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musings from the studio and beyond ~

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


where art lives . . . .


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



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



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


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

Artist markus lupertz

Artist Markus Lupertz in his studio.



Sign on my studio door.

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

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

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


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

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

Good riddance!


Meanwhile, I kept on painting.


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

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

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

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

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

[And the January issue just came out here ]

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













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














my hard new year heart

Walk along the Santa Fe River, and most of the year you’ll be walking in dust. Either that, or on pavement. I don’t know if its ever been a continually flowing stream, but I do know that human intervention has changed it considerably from what it once was. When I first moved to New Mexico some 20+ years ago, the river seemed a sad joke, desolate with litter, scraggly weeds and dry dirt.

Lately though there’s been an organized effort to clean up and return the river to a natural life dawnchandler_santa-fe-river-june_1000pxforce. The river banks have been reinforced, weeds pulled, willow and cottonwoods planted, and a paved rec path now winds along much of its length.

Mostly though the river remains dry, as do so many of the waterways out here. It’s an intermittent stream as I learned back in my map & compass days. Meaning the riverbed fills with water only occasionally, as in springtime with the mountain snow melt, and in summertime with the afternoon monsoonal showers. When the river does flow, it flows briefly. Magically. Forcefully.

But these days it’s dry.
On New Year’s day we walked in the riverbed, my pup and I, drumming up slight clouds of dust, and darting through fans of red fronds, our explorations secluded within walls of willow and banked earth.

New Year’s Day is a day I normally feel upbeat. The turning of the year always inspires me, ignites me with desires and goals, destinations and journeys. But these days with so much conflict, so much distrust and destruction and disillusionment in the world, I’ve been struggling to feel optimistic. The beautiful, blissful mindfulness I found on my long September walk flew with the November west wind back to The Green Mountains. Sometimes it seems that in its place a dark cloud of smoke has started piling up just at my doorway, constantly churning and threatening to seep in through the cracks of my quiet world.

As the smoke of my mind churns, I catch myself —


Look around you.

There ahead on the left is a long ledge of a rock, jutting out of the south bank like a grand piano. Waist-high, it’s flanks are water-worn, with long chipped and rounded shelves. Something about it is strange though. . . . there are all sorts of little rocks on it, configured in an unnatural, even decisive way.




I step closer, as my eyes adjust, and exhale a small cry of of recognition and delight.




Dozens of heart-shaped rocks line the ledges.

Every one is different.
Different colors, different textures, some smooth, some rough. Some more perfectly shaped, others misshapen. Some minuscule, others enormous. Yet all the same. At their core, all related.




And each placed here by hands as various as the hearts they held — and hold.

I walked away smiling, for the first time all day.

On my way home I found a heart-shaped rock near the sidewalk and placed it in my pocket, and then — once home — by my door, so that later that day, when we returned to walk again, I could place my own heart beside the others.

Clouds and spitting snow and sunshine passed, and some hours later we returned to the heart shelf and I smiled again. But OH! I forgot my heart rock!
I so wanted to add one to the community of silent hearts.
I looked around along the river banks, a wee bit desperate to find another heart.

AH! Here’s one!
But the Perfectionist designer voice in my head said, Are you kidding? That hardly looks like a heart at all. You can’t put that up there — you need to find a better one.

Deflated, I looked around for another moment, when it struck me — Are YOU kidding? Your heart is perfect, just the way it is.




And I nestled my perfectly imperfect heart among the others.




I thought this little story might end there.

But the next day we visited the river heart shelf again, and, as I studied the menagerie for a moment I gasped a small breath of surprise and irritation: One of the large heart rocks next to where I’d placed mine was missing.




Just within the span of a few hours, someone had TAKEN one of the biggest, most special hearts!

I can’t believe someone would do that! How could someone do that?!


And then it occurred to me:

Maybe someone needed a big heart just now.


I know the feeling.











of walking meditation

Has it really been a month since I hiked off the trail?


‘Seems impossible that one month ago today I was lying in a tent on a frosty morning deep in the northern Vermont woods 5 miles from Canada….


along vermont's long trail - last day leaves - photo by artist dawn chandler


As I said, my thoughts these past four weeks have been largely hijacked by popular culture and news stories, such that my walk across Vermont seems a lifetime ago.
It seems fantasy. Not real.


But when I unplug my devices, and withdraw from the unnerving drone of the news, I find all it really takes is a moment’s stillness and a single deep breath to take me back to the quiet of the trail.


Do it now.


Take a deep breath.


Now look at this photo.





You have come a long way today.

You are tired, but content.

You are fed, and you are warm, bundled as you are in an old wool sweater, a little cap on your head, a red bandana around your neck.

In your hand, a steaming mug of tea.
You are alone — blissfully alone … except for the couple of crows who glide in and out of sight … not another sound but their wings, an occasional caw….

You’ll have this night to yourself.

In this welcoming shelter.



… with this little table at which to write.



It will be the first night you have spent alone — completely alone — in the woods. Ever.

You will sleep well and deep.


And come morning, you will rise to a beautiful day.




You will hike in solitude, for hours, through expansive hardwood forests, where,
from the shadows of beech trees, the cheerful ghosts from your childhood will whisper and sing to you.

This day…

and the next…

and the next after that

will be among your most cherished.

For you will have been present. Fully. Present. With each. Footfall.

For you will have heeded Thich Nhat Hanh — whose book Long Road Turns to Joy,

you’ve been carrying with you :


Breathe in and take one step, and focus all your attention…. there is Buddha nature in you.
Buddha nature is the capacity of being aware of what is going on.
Buddha nature is what allows you to recognize what you are doing in the present moment
and to say to yourself: I am alive; I am taking a step.
Anyone can do this.
There is a Buddha in every one of us,
and we should allow the Buddha to walk.


Come, let us walk.








lost and found in the [un]real world

Stowe Vermont autumn leaves collected by artist Dawn Chandler
Last year when I came crippled off my backpacking journey, I left the trail two weeks earlier than planned. October lane in Stowe Vermont photo by artist Dawn Chandler
The frugal thing to do would have been to change my travel plans and return promptly home to New Mexico.

Fourteen days earlier and just five days into my Long Trail thru-hike, when my knees first started arguing with me, I feared I would have to abandon my walk. Sick with anxiety and the question of what to do, a fellow hiker urged me: Don’t give up. Change your plans if you have to. So you make it a section hike rather than a thru hike? Go take a zero day. Rest and ice those knees. Then come back to the trail. Maybe just for a day hike. Check it out. See how it feels. Then another day hike. Maybe you only make it this time to Killington. But you go back and you try again. You’ve done all this work to get here, you’ve put aside all of this time to be here in Vermont. Then be here.

Be here.

That’s what I wanted to do, even after leaving the trail: Keep myself immersed in Vermont — in New England. Now. But in a different way. Let my journey continue, but maybe from wheels rather than feet.  Maybe along back roads rather than forest trails. Maybe staring out to distant mountains from the swaddled warmth of a woven blanket and a white rocking chair on a maple leaf garlanded porch while my knees rested….Or from the northern Vermont acreage of an old tree farm and a mowed pathway through autumn fields with a new canine friend as companion….

my Hinesburg Vermont sanctuary photo by artist Dawn Chandler

Thanks to the touching generosity of my ever-expanding Vermont tribe, I was able to reshape my journey in a deeply healing way. Part of the gift My Tribe gave me was that of solitude: Time to reflect on my path. I spent the last days of my sojourn alone in a beautiful home with no real connection to the outside world. No computer. No cell phone. Just me. And quiet.
Somewhere in there I purchased an inexpensive set of watercolors, brush and paper. For, though I could be without news and music for days on end, I couldn’t be without Art. And so in those silent days of healing I wrote. I read. I thought. And I painted.

travel watercolor set and studio, here in Vermont photo by artist Dawn Chandler


A year later…and I’ve now finished my journey.

This year within 24 hours of hiking past the final white blaze of my 274-mile walk, my senses were accosted by the jeers of a media carnival. The world exploded into my solace.
Now with each unfolding media drama, the connection to my walking peace seems ever more tenuous, as though access to that tranquility were a fairy tale magic doorway that’s accessible only for a precious short time before evaporating in a cloud of faerie dust.  My focus since returning to the [un]real world has shriveled, as each headline fights for my attention; my usual early bedtime protracts later and later while my head spits and spins with the mental vomit of media-fed thoughts.


I can’t do this.
I won’t do this.

This morning before sunup I lock away my laptop and phone in the cabinet.
I enter my studio.
Deep breath.
I spread my Long Trail map on my table.
I dig out my journal from last year’s hike and — what’s this?

…out spill those little watercolor studies I’ve not seen in a year.

I trace my finger across the painted contour of a maple leaf.

My mind is peaceful again.















returning to autumn in new mexico

I love Vermont and I miss it.
Though not a physical resident, in the last couple of years I’ve become a resident of the soul of Vermont.

I’ve so much more to reflect on and share about my long walk through the Green Mountain forests.


The Long Trail heading north from Bear Wallow to Rte 9. Vermont.


But I am a physical and soul resident of New Mexico.
And I’ve returned home in the midst of this land’s richest enchantment.
Autumn:  that blessed time of year when dry arroyos and woodland floors fill with the gold coins of cottonwood and aspen leaves. New England is renown the world over for its brilliant autumn color. But autumn in New Mexico dazzles no less. Though we may lack the Northeast’s scarlet seas of red maple, our gilded specie is spun with that quintessentially New Mexico fragrance of roasting chiles and pinon wood smoke. And Blue.  Sky.   Clear and sharp as a jewel.



October, deep in the Santa Fe National Forest.