Monday, October 16, 2017

Secret Cliffs - and a New Plein Air Painting Program

"Secret Cliffs"
6x8 Oil by Michael Chesley Johnson

As many of you know, Trina and I have been driving cross-country to the Southwest, as we do every fall.  We are now home, but it's a new home.

We've returned to a part of the world where we feel a deep spiritual kinship with the land–New Mexico.  Back in 1999, we quit our jobs in Vermont to follow our dreams, and our dreams led us here.  I wasn't a full-time painter then, but I became one soon after.  Now that I’m back, I'm eager to explore this landscape with a paintbrush that has matured.  Near the Zuni Pueblo and El Morro National Monument, and on the shoulders of the Zuni Mountains at 7000 feet, our home and studios occupy a point in the universe where the air is clear; the sky, blue; and the sun, intense unlike anywhere else.  There's lots to explore, from lava fields to sandstone bluffs, from ponderosa-clad hills to blue lakes.

The location of “Secret Cliffs” (above) is a short, perhaps 15-minute, walk from my home, if I scramble down a cliff and through scrub oak.  It’s better to drive there, and then it’s only 5 minutes.  The lake depicted had been dry for awhile but filled up over the last two winters from snowmelt.  When I went out to paint this yesterday, the sun was going down and the waterfowl were tuning up for an evening of birdsong.  The place is gorgeous in autumn, and there’s a peace that fills the land.

I'm eager to share this new space with students who are experienced painters, as there is so much to paint here.  Starting in February of next year (2018), I will open up my home and studio to one person at a time who would like to study with me privately.  You'll get food and lodging (a tuition-only version will also be available, in case you want to lodge elsewhere) plus five days of intensive painting which I will fully customize after a consultation.  I'll write more about this new Private Painting Intensive Study program in a future blog post, but for now, you can find more information at  And you are more than welcome to sign up now!

Here's a short video of this painting location.  We'll be painting here as part of my new program.  (Link:

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Doug Dawson Plein Air Painting Workshop, Oct 30-Nov 3, 2017

In case you haven't heard, Master Artist Doug Dawson will be teaching a plein air painting workshop October 30-November 3, 2017, in Sedona, Arizona.  I've known Doug for many years, and I've sponsored several workshops with him.  Doug, who was given the title of Master Pastelist by the Pastel Society of America in 1985 and inducted into the Masters' Circle by the International Association of Pastel Societies in 2005, shares so much during a workshop.  Everyone gets a great deal out of the week, and he often has repeat students coming back for more.

The workshop will be based at the same studio I used for my PaintSedona workshops.  The cost of the workshop is $625 (not including lodging).  To register, contact Doug Dawson directly at 303-421-4584 or

You can find out more about Doug at his website, which is  I've included a couple of videos here.  The first (at the top, but here is the link) is an interview with Doug.  The second (below, link here) is a video I put together to advertise a workshop with him in Maine and New Brunswick.  Although it's not Sedona, it'll still give you an idea of the workshop week.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Workshop Report: Durango, Colorado

Two Aspens Study 6x8 Oil by Michael Chesley Johnson

Few places in the world are more beautiful than Colorado in the fall.  The mountains,  quilted with pink, blue and gold, buoy up the heart.  Hike up into some mountain meadow, and the splendor of aspens will wipe away the cares of the world.

Animas River, Durango, Colorado
This past weekend, I had the honor of teaching a private workshop for a group of plein air artists located in Durango.  This historic town hugs the Animas River between two mountain ranges, the San Juan and the La Plata.  From my host’s house and our meeting place, I enjoyed a stunning vista.  On our first morning, thick clouds surrounded the peaks, but as dawn broke, orange and pink seeped into the grey, overpowering it and drenching the world with autumn light.

Looking for something to paint - not so hard!
After a short morning lecture, we headed up to the Silverpick Lodge, located at 8900 feet, to paint the aspens.  A rather chill wind was blowing, but we found a sheltered spot for my first demonstration, which was in pastel.  After lunch, the wind began to blow harder, but I found a little road that led to a spot on the lee side of a hill where it was comfortably sunny and warm.  I set up at the edge of a meadow, in a gathering of aspens that was like a golden chapel.

Silverpick 9x12 Oil by Michael Chesley Johnson

Location shot for "Silverpick"
The next day, because the weather was forecast to be cooler, we decided to start at a lower elevation (7000 feet or so), along Lightner Creek.  Here we had a broad view of a meadow with views of Barnroof Point.  We’d gotten an early start, so the sun was rising over the hill and playing games with the light on the aspens.  It was tough painting, because the effect was so brief. Later, we headed up hill to the Hesperus Ski Area for lunch at the Kennebec Cafe.  From there, we had beautiful views of clusters of yellow and orange cottonwoods and aspens.

Aspen  Grove Study 12x9 Pastel by Michael Chesley Johnson

The happy group, minus one
My students were experienced outdoor painters, and it was a treat to work with them.  They were diverse:  a retired physical therapist, a fiddler/potter, an allergist, a geologist...I could go on.  But gathering them together was the common thread of painting in the beautiful outdoors.   I felt privileged to be in their company in such a beautiful part of the world.

I think private workshops are the way to go.  This group made me feel like a guest, and, I am grateful for their hospitality.

If your group would like to me teach a private workshop, let’s talk!