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musings from the studio and beyond ~

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


when painting isn’t fun anymore…and getting over it

Artist Dawn Chandler's evolving paint palette during the 5-day Santa Fe Plein AIr Fiesta 2018

My changing palette over the course of the five days..


I work well under pressure. I like deadlines and due dates. At least that’s what I’ve always thought.
I remember a few years ago getting ready for a solo show of my abstract/textual landscapes and, just a couple of weeks before the show opening, I realized with some horror that I was going to need twice as many paintings as I’d figured to fill the space. Never have I worked with so much focus and creative abandon as I did those next few days. Unplugged from all my devices, I locked myself away in my studio and painted 12 – 14 hours per day for a week solid as creativity overtook me. Quite to my amazement, everything fell into place, as the groove of flow swept in and over me. Rather than feel tired, I felt completely energized. Rarely has painting been so supremely joyful and effortless for so many days in a row!

That, um, didn’t happen last week.

Artist Dawn Chandler's plein air painting set up during the Santa Fe Plein Air Fiesta 2018

Painting out at the Galisteo Basin.

No, quite the opposite. I was freaking out on day one of the Santa Fe Plein Air Fiesta, a competitive painting event involving 50 artists.

We’d gathered in Santa Fe to paint for five days. The goal was to have two completed and framed plein air paintings ready to exhibit at Santa Fe’s well-respected Sorrel Sky Gallery at the end of the week.

While my new painting peers all seemed to be experienced in these competitive “paint-outs,” this was my first one. Really, I didn’t know what I had gotten myself in to.

Each day there were designated paint-out locations, though you didn’t have to paint there if you didn’t want to. Rather, you could paint anywhere within about a 100-mile radius of Santa Fe.

Morning of the first day I decided to avoid surprises and stick with the familiar. Still full from the huge kick-off welcome dinner the night before, I headed out to the Galisteo Basin at dawn to do my first painting. After a brisk hike with The Pup, I did a very quick sketch, loosely noted the values per what I’d learned at PACE18, then set to work. The painting came together without too many headaches, though I wondered if I should have paid more attention to the values. Regardless, I was thrilled to have my first painting under my belt. Whew! Just 14 more to go!

Now to pack up the car with my paints, food for four days, and The Pup and head up to Dixon to my friend Miya’s place. I figured I’d camp out there for a while as Dixon would put me fairly close to several of the paint-out locations in the Rio Grande Gorge, Abiquiu & Espanola. And Dixon itself doesn’t lack for beautiful and interesting subject matter for paintings!

DIxon, New Mexico one early morning in late April.

The hills surrounding Dixon, New Mexico.

Come late afternoon my easel was set up in front of Miya’s, as I raced furiously to capture storm clouds over the ridge line and afternoon sunlight angling in. Yet  I seemed to forget anything that I had known about painting. I was anything but focused. Negative speak pounded through my head. I felt overwhelmed.
I DON’T HAVE TIME TO DO A SKETCH AND A VALUE STUDY!!! The light is changing so rapidly, and there’s so much going on between foreground and middle ground and background trying to get the shape of this and the color of that and the shadow here and the tree over there and and and

Finally I just STOPPED. I’d lost the light. The more I worked on the painting, the more I was ruining it.

I did not sleep well that night.

The next morning I attempted the same view, but this time — obviously — with morning light.

Same thing.

Once again I was anything but focused as distracting negative speak pounded through my head. Once again I felt overwhelmed, and confused about how to paint.
I DON’T HAVE TIME TO DO A SKETCH AND A VALUE STUDY!!! The light is changing so rapidly, and there’s so much going on between foreground and middle ground and background trying to get the shape of this and the color of that and the shadow here and the tree over there and and and

And once again I just STOPPED. Once again I’d lost the light before completing the painting.

I felt drained and deflated.

This was new to me, this intense feeling of stress and anxiety when painting.
Sure, my paintings almost always go through a stage of looking like a mess, and often there’s negative speak going on in my head and I wonder if it’s ever going to come together. But always there’s a point where the painting DOES start coming together and those negative voices get shut out, such that by the end of the painting session I’m feeling pretty satisfied with the result.

But this was performance anxiety. It was uncomfortable. It was sour. I knew it was all in my head — it was all ego — but knowing that really didn’t help to diminish the discomfort that sat heavily with me.

Three paintings so far. One was okay, two were terrible.

I folded up my paint box. I definitely would not be heading out to the community “paint-out” locations. Last thing I needed was people potentially looking over my shoulder.

The view outside of Miya Pottery in Dixon, NM.

The view outside my little apartment at Miya Pottery in Dixon, NM.


A few hours later..


Deep breath.

This time I would slow down and apply everything I observed and learned two weeks earlier at PACE.
This time I would do a preliminary sketch and focus on the value structures, on composition.
This time I would take my time and do it right.

Notan sketch by artist Dawn Chandler of an adobe pottery shed in Dixon, New Mexico


Dawn Chandler's laying in the values on a plein in painting of an adobe pottery shed in Dixon, New Mexico


of course

by taking my time

it all



Dawn Chandler's laying in the color on a plein in painting of an adobe pottery shed in Dixon, New Mexico

Same with my next painting.

And the next.

Dawn Chandler's laying in the values on a scene in Dixon, New Mexico

Dawn Chandler's starting to add color in a plein air painting of view in Dixon, New Mexico

Dawn Chandler adding yet more color to a plein air painting of view in Dixon, New Mexico

Dawn Chandler completed plein air painting of view in Dixon, New Mexico

And what a surprise that I felt calm while painting these. I felt joy when painting these. I felt unplagued by the pernicious chattering ego, and instead felt completely present with my muse and the view before me.

The lesson, of course, is an ages old one, summed up best in the annoyingly wise question

If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?

Though in my case I was lucky, for I did have time to do some things over — to revisit my earlier “disasters” and make adjustments. So with both the 2nd & 3rd paintings I stood at the same spot the next day and, shutting out the demons, focused more, made corrections, and ultimately turned them around into surprisingly decent paintings.

At the end of five days, I had six respectable paintings — a far cry from the ridiculously ambitious 15 I had originally set as my goal. But I soon learned that six was about as many as most of my fellow artists had completed. And I learned, too, that I was not alone in being haunted by performance anxiety demons.

Grid of Dawn Chandler's six completed and framed paintings from the Santa Fe Plein Air Fiesta 2018

The culminating exhibition at Sorrel Sky was nothing short of a celebration. Imagine seeing over 100 fresh paintings capturing early May in New Mexico! The turnout was huge, and the energy electric. Master artist Stephen Day judiciously handed out awards. Though none were handed to me (nor were none anticipated!), my blue ribbon was without a doubt the overall experience. What a journey it was!

I’d be remiss if I failed to give a shout-out to the Plein Air Painters of New Mexico [PAPNM] who did an outstanding job planning and managing this event. It seemed to me to be incredibly well organized — really, they thought of everything. And from what I gather from other participating artists, few other regional paint-outs are as on the ball and well-directed as PAPNM.

Will I participate in a competitive paint-out again?

Maybe not.

As much as I enjoy plein air painting, the idea of art being “competitive” doesn’t really appeal to me.
I don’t like feeling pressured to paint — except for the kind of pressure that comes from my sweet pup when, after an hour or so she lets me know: You’ve been working on that one long enough; time for you to put your paints away and for us to hike some more!

But then again… maybe I will…

Never say never, as they say…



And YES! All of my Plein Air Fiesta paintings for sale! Click here to explore them all.
painting with my fearless protector

My favorite pic of my Mascot, my Fearless & Brave Protector ~ worth sharing again!

Thanks so much for reading my blog. If you enjoy my musings here, please feel free to share this post!

And remember that you can always find more of my stories, insights and art on Instagram, Facebook and via my Inside the Studio Notes.

Very Artfully Yours ~



what do you call a gathering of 1000+ painters?

michael harding paintings available at PACE18I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed 1000+ painters gathered together under one roof before. Certainly I’ve never been one of 1000+ painters gathered together under one roof before!

But that’s exactly where I recently found myself, when I attended a convention of painters.

Wait a minute…. A convention?

For artists?

Yes, and not just any artists, but those quirky, wildly passionate painters who get their kicks venturing out in wind and rain and screaming temperatures to paint en plein air.
This particular community of outdoor painters has been convening annually for 7 years, to learn, inspire and commune with each other.

Now I don’t really consider myself a “convention type.” Nor am I really a “joiner” when it comes to clubs and associations and such, treasuring my solitude probably to a fault. But I do paint en plein air from time to time and when I heard that a plein air convention was going to take place right here in Santa Fe, I figured I’d be a fool not to go. So I choked down the hefty sum, as I reminded myself it’s a business expense, as I typed in my credit card number and muttered under my breath please let this be worthwhile.

The Plein Air Convention & Expo — or PACE18 as it’s commonly called — took place at Buffalo Thunder Resort, about 15 minutes north of Santa Fe. The gathering comprised four days of seminars, painting demos, with group “paint-out” sessions where scores of painters descended en masse to scenic locations in the area to paint together. The final day was a full day paint-out in Georgia O’Keeffe country, up at Ghost Ranch near Abiquiu, an hour northwest of Santa Fe.

colorful souvenir canvas bag from the plein air painting convention and expo, better known as PACE18Upon picking up my fat packet (which was contained in a pretty cool canvas messenger bag), I looked over the convention program and schedule of seminars and demos, and my temples began throbbing. Starting at 6:30 each of four mornings was a marketing seminar led by Eric Rhodes, CEO of Plein Air Magazine, Fine Art Connoisseur and the mastermind behind this whole event. I really kind of wanted to attend these.

Then, “Home Room” at 8:00 am, where all attendees gathered for updates, special presentations, and general good vibes.

artist kathleen hudson giving a painting demo during plein air painting convention and expo, better known as PACE18

Artist Kathleen Hudson.

8:30 and BAM!! The demos started, with four scheduled at a time in different rooms, with at least 16 per day. How to choose?! I knew none of these artists (shame on me, I’m just not very up on the movers and shakers of the contemporary plein air world….) So I based my choices on the demo descriptions, circled three to attend each day, and that first morning headed into a large dark room to watch some young woman named Kathleen Hudson paint a rocky coastal scene for her demo Light & Atmosphere in the Landscape.

Mind. Blown.

Is it just that I haven’t really watched someone else paint in so long?

Or was it that Kathleen was so clear and articulate in explaining what she was doing and why?
That she painted with such alacrity and effortlessness?

a close up of the demo screens during artist kathleen hudson's demonstration at the plein air painting convention and expo, better known as PACE18

Close-ups of Kathleen Hudson’s painting demo. PACE18 did a great job of filming and projecting close-ups of the artist’s working, so that everyone could see.

That every color choice and paint mixture was perfect, every brushstroke a breath of vibrancy?
That she exuded utter and cheerful confidence?
That she didn’t seem at all to be pummeled by the negative speak that visits me during dang near every plein air painting session?
Nor did she ever wipe the whole thing out muttering “THAT’S THE WRONG COLOR!” “WHAT THE HELL IS THAT COLOR?! I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT THAT FRIGGIN COLOR IS!” “THIS SUCKS!”?

My hand cramped taking notes.

dawn chandler's notes from kathleen hudson's painting demo at plein air painting convention and expo, better known as PACE18

I was so inspired by her demo and her insights that all I wanted to do was run home and paint.

Doing so would mean blowing off the afternoon’s demos…. but ACK!! I didn’t want to clutter my head with yet more, potentially conflicting, information. My mind was spinning.

artihttp://www.taosdawn.comst dave santillanes gives a painting demo at the plein air painting convention and expo, better known as PACE18

Artist Dave Santillanes demonstrating technique at PACE18

So I went home and painted, putting KH’s tips to the test — but only after hemorrhaging my life’s savings at the art supply expo.*

And the next day after attending the marketing seminar and home room and watching the first of three demos I intended to watch that day — Capturing Atmosphere by another dazzling artist whom I’d never heard of before — artist Dave Santillanes — and hemorrhaging more of my life’s savings at the art supply expo* — I promptly went home and painted.

And the third day, after attending the marketing seminar and home room and watching the first of three demos I intended to watch that day — Starting Off Right with Underpainting by yet another gifted painter whom I’d never heard of before — John MacDonald — and after hemorrhaging more of my life’s savings at the art supply expo* — I promptly went home and painted.

artist john macdonald gives a painting demo at the plein air painting convention and expo, better known as PACE18

Artist John MacDonald demonstrating underpainting at PACE18.

What’s really interesting to me is that all three of these artists emphasized the importance of paying attention to something that I get really lazy about. Something that I too often overlook.

They emphasized values.
Beginning a painting with values.

No, I’m not talking about the philosophical moralistic kinds of values.

I’m talking about the tonal relationships of lights and darks.
If you were to remove the color from a scene and look at it in black and white, noting the varying shades of grey: some are nearly black, some are nearly white, and then you have a whole slew of greys in between.

Each one of these artists starts with a a sketch (something else I get really lazy about and too often don’t bother with). But of course the point of the sketch is to figure out the composition of the painting — where the largest overall shapes are, where your eye leads you through the composition; what to leave in, what to leave out, what to emphasize, etc.
In their sketches, be they in a sketchbook or on the canvas itself, these artists are also — and most critically — working out the values, especially figuring out especially where the darkest darks and lightest lights are,

Their initial painting of the scene is only with grey, as they create a value study. Thin washes of paint, working with a paper towel as much as a brush, and a whole lot of Gamsol (solvent), all the while emphasizing that if you get the values right, and then translate those values into color, the painting will sing.

artist kathleen hudson's painting kit set up, at the plein air painting convention and expo, better known as PACE18

Artist Kathleen Hudson’s plein air kit set-up. She uses a portable palette from Prolic Painter, a Gitzo tripod, Rosemary brushes, and Michael Harding oil paints.

And of course as they were painting, they were spewing all kinds of painterly wisdom:

Vary your brush strokes/marks

Think of shapes and their relationships to other shapes.

Color diminishes as atmosphere and distance increases. Same with hard edges.

Tone down a color’s intensity by adding grey.

Contrast attracts the eye.

Wipe out lights; paint in shadows.

Remember lost edges.

Values! Values! Values!

All three of these artists paint in a very traditional, classic representational manner. And they do so brilliantly.
I don’t know that moving toward more closely honed realism is my ultimate goal for my landscapes, but I wouldn’t mind improving my ability to more accurately convey a sense of light.
What I realized watching these demos is that there’s so much I’ve been lazy about when it comes to painting, so much more I simply don’t know about the craft of painting. The realization that too often I’ve been “settling” rather than pursuing excellence.

The realization that I can be working a lot harder….


All in all, what would I call a gathering of 1000+ painters?

I’d call it HUMBLING.
I’d call it INSPIRING.
I’d call it HUMBLING.
I’d call it MOTIVATING.
I’d call it HUMBLING.

Mostly though I’d call it pretty WONDERFUL.

And all just in time for me to — one week later! — participate in my first ever plein air painting competition, the Santa Fe Plein Air Fiesta! TALK ABOUT STRESSFUL! In fact, I’m in the midst of that right now, as we speak!


More about that soon — assuming/hoping I survive the week!

painting out at the galisteo basin with my fearless mentor & protector


* I’m pretty sure I just paid a year’s worth of tuition for Michael Harding‘s kid to go to college. Ditto for the founders’ kids of Gamblin Paints, Rembrandt Paints, Ampersand, Rosemary’s Brushes, Gitzo & Prolific Painter.


Thanks so much for reading my blog. If you enjoy my musings here, please feel free to share this post!

And remember that you can always find more of my stories, insights and art on Instagram, Facebook and via my Inside the Studio Notes.

Very Artfully Yours ~


on the margins of life with MAD magazine & me . . . .

I adore treasure hunts. Invite me to an Easter egg hunt and I devolve into a vermont map hidden under beer bottle cap of Long Trail Aletunnel-visioned child, giddy with anticipation of finding pastel-colored treats hidden in flower beds. I adore advent calendars and lockets and old-school CrackerJacks for the treasures concealed within; I love fortune cookies and tea bags with quotes on the paper tags, and beer brands with surprises under bottle caps. I love reading the “Acknowledgements” section of books, for sometimes there’s a gem of an amusing anecdote tucked away in the author’s list of gratitude — as in Simon Winchester’s The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary — which I read some 20 years ago and yet have never forgotten the delight of this jewel of an acknowledgement:

Among those personal friends I wish to thank […..] and to the otherwise anonymous Anthony S——, who grumbled to me that his fiancée had denied him romantic favors one summer morning because she was bent on finishing chapter 9, my apologies, embarrassed thanks for your forbearance, and best wishes for future marital bliss.


I love chancing upon small things purposefully left behind by others — things that are not obvious, that are not for everyone to find, but rather are only slightly hidden, to be stumbled upon by a few lucky somebodies, as with these whimsical beings peering out from a crack in someone’s wall along my morning walk….

whimisical wall beings hidden in a crack on my morning walk


As children, my best friend and I had a unique solution to boredom: We would take small slips of paper, and on each, write down an idea of something we might do together — say “coloring books” or “play with Barbies” or “build a fort”. We’d then take turns hiding our slips of paper throughout the room, for the other to find. (Forty years later and I remain in awe of our creativity and imagination!)

And as with every other red- and blue- blooded American kid of the 1970s worth their weight in Spaghetti-Os, my mind was mischievously infiltrated by the endless amusements of MAD Magazine. Anyone who grew up chortling over MAD Magazine has their favorite cartoonists. When I talk to My Man about MAD Magazine, his eyes get downright misty as he wistfully recites the names of nearly the entire staff of MAD from the days of our youth. Don Martin. Mort Drucker. Angelo Torres. Dave Berg. And of course his favorite, Al Jaffee.
Who didn’t get hold of a MAD magazine and immediately turn to Al Jaffe’s sure-to-be-amazing back page fold-In? Pure wizardry!

But of all the masterful artistry packed into an issue of MAD I think that which delighted me most was quite possibly overlooked by many. For stashed away in every issue of MAD — if you took time to notice — was magic hidden in the margins. Literally in the margins. These were the teensy tiny delightful bits of whimsy by the brilliant Sergio Aragones.

I just remember being in awe of the minuteness of his artistry. How did he do that?

And how COOL that someone decided to fill these tiny overlooked spaces with delight!

Marginal. Funny how “marginal” has come to mean insignificant. Yet sometimes margins are where jewels are found — be they in the pages of MAD magazine or centuries earlier, on the pages of Medieval manuscripts, where scribes added all kinds of unexpected treasures — including some rather naughty ones! — to the edges of pages.

This is why, when I design my greeting and postcards, I sometimes “hide” magic in the margins, in the way of a barely visible quote.

And it’s why, in every issue of my Inside the Studio email newsletter I hide a “wee little contest” — a wee opportunity for treasure found by those who are curious and look carefully where one might not otherwise look…. Their reward for their curiosity? An excellent chance to win a small gift from me: a little 5″ x 7″ original oil painting.

I’m about to release my next Inside the Studio Notes. And hmmmmm…. I wonder if we’ll have any treasure hunters out there? Remember, the best treasure is usually where you least expect it.

And — hee-hee! — sometimes, it’s right under your nose….

Subscribing to my Inside the Studio Notes is easy, just click here and follow the simple instructions. {You’ll also find an archive there of past editions.)

Thanks for reading! See you Inside the Studio!


~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

a recent edition of Dawn Chandler's Inside the Studio Notes

a [cropped] sample of my Inside the Studio Notes — this one from autumn 2017.

Marginalia ~ By Billy Collins

Sometimes the notes are ferocious,
skirmishes against the author
raging along the borders of every page
in tiny black script.
If I could just get my hands on you,
Kierkegaard, or Conor Cruise O’Brien,
they seem to say,
I would bolt the door and beat some logic into your head.

Other comments are more offhand, dismissive –
‘Nonsense.’ ‘Please! ‘ ‘HA! ! ‘ –
that kind of thing.
I remember once looking up from my reading,
my thumb as a bookmark,
trying to imagine what the person must look like
why wrote ‘Don’t be a ninny’
alongside a paragraph in The Life of Emily Dickinson.

Students are more modest
needing to leave only their splayed footprints
along the shore of the page.
One scrawls ‘Metaphor’ next to a stanza of Eliot’s.
Another notes the presence of ‘Irony’
fifty times outside the paragraphs of A Modest Proposal.

Or they are fans who cheer from the empty bleachers,
Hands cupped around their mouths.
‘Absolutely,’ they shout
to Duns Scotus and James Baldwin.
‘Yes.’ ‘Bull’s-eye.’ ‘My man! ‘
Check marks, asterisks, and exclamation points
rain down along the sidelines.

And if you have managed to graduate from college
without ever having written ‘Man vs. Nature’
in a margin, perhaps now
is the time to take one step forward.

We have all seized the white perimeter as our own
and reached for a pen if only to show
we did not just laze in an armchair turning pages;
we pressed a thought into the wayside,
planted an impression along the verge.

Even Irish monks in their cold scriptoria
jotted along the borders of the Gospels
brief asides about the pains of copying,
a bird signing near their window,
or the sunlight that illuminated their page-
anonymous men catching a ride into the future
on a vessel more lasting than themselves.

And you have not read Joshua Reynolds,
they say, until you have read him
enwreathed with Blake’s furious scribbling.

Yet the one I think of most often,
the one that dangles from me like a locket,
was written in the copy of Catcher in the Rye
I borrowed from the local library
one slow, hot summer.
I was just beginning high school then,
reading books on a davenport in my parents’ living room,
and I cannot tell you
how vastly my loneliness was deepened,
how poignant and amplified the world before me seemed,
when I found on one page

A few greasy looking smears
and next to them, written in soft pencil-
by a beautiful girl, I could tell,
whom I would never meet-
‘Pardon the egg salad stains, but I’m in love.’


Thanks so much for reading my blog. If you enjoy my musings here, please feel free to share this post!

And remember that you can always find more of my stories, insights and art on Instagram, Facebook and Inside the Studio Notes.

Have a lovely day!

a winter roadtrip with my muse, part two

Not all the art I made during my little solo sojourn were in my sketchbook. Another of my goals was to do some plein air painting — something I hadn’t done since late December when, the day after my car accident and day of my 53rd birthday, my pup and I went for a little afternoon hike in the ABQ foothills, to welcome another year of life with hiking, paint & stillness.

Dawn Chandler's birthday plein air session in the Albuquerque foothills, along with her painting mascot.

note the cool blue light of shadow across my paint box, and the warm golden light of sunlight upon my painting mascot….

But that was December. And now it was mid February, and I was feeling the itch to pull out my plein air kit again.

So off to southern Colorado I went. Why there?

Can you believe it but I’ve never been to Mesa Verde?

I know. Almost a quarter-century in New Mexico and I’ve never gazed upon those ancient ruins.

Okay, that’s not quite true. I buzzed in there one afternoon in 1989 on my way from Santa Fe to Salt Lake City…. I mean literally buzzed in for a slap-dash-drive-by-looksee-visit to the first ruin, and then turned around darted out of the park and continued on my way to Utah. What can you expect from an out-of-touch teary-eyed young woman anxious and confused from a ridiculously crippled & confused heart…. But that’s another story.

Then there was June of 2011 or 2012 when My Man and I set out for a weekend camping trip to Cortez, CO with the sole intention of visiting Mesa Verde, but had to turn around due to car troubles, only to be assisted by gang-member-Good-Samaritans, and limp back home to find my neighbor’s house on fire and be among the first-responders in putting out a potentially biblical fire disaster during one of the worst droughts and fire seasons of the century.

That, too, is another story.

All this to say it was high time I spent some time at Mesa Verde.

So I thought, go in February… There’s likely few visitors there, and if there’s snow, it will be especially beautiful… If nothing else, you can get some wonderful photos….

Of course going in February also meant that the roads might be kind of dicey. ‘Cause something you need to keep in mind is that while the Visitor’s Center is just off the main paved highway at the base of The Mesa, the dwellings are 20 miles away, and the only way to get to them is to drive a remote and winding road up and over The Mesa. So when I left the Visitor’s Center only to have the overcast sky spitting sleet and the vista ahead shrouded in a pale gauze of grey, I had to wonder Do I really want to do this?

watercolor sketch driving up to Mesa Verde on a February morning, by Santa Fe artist Dawn Chandler

Yes, I do.

Wouldn’t you know it but within five minutes the sun was out and all the rest of the day the sky was a gorgeous dance of cloud and sun color. I couldn’t have asked for a more splendid day!


Eight people.

That’s how many people I saw the first day. Eight people.

Eight people in a National Park.
I had the place to myself.

Of course at this time of year you can’t go down into the dwellings, due to potentially icy conditions. But you can still drive one of the loops and take in the views….

A February Mesa Verde vista, photo by Santa Fe artist Dawn Chandler


Morning view across one of the Mesa Verde canyons, photo by Santa Fe artist Dawn Chandler



View into the deep canyons of Mesa Verde National Park, photo by Santa Fe artist Dawn Chandler


Across the canyons of Mesa Verde, peering into dwellings, photo by Santa Fe artist Dawn Chandler


Across the canyons of Mesa Verde, peering into dwellings, photo by Santa Fe artist Dawn Chandler



Because I was so eager to drive the full loop and make every stop along the way, I did not make time to paint — until the very end of the day, when the late afternoon light just made me nearly cry out with enchantment, So the pup and I pulled over, and while she napped in the back, I pulled my paint box onto my lap…..

…and attempted to catch the view from my car window, of late afternoon light illuminating an outcrop — FINALLY! my first attempt at plein air of the New Year. The result certainly wasn’t my best plein air painting ever, but I was thrilled to have at least pushed some paint around and wet my brushes. I could hardly wait to do it again tomorrow!

Mesa Verde, February late afternoon distant view, oil landscape painting en plein air by Santa Fe artist Dawn Chandler

mesa verde ~ february late afternoon ~ by dawn chandler ~ oil on panel ~ en plein air


But “tomorrow” was overcast, with nary a sign of blue sky. UGH. This meant there would be no sharp shadows and bright light to create contrast — two things I really appreciate when painting plein air, for they add interest and help give a sense of spacial depth by helping to describe volume to the shapes in the composition. When handled well — really well — they make a painting sing.

Of course master plein air painters can make a painting of an overcast day — or  painting of anything — sing. But I’m a far cry from a master at this, and so overcast days — in terms of plein air painting — fill me with dread. How am I going to convey a sense of depth without sharp shadows?! I was temped — really tempted — to stay in my cozy cottage all day and just read, write and play with watercolors in my sketchbook…Actually that sounded really inviting….
But visiting Mesa Verde and painting plein air is a big reason why I came here, so DAMNIT! I need to get out there and paint!

So, armed with a thermos of strong coffee and my companion in the back seat, I headed out under the overcast sky, and returned to a favorite vista in the park. The wind was whipping, so we stayed in the car. While sipping coffee, I considered the view ahead, and lack of contrasts, lack of much going on in the sky, and all those closely-valued shades of earth.. How the hell do I even start this? With some dread I pulled my paint box onto my lap again….

Well, my Muse must have been happy, for I somehow ended up with a new favorite painting!

Mesa Verde Overcast Morning, oil landscape painting en plein air by Santa Fe artist Dawn Chandler

mesa verde overcast morning ~ by dawn chandler ~ oil on panel ~ en plein air


Hmmm….Thinking maybe I need to get out and paint under more overcast skies!


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a winter roadtrip with my muse, part one



I knew I needed a break. I knew I needed to unplug. I knew I wanted to remove myself from the familiar, and just paint, just read, just write.

Just think. Just not think.

Just be.

Without chatter. Without pinging and lights and alerts and the mind-numbing busy-ness of constant connection.
Without news. Without media.

Without appointments — except with my dog, and perhaps a meal or two with a warm and wise elder.

Basically I needed to breathe, to connect again with my muse — my deeper spirit — who’d been hibernating a bit this winter, waiting patiently for some solitude and fresh air.


So I took her — my deeper spirit — away, to let her bloom again.

A couple weeks ago.

We went on a road trip, my muse and I, in the company of my sweet pup. And stayed in a tiny little place in the shadow of ancients.

No computer. No internet. No cell coverage.

Just imagine.

Here is a bit of what one can accomplish at a small kitchen table with no distractions, and nothing to listen to but a single superb classical music LP on an old record player, and your pup’s contented snores from her warm bed beside you…


santa fe sunrise watercolor sketch by artist dawn chandler


february morning across northwestern new mexico watercolor sketch by artist dawn chandler


new mexico mesa watercolor sketch by artist dawn chandler


new mexico cloud watercolor sketch by artist dawn chandler


colorado snowscape watercolor sketch by artist dawn chandler


colorado fields and mesas watercolor sketch by artist dawn chandler


first few snowy miles of mesa verde in february watercolor sketch by artist dawn chandler


february mesa verde overlook view sketch by artist dawn chandler


february mesa verde canyons and clouds sketch by artist dawn chandler


I painted all of these over the course of three evenings and three early mornings, in the pages of my journal — a “Super Deluxe Mixed Media: sketchbook by Bee Paper, a new notebook brand that I discovered almost by accident last year and has now become my new favorite.
And the paints…  I used a completely new array of colors, inspired by the palette of artist Gennine Zlatkis (a cool gal who also lives in Santa Fe and with whom I’ve become delightfully acquainted via Instagram).

These are colors I likely never would have considered trying before. I mean why change, when you’ve been getting decent results, with what you’ve been doing?

Umm…. Because you learn new things when you try new things?
Because changing things up is when you make new discoveries?
(Like I did just yesterday when I decided to take a different route to the post office, and discovered a beautiful new path.)

And Oh! the EXCITEMENT of new colors, the playful discovery in seeing what they do, how they mix and melt into each other!


Here’s the palette.

In addition to the Gennine’s Holbein colors, I added four from Winsor Newton 

Clockwise from the hot pink tube:

Holbein Opera
Holbein Antique Magenta
Holbein Antique Violet
Winsor Newton Payne’s Grey
Winsor Newton Burnt Sienna
Winsor Newton Indigo
Holbein Marine Blue
Holbein Antique Bronze Blue
Holbein Antique Sky Blue
Holbein Antique Bamboo
Holbein Antique Elm Green
Holbein Antique Dandelion
Holbein Antique Orange
Holbein Antique Magenta
Central: Winsor Newton Titanium White


None of these little sketches were painted en plein air. Rather — as I allude to above — I did these at the kitchen table of my little getaway. I actually did use my phone while there, but only for reference, so I could look at the many photos I’d taken during my drive. These sketches pretty much tell the tale of my trip — the views and weather I experienced as I made my way for several hours across northwestern New Mexico and up into the San Juan mountains of southwest Colorado.

These aren’t fancy paintings; the pages of my journal are sturdy, but they aren’t really made for sophisticated or polished watercolor paintings. And that’s just fine, for these are staying in my journal, as I did them for me and my own pleasure, my own delight — a record of a  handful of perfect days of uninterrupted creative solitude. Just my pup, my muse, and I.

That’s a little slice of heaven, right there.



By the way, special thanks to everyone who followed along with my little painted heart project a few weeks back.

Thanks to all who won a heat — your purchases helped fund my little roadtrip!

And extra special thanks to those who bid but weren’t able to snag one. I’m sorry not everyone who wanted one was able to get one. 🙁
(Maybe next year?)

Meanwhile, thank you! I appreciate you — ALL of you!

dawn chandler's winter watercolor hearts 2018