blog archive

follow dawn's blog

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts.

Please note: if you wish to subscribe to Dawn's Studio Notes newsletter, which comes out 4-6 times a year, click here or use the subscribe link in the Connect menu at the top of the page.

musings from the studio and beyond ~

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

 

painting my way back to philmont….

Saturday morning, July 7, 2018 ~ Me, attempting to capture the unique shape and color of Philmont’s Tooth of Time. Photo by Douglas Fasching.

 

Over lunch, I had commented to my friend that I was shocked we hadn’t suffered any fires yet. The winter and spring had been worrisomely mild, and the winds had howled across April and May. And yet here it was one day from June and New Mexico had hardly suffered any fires yet this season.

The day was Thursday, May 31st, 2018, and an hour after supping with my friend, I was heading home to Santa Fe, taking an unusual route — north through Taos so that I could then bear southwest across the Rio Grande Gorge and out into the wide open sageland of Carson, where I hoped to get some photos for a commission.

As I drove up Paseo del Norte, I noticed an odd cloud behind Taos Mountain. That looks like smoke I thought to myself. A visitor to the Southwest might not have noticed anything unusual, but we who spend late spring worrying about fire evacuations have an acute eye for clouds. That’s got to be a fire… As I made my way across the gorge bridge and out through Carson toward Ojo Caliente, I kept pulling over to take a look, further convincing myself that that cloud was smoke.

The Ute Park smoke plume rising behind the Taos Mountain, Thursday, May 31, 2018. Photo by Dawn Chandler

 

The Ute Park smoke plume rising behind Taos Mountain, as seen from near Carson, New Mexico, Thursday, May 31, 2018. Photo by Dawn Chandler

 

Of course we now know that what I was watching was the smoke of the Ute Park Fire, which exploded across the heart of Philmont. (If you don’t know what Philmont is or why it’s significant to me, you can learn more in my bio). For the next 72 hours, the fire would double with every update, eventually reaching 37,000 acres, 27,000 on Philmont. Neighboring communities would be threatened and forced to evacuate, as vast acres of pinon, juniper and Ponderosa forests would be wiped out. Some of the most beautiful hiking country I have known would be rendered unrecognizable, despite the herculean efforts of an army of hundreds of heroic firefighters.

 

After the Ute Park fire ~ burn damage on Philmont, as seen from Cimarron Canyon, July 9, 2018. Photo by Dawn Chandler.

More of the Ute Park fire damage on Philmont, as seen from Cimarron Canyon, July 9, 2018. Photo by Dawn Chandler.

 

And Philmont would ultimately make the utterly wrenching decision to close its backcountry for the season — the first time in its 80-year history — crushing the dreams of thousands of Scouts who had been anticipating a summer of adventure hiking in “God’s Country.” But the continued threat of fire, and the threat of extreme flooding and mudslides, made the decision to close the only prudent option.

Meanwhile Philmont and its neighbors rose and continue to rise to the challenges of disruption with awe-inspiring resiliency. Summer staff have been reassembled and put to work on fire recovery efforts, while Philmont’s admin team has worked tirelessly in rescheduling crews for the 2019 season. Scout camps from across the country have welcomed troops whose Philmont treks were canceled.

 

Philmont’s “big board” of summer backcountry trek itineraries, normally a mass of tiny well-planned notes, completely blank. Photo by Dawn Chandler.

 

And people have been giving — have been desperately, passionately wanting to give — to help Philmont. For while Philmont’s insurance will cover a great many things, it unfortunately won’t cover things like forest recovery efforts and reseeding.

So a great many people have made contributions to the Philmont Staff Association’s Fire Recovery Fund — which is a heck of a great way to help.

I decided though to do something a little different; to give in the way that I give best.

I decided to paint a picture, and auction it off.

 

Saturday morning, July 7, 2018 ~ my trusty plein air paint kit. Photo by Douglas Fasching.

 

So here’s my painting, which I did at Philmont a few days ago. I’ve called it A Philmont Morning is the Best Kind of Morning, and that morning that I painted it was indeed a “best kind of morning.”

 

“A Philmont Morning is the Best Kind of Morning” ~ by Dawn Chandler ~ oil on panel en plein air ~ 9″ x 12 ~ painted July 7, 2018.

 

Prints will also be available as a further fundraiser. If you’re interested in a print, please shoot me an email and let me know so that I can get a sense of how many prints to make available.

Meanwhile…

 

I want to go back to Philmont….

why we leave new mexico….

 

Every June I leave New Mexico ….

 

and I go to Oregon…

 

 

I make this annual journey from the parched mesas of the Southwest to the crashing waves of the Pacific Northwest in order to sleep.

My annual pilgrimage to seaside slumber began about six years ago as an escape. It was the second or third year in a row when June mornings in New Mexico brought black flakes of charred forests in the dry wind, and a daily grey dusting of ash. Even the wasps were thirsty, as they hovered at the edge of the quickly evaporating water that I bucketed into the metal fire pit, now a makeshift emergency birdbath.

About 90 minutes after the Ute Park fire was first reported on May 31, 2018. I took this photo of the smoke bloom from near Ojo Caliente, as I looked back toward Taos. At this point I didn’t yet know the location of the fire…

 

Nights were sleepless, as I worried about fire, which, were one to strike in my neighborhood of dense pinon and juniper with no guaranteed escape route, would be nothing short of biblical. Two dusty miles down a winding dirt road walled in with trees. It made me sick to my stomach to imagine
What if there’s a lightening strike?
What if a some witless person pulls off the road and parks in tall dry grass, their hot engine igniting a grass fire?
What if some idiot tosses a cigarette butt?
What if a tree falls across the only road out?

I dreaded going into town and leaving my pup at home.
What if there’s a fire while I’m gone?
But it was just too deathly hot to leave her in the car while I ran errands.

I kept evacuation gear — a change of clothes, important files, most precious keepsakes — in my car.
I did this during every drought year living out there on the ‘ridge, and also all those years I lived in Taos Canyon.

Finally with the Las Conchas Fire raining down ash for days, I had had it.

“I’m getting the Hell out of New Mexico next year” I proclaimed to My Man. Luckily for me, he decided he would, too.

And so for 5 out of the past 6 Junes we’ve headed north by northwest — though, alas, without Cary Grant — and without even my Pup. No, instead we have boarded her, at a cool place in ABQ where they take great care of her and she has lots of friends.

Until this year.

This year we drove 3000 miles with The Pup.

Why?

Because she’s getting old.

And because I wanted to see her run on a beach at least once in her life.

Last October when she and I drove to New England, I had the same plan to take her to the beach, only I’d do so in New Hampshire. The Live Free or Die state doesn’t have much coastline, but it has 18 more miles of coastline than New Mexico does. New Hampshire’s beaches are beautiful, and they’re actually the beaches I grew up on. Despite being raised in New Jersey, our family never went “down the shore” like most people who populate the Garden State. Rather, we went to New Hampshire and Maine.
So just imagine my heartbreak when my pup and I arrived at the Atlantic Ocean only to find NO DOGS ALLOWED. I think we both cried.
When we finally did find a beach that allowed dogs, it was high tide, and the waves were crashing against the rocky and treacherous shore, crushing us with disappointment.

Gazing with longing at that long stretch of sandy beach….but….NO DOGS ALLOWED on the New Hampshire beaches that we visited.

 

But Oregon?

When the Oregon legislature passed the brilliant Oregon Beach Bill in 1967 that “established public ownership of land along the Oregon Coast from the water up to sixteen vertical feet above the low tide mark”  I’m pretty sure they had dogs in mind among those “public owners.”

So two weeks ago — three days and 1500 miles after leaving achingly smoky New Mexico — we brought my beautiful old desert rat of a sweet girl down to the beach.

And she ran…

and ran…

and ran…

 

 

and ran …

Unfortunately I didn’t get my phone out in time, but look above Wilson and you’ll see ever so faintly the spread wings of a bald eagle flying off into the fog, after SOMEONE rudely interrupted his beachside breakfast.

 

And she kept on running…

 

 

And then, in that cool, wet, lusciously soporific Pacific ocean air… she — and we —slept….

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you, Oregon.

 

—————————————
Photo above of Wilson & me by ace photographer Joe T.R. Beman.

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
UGH!!
THIS SUCKS!! IT’S NOT COMING TOGETHER!! I DON’T LIKE THIS! I DON’T LIKE PAINTING UNDER PRESSURE!! HOW AM I EVER GOING TO GET TWO DECENT PAINTINGS DONE BY NEXT WEEK?!

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
UGH!!
THIS SUCKS!! IT’S NOT COMING TOGETHER!! I DON’T LIKE THIS! I DON’T LIKE PAINTING UNDER PRESSURE!! HOW AM I EVER GOING TO GET TWO DECENT PAINTINGS DONE BY NEXT WEEK?!

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..

Mid-afternoon.

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

And

of course

by taking my time

it all

came

together.

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 ~

Dawn

 

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….

Hmmm…..

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!

EGADS!

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 ~

Dawn

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!