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musings from the studio and beyond ~

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


cool tools ….of a traveling painter

Tools of a traveling painter - Grid photo of Santa Fe artist Dawn Chandler's traveling plein air painting tools and gear

Before I share the mechanics of painting my little New Hampshire scenes, perhaps I should spend a bit of time talking about the [cool] tools of a traveling painter.

This was the first time I traveled by plane with tubes of oil paint, and I wasn’t sure how that would go with TSA. Online research indicated that most artists have no problem checking a bag with oil paint, as long as certain packing precautions are taken. I decided Winsor & Newton water-mixable oil paints would be a pretty safe bet with the TSA. Plus, they would be much easier in terms of clean-up after a painting session, since you can use soap and water. (Crazy, huh? Read more about water-mixable oil paints in my post from a couple years ago.). When I packed up the paints, I double-bagged them in zip-lock bags, with printed labels that  stated clearly: WATER-MIXABLE ART SUPPLIES, and included the manufacturer’s statement that they are non-hazardous and safe for air travel

I ended up checking two bags: One with my clothes, and the other, a medium duffle with my art supplies and hiking boots.

Because this trip was more about spending time with family and friends, and less about solitary hiking and painting, I decided to bring my day pack (rather than my backpack) and my small paint box. The day pack would be my carry-on bag/purse as well as my pack for short hikes and plein air sessions.


Tools of a traveling painter - artist Dawn Chandler's pochade paint box made by Guerilla


I own two Guerrilla plein air paint boxes, and both which I just love. They are incredibly well-made and sturdy (hat’s off to Carl Judson, modern-day rancher turned Guerilla plein air painter, who thought of everything when he designed these boxes). My larger box is relatively bulky and heavy as it accommodates paint panels up to 9” x 12”. For excursions with this box, I use my backpack to carry it.

Tools of a traveling painter - Dawn Chandler's day pack for carrying her small plein air paint kit

My small Guerrilla Pocket Box is for 5” x 7” panels and fits easily into my daypack.
My daypack, by the way, is a Patagonia Refugio Backpack 28L. (When not painting, and just ambling around town from cafe to cafe, it has a large padded sleeve for a laptop. The newest version of the pack now has an extra exterior pocket for travel documents which is such a frickin’ cool addition that I’m dang tempted to buy a new pack just for that pocket!)


For my painting surface, I use Ampersand gessobord, which I have pre-stained back in my studio with a couple of layers of Golden acrylic paint (remember you can paint with oils over acrylic, but you cannot paint acrylics over oils). Lately I’ve been staining them a warm purplish (varying combinations of burnt sienna, burnt umber, dioxanine purple and ultramarine blue), which adds a nice undercurrent of warm shadow as I develop the paintings.

Contained within my sweet little pochade box is all that I need to paint a masterpiece (…except, umm, skill….. which comes much less easily…. ). Here’s the list (asterisked items are discussed in more detail further down)

Tools of a traveling painter - The contents of Santa Fe artist Dawn Chandler's small plein paint box made by Guerilla



— 2 – 3 Ampersand stained gessobord

— paper towels cut into 1/4ers*

— vessel for painting medium with secure top

— mini palette scraper

— assortment of brushes*

— palette knife

— pencil*

— 4 – 6 tubes of paint*


— painting medium*

— brush soap*

— wet painting carrier*


Tools of a traveling painter - Various paint supplies Dawn Chandler utilizes when plein air painting



— plastic bags*

— 2 small towels or large rags*

— water bottle

— pocket knife

— bandana

— TP

— business cards

— sketchbook & pen

— snacks

—  tea/coffee thermos

— wallet

— camera

— glasses


Tools of a traveling painter - Additional gear Dawn Chandler carries when painting en plein air


paper towels cut into 1/4ers — for wiping my brush off, which I do all the time when switching between colors. Also for use when occasionally wiping out a section of the painting. When painting, I have my brush in my right hand an a folded piece of paper towel in my left. I find small pieces of paper towel much easier to wield

assortment of brushes — I brought 4 and only used 1 — the one farthest on the left. (Actually that slender red-handled one is a renegade; I had not brought that one with me, but will next time, for fine details like tree branches.) Although you can’t tell from these pictures, I have sawed off the handles of these paint brushes so they; fit in my pochade box. While you can buy brushes custom shaped to fit, I prefer my usual brushes. (My current favorite is a Silver Brush Bristlon Synthetic Bright #4.)

Tools of a traveling painter - Dawn Chandler's assortment of plein air paint brushes

pencil — for sketching the basic preliminary composition on the panel (though I never did that this trip), as well as for scratching my signature into the wet paint once the painting was deemed finished.

4 – 6 tubes of paint — doubtless the items of most interest to the painters among my readers.
Because this pochade box is so small, it can carry only a few tubes of paint — making these sessions the PERFECT excuse to paint with a limited palette. The first time I used water-mixable paints my limited palette was Alizarin Crimson + Ultramarine Blue + Cadmium Yellow Medium + Titanium White. I found the Cad Yellow Medium made the greens a little too acrid, so this time around I brought some Lemon Yellow, which, when mixed with Ultramarine Blue, would make for more a cooler, richer green. I also brought a tube of Cobalt Blue, just because I had it — however, I never used it. For the first four paintings, I only used Alizarin Crimson + Ultramarine Blue + Lemon Yellow + Titanium White. (Eventually I did pull out the Cad Yellow Medium, for reasons to be explained when I share that painting a few posts from now.)

Tools of a traveling painter - Artist Dawn Chandler's limit palette paint selection when painting with water-mixable oil paints.

painting medium — ultimately I decided I neither like nor need the medium for water-miscible oils. The paint was smooth enough that the colors mixed just fine without it, and the medium itself was just too sticky for my liking. Mind you, when I paint with traditional oils, then I do like to bring along a small vessel of Gamsol, which I do use fairly frequently when painting.)

wet painting carrier — how else to get paintings home? This model was made by Guerilla and, I believe, is no longer available. Rather, they now sell cardboard carriers (I just ordered some). They also make wooden carriers that are beautifully crafted and extremely durable; worth the price.

Tools of a traveling painter - Dawn Chandler's carrier for wet plein air paintings -made by Guerilla

brush soap — used it once on this trip; after that I just used dish soap.

plastic bags — at least two: one for my paint box, when it’s in my pack, to protect the pack interior from rogue paint splotches; the other for dirty papertowels

2 small towels or large rags — for when I’m sitting to paint: one to place on my lap, so that that paint box doesn’t slip around, especially if I’m wearing hiking pants made of slick microfiber; the other to sit on if where I’m sitting is damp.


Get all this together, load your pack and… You’re ready to get out there and do some paintin’!

Tools of a traveling painter - Artist Dawn Chandler's plein air pack is loaded and ready to go.















living free and coming home

The rail to trail path near Lake Wentworth and Wolfboro, NH; photo by Dawn Chandler, Santa Fe artist

The rail trail path near Wolfboro, New Hampshire.


I’m in a live free or die state.

No, I don’t mean ideologically (tho’ that, too). I mean physically — in the Live Free or Die State. New Hampshire.

In the years that I’ve been writing this blog, my love for New Mexico is evident: simply survey my paintings and you’ll find no state more frequently depicted than the Land of Enchantment. I’ve made New Mexico my home for some 20+ years; it’s clear I’m infatuated with it.

More recently, I’ve spoken of of my love for Vermont. Indeed, I’ve written so affectionately about The Green Mountain State that some people — knowing I’m from the East — have assumed I’m from Vermont. (I am not. I’m proudly from New Jersey, another of the original colonies that is dear to me).

But I don’t know if I’ve ever written here about my abiding affection for New Hampshire.

Exeter, New Hampshire was my mother’s childhood home. Though born in Belmont, Massachusetts, at the age of 10 she and her family moved to New Hampshire, where my grandfather took a position teaching history at Phillips Exeter Academy. He taught there all the rest of his life, until his retirement in the 1960s, when he and my grandmother simply moved down the road, a short two or three-mile drive from the academy and town center.

The Exeter RIver, as seen early one morning from one of the town bridges, Exeter, New Hampshire; photo by Dawn Chandler, Santa Fe artist.

The Exeter River, New Hampshire, as seen early one August morning from one of the town bridges.

Exeter was where my mother was raised, where she married, and where she and my father — along with her parents — are buried.
Though she lived 42 years of my life in New Jersey, it was New Hampshire that my mother called home.

And it’s a place that I call home, too. A place I’ve been returning to nearly ever year for over half a century. Where I feel safe in my family’s memories. I know that my vision of New Hampshire is through the opaque filter of nostalgia, tinted deeply with rose and warm sepia, and little, if any, shadow. My vision is filled with light and warmth and every visit pulls me back into memories of simpler times; memories — some of which aren’t even mine, but rather are conjured from black-papered albums of faded photographs….

The farm at Bow.
Elders in rocking chairs.
Shucking corn on the back stoop.
Fields and forests where now box stores lie.
Softball and picnics at the Unitarian Church.
Hockey in a make-shift backyard rink.
Pocket knives and corncob pipes.
A rusted can dribbling water onto a whet stone.
Stone walls.
Wool rugs.
Aluminum foil Christmas decorations.
Vases of tea roses and snap dragons.
Green beans cooked in cream. Common Crackers with melting pads of butter floating like boats in bowls of fish chowda’. Lawrence Welk. Red Sox. Aromas of baking bread and hermit cookies. Orange pop. Apple sauce and gingerbread. Jigsaw puzzles. Hot attics and damp cellars. Wooden trunks. Lakeside conversations. Creaking stairs and kitchen table card games.
The smell of pine.
The smell of pine.
The smell of pine.
The smell of ocean.

Card games at my aunt's kitchen table at her lake house near Wolfboro, New Hampshire; photo by Dawn Chandler, Santa Fe artist

Three games of solitaire at the kitchen table at my aunt’s New Hampshire lake house. Note my winning game on the left. It was my only win that morning whereas my aunt (above) and cousin (below) won numerous times. I’m pretty sure they cheat. 😉


I come to New Hampshire to connect again with my roots, and walk with my mother’s family’s memories of good lives well-lived. To be reminded that all good things eventually come to an end but all bad things, too. And that the hard edge of even the most troubling news is somehow softened with a cup of tea and shared laughter.

Two inviting yard rocking chairs at my aunt's home in Exeter, New Hampshire; photo by Dawn CHandler, Santa Fe artist



A quiet early morning moment at my aunt's lake home on Lake Wentworth, near Wolfboro, New Hampshire; photo by Dawn Chandler, Santa Fe artist.


In my years and years of visiting New Hampshire, this most recent visit is the first time I brought a plein air paint kit. I’m so pleased that in my busy visit I somehow found time to do a bit of painting. Not nearly as many paintings as I would have liked, but a few. I’ll be sharing them here over the next few posts. Come — meet me back here for a painted glimpse into my New Hampshire….


August morning paint colors (en plein air) of Exeter, New Hampshire; photo and paints of Dawn Chandler, Santa Fe artist.
















the colors of my world….

These were the colors of my world today at 4:30a.m….

santa fe artist dawn chandler's plein air paint palette before the painting begins!


and these these were the colors of my world today at 8:30a.m….

santa fe artist dawn chandler's plein air paint palette upon completion of the painting!


And somewhere in between the two, the colors of my world were these….

return to my aspen sanctuary original plein air oil painting by santa fe artist dawn chandler


{ ~~ blissful sigh ~~ }

OHhhhhhhh, BLESSED DAY!!
For today The Pup and I returned to our mountain trails, to our most favorite aspen grove, to the early morning melody of rushing water and forest birdsong!

How — WHY?! — have we waited so long?
How can it already be mid-July before we strapped on our packs to amble together down the trails of the Santa Fe National Forest for the first time this year?

Well, to be fair…. we HAVE done a little bit of hiking this year — but not up in the high Santa Fe forests.
And I’ve done a good bit of traveling this year — but not up in the high Santa Fe forests.

And so it was with a good bit of giddiness that I awoke at 4:00am determined to hike today in the high Santa Fe forests.

And so it was that at 4:30am I was busy in my studio prepping my plein air paint palette.

And so it was that at 5:30am I was guzzling thermos coffee, the pooch in the back of the car, as we careened up the ski valley road.

That at 6:30am we were bounding down the trail with our packs.

dawn chandler's sweet pup, wilson, guarding the packs


And at 7:30am we were home again in our favorite aspen grove….


dawn chandler's favorite aspen grove in the santa fe national forest


Here are more of the colors of my world today… colors blooming everywhere in the Santa Fe forests….

july flowers of the santa fe national forest captured by dawn chandler

‘Hoping they’ll be the colors of my world again tomorrow, too….







figuring: words and value and color and play

One of the many things I love learning from other artists is what their daily studio practice entails. What rituals they embrace to get into the flow of creativity.

Often when the subject of creative flow and ritual, comes up, writer Stephen King’s name is mentioned. Stephen King has authored nearly 100 books (!!)  Maybe this is how and why he’s able to be so prolific:

There are certain things I do if I sit down to write. I have a glass of water or a cup of tea. There’s a certain time I sit down, from 8:00 to 8:30, somewhere within that half hour every morning. I have my vitamin pill and my music, sit in the same seat, and the papers are all arranged in the same places. The cumulative purpose of doing these things the same way every day seems to be a way of saying to the mind, ‘you’re going to be dreaming soon.’
— Stephen King, quoted in Manage Your Day-to-Day.

So it was with particular interest during my class last month at the Sedona Art Center that I listened to Robert Burridge as he described his daily studio practice. His involves writing his “morning pages” (à la Julia Cameron, whose book The Artist’s Way was pivotal for RB).

Next, he goes into his studio and spends a few minutes pulling random words or phrases out of the dictionary and quickly painting the meaning of each word.
6 words.
3 minutes per word.
18 minutes total.
Black and white paint only.


Here are mine:

The words and phrases captured above?

Gather. Kiss. Claustrophobic. “I love being an artist!” Calm. Immigration.

(Can you figure out which goes with which?)
(Also, note that I didn’t have pure black paint with me, so instead I mixed a blackish color by combining Payne’s Grey with Burnt Umber.)

What’s terrific about this exercise is that it doesn’t give you any time to overthink. You come up with a concept and BOOM! Get it down! The goal, of course, is to visually explain a meaning as simply and quickly as possible.
After 18 minutes of this, you’ve got a creative flow going.

However, I’ve just jumped ahead of myself…

Recall that the focus of this class was on the abstracting the figure.

And so for two full days of class RB arranged for two models to pose for us.
Each of these figure drawing sessions started with several one-minute poses, then five-minute poses, ten-minute poses, and eventually 20- or 30-minute poses, with the models adorned in costumes in the longer poses. Per traditional figure-drawing classes, RB urged us to note first, the gesture of each pose — the main movement or thrust or line of the figure.

Despite my efforts of late to embrace a Buddhist-like disattachment from the ego, I admit I was stoked when, several hours into the figure drawing exercises, RB walked by my table, surveyed my drawings, and said approvingly, “I can tell this isn’t your first rodeo.”

Maybe it’s those handful of Monday evening’s spent at live figure drawing sessions this year. Maybe it was that, just before leaving for AZ I found again my favorite figure-drawing tool. Maybe it was the fact that these models really know what they’re doing and what makes for a fabulous pose. Or maybe my muse was just in a ebullient state. All I know is that I was on a roll when it came to drawing the figure that week.

With the longer poses, we moved from drawing the figure to painting the figure with black/white/grey, paying special attention to lights and darks — essentially what is being illuminated by light, and what is in shadow.

And finally, we moved on to color.

While there are all kinds of color theories and color wheels out there, RB has developed his own, highlighting combinations that especially appeal to him. His combinations center on contrasting color pairings, with two more related colors added to give emphasis or POP. So four main colors, all of which could be tweaked with white and black.

While no one was required to use RB’s color-whee during these exercisesl, one of my goals was to play and experiment with color, so I was happy to make use of his wheel with small, playful studies (see top image). Again, we had a time limit, to get us to work quickly and loosely, without overthinking. (Apparently a goal for many of the artists there that week was to “loosen up” with paint.)

After experimenting with these small color abstracts, we returned to the figure, focusing on gesture, light and dark, and now introducing color.

And here’s something that was kind of surprising to me: At the end of each day I was EXHAUSTED. Just SPENT. Here I’d brought my computer and all kinds of “office work” projects to work on in the evenings after class. But… Nuh-Uhh. No. Way. Not. Ever.
It was surprising because I, obviously, paint for many hours most days back home. But here in the classroom as a student, it was intense focusing, with no distraction (except for the bowl of chocolates some evil classmate placed inches from my work station…). To be able to focus so keenly for so many hours was incredibly tiring mentally.

And yet… When I got back to my room, all I wanted to do was paint some more. I was so creatively energized by the day’s exercises, I just had to immerse myself in more creative play. I had ZERO energy for Xcel spreadsheets, but still plenty of energy for pushing around color.
So I did… in my sketchbook, with watercolor pencils:


And even ventured outside one evening to push around color in a more “traditional” manner….


Related posts:

creative change: shaking things up

being an art student again









being an art student again

“The answer is ‘YES!’ If you are asking me a question about your painting, the answer is ‘YES’!”

His point being that most of his students are looking for permission to paint the way they want to paint — the way they’ve always dreamed of painting — but were too intimidated to try, too scared that the critics in their lives and in their heads might rise up in disapproval.

Which is why he handed out to each of us bracelets with the word PERMISSION emblazoned across them.

Three weeks later and I’m still wearing mine.


For me, the bracelet is less about permission to paint what I want to paint, and more about wanting to be reminded of the terrific energy of those five days in May being an art student again.

Earlier this year, when I decided to take an art workshop, I didn’t quite know where to begin. I knew I wanted to be anonymous, and go with an instructor who was unfamiliar with me and my work. Beyond that I knew nothing. So I did what most people in this day do when they are seeking knowledge: I did a Google search.
A few minutes lost in the warren of Goggle, and eventually I came to the Sedona Art Center, where I spotted a 5-day “Artist Retreat: Abstract/Figurative Workshop” taught by Robert Burridge.


I was vaguely familiar with Bob Burridge, and his expressive semi-abstract paintings of figures and color-rich still lives and florals. There have been a lot of knock-offs of his style, but his work is strong, and overall I rather like it.
I also knew — or had heard rumor — that he was known for having a bit of an ego, as well as a ready throng of followers of “women over a certain age.” (I wondered if that weirdly qualified me….) More to the point, his classes were known to be energetic and engaging, “with lots of great handouts.” I signed up.

You might be wondering why an artist mostly focused on landscape would sign up for a class focused on the figure. The truth is I’ve always been interested in the figure, it just hasn’t been the focus of my work for many years. But back in college, drawing — particularly the nude model — was my strength. I even inquired about majoring in figure drawing, but a drawing major wasn’t offered (the thinking being that ALL artists should be masters of drawing).
Café and airport doodling have always lead my eye and hand toward noting the people around me. And few years ago, I created a number of mixed media paintings incorporating photos of figures, many of them sculptures of solitary women.

Rarely, though, is there a figure in my landscape paintings. But whenever I have included figures — almost always quite small, seen from a distance — patrons and fans respond very positively. I suspect it’s because the figure is an invitation for them to place themselves in the picture; to escape for a spell, more deeply into the vista, perhaps, than a straightforward landscape without a figure.

And then there’s the fact that after a near 30-year hiatus from formally studying the nude figure, I started attending figure drawing sessions earlier this year.



Lately I’ve been thinking of bringing the figure into my landscapes more, especially after I created this painting last year:



All this to say it really isn’t such a surprise that I signed up for a class about abstracting the figure. Besides, I’m the kind of student who is just excited to learn darn near ANYTHING as long as the teacher is good and the class is engaging.

And so it was that twenty of us from all over the country gathered for five days of intensive, guided art-making in the beautiful work space of the decades-old Sedona Art Center. Of the students, four or five of us were pretty advanced, while the others were less experienced, some much less so. Yet everyone had a palpable desire to learn, to stretch themselves. The energy in the rooms each day was buoyant and generous.

On day one, our first instruction from Bob was:
Write down what you want to get out of the class.
Write just a line or two.
Do not write a paragraph. Do not be self-conscious. This is for no one’s eyes but your own.

With a tip of the hat to Dear Sugar/Cheryl Strayed, I wrote this:

I just wanted to paint like crazy. What ever assignments he gave us, I wanted to create with abandon. To paint and paint and paint and paint. Without the distractions of household chores, office work, walking the dog and visitors and email and errands and news and all those other temptations that conspire every day to pull me from my work.

Further — more technically — I wanted to break out of the grid.
Look at any of my mixed media paintings — and especially my ‘textual landscapes,’ and there is a very definite underlying grid. There’s another whole blog post waiting to be written on this subject. For now, suffice it to say I wanted to challenge my “usual” orderly composition style.

And finally, I wanted to play with color. For the past couple of years when working in acrylic, I’ve mostly used the same palette. I wanted to change this up — for a few days, at least — and play with new combinations.

Next came a discussion of materials, and why Bob insists on things like using Holbein or Golden paints (pure pigment = pure color = superb quality),  Utrecth gesso (it’s smoother and thicker than other brands), Viva paper towels (they’re incredibly thick and absorbent, and there’s no quilted pattern to be accidentally pressed into your paint) and Murphy’s oil soap for cleaning hands and brushes (great product, readily available, inexpensive)

Then on to concepts, and our first art exercise: value and thinking about light and dark.
When planning your painting, decide on lighting first.



With the exception of certain materials, all of the concepts Bob taught were ones I was already familiar with — so familiar, in fact, that I take all of them for granted. But that’s exactly why it was so cool to review them. Indeed, quite a few were things I simply hadn’t thought about in a while — like color relationships or articulating the twelve standard design compositions for paintings.

I delighted in the review, and took copious notes throughout.


Ahhh, the joy of giving myself permission to be a student again. . . .