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musings from the studio and beyond ~

dawn chandler’s reflections on art and life. . . .


back to the high meadows of new mexico . . . .

our 2015 'sole sister' trek winding our way across philmont's south country, july 2015, photo by dawn chandler

our 2015 ‘sole sister’ trek winding our way across philmont’s south country ~ july 2015 ~ photo by dawn chandler

We had been camped on the far edge of the high south meadow. The evening before we were lead up a west slope trail, where, just beyond the ridge in the blaze of sun sinking quickly before us, we stood at a fence line, and watched color radiate from a point just beyond Wheeler.*

That night, we slept in the company of evergreen and aspen.
For five nights we slept upon the earth.
For six days we breathed deeply the high country air.
Morning glistened with the promise of winding trails and clear streams; of paintbrush and iris and penstemon; of trailside conversation, songs and laughter and perhaps even — no, definitely — a bear sighting both magical and maybe a little too close for comfort.
All in a day.
All in a week.
All on the trails of Northen New Mexico.

as of yet untitled painting of apache springs, philmont by santa fe artist dawn chandler

my most recent — and as of yet untitled — painting of apache springs, philmont


This memory is from a series of days in July, 2015 when I had the joy of backpacking again at Philmont — the place where I first fell in love with New Mexico back in my teens and college years. This time I returned to the trails of Colfax County with thirteen other women, nearly all of us former camp staff members; every one of us possessing a deep soulful connection to “The Ranch.”

when rain finally comes to new mexio, philmont, oil landscape painting by santa fe artist dawn chandler

when rain finally comes to new mexico, by dawn chandler ~ oil on canvas ~ 36” x 24” (prints available here }

We had chosen a “South Country” itinerary for our trek, in part because the South Country is a bit more verdant than Philmont’s North Country,’ and some of us just really wanted to enjoy again the lushness of those high mountain meadows and streams.
Little did we know when planning our itinerary that 2015 would be The Year of Rain.
The Year of Green.
I’m talking Ireland-type green, as captured over there —>
in my 2016 painting, When Rain [Finally] Comes to New Mexico
which I jokingly subtitled “Yes, It Really Was That Green” )

Day three of our hike brought us to Apache Springs Camp, tucked away in Philmont’s far southwest corner — a place I had visited only once before c.1983, and then for only a few hours. It’s a beautiful, beautiful spot, and I regret not venturing there in my youthful summer’s days off decades before.

Just a few weeks ago I finished a new painting from this journey — the painting pictured above. It captures a moment during our morning departure from Apache Springs, Most of us had made it down to the cabin already, but a couple of us straggled behind, lingering in the light dancing across that long stretch of aspen-edged meadow.  No surprise that the forester among us had the wisdom to linger longest in the light. For I’m pretty sure that solitary hiker is Mary Stuever: former Philmont Ranger turned New Mexico Forester, gifted author of The Forester’s Log.

Several possible titles for this painting are ricocheting through my head, but I can’t quite settle on one.

But perhaps you have some suggestions for a title?

If so, I welcome them.
(Feel free to, comment below or via of my studio FaceBook page where I’ll share this post shortly.)

Meanwhile, there’s so many more paintings I’ve been meaning to do of this trip . . . Here’s what I’ve completed so far,:


morning of our first day, philmont, oil landscape painting by santa fe artist dawn chandler

morning of our first day by dawn chandler oil on panel ~ 12” x 16” {details here}


east from rayado canyon, philmont, oil landscape painting by santa fe artist dawn chandler

east from rayado canyon by dawn chandler ~ oil on panel ~ 9” x 12” {details here}


apache springs summer evening, philmont, oil landscape painting by santa fe artist dawn chandler

apache springs summer evening ~ by dawn chandler oil on panel ~ 12” x 16” {details here}


apache springs sunset, philmont, oil landscape painting by santa fe artist dawn chandler

*apache springs sunset by dawn chandler ~ oil on panel ~ 8” x 10” {sold}


early morning light at beaubien, philmont, oil landscape painting by santa fe artist dawn chandler

early morning light at beaubien  by dawn chandler ~ oil on panel ~ 9” x 12” {details here}


beaubien light, philmont, oil landscape painting by santa fe artist dawn chandler

beaubien light by dawn chandler ~ oil on panel ~ 9” x 12” {details here}


daybreak at crater lake - gazing toward the tooth, philmont, oil landscape painting by santa fe artist dawn chandler

daybreak at crater lake – gazing toward the tooth by dawn chandler ~ oil on panel ~ 9” x 12” {details here}


july morning, crater lake camp, philmont, oil landscape painting by santa fe artist dawn chandler

july morning, crater lake camp by dawn chandler ~ oil on panel ~ 9” x 12” {details here}


And again. . . .

as of yet untitled painting of apache springs, philmont by santa fe artist dawn chandler







a quiet stark beauty

One of the things I most appreciate about being a painter, is that it has honed my ability to notice beauty — color beauty — just about anywhere. And so it was last month when I drove across the Great Plains of eastern Colorado and western Nebraska. Many might find the late winter landscape of brown flatland to be drab, but I found its earthy tones to be luscious in its closely hued subtleties. (I always think of these colors as “Vuillard colors” for they remind me of the palette of French post-impressionist painter Edouard Vuillard. Which is kind of funny, since Vuillard was especially known for his paintings of cozy interiors. But this earthen palette, no matter its subject, calls up “Vuillard” in my color memory.)

As I shared in my previous post, my time in Nebraska was book-ended each day by the breath-taking drama of sandhill cranes moving to and from their nighttime roost in the Platte River. The bulk of each day however was spent with a paintbrush in hand, as I drove country roads and painted Great Plains farmlands from the front seat of my car.

We in New Mexico tend to feel a bit superior to the rest of the country when it comes to natural beauty. Okay, we’re unapologetically smug. But let’s face it: The Land of Enchantment sets a pretty high bar when it comes to landscape.
That’s a given. And it’s frankly why I’ve made New Mexico my home for 20+ years.

And yet . . . I found the flatland of Nebraska in late March to radiate a quiet, stark beauty. Though some might find the unbroken straight line of the horizon uninteresting, I was fascinated by the geometry everywhere of parallel lines shooting off into a sharp chevron of a vanishing point, every corn field a perfect study of one-point perspective.

And fog! such a rarity to my sunburned eyes. I’d forgotten how its grayness subdues yet intensifies color, softens edges, and somehow brings everything in closer. As I sat in my car and mixed my colors, I found the Nebraska sky was ever-changing, the calligraphy of cranes ever curling, the gnarled twists of winter cottonwoods ever haunting.
My goal was to come home with fifteen plein air paintings. That was unrealistic, when one considers the daily need for coffeehouse letter-writing, occasional** craft-brew sampling (I am my father’s daughter, after all), and — most important of all — afternoon naps (I am my mother’s daughter, after all), fifteen paintings was pretty much out of the question.

In the end, I came home with nine paintings. Nine celebrations of Vuillard colors of a starkly beautiful landscape. Not bad.

Here they are in order of their creation:

‘Nebraska Springtime, I’ ~ by Dawn Chandler ~ oil on panel ~ en plein air ~ 8″ x 10″ ~ Day 1 ~ My first Nebraska painting, and one of the few paintings I’ve done with any kind of architecture. From the first parking area at the Fort Kearny State Recreation Area, looking south. Note the dots of cranes grazing in the field.


‘Nebraska Springtime, II” ~ by Dawn Chandler ~ oil on panel ~ en plein air ~ 8″ x 10″ ~ Day 1 ~ My only painting of the Platte River, this at just about high noon (so not much in the way of shadows) from just beyond the footbridge near the Ft. Kearny Rec Area. Painting en plein air is challenging, and painting water is especially challenging.


‘Nebraska Springtime, III” ~ by Dawn Chandler ~ oil on panel ~ en plein air ~ 8″ x 10″ ~ Day 1 – from the parking lot of the Iain Nicolson Audubon Center at Rowe Sanctuary. Before leaving on my roadtrip, I had stained a bunch of painting panels dark purplish; you can see the color bleeding through all of these paintings; here it adds depth and shadow to the stubby fields.


‘Nebraska Springtime, IV” ~ by Dawn Chandler ~ oil on panel ~ en plein air ~ 8″ x 10″ ~ Day 2, afternoon and the clouds were churning rapidly, changing shape endlessly in the time I painted this. The land was mainly in shadow until the very end when a streak of light cut across the field and also illuminated that distant gold tree.


‘Nebraska Springtime, V” ~ by Dawn Chandler ~ oil on panel ~ en plein air ~ 8″ x 10″ ~ Day 2 ~ somewhere near Rowe Sanctuary. That was the darnedest cloud, appearing almost flat, but deep purple grey. I loved the contrast/complement of cool purple-blue in the sky with the warm ochre and gold-browns of the field.


‘Nebraska Springtime, VI” ~ by Dawn Chandler ~ oil on panel ~ en plein air ~ 8″ x 10″ ~ Day 2 ~ from Elm Island Road, looking north to the cottonwoods of Rowe Sanctuary. Just beyond those trees lies the Platte River.


‘Nebraska Springtime, VII” ~ by Dawn Chandler ~ oil on panel ~ en plein air ~ 8″ x 10″ ~ Day 3 ~ along Elm Island Road, there’s a pull-off and a huge wood-paneled blind, just beyond which lies a marshy spot with gnarled cottonwoods, and small pond where herds of cranes gather during the day. How to capture them? I tried small dabs of blue-grey. . .


‘Nebraska Springtime, VIII” ~ by Dawn Chandler ~ oil on panel ~ en plein air ~ 8″ x 10″ ~ Day 3 ~ here again, along Elm Island Road . . . last evening in Nebraska. That house or barn on the right was actually white, but shaded, so it was hard to get the color. I struggled with it over and over, and finally, with great frustration, wiped the whole thing out and — voila! Loved it like that. The color may not be literally or realistically accurate, but it completely works for me.


‘Nebraska Springtime, IX” ~ by Dawn Chandler ~ oil on panel ~ en plein air ~ 8″ x 10″ ~ Day 4 ~ Last morning in Nebraska . . . just had to get in one more painting, and especially try to get some sense of that fog. What color are trees in fog? (I’m still not sure). How many shades of grey can you mix (a lot more than 50!) And how do you capture dozens (if not thousands!) of birds in flight? (I opted here for scratching a pencil into the paint, at least for those smallest most distant cranes in the sky).


** I’m pretty sure this is the first time in 50+ years I’ve spelled this word correctly on the first go of it.








some unsolicited advice from me to you


Forgive me, but I’m going to give you some advice.

Well okay — it’s stronger than that: I’m going to tell you what to do. I’m going to implore you. Entreat you. BESEECH YOU to do this, now:

Go to Nebraska.

Yes, Nebraska.

If you simply can’t get there now, then get it on your calendar and get there NEXT year. In March. You’ve got to go in March, in the first days of Spring. If you wait much longer, you’ll be too late.

Go there — go to Nebraska:

Make your way to the Platte River, near Kearney.

Get there before sunrise. Or sunset.

Bundle-up — it’s cold.

Stand, facing the water, and wait.

Be quiet. Be still.

Listen.    Listen.    Listen.

Keep waiting.

And prepare.

to have a small Grinch part of your heart that’s been shut down for months, maybe even years, open up and expand as it takes flight
with 100,000 pairs of wings.

to be awed — staggeringly awed — by the sheer density of grace. Grace like you’ve never seen before. Grace like you’ve never imagined.

to feel a piercing in your throat and a welling in your eyes as you realize that in all your years of thinking you knew something, you realize that you’ve known nothing.

Prepare to feel small.

Prepare to feel your heart made huge.

to go to Nebraska


Because what’s waiting for you in the middle of the Great Plains is this: The annual spring migration of sandhill cranes. Thousands upon thousands of sandhill cranes. Half-a-million. That’s one elegant winged being for every person living in Albuquerque. Or Sacremento. Or Tucson. Or Atlanta. For a span of about three weeks in March 80% of the world’s crane population — 80%!! — fills the Nebraska sky in elongated clouds of grey stitchery. Come evening, they seek the river — shallow water,  just 6” deep — to roost for the night. For unlike herons, they can’t roost in trees. They must have shallow water.**

Come daybreak, they begin to stir, and soon rise in magnificent flocks, as they spread out to the surrounding fields, to fill their half-million small bellies with grain, grubs, insects and seeds.

They are here to rest and refuel, having departed their southern wintering grounds some weeks earlier. Soon they will continue on their journey. By the time they reach their nesting grounds far, far north in the extreme reaches of Canada, Alaska and Siberia, they will have traveled some 4,000 miles.

Can you or I really even fathom that? That distance? That effort?


The Annual Sandhill Crane Migration { map via the Grand Island, Nebraska website }

One of the things that surprises me most about the cranes is the fact that I never even knew about them til last year.  Here I am an avid outdoorswoman, who prides herself on knowing a thing or two about Nature and the environment. Who likes to think she has an awareness of and is attuned to the seasons and creatures of the wilds a bit more than most people. Yet as I’ve written before, I don’t think the cranes were ever even on my radar till about a year ago. Though I’d seen cranes before, I had never really seen cranes before. And I certainly had no idea that one of the greatest, most epic natural migrations of the world occurs right here, just a day’s drive from where I live.

How did I miss this for so long?

I guess it’s because, as with so many things, we don’t see the cranes until we’re ready to see them.

The cranes can’t find us until we’re ready to be found by them, ready to have our hearts enlarged and lifted by their cooing trill, their black-tipped wings, their perfect awkward elegance.

I’m just grateful I was finally ready to be found by them.

Are you ready?

All the photographs pictured here were taken by Dawn Chandler in the first week of Spring 2017 in and around the Iain Nicholson Audubon Center at Rowe Sanctuary, near Kearney, Nebraska.


**The Platte River has diminished considerably in the last few decades, due to modern demands. “Since the mid-20th century, this river has shrunk significantly. This reduction in size is attributed in part to its waters being used for irrigation, and to a much greater extent to the waters diverted and used by the growing population of Colorado, which has outstripped the ability of its groundwater to sustain them.”



















revealing the open pages of my wallet

It’s all in a book, a little bigger than my palm.

Book of Collage, Vol 01 by Santa Fe artist Dawn Chandler


When I shared The Book with an acquaintance, her voice fell silent as she slowly turned and considered the pages.


Book of Collage, Vol 01 by Santa Fe artist Dawn Chandler


“I feel,” she said in a near whisper, carefully turning each page . . .


Book of Collage, Vol 01 by Santa Fe artist Dawn Chandler


Book of Collage, Vol 01 by Santa Fe artist Dawn Chandler


Book of Collage, Vol 01 by Santa Fe artist Dawn Chandler


“. . . as though I’m paging through your diary… or looking through your wallet.”


That was 25 years ago.

The Book holds within its leaves my first focused foray into collage; my first really satisfying immersion into abstraction.

Until The Book, I had been painting colossal canvases — some 9′ x 3.5’ — trying to abstract landscape with oil paint. My efforts were frustrated — I didn’t really know what I was doing. But then a seminar with one of my mentors in the Art of Collage, coupled with a brief encounter with a mathematician/closeted-artist, who kept a small blank book in which he glued the minutia of his days — matchbook tops, wine bottle labels, chocolate wrappers, ticket stubs, notations — lead me one spring afternoon to find my own small blank book and set about filling its pages.
You know the concept of “Flow” — where you are so completely focused on the task at hand, that you seem to rise outside of yourself and glide effortlessly through the effort? That is what I experienced in the making of The Book. For days I sat on the floor of my graduate school studio, surrounded by baskets of papers and cloth and dried teabags, prints and paint rags salvaged from studio rubbish bins, and every sort of paper trash blowing in the Philadelphia April wind. I remember being utterly joyfulmesmerized with the delight of discovery — as I explored color and texture and design and visual weight and volume and boldness and delicacy and balance and. . . and. . . and. . . it just seemed like I was discovering Art for the first time. Completely consumed in the act of creating, I glued bits of this and that and that and this onto the pages of my tiny book.

Instagram grid of collages from The Book of Collage, Volume 1, by Santa Fe artist Dawn Chandler
When finally — and rather gingerly — I shared my small fat volume with another mentor, he, too, fell silent as he, with his huge hands, gently turned from one tiny collage to the next, quietly considering each:

“This feels like a prayer book . . .
It seems like, until now, in order to express yourself, you have felt like you need to lace up your hiking boots and yell. But what this tender little book tells me is that instead of wearing your hiking boots, you should put on your bedroom slippers . . . and whisper. . .
You’ve found your voice here.”


Books of whispers.

I went on to make several in the months following that first excursion.
They’ve all been tucked away in a little box in a trunk.

Recently I’ve sought them again.
Turning the pages of these small visual diaries fills me with deep satisfaction. Indeed, they fill me with desire to whisper into small pages again . . . .

Hmmm. . . .

If you’d like to root through my “wallet” and see all of the pages of that first book of collages — The Book of Collage, Volume I — come, tune in to my Instagram account where I’ve recently posted close-ups of each page:

Soon I’ll share Volume, II — and perhaps even recent whispers . . . .


Instagram grid of collages from The Book of Collage, Volume 1, by Santa Fe artist Dawn Chandler











where art lives . . . .


What art offers is space — a certain breathing room for the spirit.
~ John Updike



Who doesn’t love venturing into an artist’s studio? Even I — myself an artist — love visiting other creative’s studios.



Artist Francis Bacon’s studio; photo by Perry Ogden.


I delight in seeing the arrangement of materials — some tidy, some chaotic explosions — and the variety of colors, and textures of STUFF, the weird and amusing found objects, snippets of scribble, spills and splatters, dinged up boxes and boards, worn furnishings, rusted bits of whatnot, papers and things piled and pinned and taped and thrown.  It’s like looking into an artist’s wallet or their diary or their bedroom or — dare I say ? — their soul.

Artist markus lupertz

Artist Markus Lupertz in his studio.



Sign on my studio door.

There are times when I am happy to welcome people into my studio, and other times when I want to keep it private. The latter is usually when I’ve got a lot of experiments going on. At these stages I’m still feeling my way — trying to find my voice — and feeling perhaps a little vulnerable, unwilling just yet to open myself up to the rest of the world for comment.

Funny, as I write this, a studio memory has surfaced: I was in grad school in Philadephia, and a distant relative — some half-cousin removed to the nth degree, whom I did not know — got in touch with me. It turned out his office was just a few blocks from my studio. As I recall, he had a vague connection to art — had studied architecture or urban planning or some such at Penn some years back (he was a bit older than I).  And so hearing through the family grapevine that I was nearby, he called to ask if he could come by and see my work, and then perhaps we could have lunch together.

A few days later he came by my studio, and, after walking around and looking at my paintings — all works in progress — he started verbally critiquing my work, and doing so rather negatively. Arrogantly. Pompously.


I couldn’t quite decide which I felt more:  offense or incredulous amusement!

Stunned by his ill-breeding — surely a trait of the other side of his family { sniff } — he was never invited back.

Good riddance!


Meanwhile, I kept on painting.


THAT, however, is not the studio story I intended to share just now. Rather, I want to share a studio story from a couple months ago** which is this:

One day in late October I received an email from Kimberly Conrad, the Denver, Colorado artist and editor of Where Art Lives Magazine — the richly illustrated digital publication featuring artists of the extensive Where Art Lives web hub.
Turns out she was going to be visiting Santa Fe to meet and photograph several Santa Fe artists and their studios, and wondered if she could perhaps add me to her list. It was all very last minute, as she had originally assumed — based on my website “” — that I live in Taos. Unfortunately her tight schedule wouldn’t allow for a Taos visit. Lamenting this to our mutual friend and art sista Joan Fullerton, Joan informed her, “Dawn doesn’t live in Taos anymore; she lives in Santa Fe!”Where-Art-Lives_Dec-2016_Cover_px
An email here, a phone call there, and next thing I know I’m busy vacuuming clouds of black dog hair from my white studio floor, and straightening dozens of crooked pictures on the walls, as I prepared for the arrival of Where Art Lives.

QUITE the opposite of my grad school visitation described above, my visit with Where Art Lives was most pleasant. Kimberly and her entourage are clearly as enchanted by artists’ studios as I am, viewing an artist’s space with a mixture of  reverence, curiosity, awe and delight, whilst inquiring about paintings and materials, work habits, processes sources of inspiration, and more.

While she said my studio and I would be highlighted in the next issue of Where Art Lives, never did I imagine to see my studio and living space spread across 8-pages of a cool art magazine!

Please help me thank Where Art Lives Magazine by checking out their December issue here (my studio is featured on pages 158 – 165).

[And the January issue just came out here ]

Meanwhile — thanks to Kimberly Conrad and Where Art Lives — here is one place where art lives in Santa Fe:













** If you subscribe to my groovy Studio Art Notes newsletter and read the late autumn ’16 edition, then you already know this news — and to you I say: 1) THANK YOU for being a subscriber! and, 2) apologies for the redundant news!