Artist Insight: David ‘DJ’ Johnson extreme plein air

Artist Insight: David ‘DJ’ Johnson extreme plein air
DJ on Snowdon

Art Talk in our Attic Studios

Ahead of extreme plein air painter DJ’s Art Talk on Saturday 16th November, we thought you’d like to know a little more about this extreme plein air artist and what motivates him to climb to such heights in order to paint!

DJ teaching Winter Mountain Landscapes at Pegasus Art

How did your journey into painting begin?

I have been painting as long as I can remember. As a small child I would copy a whole page from a comic and then turn over and copy the entire next page! I really enjoyed drawing faces, beings and creatures from my imagination too. I can clearly remember getting my first set of oil paints with a ‘paint by numbers’ windmill in a landscape set and being fascinated by the liquid colours and the smell of oil paint.

Were you formally trained or self taught and do you think it matters?

I am mostly self taught, but I did do A-level at Codsall High and was fortunate to be taught by Mr Irwin Bottomly who was a massive inspiration to me, and really did lay the foundations for my artistic career for which I am forever grateful. Foundation Art at Stafford Art College was great fun but I didn’t continue further into the education system. I spent a few years working in professional fine art studios producing artwork for hotels, restaurants and commercial spaces and private estates worldwide. This was a huge education as I had to work to a brief in many different styles and reproduce famous paintings!

A good communicator

In 2006 I officially went self employed as a freelance artist and started to teach my own classes. I was approached by the chairman of a local art club about teaching a class – I expressed my concerns about having no teaching qualification, but he replied telling me I was obviously an accomplished artist and good communicator, so I went for it! Now I teach two regular local classes, teach in arts centres across the UK, do painting demonstrations, lead holidays and run workshops across the UK and Europe.

What is the fascination with extreme en plein air?

Being outside in nature is a huge source of inspiration for me, adnif you are patient and look with the right kind of eyes, there is so much to see. When you paint outside it is easier to experience true colours, light and tonal values in the landscape. I capture the values in oil paint and take photographs that I can work from later on. Back in my studio I will use the oil sketch as a reference for colour and light and the photo will help me with composition and perspective, helping me to produce a larger painting. I find when I’m outside I can get ‘in the zone’ and become totally focused.

Extreme landscape painting

It was a friend who suggested that I was an ‘extreme en plein air’ painter because I was climbing high up into the mountains to paint. Mountaineering and rock climbing have been a lifelong passion for me, so combining the two was a natural progression. My experience of climbing helps me to stay safe in the extreme conditions while I am trying to capture the landscape onto canvas from lofty viewpoints!

What kind of kit do you take with you?

I carry all my own equipment which includes a pochade box full of paints, brushes and boards, a tripod, camera, rags and brush washers. When I’m in the mountains in Winter I also have a rucksack full of ‘winter kit’ including crampons and an ice axe. It can sometimes take two hours to climb to a painting spot so I have to be prepared.

If you have no experience of mountaineering, I would advise getting out there and walking in the mountains before you paint them. This will give you more respect for the extreme environment. Winter mountaineering is a different ball game and doing a winter skills course would be essential to stay safe. There are lots of spots where you can go just a short walk from your car and set up an easel without having to trek for hours.

Have you ever found yourself in a tricky situation?

I was once painting high up on Crib Goch which is a knife edge ridge in the Snowdon Horseshoe. I had found a great place to paint around 900 above sea level and had been happily slapping paint down for about two hours. As the sun went down behind Snowdon I could hear the wind howling up the valley from Llanberis. It began to lift my easel and the boulder which it was tied to! Instantly I knew that I had to get down quickly and was packed up and ready to descend in a matter of minutes.

I scrambled down the end of Crib Goch to the col and then decided to take the quick route down to the miners path below. I slid on my side in the snow using my ice axe to control the descent. My pochade box was bouncing and rattling around in the snow on my way down. I was very pleased to see that my box and painting were miraculously unaffected when I reached the path below!

What are the golden safety rules?

If you are new to this – go with someone who has experience.

Correct clothing and equipment is vital plus a map, compass and phone. Plenty of liquids and high energy food because when you are standing still in the cold, your body is using up a lot of energy to keep warm. Buttered malt toast with a cup of tea is one of my winter favourites.

Do you teach plein air painting?

I love teaching plein air – especially to beginners, because it’s such a wonderful experience. I recently taught a course at Pegasus Art and we walked along the Stroudwater canal just behind their mill building. We had the most tremendous day in the sunshine, enjoying the wildlife and Cotswold scenes.

I have yet to find anyone willing to join me on an extreme plein air adventure high up in the mountains! I have taught painting courses at an international art academy high up in the forested mountains of Bavaria. There was an emphasis on plein air painting and those have been really amazing experiences. When you are surrounded by breathtaking scenery on your doorstep, you cannot help but be inspired and motivated.

If someone wants to buy your work, where can they see it?

The best way to see my work is on my website. I also post new work on my social media sites – Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and exhibit whenever I can. It’s important to get your work out into the public eye in any way that you can. I sell originals, limited edition giclee prints and am available for commissions including portraits. I am a working artist and always looking for new opportunities. You can email me anytime at

Do you plan ahead and set yourself goals?

I am constantly setting myself goals because this helps me to push myself into areas out of my comfort zone. I tend to do one painting I’m comfortable with, and then one to challenge me. This keeps me fresh and teaches me new ways to paint which I can share with people.

Forthcoming Workshops and an Art Talk at Pegasus Art

Saturday 28th September – Autumnal Woodland Textures

10am – 4pm £60 Book online by clicking the link above

If you love the colours of Autumn and Autumnal landscapes, this is the workshop for you! DJ will help you capture the essence of this season, and help you work out what to do with ‘all that green’. Learn new textures and techniques. Choose from oil or acrylics, whichever you prefer.

Saturday 26th October – Paint the Aurora in oils

10am – 4pm £60 Book online

DJ has spent much time painting the aurora borealis. He will teach you how to achieve amazing effects in a few simple steps. It’s easier than it looks! Explore blending, dragging, light and colour. You will be amazed at the results.

Saturday 16th November – Sunlight & Seascapes

10am – 4pm £60 Book online

**Only 4 places left** Paint the reflective sea and sunshine to produce a finished seascape. Follow his easy step by step guidance to create a work you can be proud of!

Art Talk: Extreme en plein air

An Illustrated talk with DJ Johnson. Demo, Talk and Q&A

Saturday 16th November

5 – 7pm £8 Tickets available online

Come and join the Pegasus team and DJ Johnson for a fun and relaxed evening. Listen to the artist regaling us with adventure stories, frozen oil paints, fingers and toes and the Beast from the East. There will be tales! Not only that, he will demonstrate some painting techniques and take your questions. Enjoy a glass of fizz and bring your friends along!