Off-Site/Off-Season: Michelle S. Burt

Posted on March 13, 2015 by Sawdust Art Festival

Some artists move to Laguna Beach to be part of the historic art scene here.

Some artists move to Laguna to be part of the Sawdust Art Festival.

Michelle S. Burt moved to Laguna to be part of both.

Born and raised in various parts of Southern California, Burt is an oil painter who has a passion for the coast and the ocean. She can be seen painting, sketching or taking pictures at Heisler Park, Crystal Cove, the Montage Resort, in Laguna Canyon and at other beautiful Laguna Beach locations.

Burt grew up in Huntington Beach and Big Bear. She graduated from Big Bear High School, then earned her bachelor of fine art degree in interior architecture from California State University, Long Beach.

During her time at CSULB, while taking general art classes, she discovered her passion for the fine arts and, specifically, a love for oil painting.

Burt starts on location with a sketch, a small painting or a photograph. “You’re just trying to get it down really quick – get that color, light and feeling,” she said recently while painting in her studio, a converted garage just outside her home off Glenneyre Street.

Then she takes her work into the studio and expands on it.


Michelle Burt paints a coastal scene in her studio.


“I’m never trying to copy exactly, unless I have a commission where I really have to have that exact something,” she said. “Because I’m not representational like that. I try to capture the feeling, so I’ll get the bare bones in, and I’ll get my little sketch. I do a little value study.

“I get the values down, and then I’ll use it as reference, but I’m not trying to copy the picture exactly. I’m still the designer of the drawing, of the painting.”


Burt uses a simple, limited palette that resembles the basic color spectrum. If she needs another color that’s not on her palette, she’ll mix paints until she gets it.

She said she learned to keep her palette simple from painting instructors John Eagle and Mark Kirchoff. Other instructors she has

Michelle keeps her palette simple.

Michelle keeps her palette simple.

learned from include Ken Auster, Robert Armstrong and Janine Salzman. She considers longtime Sawdust artist Eagle to be her mentor.

Burt is recognized for her beautiful coastal scenes and also her paintings of churning, crashing ocean waves. But she also does figure sketches and paintings and abstracts.

In addition to oils, she works with acrylics, acrylic ink, fabric and found objects.

While she’s been visiting the Sawdust Art Festival for a couple of decades, her first experience as an exhibitor was Winter Fantasy 2013. Her first official summer as a Sawdust artist was last year.

“I thought it was great. Everybody was so nice and complimentary. I felt like I sold a lot for my first year. Because I was in the winter of 2013, I had people specifically come looking for me during that summer show, and buying from me a second time, which was just really thrilling to have that repeat customer straight out of the gate.”

She also enjoys the camaraderie and that special vibe that gets generated on the Sawdust grounds during the summer.

“I get inspired by all the artists, the creativity,” she said. “I get excited when I see people buying art. I’m a real art enthusiast. It’s sort of like my happy place.”

When she’s not participating in the Sawdust, Burt shows her work in two Laguna galleries – Laguna North Gallery and Kelsey Michaels Fine Art.

She says her artistic process is not terribly complicated.

“I just try to paint a feeling. That’s my job. If (my work) can be a resting place for people, where they can find peace or joy, that’s my goal. If they see that, then I’ve done my job.”

You can view more of Michelle S. Burt’s paintings below and at, or visit her at the Sawdust Art Festival this summer, June 26-Aug. 30, 2015.

"Heisler Fog Plein Air," an oil on panel by Michelle S. Burt.

“Heisler Fog Plein Air,” an oil on panel by Michelle S. Burt.

"Wave II," an oil on canvas by Michelle S. Burt.

“Wave II,” an oil on canvas by Michelle S. Burt.

"Heisler Rock III," a 2014 oil on canvas by Michelle S. Burt.

“Heisler Rock III,” a 2014 oil on canvas by Michelle S. Burt.

Wired Series (2014), four 6" x 6" oils on panel by Michelle S. Burt.

Wired Series (2014), four 6″ x 6″ oils on panel by Michelle S. Burt.

Figures, mixed media on paper, 2014, by Michelle S. Burt.

Figures, mixed media on paper, 2014, by Michelle S. Burt.