Sunday, August 20, 2017

Plein Air Painting Workshop Wrap-Up: All Levels in Downeast Maine

Quoddy Head Fog 9x12 Oil by Michael Chesley Johnson

This past week, I concluded my series of all-level plein air painting workshops here in Downeast Maine.  It's been a great summer with cool, dry weather and just enough fog and drizzle to spice things up now and then.  I thought I'd share the demonstrations from this week.  Each is available for sale; USD $100 + $20 shipping to the continental US or Canada.

Brining Shed 9x12 Pastel by Michael Chesley Johnson

Tide's Out 5x9 Pastel by Michael Chesley Johnson

Islands 6x8 Oil by Michael Chesley Johnson

I have one final workshop in Lubec, Maine, for intermediate to advanced painters only.  A spot just opened up, so if you're interested in joining the three other students (I teach small groups), please let me know.  We could use one more good painter.

After that, I have some trips coming up, plus our annual trip to the Southwest.  More on all that later!

Friday, August 11, 2017

Etiquette for Plein Air Painting Groups

How many painters can you find?

Overcrowding at National Parks?  Aren't some of them, well, vast?  Lately, there's been a lot of buzz about this topic.  Zion National Park recently made it into the headlines as considering the idea of requiring reservations for entry into the park.  (You can read an article on this here.)  The headlines had me wondering what part plein air painters, especially groups of them, play in this. As Boomers now catapult into retirement, many are picking up both paintbrush and backpack and heading into the field.  Eric Rhoads, editor of Plein Air Magazine, writes in a recent editorial:  "No one knows the numbers for sure...[but] I believe the movement could include a couple of hundred thousand people."

But it's not just National Parks.  It's any recreation area, whether it be lands administered by the National Park Service, the US Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, state lands and city or town parks.  When I visit these areas, most times I'm either a hiker or a painter, and I'm usually alone or with just a few friends.  We always try to minimize our impact on the land and to be considerate of those around us or those who may follow us.  But sometimes I hear of large groups going out to paint.  I have to wonder if the organizer understands the impact such a group will almost certainly make.

With that in mind, I offer the following suggestions to organizers of plein air paint-outs, workshops and "flash" events:

1.  First, don't do it.  The best way to minimize impact is to not take out a large group in the first place.

2.  If you insist on organizing a large group, get permission.  Many recreation areas limit the number of participants in a hiking group to 10 or fewer, and this would apply to painters as well.  More than that, and you might need a permit.  To protect a sensitive natural or archaeological site, or to preserve a popular spot, permits are often limited to a certain number per year.  Getting a permit helps the recreation area manage resources.

3.  Make sure you have plenty of parking.  Some locations have small parking lots.  Filling up the lot (or standing in spaces to reserve spots for the group) is unfair to the visitors who are unlucky enough to come the day you decided to have your event.

4.  Make sure you have adequate toilet facilities.  If you plan to paint for three or four hours, you will almost certainly need them.  In remote areas of low visitation, it may be all right to go in the bushes, but in more popular spots, it's not only impolite but unsanitary.   Imagine a couple of hundred thousand painters over time using those same bushes.

5.  Stay off the trail.  But also, stay on the trail.  Does this sound contradictory?  Maybe, but you have to find a way to do both.  Don't block the trail to other recreationists.  And don't get so much off the trail that you trample the vegetation.  Out west, much of the vegetation is so slow-growing it can take decades for damage to disappear.

All this boils down to consideration—consideration for both the environment and your fellow humans.  Paint big—but act small.

(I've written other posts on etiquette for painters, which you can read here:

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Plein Air Painting Products: PanelPak and PalettePak

Like most professional plein air painters, over the years I've gathered a variety of wet panel carriers for oil painting.  I like each of them for different reasons.  PanelPak is one I use most often these days because it fits in my backpack with all my painting gear.  Basically, the PanelPak is a sturdy frame that will hold two 1/8" panels, front to front with a gap between them, and the panels are secured in the frame by two big elastic bands.  This package is so rugged I just throw it into my backpack and don't worry about it.  And the elastic bands seem to last for years.  I've been very happy with the PanelPak.  Here's a photo of my 9x12 one, so you can see how much it's been used:

Today, I got two more of them.  One is 6x8 and the other, 12x16.  The 12x16 also incorporates a new product:  the PalettePak.  This is a PanelPak with a mid-value, neutral grey plastic panel that serves as a palette.  Lay out your paints, then paint; and when you're done, put the palette back in the PalettePak and head home.  Once you're home, stuff the whole thing in a Ziploc bag and put it into your freezer.  The paint will stay fresh for a long, long time.  The palette also comes in different sizes for different-size PanelPaks.

Here's a picture of these latest items.  I put a 6x8 oil sketch of some cows in the smaller one, so you can see how the PanelPak is used.  To complete the package, imagine another panel inserted in the frame.  By the way, PanelPak is great for pastel boards, too, so pastel painters, take notice!

PanelPak is available at