What They're Saying...

Michael Chesley Johnson knows how to pack a lot into a small package – whether it’s his painting gear or a 5” x 7” landscape painting. Being a master of the essential is no mean feat. Michael Chesley Johnson’s latest book, Backpacker Painting, will reward the attentive reader with a wealth of outdoor painting know-how for a no-nonsense, no-frills approach to outdoor painting in every season, day and night. - Carl Judson, Judson's Art Outfitters

I took it to our plein air group meeting and it was received with happy sounds. It's already loaned to a member ... the group was impressed and pleased with it. And this is not an easy group to impress. - Kitty Wallis

In the tradition of Rick Steve’s “less is more” guides for the traveler, Michael Chesley Johnson’s Backpacker Painting offers painters excellent guidelines for carrying the lightest load possible without sacrificing any of the necessary tools for a successful plein air experience. As well, the instruction Michael offers on limited (and lightweight!) palettes that can meet the color mixing needs of the landscape is sure to benefit artists looking to reduce the quantity of materials and time required to prepare for a painting trip. - Briana Ragone-Ball, Gamblin Artists Colors

Monday, March 10, 2008

Backpacker Painting - Excerpt

Here is an excerpt from the Introduction of Backpacker Painting: Outdoors with Oil & Pastel:

As a plein air painter, I paint mostly outdoors. Since you're reading this book, you're probably a plein air painter yourself. I don't need to tell you why I enjoy painting outdoors so much. There's nothing better than finding a little perch in the shade by a brook on an autumn day. The music of the brook washes away the troubles of the world, and the solitude gives you the space to unpack your creativity and play.

One of the most rewarding ways to paint en plein air is to go out with the least equipment and materials possible. "Backpacker Painting," the title of this book, really sums it up. If I can squeeze whatever I need into my backpack, then I can paint anywhere my feet can take me.

I've had the pleasure of painting in many places you can't get to by car. Once, I really stripped down my pastel gear. I stuffed a small backboard, just a little bigger than the 9x12 sheet of pastel paper taped to it, plus a set of pastels and a water bottle into my day pack and hiked into the San Juan Range of southern Colorado. An hour in, I sat down to paint in my lap while my wife, Trina, continued on the rugged trail. By the time she got back, I'd completed a piece. I'm proud to say it later was juried into a national pastel show.

But "Backpacker Painting" isn't just an approach to equipment and materials. It's also an attitude. If you approach the act of painting outdoors with the philosophy of portability, you can practice "Backpacker Painting" anywhere. You don't have to hike into the wilderness and brave the bears. You can do it in your front yard. Trina maintains a gorgeous wildflower garden in the meadow between our island home and the ocean. I've sat many times on the garden bench with my Guerrilla Painter pochade box in my lap to make small, 5x7 studies of the garden. It's another form of "Backpacker Painting," only without the backpack!

The attitude applies to all of your outdoor painting gear — even your mental gear. For example, remember the color combination charts many books instruct you to create as a way to forcing you to learn how to mix color? These are the charts where you take each color on your palette in turn and create a grid in which that color is mixed with every other color and also with varying amounts of white. If your palette includes a lot of colors, you can build up quite a stack of these charts. Although many artists use these in the studio to help them identify and mix color, you can't possibly take the charts into the field. Rather than create an unwieldy reference catalog of color mixtures, you should instead learn a few principles about seeing and mixing color and practice.

There are many other situations where you can strip down your gear, both mental and physical. If you can do the job with just a screwdriver and a pair of pliers, why take the whole hardware store with you? This book will show you how to simplify your painting life.

By the way, most of what I'll say applies to painting in the studio, too. "Backpacker Painting" is an attitude that should travel with you everywhere — outdoors and in.

"Backpacker Painting" means: Success and pleasure through portability.