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musings from the studio and beyond ~

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


a winter roadtrip with my muse, part two

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

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

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

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

So off to southern Colorado I went. Why there?

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

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

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

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

That, too, is another story.

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

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

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

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

Yes, I do.

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


Eight people.

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

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

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

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


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



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


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


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



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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

Have a lovely day!

a winter roadtrip with my muse, part one



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

Just think. Just not think.

Just be.

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

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

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


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

A couple weeks ago.

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

No computer. No internet. No cell coverage.

Just imagine.

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


santa fe sunrise watercolor sketch by artist dawn chandler


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


new mexico mesa watercolor sketch by artist dawn chandler


new mexico cloud watercolor sketch by artist dawn chandler


colorado snowscape watercolor sketch by artist dawn chandler


colorado fields and mesas watercolor sketch by artist dawn chandler


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


february mesa verde overlook view sketch by artist dawn chandler


february mesa verde canyons and clouds sketch by artist dawn chandler


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

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

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

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


Here’s the palette.

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

Clockwise from the hot pink tube:

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


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

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

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



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

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

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

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

dawn chandler's winter watercolor hearts 2018


of painted hearts, painted joy, and…. a bit of billie

Thank you everyone who expressed concern and relief after reading my last blog post with the tale of my birthday/new year car accident. I’m blessed — and grateful — for not only the non-tragic outcome of that event, but for all of you. Thank you.

And thank you, too, those of you who were intrigued by my little watercolor heart project.
Your inquiries and interest in purchasing them (especially with an eye to Valentines Day) has led me on a bit of a delightful whirlwind for the past few days.

What I’ve decided is I’m just not quite ready to part with my little 2-1/2″ x 2-1/2″ painted hearts. There’s a few reasons for this, one being that I may eventually want to collage them them into a massive grid of hearts (one idea of many….) Another is that they feel a bit like journal or diary entries, and so I want to keep them close for now.


I’m touched by those of you who expressed a desire for a painted heart… by you who wanted a special gift for a friend who’s been going through a tough patch…. Or you who wanted a unique handmade Valentine for your dear spouse… you who has a creative child who would just swoon and be inspired by a heart painted by a “real” artist…. and you who’d just like to put a bright splash of color on your wall to remind you that all is not dark in the world… In view of these inquiries, it seemed wrong to keep my hearts to myself.

I don’t know if these will be of interest to anyone, but for the past few days I’ve been painting little watercolor hearts for you. They aren’t as tiny as my paper hearts — these are painted on small 4″ x 4″ Ampersand aquabord panels, a beautiful, versatile substrate ideal for watermedia. I decided to paint them on panels because they’ll be more durable that way and — best of all — because I’m able to varnish them, they won’t need to be framed behind glass. I might have made them smaller, but 4″ x 4″ is the smallest sized aquabord I could find.

Perhaps you’re wondering, are these painted hearts as soulful as the ones she painted for herself?

How is such a question answered?

All I know is that I feel like my soul guides my hand and eye any time I take time to touch brush to paint.
Certainly, these aren’t sophisticated, elegant or “high” art. They haven’t been slaved over.
They are cute, and colorful and about as cliché a symbol and image as one can image. They are quite simply sweet “nothings” — simple and imperfect, sentimental expressions — as are my other hearts.
And, like my other hearts, they just make me smile.

And honestly anything that makes me smile these days is worth it to me.
These, like the others, are painted in the same spot — in my little chair (“that knew my father in his youth and me in mine”), beside my window in my tiny bedroom loft.

They’re painted at the same time of day when I usually paint the others — in the early to mid-morning, either before or just after my walk/run/hike with the pup, as I’m sipping tea and settling into my morning; like the others, these are morning meditations on color to set the day right.

If anything, these hearts are painted with a bit more intention than the others.
All, though, are painted to bring a bit of light and joy and color into a darkened world.

There’ll be 14 of these available, And really, I haven’t a clue how to price them… So I’ve decided to let you who may be interested in them decide — which is why I’ve decided to put them on eBay rather than Etsy. There will be 2 per day for 7 days, with a starting bit of $14.14 each, to cover a bit toward my materials & tea (a critical ingredient for any painting endeavor, especially morning ones…).
Note that shipping is $10, to cover the cost of USPS Priority Mail + my packaging materials. Because these are original paintings, I pack them especially carefully.

Here’s the links for the current auctions (I’ll try to remember to update these here daily for the next 7 days):

Winter Watercolor auction #5
Winter Watercolor auction #6

Anyhow, the first two auctions started last night (Thursday, 1 February 2018) at 7pm and will conclude tonight (Friday, 2 February 2018) at 7pm, when the next 2 auctions will kick off. Look for new painted hearts each evening through February 7th; the final two auctions will conclude Thursday evening, February 8th at 7:00pm. All will ship out via Priority Mail and will arrive in time for V-Day, if that’s important to you.

Any that sell will be packaged like a little gift…

Who knows? If there’s any interest in these, maybe I’ll make this an annual winter project. I can think of worse ways to spend a few winter hours each season than painting small colorful expressions of love and joy…
And if there’s no interest in my little hearts? Well… I’ll just keep painting them anyway… because… they make me smile… and that, in my book, is pretty priceless…





of car crashes and thwarted resolutions

I’ve always loved the turn of the new year. I know some who people eye it with dread or sadness with the reminder of the passage of time. Their sad focus is on aging, and regrets.

But for me the turn of the new year is a time of excitement and cheerful anticipation. Maybe having a birthday in the last days of December has something to do with it, but for me the New Year is a time of welcome renewal and recharging, of setting goals and making plans. A good organizer, I love laying out my calendar and color-coding projects and trips and resolutions. I love cleaning up my studio in the last days of December and taking inventory of materials and prepping for new paintings.

Because I’m an artist and make my living selling my art, and because there are some extra-special art lovers out there who enjoy giving art as Christmas gifts*, November and December are especially busy times for me. Because I’m so busy filling and shipping orders (a most welcome busy-ness, indeed!), it’s challenging trying to get any real painting done. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, my studio is transformed into Art Packing & Shipping Central more than a painting studio.

With this reality, I decided in in mid-November that come January, I would spend the month in my studio immersed in painting. Earlier in 2017 I had stretched and prepped several large canvases, and had been dying to tackle these. My goal for January therefore was to begin these large canvases and by February have at least half a dozen new large scale paintings well on their way to completion. Further, I had about a dozen half-finished crane-inspired paintings that were begging for attention and completion. These, too, I would work on in January, and have completed by the end of the month. Rather bold goals, for sure, but with a month of scheduled creative solitude I knew I could pull it off.

And then on the last day of my 52nd year, with the late afternoon sun blinding all the southbound travelers on I-25 and my vehicle at a near stop behind an endless line of traffic—
I screamed as my rear right window exploded and my car lunged, sending everything on the dashboard flying backward..

A car had slammed into me
and then another.

Remarkably I am fine.
Really — and thank God — I am fine.

Though three cars were ultimately totaled, by some miracle no one was injured.
What happened was that 80+ mile-per-hour traffic was slowed to a near stop, likely from the blinding late-winter-afternoon sunlight — or possibly another accident up ahead — and some poor guy who clearly wasn’t paying attention slammed into the back of my car, careened off my rear bumper and slammed into another car.
Though I was able, eventually, to drive away, my insurance company deemed my beloved 2006 Honda-CRV+with+160K-miles-on-it a total loss.


Happy Birthday to me and Happy New Year! Yes, indeed, Happy New Year where most of the first month of 2018 has been buried in insurance claim paperwork and phone calls, estimates and statements and rental cars and new car searches and ConsumerReports ratings and CarMax research and a whole lot of hurrying-up-and-waiting. Not to mention living with a really annoying pile of dusty car stuff — travel dog beds and hiking gear and roadside emergency equipment — that’s usually kept in the back of my car but is now front and center in my living room because there’s just no place else to put it…


On top of all this was the kind-of-last-minute decision by My Man & me to make a trip east in the second week of January to visit some of his elders. It had been a while since we’d made that trip together, and there were reasons why we needed to go now. And as lovely as that was — for it truly was a delightful trip in so many ways — the darker, selfish artist angel in me silently whispered complaints of frustration with yet another BIG interruption to my intended month of blissful studio solitude and determined productivity.

UGH, again.

What’s a frustrated artist to do?


First of all, she needs to get over it. She needs to accept that this is just L I F E. Messy, constantly changing, frustrating, beautiful, gorgeous LIFE.

And then she needs to


Literally ANY  WAY.

That she can.

Let go of the baggage — and big goals — for now.

Count your blessings, which are infinite.

and just do what you can. Even if it’s tiny.

This is what I began to do — in November, actually, when each of those 30 days of the eleventh month were consumed with being on the computer, posting and promoting daily eBay auctions.** What crazy, exhausting fun that was! But it left me utterly drained of energy for painting in any serious way..

So I painted in a non-serious way
In a playful way.
In a teeny, tiny way.

Not in my studio-turned-mail-room. Not outside en plein air.

Rather, it started one morning in my bedroom, beside the window, in a little wooden chair that knew my father in his youth, and me in mine.


It started with a little heart.







And then another little heart…..








And another. And another…..

Just because I had to paint something.

Because the world has gone dark and I needed light and color.

Because they make me smile.

Maybe for some people they’re “too sweet.” Or too naive. Or too simplistic. Or cliche. Or…. too what-EVER.

I love them, these tiny little deep breaths of color in a shadowy world… these little prayers of paint and paper…..,

In the weeks since that first tiny painted heart, when the paperwork keeps piling up, when the To Do Lists are lengthening like a scroll, when appointments and obligations keep chipping away at my precious focus, when having to plan errands is a headache, and I’m on foot even more than usual, when the latest news cycle brings me to my knees, and mother nature’s ferocity is relentless…

I take a deep breath and

paint a little


And that’s enough — for now.

(Hmmm….. maybe I’ll start those  large paintings in February …. just as soon as I have a new car……)





By the way…..

About this time last year I wrote another blog post having to do with hearts (click here for THAT post):  I’m happy to report that the “heart shelf” lives on! Here’s a couple of pics from yesterday:



*I’m absolutely certain there’s a special place in heaven for you good people)

** thanks again to all of you who followed along, and especially those of you who placed bids!

Pictured at the top of this blog post: A section of the Maryland Appalachian Trail. All pics by yours truly.

some of what I noticed this year . . . .


Because sometimes it’s the little things that revive a dispirited heart . . . .


tiny beautiful things observed by artist dawn chandler over the course of 2017


tiny beautiful things observed by artist dawn chandler over the course of 2017


tiny beautiful things observed by artist dawn chandler over the course of 2017


tiny beautiful things observed by artist dawn chandler over the course of 2017

May each of us
remember to notice
the beauty
that surrounds us.

Blessings to you
& Happy New Year

…. and …
Thank You…
for reading my words here,
for appreciating my art,
for following along
with my quirky artsy outdoorsy life.
I am grateful
to count each of you
among my many blessings.


a beatiful plaque noticed by artist dawn chandler deep in a vermont wood


Noticed deep in a Vermont wood, where few people appear to have trodden…..



tiny beautiful things observed by artist dawn chandler over the course of 2017