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musings from the studio and beyond ~

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

 

drawing: “no good, no bad, no judgement”

Below — pages from my 2023 sketchbook. I began this on a road trip last June to the Oregon coast. In years previous when we made that trip (the last being in 2017) I didn’t draw much, if at all. Rather, I was still on [READ: addicted to] social media, so I spent more time looking at my phone than looking out the window. And when I was looking out the window, I was hardly present, for the phone kept pulling at me. I’d put it down then a few minutes later pick it up again. On and on for 3000 miles — there and back again.

A page from artist Dawn Chandler's 2023 sketchbook filled with small drawings of a road trip from New Mexico to Oregon.

This trip was entirely different. I wasn’t distracted. I was present, yet also pleasantly engaged in applying pen to paper.

A page from artist Dawn Chandler's 2023 sketchbook filled with small drawings of a road trip from New Mexico to Oregon.

There’s something about the act of drawing that quiets one part of my brain yet opens up another. Though my eyes and hand are engaged in noticing, there’s space for conversation, for listening. Plus it’s just really calming. Kind of like knitting is.

A page from artist Dawn Chandler's 2023 sketchbook filled with small drawings of the Oregon landscape.

This reminds me when few years ago a friend of mine was under a lot of stress. He had a tremendous amount of responsibility in his job, which required him to live away from his family for much of the year. Even in his “off” time, his mind was preoccupied with work.

A page from artist Dawn Chandler's 2023 sketchbook filled with small drawings of the Oregon landscape.

Then, one day while attending a business conference, a presenter handed out notepads and pencils and had everyone draw. I don’t remember the exercise they did, or the presenter’s goal (though I can guess), but the act of drawing opened up something in my friend, and likely the other participants as well. Later that day, as my friend took a break outside, he pulled out his notepad and pen and began to draw. This is someone who, by his own assessment, had “zero artistic ability,” and hadn’t drawn since elementary school some 30 years previous. Yet here he was in his stiff business attire, completely transfixed by the act of drawing. His stress, he told me later, seemed to melt away as he focused on drawing. He didn’t care if the drawing was “good” or “bad,” he simply enjoyed how the act of drawing made him feel. Indeed, it made him feel so good that he just wanted to keep drawing — and he did. For a while, at least.

A page from artist Dawn Chandler's 2023 sketchbook filled with small drawings from a road trip across the west.


Eventually his job moved him away and we lost touch. I don’t know if he still draws. I hope so. I hope he’s filled pages and pages with little doodles and observations. For if he has, then chances are good that he’s also released a whole lot of stress in those pages. And found some presence as well. Plus he’d have a sweet little diary of drawings to reflect back upon.

A page from artist Dawn Chandler's 2023 sketchbook filled with small, random drawings of things around her Santa Fe home.

I love what Natalie Goldberg has to say about drawing:


But let’s get back to this feeling that you can’t draw. Don’t pay attention to your feeling. It’s giving you the wrong information. Pick up a pen or a pencil — nothing fancy — and an ordinary piece of paper, even a sheet from your printer, and draw what’s in front of you.
Go ahead. The coffee in the cup with steam coming up at you, the spoon, the saucer. Draw the raisins, the blueberries, in your muffin.
Color them in with your pen. Sketch the edge of the table, the napkin.

A page from artist Dawn Chandler's 2023 sketchbook filled with small, random drawings of things scenes around her Santa Fe home.

As you draw you might hear your mind thinking. Maybe you wish you had a cupcake, piled high with icing and jelly beans? Go ahead, draw that on the other side of the coffee cup. No one says you have to absolutely stay with the concrete — you get to capture your desires a little, too. Let’s be honest: The cup you drew isn’t a perfect circle anyway. Thank the heavens it’s a bit lopsided. It has character. This isn’t photography. And you’ve probably heard the rule: No erasing, no tearing up the paper. Accept the way it comes out. If you practice this acceptance, more will come out. Space and freedom will open up. You won’t edit and crimp yourself even before you begin to explore.

A page from artist Dawn Chandler's 2023 sketchbook filled with small, drawings from her hikes near her home in Santa Fe, New Mexico

Let’s do another. Turn your head to the left. A lamp, a clock, a box of tissues on a wood table. Go ahead, draw them. I bet you’ll have fun sketching the numbers on the clock. Can’t fit all twelve? So what, don’t worry about it. We already know a proper clock. This one is yours. Give no thought about it being perfect. This practice is not only enjoyable, it can also calm the mind by meeting what’s in front of you with no interference. No good or bad, no judgment, no editor.


~ Natalie Goldberg, Living Color: Painting, Writing, and the Bones of Seeing

A page from artist Dawn Chandler's 2023 sketchbook filled with small, random drawings from her travels.

The way I began these drawings was first to sketch a random rectangle on the page. Then I’d look out the window and wait for something to catch my eye. When something spoke to me, I’d draw it in the rectangle.

Filling a page with several little drawings is less daunting and time-consuming than filling the page with one large drawing. Kind of like writing a haiku rather than a several-stanza poem. (Though of course one can labor over a haiku for ages trying to get it ‘just right’). These little drawings aren’t about perfection. They’re about noticing and noting the world around me in a quick little sketch. Plus a bunch of little drawings is just kind of delightful (there’s that word again).

A page from artist Dawn Chandler's 2023 sketchbook filled with small, random drawings from her travels in New Mexico.

I go through phases with drawing. Some years I fill several sketchbooks; other years maybe only one. But I always — always — carry a notebook and pen with me. And just in case I ever find I’ve left home without my notebook, I keep a little “emergency” one in the car:

A page from artist Dawn Chandler's 2024 car sketchbook with New Mexico landscape sketches.

The thought of being without paper and pen to draw and write with is unbearable.

The search for the ideal notebook is a lifelong quest. My ideal notebook is small enough to fit into a small handbag, but large enough so there’s enough space on the page to write and draw freely without feeling cramped. Unruled is essential. Bonus points for an inner cover pocket, a cloth ribbon bookmark, and an attached elastic band for keeping it closed.

A page from artist Dawn Chandler's 2023 sketchbook filled with small, random drawings from a house-sitting stay in Miami, New Mexico.

Thinking I might want to do some watercolors in addition to drawing and journaling, for my 2023 notebook I chose the 5-½”x 8-½” Strathmore Hardbound 400 Art Journal.This has heavy, textured paper, perfectly suited for watercolors. In fact it’s the best watercolor notebook I’ve found; the page takes watercolor beautifully. However I ended up doing hardly any watercolors in this notebook, so the rigid pages and texture were a bit wasted on my scratches and scribbles.

A page from artist Dawn Chandler's 2023 sketchbook filled with small, random drawings from a house-sitting stay in Miami, New Mexico.

Other past favorites include the 6” x 9” Bee Paper Super Deluxe Mixed Media Sketchbook. The paper has a slight tooth (texture) and is a fairly sturdy medium weight — not too heavy, not too thin, and takes pen well and watercolor okay. The main downside is that the spiral binding is bulky, which is why, after several years, I eventually found something else.
The 8-¼” x 5-½” Hand Book Journal, is another good notebook with all the bonuses I love (bookmark, elastic, inner pocket). The paper is similar to the Bee Paper sketchbook, and it’s cool that they come in different sizes and colors. (My car sketchbook is a small one.)

A page from artist Dawn Chandler's 2023 sketchbook filled with small, random drawings of New Mexico landscapes.
A page from artist Dawn Chandler's 2023 sketchbook filled with small, random drawings of New Mexico landscapes.

And yet….( ~ blissful sigh ~ )… Moleskine perpetually entices me. A couple of decades ago Moleskine literally wrote the book — or rather made the book — on how to create a dream of a useful notebook, and was the first to include all the brilliant bonuses mentioned above. The most frustrating thing about Moleskine is simply deciding on which one, for the choices are countless and too often I’ve been like a child in a French pastry shop, standing in front of the display salivating. All the more reason I’m thrilled to find one that suits my needs so well. My current love affair is with the 4.5” x 6.9” Classic Hardcover Plain Notebook [CHPB] I like it so much that after a few pages into my first, I ordered four more (the CHPB is hard to find locally; in a town of creatives, I must not be the only fan). The paper is much thinner than what I’ve sought in the past — so not at all good for watercolor, but it’s fine for collage, which I’ve been doing more of lately anyway. (I’ve decided to keep a separate book with my watercolors, since I don’t do them that often). What I really love about the CHPB is the compact size, smoothness of the paper and how my pen glides across the page, whether writing or drawing — as I rediscovered just the other day:

Years ago I used to beat myself up for not drawing every day. “Real artists draw every day,” I’d think. Yeah, well that’s bullshit. But the truth is that whenever I do draw, I feel wonderful. Literally wonder-FULL. And calm. And creative. Keeping a little sketchbook and pen with me at all times invites the opportunity to draw. And to put down the damn phone.


Don’t draw because the world needs another drawing (it doesn’t). Don’t draw because it’s the most efficient (it’s not).

Draw because it connects your hand and your eye. Draw because it’s a way of engaging with the visual world. Draw because it fosters an intimacy with what you see — with your eyes and in your mind. Draw because it’s an extraordinary form of communication.

It’s not about line and tone and skill and beauty … as much as it is about you seeing more deeply and more clearly.

~ Steven St. Amant


Santa Fe artist Dawn Chandler catching the morning light at Galisteo Basin Preserve outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Thanks for finding your way here and for reading my musings. If you think others might appreciate them, feel free to share this post. And if you’d like to read more of my musings please consider subscribing to this, my blog.

Meanwhile, find more of my stories, insights and art here on my website www.taosdawn.com. Shop my art via my Etsy shop. And please consider joining me for TuesdayDawnings, my weekly deep breath of uplift, insight, contemplation & creativity. Find other ways to keep tabs on me via my connect page.

Stay safe. Be kind. Notice what you notice.

~ Dawn Chandler
Santa Fe, New Mexico

Free from social media since 2020

storm on the desert

Yesterday I went alone to see Oppenheimer. After leaving theaters some weeks ago, our theater brought it back along with some of the other Oscar nominees. I was grateful to see it finally, and on a big screen.

As I watched it, I was struck — once again — by how much of that history takes place here, in New Mexico, just a few miles from my home.

Early 1940’s ~ the road to Los Alamos, New Mexico

Three hours later I left the theater, in silence. Dark clouds moved swiftly overhead, reflected in puddles that hadn’t been there earlier. As I drove west toward home, streaks of color pierced the darkness. I pulled over at a park and, in continued silence, watched the sky…

Santa Fe sunset ~ 2 February 2024

Once home, I kept the lights dim and moved about quietly. Softly.

Music — I needed something beyond the silence…. Arvo Part, whose spare notes and tones comforted me in the weeks after 911, beckoned me.

This morning I sought my colored papers….

Storm on the Desert collages ~ Dawn Chandler’s sketchbook musings after seeing Oppenheimer. (click each to view in full).

Sketchbook musings - one of Dawn Chandler's 'Storm on the Desert' collages inspired by the film Oppenheimer.

Artist Dawn Chandler pausing during a sunrise hike at the Galisteo Basin south of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Thanks for finding your way here and for reading my musings. If you think others might appreciate them, feel free to share this post. And if you’d like to read more of my musings please consider subscribing to this, my blog.

Meanwhile, find more of my stories, insights and art here on my website www.taosdawn.com. Shop my art via my Etsy shop. And please consider joining me for TuesdayDawnings, my weekly deep breath of uplift, insight, contemplation & creativity. Find other ways to keep tabs on me via my connect page.

Stay safe. Be kind. Notice what you notice.

~ Dawn Chandler
Santa Fe, New Mexico

Free from social media since 2020

what are your delights?

A friend once told me that “delight” is a word that she associates with me, because she doesn’t know many other people who use the word, yet I use it a lot, especially in my writing and my TuesdayDawnings musings.

Well. That delighted me.

It seems (thanks to the American Heritage Dictionary) the word evolved from the Latin root lactāre, to entice, which in turn led to the Old French term delitier, to please or charm, to our current meaning of a great pleasure, joy; something that gives pleasure, joy; to take great pleasure in; to please greatly. [Knowing this delights me].

Perhaps it’s no surprise that I was highly attuned when I listened a few years ago to Krista Tippett’s conversation with Ross Gay about his then new book The Book of Delights. I flagged the book as one I might like to own, and was — yes! — delighted when, a few months later, before I yet owned a copy, I discovered the book enticingly placed on the bedside table of an AirB&B I’d rented in Salida, Colorado. Reading just a few pages affirmed my desire to own a copy.

Sometimes when I have a book I know I’m going to adore, I hold on to it a while before indulging myself. That anticipation of delight is delicious, and when I do finally allow myself the joy of immersion, it’s like a decadent gift to myself.

I’ve owned The Book of Delights for a year now, withholding the delight of indulgence till now. Finally in the early hours of this morning, I dove in.

Delights: A low table arrayed with books, writing implements, and candlelight artist Dawn Chandler’s early morning creative space for reading, writing and contemplation. Photo by Dawn Chandler.

From the very first page I was charmed [READ: delighted]:

One day last July, feeling delighted and compelled to both wonder about and share that delight, I decided that it might feel nice, even useful, to write a daily essay about something delightful. I remember laughing to myself for how obvious it was. I could call it something like The Book of Delights.

I came up with a handful of rules: write a delight every day for year; begin and end on my birthday,… draft them quickly; write them by hand. The rules made it a discipline for me. A practice. Spend time thinking, and writing about delight every day.…

It didn’t take me long to learn that the discipline or practice of writing these essays occasioned a kind of delight radar. Or maybe it was more like the development of a delight muscle. Something that implies that the more you study delight, the more delight there is to study. A month or two into this project delights were calling to me: ‘Write about me! Write about me!’ Because it is rude not to acknowledge your delights, I’d tell them that, though they might not become essayettes, they were still important, and I was grateful to them. Which is to say, I felt my life to be more full of delight. Not without sorrow, or fear, or pain or loss. But more full of delight. I also learned this year that my delight grows – much like love and joy – when I share it.

~ Ross Gay, from the Preface to The Book of Delights

Delights: Accoutrements of tea. Photo by Dawn Chandler.

After reading his first delight essayette — which includes such delightful noticing as “a cup of coffee from a well-shaped-cup. A fly, its wings hauling all the light in the room, landing on the porcelain handle as if to say, ‘Notice the precise flare of this handle, as though designed for the romance between the thumb and index finger that holding a cup can be.’ Or the peanut butter salty enough. Or the light blue bike the man pushed through the lobby….” — I decided to put down Ross Gay, take pen in hand and note my own delights just then before sunrise:

  • the ease, with which this pen glides across the paper. The smoothness of the page.
  • the candle — low, and in a shallow, ceramic vessel, handmade — spewing light across this page, it’s pointed flame occasionally flickering, popping, like soft rain droplets on the roof.
  • the aliveness that comes to my mouth as I drink cold water from a tall, cobalt blue glass – cylinder of color and cold lava. Next to it, a white cup with soaring cranes, cradling green jasmine tea.
  • the sensation in my hand, switching from the cold glass to the warm teacup.
  • the close darkness outside my window, gauzy with clouds — the hope of rain or better yet, snow.
  • that today I can get up off my cushion on the floor more nimbly than yesterday.
  • pouring a cup of tea from Miya’s small blue stoneware teapot, then pulling over it the colorful ski cap that Keith gave me some 20 years ago. Remembering how I accidentally shrank the cap in the wash, rendering it much too small for my head, but then transformed it into a perfect tea cozy.
  • wrapping my neck in cashmere, slipping on my slippers, stepping out into the bracing darkness in my pajamas to look for the moon. Noting how its light lights up the gray, cottony clouds: no sound, but my slippers on pavement. All else is asleep, but for the clouds and moon and me.
Delights: Artist Dawn Chandler’s early morning creative space for reading, writing and contemplation. Photo by Dawn Chandler.

For five years now I’ve been sharing via my weekly email TuesdayDawnings my observations big and small. Big in the form of my landscape photography of expansize New Mexico vistas, and small in the way of the diminutive beauties that catch my eye — like the delicacy of milkweed seed silks…

Delights: Tender threads of a milkweed thistle catching light. Photo by Dawn Chandler.

or the astonishing constellations of winter weeds…

Honing in on these ‘tiny beautiful things’* is what I refer to as noticing. Really though, it’s another word for delighting in.

That friend who aligns “delight” with me once asked how she might learn to notice better. [I was delighted that she asked!] Step 1 is to pause. Step 2 is to silence and put down the phone. As I described previously, Step 3 is to breathe. Finally, look around and see what you see. “Notice what you Notice,” as my friend Joan advises her students. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll then see something that charms you; that delights you. Make a mental note of it. Then later when the heavy weight of the world bears on you, remember that tiny beauty of a thing. Or even better pause and look around again. Look for the delight — It’s everywhere — even in the patterning of cheese grater up close.

Delight: The striking patterning within a cheese grater. Photo by Dawn Chandler.

Perhaps Georgia O’Keeffe said it best:

Nobody sees a flower — really — it is so small it takes time — we haven’t time —
and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.

Delight: The elegant curves and passages of a white iris blossom. Photo by Dawn Chandler.

or even better —

If you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for a moment.

If the stars were to align and somehow Georgia O’Keeffe and Ross Gay were able to enjoy coffee together, I suspect they would notice many of the same delights.

What a delight it would be to be a fly on the wall in that room. Or better yet, to be a fly with its wings hauling all the light and landing on one of their well-shaped-cups, catching their delighted noticing.

🪰 ☕️

*Hat tip to Cheryl Strayed.


Artist Dawn Chandler pausing during a sunrise hike at the Galisteo Basin south of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Thanks for finding your way here and for reading my musings. If you think others might appreciate them, feel free to share this post. And if you’d like to read more of my musings please consider subscribing to this, my blog.

Meanwhile, find more of my stories, insights and art here on my website www.taosdawn.com. Shop my art via my Etsy shop. And please consider joining me for TuesdayDawnings, my weekly deep breath of uplift, insight, contemplation & creativity. Find other ways to keep tabs on me via my connect page.

Stay safe. Be kind. Notice what you notice.

~ Dawn Chandler
Santa Fe, New Mexico


Free from social media since 2020


Delight: The delicate, extraordinary patterning of the seed heads of winter weeds. Photo by Dawn Chandler.

making space for grace

Hold space and invite grace is the opening passage of Chip Conley’s A Year of Wisdom. He speaks of creating spaces of time and environment in your life for magic to happen.

For me, my best time to achieve glimmers of grace is in the early morning. This is why silence upon waking is so important for me. Quiet time to observe and reflect upon my slowly awakening thoughts, and the slowly awakening world around me. Some mornings grace comes to me from the printed page. Other times grace alights when I watch birds at the feeders outside my window (always the Canyon Towhees are the first to arrive, usually followed by a Dark-eyed Junco or two). And inevitably grace accompanies me on my early morning walks (literally my Dawn walks), when it always feels like a little moment of magic when I notice some small beauty in the world, like frost etched on the veins of a brown leaf… leaf shadows on sidewalks… tiny tracks in snow….

Frost patterns on a sidewalk in Santa Fe. Noticed and photographed by Dawn Chandler.
Raven tracks  in the snow in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Photo by Dawn Chandler

I have the luxury of a great deal of solitude; in many ways I’ve designed my life around my need for solitude. So it’s easy for me to find long passages of silence each day for welcoming in grace. Others have far more frenetic lives, and are unable to soak in even a few minutes of silence each morning, let alone an hour or two.

Noticing circles in Dawn Chandler's Santa Fe studio. Photo by Dawn Chandler.

But you can find a single breath, can’t you? Just one simple inhale and exhale?


Do that — then open your eyes and look around. Settle your eyes on something — something you’ve never considered before. Or maybe something you’ve looked at often but have never really seen. What do you notice about it?

In this moment just as I wrote this, I took three deep breaths and then looked over to where my studio sink and washing machine are, the most humble and cluttered corner of my home…. and I noticed several circles: The end of a roll of paper towels… rolls of paper… a couple of wool clothes dryer balls… a can turned on its side ⭕️ ⭕️ ⭕️

A few moments later I found myself looking around noticing other circles in the room….

I am sitting among a chorus of circles!

And as I stepped into my kitchen and other rooms, I noticed yet more. What delight!

Noticing the colorful circles of a gift of bath-bombs in Dawn Chandler's Santa Fe home. Photo by Dawn Chandler.

These are hardly life-changing observations. Yet they pull me for a few moments into the now, into delight. I am dwelling neither in the past nor the future, but rather in this moment.

Anytime that happens I’ve made space for grace. Do that enough times, and maybe it is life-changing.

Join me here and notice the circles. Only please be silent when you do.

⭕️ ⭕️ ⭕️ ⭕️ ⭕️ ⭕️

Noticing the circle of a round patio table with snow and bird tracks at Dawn Chandler's Santa Fe home. Photo by Dawn Chandler.

Artist Dawn Chandler pausing during a sunrise hike at the Galisteo Basin south of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Thanks for finding your way here and for reading my musings. If you think others might appreciate them, feel free to share this post. And if you’d like to read more of my musings please consider subscribing to this, my blog.

Meanwhile, find more of my stories, insights and art here on my website www.taosdawn.com. Shop my art via my Etsy shop. And please consider joining me for Tuesday Dawnings, my weekly deep breath of uplift, insight, contemplation & creativity. Find other ways to keep tabs on me via my connect page.

Stay safe. Be kind.

~ Dawn Chandler

Santa Fe , New Mexico
Free from social media since 2020


go ahead, walk through it

Thirty minutes ago I emerged from the mall where my PO box is. I had just dumped my massive annual springtime greeting card mailing at the post office and was feeling a bit jubilant. Thirty minutes before that, an all-day soaking spring rain (a rarity out here) finally lifted, and now the world was all sparkly — another reason for feeling jubilant. So when I came across a huge puddle in the middle of the sidewalk, I didn’t hesitate: I walked straight through it — but slowly. I looked down at my feet as I did so. I was reminded of being a little girl, doing the same thing, slowly, as if to savor the rarity of puddles. As though considering doing something naughty and wondering if I could get away with it. Or maybe the slowness came simply from a feeling of awe, of I can’t believe I really get to do this!

This afternoon as I walked through the puddle I looked up from my sloshing boots to see a slightly grizzled man in white t-shirt and worn Carharrt work pants approaching the sidewalk from the parking lot; we smiled at each other. He said, “You know, I used to do that when I was five, or six, or seven.

To which I responded, “And I figure why not do it when we’re fifty or sixty?

He threw up both his hands with joy and exclaimed or “seventy or eighty or ninety?!

Go ahead. Walk through a puddle today — especially if they’re a rarity where you live.

And maybe even if they aren’t.

Rare springtime puddle in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Photo by Dawn Chandler.

Psst…. See and read about one of my favorite puddles here.


Thanks for finding your way here and for reading my musings. If you think others might appreciate them, feel free to share this post. And if you’d like to read more of my musings please consider subscribing to this, my blog.

Meanwhile, find more of my stories, insights and art here on my website www.taosdawn.com. Shop my art via my Etsy shop. And please consider joining me for Tuesday Dawnings, my weekly deep breath of uplift, insight, contemplation & creativity. Find other ways to keep tabs on me via my connect page.

Stay safe. Be kind.

~ Dawn Chandler

Santa Fe , New Mexico
Free from social media since 2020