Saturday, September 16, 2017

Plein Air Painting Retreats and More!

Painting in Nova Scotia
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September 2017
Campobello Island, NB, Canada



Trina and I just returned from a fantastic painting retreat in Nova Scotia. Our group was based near famous Peggy's Cove, which has a great reputation among painters and photographers. If you'd like to read about our experiences on the trip, I've written two blog posts about it, Part 1 and Part 2.

Now that we're back, we are on the verge of packing up and driving west to our home and studios in New Mexico! It's hard to believe summer has passed so quickly.


Workshops

Some of you may have noticed I am scheduling fewer plein air painting workshops these days. Well, I'm not retiring so much as I am refocusing. If you've taken a workshop with me, you know how much I enjoy sharing what I've learned over the years. I don't intend to stop. But many of my students have asked for a different kind of program, one in which we explore not only more advanced topics but also new locations. With that in mind, I've been testing the waters with a series of painting retreats for the experienced painter, and the feedback has been wonderful.

Paint the Southwest!

Now that we're back from this latest retreat, let me tell you about a new one in New Mexico. This state has a very special place in our hearts; when we first moved to the Southwest back in 1999, those hills were the introduction to a place vastly different from our roots back east. One reason we love the area is that it's been home to several cultures for hundreds of years, including Native Americans (Navajo, Zuni and Acoma), old Spanish families, and the more recently arrived Anglo ranchers. But for me as a painter, it's also rich artistically, having a long history of painters and artisans. And the scenery! You can spend a lifetime painting its mesas and hills and mountain streams.

Why am I telling you about New Mexico? Because this will be the home for a special series of retreats that starts in the spring. I'll be offering private, one-on-one study for painters with experience. This program will be completely customized to your needs—it can include fine-tuning your painting skills, introducing you to new ways of seeing (and therefore, painting), the business of painting, or whatever I determine would help you best, based on a consultation via either e-mail or telephone. The program includes six nights' lodging at our home (private bed and bath), three meals a day, and more. Cost for the program is only $1500 and includes followup consultations for three months after the program. For full details, visit www.PaintTheSouthwest.com.

Paint Santa Fe!


I'll also be offering a retreat in Santa Fe, April 16-23, 2018. Unlike the mentoring retreats at my studio, this will be a small group of painters exploring Santa Fe with both brush and camera. In previous retreats in Santa Fe, we've painted the historic Pueblo Revival adobes and cottonwoods, visited the galleries on famous Canyon Road and journeyed out to a historic Spanish hacienda for a day of painting. Cost is $1000 per person, which includes lodging and breakfast and lunch. Space will be limited to only six or eight participants. If you're interested, let me know right away, and I'll send you details.

Paint Lubec, Maine!


Another very special retreat will be in Lubec, Maine, August 13-17, 2018, for experienced painters. I want to give past students the first shot at this, so if you're on my student list, watch for a separate e-mail on that. After October 1st, I'll be opening the retreat up to the general public.

I'm also planning retreats and workshops abroad. Although the Scotland trip for next spring is filled with a waiting list, I do have space in my Italy trip, which is June 16-23, 2018. We'll stay at historic Villa Fattoria Bacìo in Certaldo Alto with painting excursions to Siena, La Meridiana, San Gimignano and Barberino. For full details on this, you can download the flyer here.

Finally, I want to remind you that I will continue to teach workshops for art groups and workshop centers. If you'd like me to teach one for your group, please let me know. I have a list of upcoming ones on my website.


Exhibitions

This July saw the opening of the Third Acadia Invitational at the Bar Harbor Inn (Maine). Organized by Argosy Gallery, the reception had a great turnout. I was pleased to meet many of the participating artists that evening. The show has now moved to Argosy II, the gallery's second location on Mt Desert Street, just off the town green. It'll be up through October 2018. (Sold paintings will be replaced by the artists.) You can see the paintings on the gallery's web site here.

I'm also coordinating the annual exhibition for Plein Air Painters of the Bay of Fundy for next August. The exhibition will be in Saint Andrews, New Brunswick. Stay tuned for details!

That's all for now. Trina and I will shortly be on our way to New Mexico. I'll send everyone a note once we are there!





Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Nova Scotia Plein Air Painting Retreat: Part 2

Back Bay, Chester
9x12 oil by Michael Chesley Johnson
Available

[For Nova Scotia Plein Air Painting Retreat Part 1, click here.]

Tuesday we headed in the other direction, to Terence Bay.  Terence Bay is the site of another tragedy.  In 1873, the SS Atlantic wrecked with a loss of 560 souls out of about 990 passengers.   The ones recovered are buried in a mass grave just below the Anglican church that overlooks the bay.  A trail takes you through the cemetery and to a memorial for the lost.  A very nice interpretive center tells the story and also raises funds for restoring the Terence Bay lighthouse.

SS Atlantic Memorial and Burial Site
Terrence Bay Light

The area around the lighthouse is very beautiful:  rugged, windswept, waves crashing.  But the wind was blowing so hard that painting anywhere but in a foxhole was impossible.  I found the equivalent of a foxhole—a little hideaway between some rocks near the waterline.  Sitting on a rock lowered me even more, and with my back to the wind, I was comfortable enough.  Except for my buttocks.  I ended up sitting on my roll of paper towels, which was quite cushiony.

Painting at Terrence Bay

How the Innovative Painter Keeps His Spirits Container from Tipping Over

Terrence Bay
6x6 oil by Michael Chesley Johnson
Available
Afterward, Trina and I went off exploring again, following every little road that seemed like it might head to the water.  One place, a small bridge connecting Hennessey Island to the mainland, seemed the perfect serene spot, but it could only manage one or two cars, so was unsuitable for a group.  Sometimes you just have to go with taking a few photographs.

Peggy's Cove, Morning
9x12 Oil by Michael Chesley Johnson
Available
Following the explorations, we found ourselves back at Peggy’s Cove again.  That place is truly irresistible for a painter.  Town wasn’t quite as busy as the holiday weekend, so I set up in a more open spot.  I parked my car back at the information center and hiked into town where I saw some cars parked. This seemed very much a public spot to me.  The cars were from a variety of places, including Texas, and so I set up two feet in front of them on the gravel pad with a view of some fish houses.  About halfway into my painting, I heard a car horn behind me.  I usually ignore those, because the noise is always meant for someone else.  But after about ten blasts, I turned to see what the problem was.  Two guys in a car were looking at me.  The driver, shouting across his passenger, asked if I had permission to paint in that spot.  I responded, “It’s public, isn’t it?”  “No, it’s not,” he said.  Flustered, I apologized, but then he said it was all right but he usually asks for a painting in exchange.  I replied we’d have to see how this one turned out.  After he drove off, I just couldn’t get rid of the fluster, especially after the embarrassment of all that rude horn-blowing.  I always try to do the right thing and feel terrible if I’m chastised.   So, I hurriedly applied a few final strokes, packed up and left.

I was positive I had set up on public property.  After all, there were cars parked there with plates from other provinces and even the US.  Later, discussing this with the others, we decided this was a local joker just giving me a hard time.  But maybe he really was the property owner, and I was indeed trespassing.  I know signs can be ugly in a tourist town, but private property where parking is a free-for-all should be clearly marked as such.   Maybe the guy thought I belonged to the car from Texas.

(As an aside, I should say that the day we set up on Lobster Lane, we made sure to stay at the edge, keeping the way clear for traffic.  This is a one-lane road that goes to a couple of cottages and a fish house or two.  A lady from the information center saw us there and said, “It’s okay to paint there, but just to let you know, sometimes the cottage owner will need to get through.”  And the Peggy’s Dogs lady said she had no problem with us painting a few feet from her cart.)

The DeGarthe Studio (right)

I de-stressed by visiting the DeGarthe Art Gallery, right across the street from the information center.  I’d never heard of William DeGarthe until we started researching this retreat.   From Finland, he came to Canada at 19 and finally settled in Peggy’s Cove, where he sold paintings to tourists.  It wasn’t long before he developed a bevy of collectors, including the Imperial Bank of Canada.  After he died at age 75, his widow donated part of his work to Nova Scotia, which established a provincial park with his home in Peggy’s Cove as the centerpiece.  The home is now the museum.  His studio, unmarked, sits down by the water, a lonely red building with that iconic view of the cove.  The paintings in the museum seem to show two different types of painting:  quick sketchy oils for the tourist trade, and more larger, more finished paintings destined for collectors.  DeGarthe was also a sculptor; you can see a nearly-finished sculpture carved into a rock ledge behind the home, the “Fishermen’s Monument,” which contains 32 figures.  The ashes of both DeGarthe and his wife are interred in the monument.

Peggy's Cove Sublime
8x10 oil by Michael Chesley Johnson
Available
Wednesday was a day of not just wind but also fog.  Even so, we went back to Peggy’s Cove, where I did a demonstration at a spot overlooking a little cove, the water of which seemed incandescent in the fog.  I did a second painting for myself here as well, after a cup of coffee at a little shop down the road.  Afterward, we did some more exploring and ended up on Croucher’s Point Road and visited the eponymous gallery, which has some wonderful work by William Rogers, Ivan Fraser, and others.

Later, as we continued to explore, we found a delightful spot on Paddy’s Head Road in Indian Harbour with a view of the Indian Harbour lighthouse.  I did a quick painting and met another artist who lives nearby.  We had a pleasant chat, and she welcomed me as another artist enjoying her view.  Shortly, her grandchildren from British Columbia joined her, and they went down to the beach on the other side of the road.  I'm sorry my car alarm went off went I bent over with my keys in my pocket, disturbing their afternoon.

Peggy's Cove Preservation Area

Thursday, the rain came.  We'd been hearing it was coming all week, but were pleased it held off that long.  The only ones who painted were one or two participants who didn't mind tweaking plein air paintings in the dim light of the garage.  (It's almost impossible to rent a space that also has an area suitable for painting, but fortunately, we had an empty garage.)  We all went out for lunch at Rhubarb, just up the road, and afterward, the rain changed over to scattered bits of drizzle, so Trina and I took a walk on a short trail in the Peggys' Cove Preservation Area.  The trail goes up a nearly-treeless bluff with granite boulders and a fine view of the cove.  The rolling breakers were awesome, and you could sense their power from afar.

Gateway (Chester)
9x12 Oil by Michael Chesley Johnson
Available
Friday, our last day, we drove off for Chester.  A painting acquaintance recommended it, and our scouting trip earlier in the week proved it had some good scenery.  Chester is a quiet little village, somewhat gentrified in that its waterfront hosts mainly pleasure craft; I don't think I saw a single work boat other than the Tancook Island ferry.   A great town for walking in, you can get some excellent coffee and visit some galleries plus enjoy the waterfront, all on foot.  (Sure, you can drive if you want to, but just park at Parade Square Road by the Chester Yacht Club and go for a stroll.)  It was such a beautiful day, I made two paintings before we headed home to pack and for our farewell dinner.

Preparing for Critiques

Our Happy Group

So, it was a great week.  I was happy to learn there's a lot to see and paint on Nova Scotia's South Shore.  I even enjoyed the spectacle of all those motor coaches lining up in Peggy's Cove.  (Maybe that was a perverse enjoyment, but there was plenty of room for everyone and spots to paint in away from the crowd.)  I especially enjoyed where we stayed, as McGrath's Cove, though a short drive from Halifax, was quiet enough that it felt much more remote.  I'm sure we'll go back for another retreat.

Speaking of retreats, I am putting together a very special retreat for August 12-17, 2018, in Lubec, Maine.  This retreat will have participants lodging at West Quoddy Head Station, a beautifully renovated US Coast Guard station.  Stay tuned for details!

Monday, September 11, 2017

Nova Scotia Plein Air Painting Retreat: Part 1

Peggy's Cove, Afternoon
9x12 Oil by Michael Chesley Johnson
Available

Most landscape painters in the eastern US and Canada have heard of Peggy’s Cove.  Much like Monhegan Island and Cape Ann, this little village is legendary among artists.  Tucked into a quiet corner of St Margaret’s Bay on Nova Scotia’s South Shore, it maintains the feeling of an old harbor town.  Imagine lobster boats, fish houses, crashing waves, even a lighthouse—all of it painted in tones of raw umber, burnt sienna and yellow ochre.

I’d never been to Peggy’s Cove, and as a painter, I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.  With that in mind, I organized a plein air painting retreat with a few others.  Our retreat was based in nearby McGrath’s Cove, where a short drive along Peggy’s Cove Road would take us to that famous destination.

Trina and I planned to arrive at the retreat by mid-afternoon Saturday.  Since we’d spent the night on the way from Campobello Island in Salisbury, New Brunswick, we had extra time, which allowed us to pick up groceries for the week and to make a preview stop at Peggy’s Cove.  But first, we visited the Swissair Flight 111 Memorial, just outside of town.  This little park, nestled among white boulders, memorializes the 229 people on the flight who died when the plane crashed into the bay, only five miles from Peggy’s Cove in 1998.



Next stop was Peggy’s Cove.  When I stepped out of the car, I felt like I’d entered a Hollywood studio backlot.  Little rickety shacks perched on rocks edging the cove, red lobster boats bobbed on their lines tied to little rickety docks, old-fashioned lath lobster traps (possibly rickety) were stacked chest-high—it all looked neatly staged by someone making a film about a long-gone era.

Not a Tourist

But of course, this wasn’t the case.  Peggy’s Cove really is a working harbor.  It’s curious, what with all the tearing down of historic waterfronts up and down the eastern seaboard over the last 50 years, that this place has been preserved.  No doubt this has to do with a forward-thinking populace that understands the value of tourism.

Saturday Afternoon at Peggy's Cove

Peggy's Point Lighthouse, with People

Tourism, however, does have its downside, especially for painters.  Granted, it was Labour Day Weekend, but I wasn’t prepared for the throngs milling through town.  I soon discovered the source.  Several motor coaches, including a couple of bright-pink accordion buses, idled in the parking lot of the Sou’wester, a gift shop/restaurant near the Peggy’s Point lighthouse.  Day tourists from Halifax, many of them would enjoy not only the shops and scenery but also the entertainment provided by us plein air painters.  (I am less bothered by this than some, but a couple in our small group found the requests for photographs and questions distracting.)

During this scouting mission, I determined that the town was definitely paintable.  I also figured that if we got there early enough, we would avoid the crowds.  There seemed to be enough room to spread out and enough public spots (as opposed to private property) upon which to set up.  As always, I’m a responsible retreat leader, and I’ve got a good eye for what is public.   (Or I think I do.  More on this later.)

After this, we headed on to our retreat.  The other participants, all previous students who hailed from Illinois, Maryland, New Hampshire and New Brunswick, showed up not long after.  After unpacking, we went to dinner at Shaw’s Landing, a well-known local spot famous for seafood, to set the week’s agenda.  Bedtime came early since we were all weary from our travels.

Right after breakfast on Sunday, we drove to Peggy’s Cove.  It turned out to be a gorgeous September day in the Maritimes.  Sunshine, a gentle breeze, just warm enough so you could dispense with the fleece jacket—what more could you ask for?  We first went on a walk with eyes open for possible painting spots.  It wasn’t a long walk, just from the information center and the DeGarthe Art Gallery, down past Lobster Lane and the fish houses, and on up to the lighthouse, where the road ends and the tour buses begin.  I decided to retreat to Lobster Lane, right beside the old, boarded-up DeGarthe studio, and painted the same view that hundreds of painters have painted before me.  Did I feel that it was hackneyed, clichéd?  Not at all.  I was filled with the excitement of just standing in front of such an iconic view.  Even in retrospect, I find the painting exciting.

Lobster Lane
The throngs arrived about the time I finished.  Remember, this was a Sunday on a long Labour Day weekend.  The Peggy’s Dogs lady arrived around 10 to set up her hotdog cart several feet from us, and the tourists discovered Lobster Lane shortly thereafter.  Two of my painters were still in the early stages of their paintings when the questions began.  By then, I’d already packed up and wandered off to find my next spot.  The tide had gone out, and I discovered that the best place—”best” meaning “where no tourist would go"— was a little corner down below the high tide mark, deep in barnacles and seaweed and backed up against some timbers that shored up a fish house.  Indeed, I painted a little 6x6 undisturbed.

Fish Houses
6x6 Oil by Michael Chesley Johnson
Available

Lobster Lane

Me Painting at Peggy's Cove

Perched on the Edge, Painting

This was all before lunch.  Trina and I had made bag lunches, so we ate quickly and then headed off on an exploration for painting spots later in the week.  (As responsible hosts, we like to stay one step ahead of our participants.)  Our destination was Chester, a historic harbor along St Margaret’s Bay an hour west of our retreat house.  Chester proved to be a lovely town, and more upscale than the rustic buildings of Peggy’s Cove.

On Monday, we took the group to a place I’d scoped out last summer when I stayed in Lunenburg after my trip to Scotland.  (Lunenburg is about 90 minutes west of McGrath’s Cove.)  Blue Rocks, a tiny community with a scattering of fish houses and boats, is just east of Lunenburg.  Wild and scenic, it became even more so—the wind began to blow around 30 knots, and it would keep up this pace most of our week.  At the end of the road, we finally found ourselves on the lee side of the point, where we could paint in relative comfort.   There was plenty of parking for us, but it became rather crowded when the wedding party showed up with kayaks.

Blue Rocks
9x12 Oil by Michael Chesley Johnson
SOLD

Yes, there was a wedding that took place on a little island just across the water from Blue Rocks.  A dozen colorful kayaks were put in, followed by the wedding party and guests, all dressed up in a variety of clothing and footwear, some suitable for kayaking and some not.  By the time the floral arrangements were stowed into the kayaks, I had packed up and was ready for my next bit of exploration.  A few of the other painters, a little slower to get started perhaps, had to deal with all this activity blocking their view.  (If you don't like tourists asking questions, it pays to be a quick painter.)

The Europa in Lunenburg

Trina and I headed to Lunenburg.  I’d thought about painting there, but the town was busy enough and the waterfront complicated enough that I decided shopping would be a better idea than painting.  We visited some of the galleries (Laurie Swim has a fantastic art quilt gallery there, and we saw a few DeGarthe paintings discounted 50% at a shop filled with eclectic decorative art) and finally had a late lunch on the dock.  It was an exhausting day, so it was an early night.

[I'll continue with Tuesday and finish my retreat summary in my next post.]