Plein Air Painting Retreats and More!

Painting in Nova Scotia

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September 2017
Campobello Island, NB, Canada

Trina and I just returned from a fantastic painting retreat in Nova Scotia. Our group was based near famous Peggy’s Cove, which has a great reputation among painters and photographers. If you’d like to read about our experiences on the trip, I’ve written two blog posts about it, Part 1 and Part 2.

Now that we’re back, we are on the verge of packing up and driving west to our home and studios in New Mexico! It’s hard to believe summer has passed so quickly.


Some of you may have noticed I am scheduling fewer plein air painting workshops these days. Well, I’m not retiring so much as I am refocusing. If you’ve taken a workshop with me, you know how much I enjoy sharing what I’ve learned over the years. I don’t intend to stop. But many of my students have asked for a different kind of program, one in which we explore not only more advanced topics but also new locations. With that in mind, I’ve been testing the waters with a series of painting retreats for the experienced painter, and the feedback has been wonderful.

Paint the Southwest!

Now that we’re back from this latest retreat, let me tell you about a new one in New Mexico. This state has a very special place in our hearts; when we first moved to the Southwest back in 1999, those hills were the introduction to a place vastly different from our roots back east. One reason we love the area is that it’s been home to several cultures for hundreds of years, including Native Americans (Navajo, Zuni and Acoma), old Spanish families, and the more recently arrived Anglo ranchers. But for me as a painter, it’s also rich artistically, having a long history of painters and artisans. And the scenery! You can spend a lifetime painting its mesas and hills and mountain streams.

Why am I telling you about New Mexico? Because this will be the home for a special series of retreats that starts in the spring. I’ll be offering private, one-on-one study for painters with experience. This program will be completely customized to your needs—it can include fine-tuning your painting skills, introducing you to new ways of seeing (and therefore, painting), the business of painting, or whatever I determine would help you best, based on a consultation via either e-mail or telephone. The program includes six nights’ lodging at our home (private bed and bath), three meals a day, and more. Cost for the program is only $1500 and includes followup consultations for three months after the program. For full details, visit

Paint Santa Fe!

I’ll also be offering a retreat in Santa Fe, April 16-23, 2018. Unlike the mentoring retreats at my studio, this will be a small group of painters exploring Santa Fe with both brush and camera. In previous retreats in Santa Fe, we’ve painted the historic Pueblo Revival adobes and cottonwoods, visited the galleries on famous Canyon Road and journeyed out to a historic Spanish hacienda for a day of painting. Cost is $1000 per person, which includes lodging and breakfast and lunch. Space will be limited to only six or eight participants. If you’re interested, let me know right away, and I’ll send you details.

Paint Lubec, Maine!

Another very special retreat will be in Lubec, Maine, August 13-17, 2018, for experienced painters. I want to give past students the first shot at this, so if you’re on my student list, watch for a separate e-mail on that. After October 1st, I’ll be opening the retreat up to the general public.

I’m also planning retreats and workshops abroad. Although the Scotland trip for next spring is filled with a waiting list, I do have space in my Italy trip, which is June 16-23, 2018. We’ll stay at historic Villa Fattoria Bacìo in Certaldo Alto with painting excursions to Siena, La Meridiana, San Gimignano and Barberino. For full details on this, you can download the flyer here.

Finally, I want to remind you that I will continue to teach workshops for art groups and workshop centers. If you’d like me to teach one for your group, please let me know. I have a list of upcoming ones on my website.


This July saw the opening of the Third Acadia Invitational at the Bar Harbor Inn (Maine). Organized by Argosy Gallery, the reception had a great turnout. I was pleased to meet many of the participating artists that evening. The show has now moved to Argosy II, the gallery’s second location on Mt Desert Street, just off the town green. It’ll be up through October 2018. (Sold paintings will be replaced by the artists.) You can see the paintings on the gallery’s web site here.

I’m also coordinating the annual exhibition for Plein Air Painters of the Bay of Fundy for next August. The exhibition will be in Saint Andrews, New Brunswick. Stay tuned for details!

That’s all for now. Trina and I will shortly be on our way to New Mexico. I’ll send everyone a note once we are there!

Michael Chesley Johnson, AIS PSA MPAC PSNM

16e zondag na Pinksteren – eerste na de Kruisverheffing

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Sofia en haar drie dochters Geloof – Hoop en Liefde

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Hildegard van Bingen




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eerste zondag na de Kruisverheffing



 Welkom op mijn blog met informatie over de

Orthodoxie. Teksten, bezinningen, theologie



Gezangen uitgevoerd door het koor van de orthodoxe kerk van Gent

 olv. Paul Morreel





  De teksten van  de gezangen kunnen teruggevonden worden in de rechter kolom 

start nummer één en ga dan naar de tekst in de rechterkolom.



Om gemakkelijk te vinden wat je zoekt !!


Simeon de nieuwe thheoloog : “Jezus raakte hem aan, en sprak: Ik wil het; word gereinigd”



 Welkom op mijn blog met informatie over de

Orthodoxie. Teksten, bezinningen, theologie



Gezangen uitgevoerd door het koor van de orthodoxe kerk van Gent

 olv. Paul Morreel





  De teksten van  de gezangen kunnen teruggevonden worden in de rechter kolom 

start nummer één en ga dan naar de tekst in de rechterkolom.



Om gemakkelijk te vinden wat je zoekt !!


On the Road: New York Plein Air Painting Workshop

Painting along the Wallkill River

Some time ago, when I was looking for new places to teach workshops, I came across the Wallkill River School in Montgomery, New York.  What I liked about it was their mission:

Wallkill River School has been called Orange County’s first homegrown arts movement; mainly because we are the first arts organization with an agricultural component. We identified early on that our fate is intimately tied to our local farms, historic sites, and open spaces. Like our forebears; the Hudson River School, we seek to use our art as a way to raise awareness of and to benefit these important regional treasures. Arts generate tourism, and Wallkill River School generates agricultural tourism, heritage tourism, and brings in new arts audiences. 

This very much parallels my idea that landscape painters are stewards of the land.  So I was very excited when Shawn Dell Joyce, founder and executive director, invited me to teach a two-day workshop there.

My pastel of the Benedict Farm, 9×12

Though cool, the weather couldn’t have been any better.  We painted one day at the Benedict Farm Park along the banks of the Wallkill River; the second day, at the Hill-Hold Museum, with its beautiful buildings and landscape.   Each morning, though, we started out at the School’s wonderful Patchett House gallery and office, with art talk and critiques.  Shawn provided beverages and snacks each day as well as a bountiful lunch.

(Above photos by Shawn)

 I so much enjoyed the workshop here that I have scheduled another one for this fall, September 26 & 27, 2017.  Speaking of workshops, I want to remind you of my upcoming five-day plein air painting workshop in Rockland, Maine, for Coastal Maine Art Workshops.  Rockland has a beautiful waterfront, offering much for the painter.  If that doesn’t work for you, please keep in mind my four-day workshops in Lubec, Maine.  If you bring your passport, I’ll be happy to show you my studio on Campobello Island, right across the bridge!

Michael Chesley Johnson, AIS PSA MPAC PSNM

Nova Scotia Plein Air Painting Retreat: Part 2

Back Bay, Chester
9×12 oil by Michael Chesley Johnson

[For Nova Scotia Plein Air Painting Retreat Part 1, click here.]

Tuesday we headed in the other direction, to Terence Bay.  Terence Bay is the site of another tragedy.  In 1873, the SS Atlantic wrecked with a loss of 560 souls out of about 990 passengers.   The ones recovered are buried in a mass grave just below the Anglican church that overlooks the bay.  A trail takes you through the cemetery and to a memorial for the lost.  A very nice interpretive center tells the story and also raises funds for restoring the Terence Bay lighthouse.

SS Atlantic Memorial and Burial Site
Terrence Bay Light

The area around the lighthouse is very beautiful:  rugged, windswept, waves crashing.  But the wind was blowing so hard that painting anywhere but in a foxhole was impossible.  I found the equivalent of a foxhole—a little hideaway between some rocks near the waterline.  Sitting on a rock lowered me even more, and with my back to the wind, I was comfortable enough.  Except for my buttocks.  I ended up sitting on my roll of paper towels, which was quite cushiony.

Painting at Terrence Bay

How the Innovative Painter Keeps His Spirits Container from Tipping Over

Terrence Bay
6×6 oil by Michael Chesley Johnson

Afterward, Trina and I went off exploring again, following every little road that seemed like it might head to the water.  One place, a small bridge connecting Hennessey Island to the mainland, seemed the perfect serene spot, but it could only manage one or two cars, so was unsuitable for a group.  Sometimes you just have to go with taking a few photographs.

Peggy’s Cove, Morning
9×12 Oil by Michael Chesley Johnson

Following the explorations, we found ourselves back at Peggy’s Cove again.  That place is truly irresistible for a painter.  Town wasn’t quite as busy as the holiday weekend, so I set up in a more open spot.  I parked my car back at the information center and hiked into town where I saw some cars parked. This seemed very much a public spot to me.  The cars were from a variety of places, including Texas, and so I set up two feet in front of them on the gravel pad with a view of some fish houses.  About halfway into my painting, I heard a car horn behind me.  I usually ignore those, because the noise is always meant for someone else.  But after about ten blasts, I turned to see what the problem was.  Two guys in a car were looking at me.  The driver, shouting across his passenger, asked if I had permission to paint in that spot.  I responded, “It’s public, isn’t it?”  “No, it’s not,” he said.  Flustered, I apologized, but then he said it was all right but he usually asks for a painting in exchange.  I replied we’d have to see how this one turned out.  After he drove off, I just couldn’t get rid of the fluster, especially after the embarrassment of all that rude horn-blowing.  I always try to do the right thing and feel terrible if I’m chastised.   So, I hurriedly applied a few final strokes, packed up and left.

I was positive I had set up on public property.  After all, there were cars parked there with plates from other provinces and even the US.  Later, discussing this with the others, we decided this was a local joker just giving me a hard time.  But maybe he really was the property owner, and I was indeed trespassing.  I know signs can be ugly in a tourist town, but private property where parking is a free-for-all should be clearly marked as such.   Maybe the guy thought I belonged to the car from Texas.

(As an aside, I should say that the day we set up on Lobster Lane, we made sure to stay at the edge, keeping the way clear for traffic.  This is a one-lane road that goes to a couple of cottages and a fish house or two.  A lady from the information center saw us there and said, “It’s okay to paint there, but just to let you know, sometimes the cottage owner will need to get through.”  And the Peggy’s Dogs lady said she had no problem with us painting a few feet from her cart.)

The DeGarthe Studio (right)

I de-stressed by visiting the DeGarthe Art Gallery, right across the street from the information center.  I’d never heard of William DeGarthe until we started researching this retreat.   From Finland, he came to Canada at 19 and finally settled in Peggy’s Cove, where he sold paintings to tourists.  It wasn’t long before he developed a bevy of collectors, including the Imperial Bank of Canada.  After he died at age 75, his widow donated part of his work to Nova Scotia, which established a provincial park with his home in Peggy’s Cove as the centerpiece.  The home is now the museum.  His studio, unmarked, sits down by the water, a lonely red building with that iconic view of the cove.  The paintings in the museum seem to show two different types of painting:  quick sketchy oils for the tourist trade, and more larger, more finished paintings destined for collectors.  DeGarthe was also a sculptor; you can see a nearly-finished sculpture carved into a rock ledge behind the home, the “Fishermen’s Monument,” which contains 32 figures.  The ashes of both DeGarthe and his wife are interred in the monument.

Peggy’s Cove Sublime
8×10 oil by Michael Chesley Johnson

Wednesday was a day of not just wind but also fog.  Even so, we went back to Peggy’s Cove, where I did a demonstration at a spot overlooking a little cove, the water of which seemed incandescent in the fog.  I did a second painting for myself here as well, after a cup of coffee at a little shop down the road.  Afterward, we did some more exploring and ended up on Croucher’s Point Road and visited the eponymous gallery, which has some wonderful work by William Rogers, Ivan Fraser, and others.

Later, as we continued to explore, we found a delightful spot on Paddy’s Head Road in Indian Harbour with a view of the Indian Harbour lighthouse.  I did a quick painting and met another artist who lives nearby.  We had a pleasant chat, and she welcomed me as another artist enjoying her view.  Shortly, her grandchildren from British Columbia joined her, and they went down to the beach on the other side of the road.  I’m sorry my car alarm went off went I bent over with my keys in my pocket, disturbing their afternoon.

Peggy’s Cove Preservation Area

Thursday, the rain came.  We’d been hearing it was coming all week, but were pleased it held off that long.  The only ones who painted were one or two participants who didn’t mind tweaking plein air paintings in the dim light of the garage.  (It’s almost impossible to rent a space that also has an area suitable for painting, but fortunately, we had an empty garage.)  We all went out for lunch at Rhubarb, just up the road, and afterward, the rain changed over to scattered bits of drizzle, so Trina and I took a walk on a short trail in the Peggys’ Cove Preservation Area.  The trail goes up a nearly-treeless bluff with granite boulders and a fine view of the cove.  The rolling breakers were awesome, and you could sense their power from afar.

Gateway (Chester)
9×12 Oil by Michael Chesley Johnson

Friday, our last day, we drove off for Chester.  A painting acquaintance recommended it, and our scouting trip earlier in the week proved it had some good scenery.  Chester is a quiet little village, somewhat gentrified in that its waterfront hosts mainly pleasure craft; I don’t think I saw a single work boat other than the Tancook Island ferry.   A great town for walking in, you can get some excellent coffee and visit some galleries plus enjoy the waterfront, all on foot.  (Sure, you can drive if you want to, but just park at Parade Square Road by the Chester Yacht Club and go for a stroll.)  It was such a beautiful day, I made two paintings before we headed home to pack and for our farewell dinner.

Preparing for Critiques

Our Happy Group

So, it was a great week.  I was happy to learn there’s a lot to see and paint on Nova Scotia’s South Shore.  I even enjoyed the spectacle of all those motor coaches lining up in Peggy’s Cove.  (Maybe that was a perverse enjoyment, but there was plenty of room for everyone and spots to paint in away from the crowd.)  I especially enjoyed where we stayed, as McGrath’s Cove, though a short drive from Halifax, was quiet enough that it felt much more remote.  I’m sure we’ll go back for another retreat.

Speaking of retreats, I am putting together a very special retreat for August 12-17, 2018, in Lubec, Maine.  This retreat will have participants lodging at West Quoddy Head Station, a beautifully renovated US Coast Guard station.  Stay tuned for details!—
Michael Chesley Johnson, AIS PSA MPAC PSNM

de heilige Markianos en zijn vrouw Pulcheria

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De heilige Markianos met zijn vrouw Pulcheria, de zuster van Theodosios de Jongere die in 438 de relieken van de heilige Johannes Chrysostomos met grote praal naar Constantinopel had teruggebracht. Ook Pulcheria had bij de kist vergeving gevraagd voor de misdaad van hun ouders. Markianos regeerde als keizer van het byzantijnse rijk van, 450 tot 457. In 451 vond het 4e oecumenische concilie plaats te Chalcedon, waar de ketterij van Eutyches veroordeeld werd (zie 16 juli).
Pulcheria was na de dood van de zwakke Theodosios de erfgename van de troon. Zij had van jongsaf de gelofte afgelegd als maagd te leven, maar omdat ze inzag dat de grote problemen van het rijk een sterke bestuurder nodig maakten, trad ze in het huwelijk met Markianos, die eveneens de kuisheidsgelofte had afgelegd. Ze zouden hun geloften niet breken en toch samen regeren.
Het door hen bijeengeroepen concilie kon in het begin niet tot overeenstemming komen. Zij wilden geen druk uitoefenen, zoals in Efese gebeurd was, en besloten toen een duidelijk teken van God te vragen. In die tijd werd de heilige Eufemia hoog vereerd. Men bracht de kist met haar relieken in de vergaderzaal, en daarin werden twee rollen met de verschillende geloofsbelijdenissen neergelegd. De kist werd verzegeld, en men bleef daarbij gedurende drie dagen en nachten onder vasten en gebed. Daarna werd de schrijn geopend. De rol met de monofysitische belijdenis lag toen onder haar voeten, maar de geloofsbelijdenis van Nicea hield zij in haar hand. Hierdoor werden allen overtuigd, en de orthodoxie werd plechtig bezegeld.
Zo keerde eindelijk de rust terug in de kerk en ook de andere moeilijkheden konden ter hand worden genomen. De Hunnen, die onder Atilla waren binnengevallen, werden verdreven. Er werden ziekenhuizen ingericht en kerken gebouwd, onder andere de beroemde kerk van de Moeder Gods van Blacherna. Daar werd onder andere de gordel van de heilige Moeder Gods bewaard en de niet met handen gemaakte icoon van de Verlosser (mandilion). Markianos en Pulcheria namen deel aan de noden van het volk en vergezelden hen te voet bij de processies en gaven zo in elk opzicht het voorbeeld van een christelijke regeerder. Pulcheria stierf reeds in 453 (10 september), en Markianos op deze dag in 457.

uitg.orthodox klooster Den Haag

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Nova Scotia Plein Air Painting Retreat: Part 1

Peggy’s Cove, Afternoon
9×12 Oil by Michael Chesley Johnson

Most landscape painters in the eastern US and Canada have heard of Peggy’s Cove.  Much like Monhegan Island and Cape Ann, this little village is legendary among artists.  Tucked into a quiet corner of St Margaret’s Bay on Nova Scotia’s South Shore, it maintains the feeling of an old harbor town.  Imagine lobster boats, fish houses, crashing waves, even a lighthouse—all of it painted in tones of raw umber, burnt sienna and yellow ochre.

I’d never been to Peggy’s Cove, and as a painter, I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.  With that in mind, I organized a plein air painting retreat with a few others.  Our retreat was based in nearby McGrath’s Cove, where a short drive along Peggy’s Cove Road would take us to that famous destination.

Trina and I planned to arrive at the retreat by mid-afternoon Saturday.  Since we’d spent the night on the way from Campobello Island in Salisbury, New Brunswick, we had extra time, which allowed us to pick up groceries for the week and to make a preview stop at Peggy’s Cove.  But first, we visited the Swissair Flight 111 Memorial, just outside of town.  This little park, nestled among white boulders, memorializes the 229 people on the flight who died when the plane crashed into the bay, only five miles from Peggy’s Cove in 1998.

Next stop was Peggy’s Cove.  When I stepped out of the car, I felt like I’d entered a Hollywood studio backlot.  Little rickety shacks perched on rocks edging the cove, red lobster boats bobbed on their lines tied to little rickety docks, old-fashioned lath lobster traps (possibly rickety) were stacked chest-high—it all looked neatly staged by someone making a film about a long-gone era.

Not a Tourist

But of course, this wasn’t the case.  Peggy’s Cove really is a working harbor.  It’s curious, what with all the tearing down of historic waterfronts up and down the eastern seaboard over the last 50 years, that this place has been preserved.  No doubt this has to do with a forward-thinking populace that understands the value of tourism.

Saturday Afternoon at Peggy’s Cove

Peggy’s Point Lighthouse, with People

Tourism, however, does have its downside, especially for painters.  Granted, it was Labour Day Weekend, but I wasn’t prepared for the throngs milling through town.  I soon discovered the source.  Several motor coaches, including a couple of bright-pink accordion buses, idled in the parking lot of the Sou’wester, a gift shop/restaurant near the Peggy’s Point lighthouse.  Day tourists from Halifax, many of them would enjoy not only the shops and scenery but also the entertainment provided by us plein air painters.  (I am less bothered by this than some, but a couple in our small group found the requests for photographs and questions distracting.)

During this scouting mission, I determined that the town was definitely paintable.  I also figured that if we got there early enough, we would avoid the crowds.  There seemed to be enough room to spread out and enough public spots (as opposed to private property) upon which to set up.  As always, I’m a responsible retreat leader, and I’ve got a good eye for what is public.   (Or I think I do.  More on this later.)

After this, we headed on to our retreat.  The other participants, all previous students who hailed from Illinois, Maryland, New Hampshire and New Brunswick, showed up not long after.  After unpacking, we went to dinner at Shaw’s Landing, a well-known local spot famous for seafood, to set the week’s agenda.  Bedtime came early since we were all weary from our travels.

Right after breakfast on Sunday, we drove to Peggy’s Cove.  It turned out to be a gorgeous September day in the Maritimes.  Sunshine, a gentle breeze, just warm enough so you could dispense with the fleece jacket—what more could you ask for?  We first went on a walk with eyes open for possible painting spots.  It wasn’t a long walk, just from the information center and the DeGarthe Art Gallery, down past Lobster Lane and the fish houses, and on up to the lighthouse, where the road ends and the tour buses begin.  I decided to retreat to Lobster Lane, right beside the old, boarded-up DeGarthe studio, and painted the same view that hundreds of painters have painted before me.  Did I feel that it was hackneyed, clichéd?  Not at all.  I was filled with the excitement of just standing in front of such an iconic view.  Even in retrospect, I find the painting exciting.

Lobster Lane

The throngs arrived about the time I finished.  Remember, this was a Sunday on a long Labour Day weekend.  The Peggy’s Dogs lady arrived around 10 to set up her hotdog cart several feet from us, and the tourists discovered Lobster Lane shortly thereafter.  Two of my painters were still in the early stages of their paintings when the questions began.  By then, I’d already packed up and wandered off to find my next spot.  The tide had gone out, and I discovered that the best place—”best” meaning “where no tourist would go”— was a little corner down below the high tide mark, deep in barnacles and seaweed and backed up against some timbers that shored up a fish house.  Indeed, I painted a little 6×6 undisturbed.

Fish Houses
6×6 Oil by Michael Chesley Johnson

Lobster Lane

Me Painting at Peggy’s Cove

Perched on the Edge, Painting

This was all before lunch.  Trina and I had made bag lunches, so we ate quickly and then headed off on an exploration for painting spots later in the week.  (As responsible hosts, we like to stay one step ahead of our participants.)  Our destination was Chester, a historic harbor along St Margaret’s Bay an hour west of our retreat house.  Chester proved to be a lovely town, and more upscale than the rustic buildings of Peggy’s Cove.

On Monday, we took the group to a place I’d scoped out last summer when I stayed in Lunenburg after my trip to Scotland.  (Lunenburg is about 90 minutes west of McGrath’s Cove.)  Blue Rocks, a tiny community with a scattering of fish houses and boats, is just east of Lunenburg.  Wild and scenic, it became even more so—the wind began to blow around 30 knots, and it would keep up this pace most of our week.  At the end of the road, we finally found ourselves on the lee side of the point, where we could paint in relative comfort.   There was plenty of parking for us, but it became rather crowded when the wedding party showed up with kayaks.

Blue Rocks
9×12 Oil by Michael Chesley Johnson

Yes, there was a wedding that took place on a little island just across the water from Blue Rocks.  A dozen colorful kayaks were put in, followed by the wedding party and guests, all dressed up in a variety of clothing and footwear, some suitable for kayaking and some not.  By the time the floral arrangements were stowed into the kayaks, I had packed up and was ready for my next bit of exploration.  A few of the other painters, a little slower to get started perhaps, had to deal with all this activity blocking their view.  (If you don’t like tourists asking questions, it pays to be a quick painter.)

The Europa in Lunenburg

Trina and I headed to Lunenburg.  I’d thought about painting there, but the town was busy enough and the waterfront complicated enough that I decided shopping would be a better idea than painting.  We visited some of the galleries (Laurie Swim has a fantastic art quilt gallery there, and we saw a few DeGarthe paintings discounted 50% at a shop filled with eclectic decorative art) and finally had a late lunch on the dock.  It was an exhausting day, so it was an early night.

[I’ll continue with Tuesday and finish my retreat summary in my next post.]—
Michael Chesley Johnson, AIS PSA MPAC PSNM

Markianos en zijn vrouw Pulcheria



 Welkom op mijn blog met informatie over de

Orthodoxie. Teksten, bezinningen, theologie



Gezangen uitgevoerd door het koor van de orthodoxe kerk van Gent

 olv. Paul Morreel





  De teksten van  de gezangen kunnen teruggevonden worden in de rechter kolom 

start nummer één en ga dan naar de tekst in de rechterkolom.



Om gemakkelijk te vinden wat je zoekt !!


Woodrat Podcast 38: Ren Powell redux

Ren Powell

Poet, playwright, translator and teacher Ren Powell returns to the Woodrat Podcast to talk about her new collection of poetry (and North American debut) Mercy Island, religion in Norway, her shifting perspective on poetry animation, and other topics. She’s the third author in Via Negativa’s informal Poetry Month book club.

Ren recently consolidated her web presence at a new website. I last interviewed her in early March 2010, for the 9th episode of the podcast. My blog response to Mercy Island is here, but do also check out the more proper reviews and interviews from Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Deb Scott, Fiona Robyn, Rachel Barenblat, and Carolee Sherwood.

Podcast feed | Subscribe in iTunes

Theme music: “Le grand sequoia,” by Innvivo (Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike licence).

Woodrat Podcast 39: William Trowbridge

William Trowbridge

William Trowbridge was the last of the four poets Kristin Berkey-Abbott and I read for National Poetry Month (here are my review and hers). We called him up last Monday to talk about Fool and foolishness, humorous versus serious poetry, and why the Midwest produces so many poets, among other things, and got him to read some poems from Ship of Fool, too. Check out his website for a bio and links to all his books.

Podcast feed | Subscribe in iTunes

Theme music: “Le grand sequoia,” by Innvivo (Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike licence).

The Private Housing (Tenancies) (Scotland) Act 2016

The Private Housing (Tenancies) (Scotland) Act was recently passed by the Scottish Parliament and will have a profound impact on the private lettings market in Scotland. Whether London MPs or Welsh AMs follow suit remains to be seen – but if so, you read it here first!


The Act is expected to come into force in late 2017 however, the key aims of the Act include a simpler tenancy system, predictability regarding rent increases, and an enhanced security for tenants.


Simpler Tenancy System

The Act abolishes the short assured and assured tenancies. In its place will be the single type of private tenancy, the Private Rented Tenancy (PRT). There are exceptions to the PRT such as Student accommodation and Holiday lets.


Rent Increases

Landlords are only permitted to increase the rent once per year upon providing 3 months’ notice. Tenants may challenge such rent increases by referring the matter to a Rent Officer who can determine a ‘fair’ rent. The newly created Private Rented Sector Housing Tribunal will hear any appeal of the Rent Officer’s decision.


The Act also gives local authorities powers to create ‘rent pressure zones’. This enables authorities to apply rent caps in areas they determine have been subject to excessive rent increases.


Security for Tenants

The Act abolishes the short assured tenancy and consequently the ‘no-fault’ ground for possession will also disappear. The ‘no-fault’ ground permits Landlords to vacate a property on the the expiry of a lease upon the expiry of two months’ notice. In short, Scotland will no longer have the equivalent of a section 21 notice in England.


Under the new Act, Landlords seeking possession will need to give at least one ground to bring the tenancy to an end. The grounds include that the Landlord is looking to use the property for non-residential purposes, to sell/refurbish/move into the property, or rent arrears for three or more consecutive months. The Landlord’s notice will be either 28 days or 84 days depending on the circumstances and the Tenant will have the right to refer the matter to the newly created Tribunal. If the Tribunal finds for the Tenant, a wrongful termination order could require the Landlord to pay the Tenant a sum of not more than six months’ rent.



The response to the Act has been mixed amongst those in the Property Sector. The security of tenure and restrictions on rent increases will no doubt be welcomed by many Tenants across the board. However, Landlords and Landlord associations have warned that these restrictions may result in Landlords disposing of their investment properties or looking outside of Scotland for such properties. Time, will no doubt tell.
Filed under: England & Wales

Woodrat Podcast 40: A walk with Clive Hicks-Jenkins (Part 1)

Clive Hicks-Jenkins
(l-r) view of Llanilar, Clive and Jack at table, three Welsh cows

Join me for a walk with the Welsh artist Clive Hicks-Jenkins and his dog Jack. Clive and his partner Peter Wakelin live a few miles from Aberystwyth in a beautiful old place called Ty Isaf, which I’d been reading about on his Artlog for a couple years now, and was lucky enough to visit — and even stay three nights in — earlier this month.

I thought it would be fun to record a tour of Clive’s neighborhood for the podcast, allowing us to hear how a major artist relates to, and finds inspiration in, the land and people around him. For those unfamiliar with his work, it’s worth mentioning that specific places have always featured prominently in his paintings. Even elements which I had assumed to be fanciful, such as castles beside the sea, turn out to have been common features of the local and regional landscape. (For more on the sense of place in Clive’s work, see the essay by Andrew Green, “The Place of Place,” in the new monograph simply entitled Clive Hicks-Jenkins, from the British art publisher Lund Humphries in cooperation with Grey Mare Press.)

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Be sure to check back next weekend for the conclusion of our walking conversation, in which I prompt Clive to talk about his journey from the theater world to art, what he looks for in painting, and more.

Theme music: “Le grand sequoia,” by Innvivo (Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike licence).

Liability for Disrepair

On 5 May 2016, the Supreme Court heard the appeal of a Landlord in Edwards v Kumarasamy (UKSC 2015/0095). The Court needs to consider whether a Landlord under an assured shorthold tenancy, was liable for his tenant’s injuries under the extended covenant implied into the tenancy by section 11(1A) of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985.

The Supreme Court’s decision had not been released at the time of writing this blog.

The tenant, Mr Edwards tripped on an uneven paving slab between the front door of the building of flats and the communal bin area. The Landlord, Mr Kumarasamy claimed that he had no obligation to repair the path between the building and the bin area, since he did not own it. The Landlord was the leaseholder of the flat rented by Mr Edwards.

The Court of Appeal found that a landlord of a flat let under a tenancy was liable for disrepair of common parts of the building in which the flat was situated. This liability arose under section 11 even when Mr Edwards had not given notice of the disrepair.

The Court of Appeal found that the disrepair was not within the demised property, therefore the implied term that the tenant had to give notice of the disrepair was found not to apply. The disrepair was in a common area and knowledge of it would have been revealed had the landlord or his agents carried out inspections.


Many Landlords will be hoping that this decision is reversed by the Supreme Court. Until it is, Landlords are advised to carry out inspections or ensure that management companies are doing so and that they report any necessary repairs in common areas promptly in writing to the freeholder. Landlords of flats should also ensure that the freeholder’s insurance includes public liability cover.
Filed under: England & Wales

Woodrat Podcast 41: A walk with Clive Hicks-Jenkins (Part 2)

Clive Hicks-Jenkins in context
(l-r) Clive points out hart's-tongue fern; Jack on bridge over Ystwyth; sand martin nests in the riverbank; Basil the Shetland pony; Clive in front of his painting "Green George"

The conclusion of our May 5 walk around Clive’s neighborhood in rural Wales, near Aberystwyth. (It should stand on its own, but do listen to Part 1 if you haven’t already.) I’m grateful to Clive for taking the time to show me around in the midst of frantic preparations for the launch of his retrospective exhibition just two days later (for more about which, see the series of posts on his Artlog). We’re also lucky he’s such a great communicator, because as the naive quality of my couple of questions about his painting demonstrate, my general knowledge of art is woefully inadequate. Nevertheless, somehow this walking conversation with Clive has turned into one of my most satisfying podcasts to date, I think. Give a listen.

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Theme music: “Le grand sequoia,” by Innvivo (Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike licence).

Improvement or Disrepair?

In Sternbaum v Dhesi [2016], the Court of Appeal found that a landlord was not liable when one of its tenants fell down a staircase which lacked any form of handrail or bannister. The tenant sued the landlord in negligence and for breach of section 4 of the Defective Premises Act 1972.


At the date of commencement of the tenancy agreement there was no handrail or bannister fitted despite the fact that the stairs were steep. There were indications that a handrail had been removed at some point but this was prior to the commencement of this tenancy.


The tenancy agreement required the landlord ‘to keep in repair the structure and exterior of the premises’ and the tenant was under an obligation to permit the landlord to enter the premises for the purposes of inspection and repair.


The Court of Appeal recognised that whilst a staircase without a handrail was hazardous, it was not defective pursuant to the Defective Premises Act. A lack of a handrail, despite the fact that potentially dangerous, did not amount to disrepair and to oblige the landlord to fit a handrail would certainly amount to requiring him to improve the premises and/or make them safe which is beyond the scope of the Act.


This decision introduces more certainty on the interpretation of landlords’ duty to ‘repair’ even if it might be concerning to tenants. It also highlights the gap in current repair obligations which still focus more on fairly basic obligations rather than a more general requirement for a property to be reasonably safe.
Filed under: England & Wales

Woodrat Podcast 42: Tea with Fiona and Kaspalita

Fiona Robyn and Kaspalita on the waterfront at Aberystwyth, Wales
Fiona Robyn and Kaspalita on the waterfront at Aberystwyth, Wales

Brew yourself a nice cuppa and join Fiona Robyn, Kaspalita and me for a conversation about writing, religion, spirituality, science, small stones and more. We met on May 7 in Aberystwyth, Wales; Fiona and Kaspa subsequetly tied the knot on June 18th, and starting on July 1 they will again curate a month-long river of stones, with contributions from around the world.

Fiona Robyn is a novelist, a blogger, a therapist, and a creativity coach. She is very fond of Earl Grey tea and homemade cake. Kaspalita is a Pure Land Buddhist priest, a sometime blogger and is still learning to play the ukulele. Together they are on a mission, they say, to help people connect with the world through writing. In addition to the river of stones (see the aggregator blog) they also host the Writing Our Way Home forum and run e-courses on writing, spirituality and connecting to the world. Fiona has even written an e-book, available as a free download, called How to Write Your Way Home.

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Theme music: “Le grand sequoia,” by Innvivo (Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike licence).

The Referendum Results and Landlords

Having voted to leave the EU a great several pieces of legislation will need to be reviewed which will undoubtedly have an impact on the property sector.


The Bank of England has raised concerns about the economic uncertainly following this result. Certainly, the pound and UK stock market has seen a significant drop in value after the result was announced. This may lead to landlords being hard hit because lending for the buy to let market may become more difficult to obtain.


Furthermore, legislative change will need to be implemented. A number of regulations rely on the European Communities Act 1972 which presumably will need to be repealed. There is some uncertainty about how the Government will deal with this. The Government may choose to re-implement some of the regulations individually or collectively re-implement them all. Either option is possible in principle. However, some regulations are popular and some are certainly not. Consequently, what and if any regulations deriving from EU matters are implemented will be dependent on who is in power at the time the decisions need to be made. The regulations which may be subject to repeal or implementation will include the EPC Regulations, Heat Network Regulation and most particularly the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations which are of great importance as they cover property misdescriptions.


That said, the current government has not yet served the Article 50 notice to leave the EU and it seems that it will not occur until at least October, once a brand-new Conservative leader has been chosen. In any event, upon service of the Article 50 notice there is a 2-year notice period, which could be increased further by negotiation. Consequently, any changes are likely to be delayed for some time.


Finally, the EU result calls into question the proposed legislation in the Queen’s speech and the implementation timetable for legislation already passed. This is particularly so for the Housing and Planning Act 2016 and the Immigration Act 2016, due to government departments now having other priorities!


We will keep readers updated if and when changes are made to the property sector.
Filed under: England & Wales

Woodrat Podcast 43: Marly Youmans in Wales

Marly Youmans with an ancient yew on the grounds of Powis Castle
admiring yew #35 on the grounds of Powis Castle

Even though my friend the poet and novelist Marly Youmans lives just five hours away from me in upstate New York, we went all the way to Wales to record this podcast. How’s that for dedication? We start out at a tea house on the grounds of Powis Castle, where we’re joined by another novelist and blogger, Clare Dudman. Then we go to Ty Isaf, the stately Clive Hicks-Jenkins residence near Aberystwyth, where we talk about such topics as the ghosts of Cooperstown, New York; whether children are an inspiration or a hindrance for a busy writer; women leaving the world for the woods; and how writing in rhyme resembles surfing. We are serenaded by rooks.

Marly’s latest book of poems is The Throne of Psyche and her latest novel is Val/Orson. She blogs at The Palace at 2:00 a.m. and tweets about raspberries and radishes.

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Theme music: “Le grand sequoia,” by Innvivo (Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike licence).

McDonald v. McDonald revisted

In McDonald v McDonald, the Supreme Court held last week that a Court is not required to consider proportionality when evicting a tenant when a Landlord seeks possession under section 21 of the Housing Act 1988.

A summary of the case and the Court of Appeal decision can be read here.

The Supreme Court stated that any decision which required the Courts to consider proportionality “would involve the Convention effectively being directly enforceable as between private citizens so as to alter their contractual rights and obligations, whereas the purpose of the Convention is…to protect citizens from having their rights infringed by the state.”

The effect of this judgment in relation to private residential tenancies is that it is now not possible for a tenant who is being faced with Section 21 possession claim to invoke Article 8 of the Convention. As the Court said in relation to private residential possession proceedings:

“Once it [a court] concludes that the landlord is entitled to an order for possession, there is nothing further to investigate.”


This judgement largely puts to bed any ability to challenge a private landlord’s eviction of their tenant on human rights grounds. While the case is a sad one in which the tenant did and should attract sympathy it will be of considerable relief to landlords. The effect of human rights arguments entering the private rented sector were, as the Supreme Court held, too horrible to contemplate.
Filed under: England & Wales

Lettings Agent Fined

Colvin Houston Ltd, a lettings agent in Scotland, was fined £750 (reduced to £500 for an early plea) after becoming the first to be prosecuted in connection with the Tenancy Deposit Schemes (Scotland) Regulations 2011 that required all landlords (including England and Wales) to register deposits. The legislation was set up to ensure deposits were ring-fenced in independent tenancy deposit schemes and protected by third parties until such time as the tenant vacated the rented property.

North Ayrshire Council said the landmark ruling at Kilmarnock Sheriff Court could now have a “massive impact” for people renting properties across the UK

The deposit legislation primarily places the responsibility for securing deposits on landlords. However, the Consumer Protection From Unfair Trading Regulations (CPRs) were used in this instance to hold Colvin Houston Ltd responsible for the deposit they took on behalf of their client, the landlord.

In this prosecution, North Ayrshire Council’s Trading Standards team argued that landlords were consumers rather than professionals. Consequently, in failing to secure the deposit, the letting agent had committed the offence of unfair trading by “failing to meet the standard of skill and care that would certainly reasonably be expected” of a trader in its field of activity, and hence their practice was deemed “unfair as it failed to meet the standard of professional diligence”.


It should be remembered that the CPRs apply equally in England as well as in Scotland and so a similar prosecution could be pursued South of the Border. Routine failure to protect deposits is something that agents should not be involved with and is likely to attract prosecution.
Filed under: England & Wales

Edwards v Kumarasamy – Supreme Court

In Edwards v Kumarasamy, the Supreme Court held that the landlord of a leashold flat was not liable for the injury of his tenant sustained outside the block of flats he was renting. The Court of Appeal decision which caused so much concern to landlords of flats has been overturned.


A summary of the case and the Court of Appeal decision can be read here.


The Supreme Court held that there were three questions to consider and answer and the tenant would need to succeed on every one of them in order to win the case. The three questions were:


  1. Was the path part of the exterior of the property?
  2. Was there an implied easement over the path? and
  3. Did the landlord need to be given notice of a want of repair of the path?


Question 1

The Court resolved this question in the landlord’s favour. The Court refused to agree that a path which was far removed from the property could form part of its exterior. It held that despite the fact that the path was a key approach to the property, there was a distinction between the actual outside surface of the property and a path which was removed from the property itself. The court preferred the plain English meaning of ‘exterior’ as opposed to the strained meaning adopted by the Court of Appeal.


Question 2

Once again the Supreme Court adopted a plain English meaning here and agreed that the there was an implied easement. However, in light of the answers to Question 1 and 3 the Supreme Court did not dwell on this question.


Question 3

The Supreme Court decided, by a majority, that the landlord should be given notice. The Court held that it is the tenant that had the easiest opportunity to view the state of repair of the common areas. Furthermore, that while the landlord retained a right of access as against the freeholder, he had no right to actually effect repair.



This decision will come as some relief to landlords of flats who were facing the need to inspect the common areas of these properties and were potentially liable for the failures of the freeholder. While the Supreme Court has simplified things a great deal the issue of notice is not closed and is likely to raise its head again.
Filed under: England & Wales

Woodrat Podcast 44: Reversible books

watch on YouTube – watch on Vimeo

The Woodrat Podcast returns from summer vacation with its first ever video episode (but don’t worry, this will remain mostly an audio show). I wanted to do a bit of a show-and-tell with some poetry books published as reversible, upside-down or tête-bêche books, including, most recently, Triplicity by Kristen McHenry and Paper Covers Rock by Chella Courington, forthcoming from Indigo Ink Press.

Additional links:

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Theme music: “Le grand sequoia,” by Innvivo (Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike licence).

Break Clauses and Rent in Advance

The financial consequence of rent being paid in advance and then a break clause being triggered was recently considered by the Supreme Court in the case of Marks and Spencer plc v BNP Paribas Securities Services Trust Company.


The lease required the rent to be paid on the usual quarter days in advance. Accordingly, the rent was paid in full on 25 December 2011, and on 24 January 2012 the break clause was activated.


Having validly exercised the break clause, M&S then demanded repayment of the basic rent that related to the period after the break period. Their lease did not have any clause within it which entitled M&S to any such reimbursement.


The Supreme Court found that, other than in very exceptional circumstances, a reimbursement of rent in advance would require a very clear clause in the lease to entitle a tenant to a refund. These would even apply to rent paid in advance relating to the period after the exercise of a conditional break clause. In giving its judgment the Supreme Court took the opportunity to clarify the law on implied terms generally and to confirm that the Apportionment Act 1870 does not apply to rent payable in advance.




Those drafting leases with a break clause should consider an apportionment clause for rent paid in advance where tenants are permitted to exercise a break clause if they wish to allow for rent to be paid back in this way. Anyone acting for a tenant should ensure that such a clause is in their lease.
Filed under: England & Wales

Woodrat Podcast 45: A philosophical lunch with Will Buckingham (Part 1 of 2)

Will Buckingham

On my visit to the U.K. last spring, I arranged to meet with the novelist and philosopher Will Buckingham in a restaurant near the Birmingham train station on my way from Aberystwyth to London. I’m a long-time reader of his blog ThinkBuddha (and more recently of his personal blog) and a fan of his first novel, Cargo Fever. So knowing that he was a guy with wide-ranging interests and a gift for translating abstruse ideas into ordinary language, I figured he had to be pretty interesting to chat with. I wasn’t disappointed.

In this first half of our conversation, I got Will talking about the philosophy in the Moomin books of Tove Jannson; the ancient Chinese Daoist text Zhuangzi (actually, I’ve spared you most of that — Will and I share a great fondness for the work, but I realize most listeners won’t have read it); the pervasive sense of loss in the Western philosophical tradition; teaching and writing; Martin Heidegger; why existentialism is no longer popular; Emmanuel Levinas; and parallels between Indian and Greek philosophy.

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Theme music: “Le grand sequoia,” by Innvivo (Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike licence).