“I travel quite a bit all over the country,” says artist Michael Chesley Johnson, “but I keep returning to the ocean.” He likes the ocean in general, but one spot on the North Atlantic is his favorite.

Friar’s Bay with Friar’s Head, Campobello Island, Maine. Photo Michael Chesley Johnson

Campobello Island straddles the United States-Canada border and is technically a part of Canada, although it is connected by a land bridge to the U.S. state of Maine. Property on the island that was once owned by the Roosevelt family is now an international park, jointly run by both countries. The island is no longer a playground for the rich, but its beauty and tranquility attract artists. “It has beaches, cliffs, bogs,” says Johnson. “Just beautiful maritime scenery.”

View from Liberty Point to Ragged Head, Campobello Island. Photo Michael Chesley Johnson

Johnson paints there and holds workshops on the island, close to the sound and smell of the sea. “The light and the emotion of the ocean draws me to it,” he says. “Painting the ocean is taking a 3-dimensional, moving thing and rendering it in 2D. And it creates a noise, creates a rhythm that you can get in tune with when you are painting it. But with whales breaching on the left, seals on the right, a bald eagle overhead, boats going by, you really have to focus.”

“Beachside Roses,” by Michael Chesley Johnson, oil, 16 x 20 in. Collection the artist

Johnson uses a split primary palette to paint the ocean, with warms and cools of red, yellow, and blue. “This makes it very easy to make color temperature shifts, which you see a lot of in ocean water,” says the artist. “And with light reflecting in different ways at different times of day, and clouds scooting by in the sky, changing the scene completely by the minute, with water and sky switching value positions, you have to paint fast.”

“Early Morning Fog,” by Michael Chesley Johnson, oil on panel, 9 x 12 in. Collection the artist

East Quoddy Head Lighthouse. Photo Michael Chesley Johnson

How did Johnson and his wife end up on this small, rural island?

“Many people ask us why we chose Campobello,” he says. “Often, we glibly answer that we started going ‘Downeast’ from Acadia National Park, and we stopped where we could afford real estate. However, that is too simplistic. The real estate costs do decrease the farther ‘Downeast’ you go, since it is farther from major cities, transportation hubs, and job centers. But also, the farther you go, the greater the proportion of public lands to private property. This appeals to us since we are outdoor people who like to hike and spend significant amounts of time outdoors. In fact, the southern end of Campobello Island, where we live, is nearly all public land. From our home, we can walk to two major public oceanfront parks that total over 3,800 acres, with miles of trails, walkable beaches, and scenic vantage points for painting.”


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