shop/michael-chesley-johnson/2015-michael-chesley-johnson-calendar/calendar/product-21915120.html

Thank you, and I hope you enjoy the calendar!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Video Interview in the Studios of Artists Network TV

In case you missed it, here is a short video interview with me that was shot while I was at the studios of Artists Network TV recently.  (The link is a playlist that will also play the previews of my three new videos, so keep watching!)


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