musings from the studio and beyond ~
dawn chandler’s reflections on art and life. . . .
To say I was in a funk is too strong. I guess you could say I’d kind of painted myself into a corner. However you want to describe it, I was ripe for a creative shakeup. Much as I love my work and love my life, earlier this year I was in need of a creative change of some kind.
Sometimes the perfect catalyst for change is simply a conversation with the right person at the right time. That right time was in February, and that right person was my “Art Sista” Joan Fullerton, who swung through Santa Fe for a night during a winter road trip. ‘Just the day before her arrival I had received disappointing news regarding some competition I’d entered — I don’t even remember now what it was — but the rejection still stung a bit when she and I sat down at a small table at Santa Fe’s Violet Crown Theater restaurant and ordered a round of pizzas and vino. For three hours we sat there sipping, noshing, giggling and discussing all things Art: painting, materials, marketing, teaching, learning.
Joan is one of my Art Sistas who has found a fantastic balance of creating her own art and teaching others** She’s a well sought-after instructor, and travels far and wide sharing her insights via painting workshops.
Part of our conversation that night was regarding teaching, as Joan encouraged me to consider offering workshops out of my own studio. The benefits of teaching, she said, are huge. For not only does having to explain and guide other artists help you to articulate your own creative work, but — maybe best of all — you learn from your students; the experience feeds and inspires your own art. And you make new friends. And sometimes even you even acquire new collectors.
I was intrigued.
Years have passed since I’ve taught anything — be it basic drawing, elements of color or backpacking and camping skills. But when I used to do it — when I used to teach all those things — I enjoyed it. And I think I was pretty good at it.
If I were to offer workshops in my studio, I could only handle a couple of students at a time, for my studio is small.
And ohhhhh…. the idea of making room for others to paint is daunting.
Then there’s the issue of language.
It’s been so long since I’ve taught art-making, that I’m not sure I possess the vocabulary or language skills essential to convey concepts to beginners. I’m so used to conversing with myself about art, I’m not sure how well I could vocally articulate ideas to students. I’m sure I could eventually get up to speed, but those skills have long been lying dormant and would need a good bit of massaging to spring into action.
“Hmmmm….. What I should probably do is take some workshops myself…. see what goes on in a painting class…. Otherwise I haven’t have a clue what kind of exercises to put together, or how to guide students….”
And that’s when one of those moments of clarity hit me — the kind where you suddenly wake up, realizing you’ve been sleeping for decades in a self-made cave:
I haven’t been a student in years.
Oh sure, I consider myself a perpetual Student of Life, and a whole lot of what I read is about expanding my knowledge on various subjects.
But I haven’t been an art student in a classroom setting in ages.***
It’s kind of like a few years ago when I became reacquainted with artist residency programs: I attended one back in the early 90s — it changed my life — and then never gave them another thought until Art Sista Shawn Demarest encouraged me to apply to Playa. For 20 years artist residencies were simply not on my radar, and now they’re back on now.
Or when it dawned on me one day a couple years back that, despite hiking all my life, I hadn’t been backpacking in two decades (and promptly set out to fix THAT lack).
Same with taking art classes. After earning an advanced degree in painting, I just got busy making art. And for many, many years I’ve done just that, without really giving art classes a second thought. Doubtless I’ve felt I already know all that I need to know to make my art — which is true. To a point.
Time to change that and be a student again.
Which is why I found myself two weeks ago barreling west on I-40 to Flagstaff, then cutting sharply south on Rte 89 to descend into the red earth vortex of Sedona, Arizona to attend a 5-day, all day, painting workshop.
What did I learn?
** Darlene McElroy is another of my Art Sistas doing this… (see below…)
*** Two exceptions: I did take a one day workshop 12 years ago, when Joan invited me to join her in taking a mixed media workshop with … Darlene McElroy! It’s how I first met Darlene, who has since become another one of my closest Art Sistas. Darlene’s workshop transformed my art-making, leading me into mixed media painting.
The other workshop was about 8 years ago, taught by Joan in her Palmer, CO studio. Filled with great energy, lots of laughter and terrific insight into technique and processes, I can see why Joan has waiting lists to get into her classes.
My high school senior English professor used to wear a pith helmet. I don’t remember the specific circumstances required for him to don the pith helmet, but they had something to do with intellectual pithiness. I also remember that it was rarely donned, but when it was, it was a rather humorous and joyful event.
Here in my household we honor a pith helmet — The Esteemed Pith Helmet — three or four times per year; basically whenever I get around to writing the latest edition of my oh-so-occasional Studio Art Notes Newsletter. Different from my blog and social media posts, my Studio Art Notes Newsletter is a niftily-formatted epistle to friends, family and followers, highlighting recent paintings, sketches, riveting art facts & tales, random musings, inspiring quotes, show announcements, museum exhibitions you don’t want to miss, and more. Additionally, there’s usually a coupon code for 15 – 20% for my online art store.
Without question, the single most anticipated highlight of all is….. The Random Wilson Pic.
Still, that doesn’t explain the donning of The Esteemed Pith Helmet.
This is tricky, because I want to tell you about The Esteemed Pith Helmet, without revealing too much info.
Hidden in the text of my Studio Art Notes Newsletter is a wee little contest. It’s an amusing little game my readers, Wilson and I play, with a series of questions whose answers are found in the newsletter. Anyone passing the intellectual rigor of the wee little contest then has their name written onto a paper tag, which is then placed in The Esteemed Pith Helmet.
Come time for the next Studio Art Notes Newsletter — usually a few months later — Wilson sharpens her fierce fangs and, with her ferocious teeth, pulls a name out of The Esteemed Pith Helmet. The winner — HOORAY! — receives a sweet little original 5” x 7” painting by yours truly — That’s a $225 painting for free!
THEN, once per year, ALL of the wee little contest entries from the various newsletters of the year are placed in The Esteemed Pith Helmet, and the Grand Prize winner is randomly found twixt the beastly teeth of Wilson. The Grand Prize? An original 8” x 10” painting by yours truly — a $480 painting for free!
Why do we do this? Because it’s a cool way for me to “give back” to my fans and followers, with all of us having some fun along the way. But my fans and followers have to work a wee little bit a few times per year: indeed, they have to read my Studio Art Notes Newsletter, sleuth the wee little contest, and enter.
Now listen, I’ve had some people accuse me of lying about the wee little contest, because they haven’t been able to find it, and therefore they assume it’s not there. But I assure you, it is real, and if you’re a subscriber and you haven’t found it, it’s because you haven’t looked hard enough. If and when you DO find it, you’re going to to gasp, “Ah-HAAAA!” and feel more than a wee bit clever, which, of course, you are.
Over there —> are the latest more-than-a-wee-bit-clever readers who sleuthed the contest and SHAZAM! had their name drawn with slobber out of the Esteemed Pith Helmet and won a painting!
And here are the paintings they won:
One more thing: In order to receive my Studio Art Notes Newsletter, you have to subscribe to it — which you can do easy-peasy, right here. (And you can also view past editions of the newsletter there as well.)
Subscribe in the next day or two and you’ll receive the latest edition, which has a coupon code of 20% for my online store, good through May 10th. (Though if you sleuth and enter the wee little contest, you’ll get a coupon code of 25% off!).
If you think you’re already subscribed, but haven’t received the latest newsletter, check your spam folder (especially important if you use gmail) and let your email server know that mail coming in from email@example.com via MailChimp is approved by you..
And now, on this rainy morning in Santa Fe, some inspiring pith for your day—
To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover’d country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.–Soft you now!
The fair Ophelia! Nymph, in thy orisons
Be all my sins remember’d.
William Shakespeare, Hamlet (3.1.56-90)
We had been camped on the far edge of the high south meadow. The evening before we were lead up a west slope trail, where, just beyond the ridge in the blaze of sun sinking quickly before us, we stood at a fence line, and watched color radiate from a point just beyond Wheeler.*
That night, we slept in the company of evergreen and aspen.
For five nights we slept upon the earth.
For six days we breathed deeply the high country air.
Morning glistened with the promise of winding trails and clear streams; of paintbrush and iris and penstemon; of trailside conversation, songs and laughter and perhaps even — no, definitely — a bear sighting both magical and maybe a little too close for comfort.
All in a day.
All in a week.
All on the trails of Northen New Mexico.
This memory is from a series of days in July, 2015 when I had the joy of backpacking again at Philmont — the place where I first fell in love with New Mexico back in my teens and college years. This time I returned to the trails of Colfax County with thirteen other women, nearly all of us former camp staff members; every one of us possessing a deep soulful connection to “The Ranch.”
We had chosen a “South Country” itinerary for our trek, in part because the South Country is a bit more verdant than Philmont’s North Country,’ and some of us just really wanted to enjoy again the lushness of those high mountain meadows and streams.
Little did we know when planning our itinerary that 2015 would be The Year of Rain.
The Year of Green.
I’m talking Ireland-type green, as captured over there —>
in my 2016 painting, When Rain [Finally] Comes to New Mexico
(which I jokingly subtitled “Yes, It Really Was That Green” )
Day three of our hike brought us to Apache Springs Camp, tucked away in Philmont’s far southwest corner — a place I had visited only once before c.1983, and then for only a few hours. It’s a beautiful, beautiful spot, and I regret not venturing there in my youthful summer’s days off decades before.
Just a few weeks ago I finished a new painting from this journey — the painting pictured above. It captures a moment during our morning departure from Apache Springs, Most of us had made it down to the cabin already, but a couple of us straggled behind, lingering in the light dancing across that long stretch of aspen-edged meadow. No surprise that the forester among us had the wisdom to linger longest in the light. For I’m pretty sure that solitary hiker is Mary Stuever: former Philmont Ranger turned New Mexico Forester, gifted author of The Forester’s Log.
Several possible titles for this painting are ricocheting through my head, but I can’t quite settle on one.
But perhaps you have some suggestions for a title?
If so, I welcome them.
(Feel free to, comment below or via of my studio FaceBook page where I’ll share this post shortly.)
Meanwhile, there’s so many more paintings I’ve been meaning to do of this trip . . . Here’s what I’ve completed so far,:
And again. . . .
One of the things I most appreciate about being a painter, is that it has honed my ability to notice beauty — color beauty — just about anywhere. And so it was last month when I drove across the Great Plains of eastern Colorado and western Nebraska. Many might find the late winter landscape of brown flatland to be drab, but I found its earthy tones to be luscious in its closely hued subtleties. (I always think of these colors as “Vuillard colors” for they remind me of the palette of French post-impressionist painter Edouard Vuillard. Which is kind of funny, since Vuillard was especially known for his paintings of cozy interiors. But this earthen palette, no matter its subject, calls up “Vuillard” in my color memory.)
As I shared in my previous post, my time in Nebraska was book-ended each day by the breath-taking drama of sandhill cranes moving to and from their nighttime roost in the Platte River. The bulk of each day however was spent with a paintbrush in hand, as I drove country roads and painted Great Plains farmlands from the front seat of my car.
We in New Mexico tend to feel a bit superior to the rest of the country when it comes to natural beauty. Okay, we’re unapologetically smug. But let’s face it: The Land of Enchantment sets a pretty high bar when it comes to landscape.
That’s a given. And it’s frankly why I’ve made New Mexico my home for 20+ years.
And yet . . . I found the flatland of Nebraska in late March to radiate a quiet, stark beauty. Though some might find the unbroken straight line of the horizon uninteresting, I was fascinated by the geometry everywhere of parallel lines shooting off into a sharp chevron of a vanishing point, every corn field a perfect study of one-point perspective.
And fog! such a rarity to my sunburned eyes. I’d forgotten how its grayness subdues yet intensifies color, softens edges, and somehow brings everything in closer. As I sat in my car and mixed my colors, I found the Nebraska sky was ever-changing, the calligraphy of cranes ever curling, the gnarled twists of winter cottonwoods ever haunting.
My goal was to come home with fifteen plein air paintings. That was unrealistic, when one considers the daily need for coffeehouse letter-writing, occasional** craft-brew sampling (I am my father’s daughter, after all), and — most important of all — afternoon naps (I am my mother’s daughter, after all), fifteen paintings was pretty much out of the question.
In the end, I came home with nine paintings. Nine celebrations of Vuillard colors of a starkly beautiful landscape. Not bad.
Here they are in order of their creation:
** I’m pretty sure this is the first time in 50+ years I’ve spelled this word correctly on the first go of it.
Forgive me, but I’m going to give you some advice.
Well okay — it’s stronger than that: I’m going to tell you what to do. I’m going to implore you. Entreat you. BESEECH YOU to do this, now:
Go to Nebraska.
If you simply can’t get there now, then get it on your calendar and get there NEXT year. In March. You’ve got to go in March, in the first days of Spring. If you wait much longer, you’ll be too late.
Go there — go to Nebraska:
Get there before sunrise. Or sunset.
Bundle-up — it’s cold.
Stand, facing the water, and wait.
Be quiet. Be still.
Listen. Listen. Listen.
to have a small Grinch part of your heart that’s been shut down for months, maybe even years, open up and expand as it takes flight
with 100,000 pairs of wings.
to be awed — staggeringly awed — by the sheer density of grace. Grace like you’ve never seen before. Grace like you’ve never imagined.
to feel a piercing in your throat and a welling in your eyes as you realize that in all your years of thinking you knew something, you realize that you’ve known nothing.
Prepare to feel small.
Prepare to feel your heart made huge.
to go to Nebraska
Because what’s waiting for you in the middle of the Great Plains is this: The annual spring migration of sandhill cranes. Thousands upon thousands of sandhill cranes. Half-a-million. That’s one elegant winged being for every person living in Albuquerque. Or Sacremento. Or Tucson. Or Atlanta. For a span of about three weeks in March 80% of the world’s crane population — 80%!! — fills the Nebraska sky in elongated clouds of grey stitchery. Come evening, they seek the river — shallow water, just 6” deep — to roost for the night. For unlike herons, they can’t roost in trees. They must have shallow water.**
Come daybreak, they begin to stir, and soon rise in magnificent flocks, as they spread out to the surrounding fields, to fill their half-million small bellies with grain, grubs, insects and seeds.
They are here to rest and refuel, having departed their southern wintering grounds some weeks earlier. Soon they will continue on their journey. By the time they reach their nesting grounds far, far north in the extreme reaches of Canada, Alaska and Siberia, they will have traveled some 4,000 miles.
Can you or I really even fathom that? That distance? That effort?
One of the things that surprises me most about the cranes is the fact that I never even knew about them til last year. Here I am an avid outdoorswoman, who prides herself on knowing a thing or two about Nature and the environment. Who likes to think she has an awareness of and is attuned to the seasons and creatures of the wilds a bit more than most people. Yet as I’ve written before, I don’t think the cranes were ever even on my radar till about a year ago. Though I’d seen cranes before, I had never really seen cranes before. And I certainly had no idea that one of the greatest, most epic natural migrations of the world occurs right here, just a day’s drive from where I live.
How did I miss this for so long?
I guess it’s because, as with so many things, we don’t see the cranes until we’re ready to see them.
The cranes can’t find us until we’re ready to be found by them, ready to have our hearts enlarged and lifted by their cooing trill, their black-tipped wings, their perfect awkward elegance.
I’m just grateful I was finally ready to be found by them.
Are you ready?
**The Platte River has diminished considerably in the last few decades, due to modern demands. “Since the mid-20th century, this river has shrunk significantly. This reduction in size is attributed in part to its waters being used for irrigation, and to a much greater extent to the waters diverted and used by the growing population of Colorado, which has outstripped the ability of its groundwater to sustain them.”