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  • Writer's picturePeggy Nichols

Michael Chesley Johnson, an artist whose work responds to the landscape in a personal way...

Updated: Aug 14, 2022

'Lake Ice 2', oil, 16 x 20 inches,

'My purpose in painting has changed over the years. In the beginning, it was all about the “how.” I worked hard at learning the craft. Even as a child, I loved looking at paintings and felt a thrill when I saw a particularly beautiful landscape. I wanted to create something like that myself.

Then it became about trying to understand the “why.” I realized I was a sort of steward of the land, preserving on canvas places likely to disappear under the heavy foot of civilization and, hopefully, raising awareness. I've always been a nature-lover and enjoy most being in the wild. ( I'd read every page of Thoreau's voluminous journals by the time I graduated college.)

Finally, it became all about the experience. For me, the experience is everything. I now know enough about “how” that I don't have to think about it much. I now understand “why” so I don't have to think about that much, either. Instead, today is no longer about the product—not the picture in a frame hung on the wall—but about the experience, the act of responding to the landscape in a personal way.'

'Lake Ice', oil, 12 x 36 inches.

left to right: 'Sentinel', oil, 9 x 12 inches., 'Soft Light in the Canyon', oil, 9 x 12 inches., 'Off Quoddy Head', oil, 9 x 12 inches.

'When new visitors come to my studio gallery, they look around and finally venture the question: " How many artists do you represent?" "Just me", I say, "but I have a dozen different personalities". And it's true. Each scene I set myself in front of provokes a unique and individual response. I may paint in pastel, oil, gouache; I may paint with tight realism; I may paint with a loose, impressionistic stroke; or I may paint in blocky abstraction. Yes, this painting is me, and so it this one and that one.

Materials and process are automatic now. This allows me to channel all my energy into observation and response. What ends up on the canvas is a record of the beauty that enthralls me. My hope is that the viewer can share this moment.'

'Snowy Cliff', pastel, 12 x 16 inches.

left to right: 'A Scottish Burn', pastel, 12 x 18 inches., 'Schooner Cove', pastel, 12 x 18 inches., 'Down by the River', pastel, 9 x 12 inches.

Michael paints primarily outdoors in oil, pastel or gouache, choosing locations from the American Southwest, Downeast Maine and the Canadian Maritimes. He has been invited repeatedly to national plein air events such as the Grand Canyon Celebration of Art. Most recently, he was on the distinguished faculty of the 2022 Plein Air Convention & Expo in Santa Fe.

'Low Tide at Cranberry Point', oil 12 x 24 inches.

Michael was awarded Master Pastellist status by Pastel Artists Canada in 2008, and he is a Signature Member of the American Impressionist Society and the Pastel Society of America. His paintings have appeared in many magazines and are in both corporate and private collections. He was featured in The Artist's Magazine in September 2013.Michael is a nationally-known teacher, giving workshops across the U.S.

'Up the Lake', oil, 6 x 12 inches.

A frequent writer for The Artist's Magazine, Pastel Journal, Watercolor Artist and PleinAir Magazine, he is the author of several books, including Beautiful Landscape Painting Outdoors: Mastering Plein Air.

Michael maintains a summer studio on Campobello Island, New Brunswick, Canada, and a winter studio in northern New Mexico. For more visit

'Overrun', oil, 11 x 14 inches.

left to right: 'Under the Watchtower', oil, 9 x 12 inches., 'The River in Autumn', oil, 11 x 14 inches., 'Ponderosa', oil, 9 x 12 inches.

'Autumn Glow', oil, 8 x 12 inches.

left to right: 'Seven Miles Out', oil, 12 x 9 inches., 'Arroyo', oil, 24 x 30 inches., 'Cliff Shadows', oil, 12 x 9 inches.

'Sunny Day Cliffs', oil, 9 x 12 inches.

Michael Chesley Johnson, in his outdoor studio.

email: For information about upcoming workshops.

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