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musings from the studio and beyond ~

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


what bloomed for me in the shadow of sadness

The lilac are blooming.

And they’re taking me back again to a May morning some thirteen years ago when a light went out in my life and the long shadow of sorrow moved in.

Lilac blooming in Santa Fe. Photo by New Mexico artist Dawn Chandler.

It was the Thursday before Mother’s Day, 2007. As the first of the sun’s rays broke over the crest of The Canyon, I was at the back of my car cinching my bike to the rear rack in anticipation of a morning ride on the back roads of Taos. While fiddling with my bike, I heard from inside my house the phone ring, followed by the answering machine kicking on. A couple minutes later the phone rang a second time, followed again by the answering machine. I was irritated that people were calling me so early. I finally went inside to check my messages, and scanning through the caller ID I saw that one message was from my brother Mark, the other, from my father.

My heart was suddenly in my throat.

Their messages were short: “Call me when you can.”

My mother had died that morning.

I hardly remember the rest of that day.
Or the days following.

But of the tidal wave of emotions that overtook me, I remember in a moment of grasping that I was grateful, at least, that she died in springtime.

I hoped that in her last days she had seen lilac.

I hoped that as her body crumbled to cancer, she was enveloped in blooming.

Close up of lilac blooms in Santa Fe. Photo by New Mexico artist Dawn Chandler.

The day after Mother’s Day, my brothers, Dad and I were together in my parents’ home, an apartment in a retirement community that they had moved to just five months earlier after selling our family home of 42 years. The apartment, though unfamiliar to us, was sunny, and was situated on grounds that were abloom in spring color and fragrance — lilac among them.

As we consoled each other, my brothers, father and I divided out tasks. Among mine was to plan the memorial.

I hadn’t a clue how to do this.

My mother had left no instructions except a little scratched note we had found among her papers. Something along the lines of “A simple ceremony. Pine wood box. Phil playing Saints.” ** The latter was a reference to her brother, my uncle, Phil Wilson, a talented jazz musician and gifted trombonist who, at their mother’s memorial 20 years earlier, had played When the Saints Go Marching In, one of my Grandmother’s favorites.

Beyond this, we knew nothing of my mother’s wishes.

I decided to try to find a Unitarian minister.

Although my upbringing was decidedly non-religious, my mother, who grew up in New England, had been raised Unitarian. Her mother — my grandmother — was atheist. My grandfather had been simultaneously (!!) the president of Harvard’s student Baptist club as well as the president of the Unitarian club; his own father had been a Baptist minister (who — according to family lore — was fired for daring to suggest that the some of the stories of the Bible be taken as allegorical rather than literal.)

When I was a very little girl, my family attended a Unitarian Fellowship each Sunday, but we stopped going when I was about six years old. Many years later I asked my mother why we had stopped going. “That was during the Vietnam War, and the services had become overshadowed by political discussions.” She said that the services lacked the uplifting spiritual aspect that she had so enjoyed and remembered fondly in the church of her youth.

I looked online and the nearest Unitarian church was an hour north in Summit, New Jersey.

I dialed the number and tearfully spoke with a woman with the warmth of a wise elder. She was the head or lead minister, and she was who I wanted to officiate my mother’s service.

But she was unavailable for any of the dates we wanted.

She recommended their youth minister, a young woman named Emilie.

I felt the sting of disappointment. Knowing nothing about such things, I assumed that we were getting “second best.” Plan B when my mother deserved Plan A. It was out of my power though — as was, seemingly everything right then, and so I took down Emilie’s number.

When she answered the phone I could barely get out a sentence for sobbing so hard.
And yet, If it’s possible to send someone a consoling warm embrace through a phone line, that’s what she did, immediately, without hesitation.

She was free on our hoped for date and would be honored to officiate.

In the meantime she suggested that we come up to the Summit Unitarian church to meet with her and share remembrances of my mother.

Soft purple blooms of lilac. Photo by New Mexico artist Dawn Chandler.

A few days later my brothers headed back, briefly, to their respective homes to tend to their families, and my father and I made the hour drive to Summit. There Reverend Emilie greeted us in the sanctuary of her church. The building felt familiar, like it could have been a backdrop to my mother’s New England childhood.

My dad and I sat with her around a small table, and for an hour-and-a-half he and I reflected, often tearfully, trying to convey some concept of who our mother, wife, best friend was. All the while Emilie’s hand was in continual motion over a pad of paper as she took notes.

There was no tape recorder, which remains incredible to me. For the level of detail she accurately gleaned, the deep essence of my mother that she gathered, was stunning.

Some weeks later, when we gathered again, this time with our families and a long life’s worth of friends, Emilie spoke heartily of my mother’s life. It was as though she’d known and understood her well.

Afterward, my father commented to me with deep warmth and appreciation in his voice, “I really like Emilie. I think Mum would have liked her, too.” My thoughts exactly.

Cluster of lilac blooms. Photo by New Mexico artist Dawn Chandler.

Four years later there was no question who to call when my father died.

Although Emilie and I had not spoken in almost half a decade, when I called again and muttered through tears who I was, she voiced immediate, empathetic recognition.

Now it was my brothers and I who would drive an hour north and gather round a small table with Emilie.

Her pen filled pages.

In the coming days as she and my brothers and I all worked on our comments for the memorial, I received a message from Emilie: “Dawn, I just have to say I am in love with your parents!” She expressed regret for never having known my mother, and appreciation in at least being acquainted with my father. She felt as though she were getting to know them yet more deeply through our stories and their shared history.

The depth of her sense of them, her respect and warmth and admiration radiated as she spoke at my father’s memorial.

That was nine years ago.
It’s been almost a decade since my father died, and as long since I’ve been back to New Jersey.

I’ve not seen Emilie since.

And I might have thought this story of our acquaintance would have ended there.

But in the decade since, Emilie’s and my friendship has only deepened.

What I’ve found is that each year when I send my annual springtime card, when I address one to Emilie, I feel as though in a way I’m also sending it to my parents. It’s as though she’s a gatekeeper to my parents’ spirit.

Maybe I think of her a little bit as an angel guarding their memory.

Months will pass without a word from each other. And then spring will come round again and we’ll share warm salutations. It might be just a quick “Hello,” or it might sometimes be a more detailed exchange, as when she sought ideas for ways to nurture in her family a love of the outdoors as my parents had done. Always our exchanges have radiated warmth.

And now….

Striped lilac blooms. Photo by New Mexico artist Dawn Chandler.

It’s spring again.

Only this spring is unlike any spring any of us has ever known.

There are deep, dark shadows across the country, across the world, as pandemic fans through families and communities. People are fighting for their lives. Others are fighting to keep them alive. Others are losing their jobs, their security, their known world. And all the world is mourning. All the world seems gripped in anxiety, in uncertainty.

I am one of the fortunate ones: Secure, in good health, well-nourished and comfortably housed, my few needs are met and likely will continue to be. Though worry for others weighs on me, one of the most pressing questions that arises for me is: How to help? How, from the walls of home isolation, can I offer calm and comfort? Beyond financial contributions and donating goods, how can I possibly help make things better?

It turns out that one way lay in my work — in my art. And in one instance at least, via an extraordinary opportunity to help my friend who years ago helped me.

For as with countless churches throughout the world, in an effort to keep the congregation safe and healthy, the Summit Unitarian church has had to move their services online. That means filling an hour each Sunday morning with thoughtful, inspiring, relevant words and song.

And images.

A few weeks ago, Emilie, who receives my weekly Tuesday Dawnings messages of uplift, asked if I might allow her to include some of my recent watercolors in their next online service. For she admitted one of their challenges is coming up with enough images to share during their online services.

Images, you say?

I took a quick look on my computer: I have over 30,000 images:

Four years of photos taken by artist Dawn Chandler

If there’s one thing I could provide her community, it’s images.

That following Sunday morning I turned on my computer and logged into a YouTube channel. And there in my kitchen, as I drew a match and lighted a candle, I joined in fellowship across hundreds of miles a community in Northern New Jersey.

As I watched and listened and was moved by that service, I saw my lovely friend — my parents’ angel. And I saw creations from my camera and brush.

Little did I know thirteen years ago when I picked up the phone in the hushed corner of my parent’s bedroom, out of death and deepest grief, a new friendship was about to take root.

Little did I know in the darkness of this pandemic that I would be presented with a unique and creative opportunity to help a community.

Little did I know with all those moments of pause and thousands of shutter clicks, that some of the beauty I notice might be part of a special gathering of souls hundreds of miles away.

Little did I know what light would emerge from the shadows.

And little did I know what abundance and beauty could take root and blossom out of loss.

May lilac blossoms. Photo by New Mexico artist Dawn Chandler.

** We had two memorials for my mother, one in New Jersey for us and our friends, and, a few months later a private service for family in Exeter, New Hampshire, in the church where she and my father had been married 53 years earlier. At the family gathering, my uncle Phil payed tribute to my mother with two tunes — Come Sunday, which my subscribers will recognize from this week’s Tuesday Dawnings, followed by Saints.

Three lit candles. Photo by Zae Zhu on Unsplash.

Candle image by Zae Zhu on Unsplash.

New Mexico artist Dawn Chandler safely social distancing in her Santa Fe studio among her watercolor paintings.

Thank you for being here and reading my musings.

If you enjoy my posts and know others who might enjoy them too, please feel free to share this.

Meanwhile, find more of my stories, insights and art here on my website,, as well as on Instagram and Facebook. Peruse and shop for my art here. And please consider joining me for Tuesday Dawnings, my weekly deep breath of uplift, insight, contemplation & creativity.

Thank you again.

Stay safe.

~ Dawn Chandler
Santa Fe , New Mexico

the importance of a daily creative practice

Daily watercolor painting 01 by New Mexico artist Dawn Chandler

A few weeks ago, before most of us were aware that our world was going to shift on its axis, I began a new occasional series of “warm up” paintings. I intended these paintings for my eyes only, with no plan of sharing them.

In the past few days I’ve changed my mind about that.

The immensity of despair and heartbreak all around us is overwhelming — especially as most of it is frustratingly beyond our own ability to reduce it. That is, besides being vigilant about staying home, cleaning hands & surfaces, being kind & generous especially to those in need, and minimizing as much as possible the burden on healthcare workers. For myself, beyond these crucial exercises, I feel there’s little I can do to help the situation, except try to stay busy and most of all try to be a calming presence for myself and those with whom I interact.

Maybe its no surprise then that painting helps to calm me and keep the tailspin of despair away.

With that in mind I’ve decided to start sharing these warm-up paintings of mine. My hope is that by sharing these they might cheer some of you, foster curiosity in others, and maybe even inspire yet others of you to begin a daily creative practice of your own. For I think now more than ever it’s important to have daily routines or rituals. With so much uncertainty in the world, having a daily creative practice in place can really help add a reassuring sense structure to your day.

Artist Dawn Chandler's watercolor palette.


Today I’m sharing the first of my warm-up paintings (above). After today I’ll mainly share these on my FaceBook Dawn Chandler Fine Art page and my TaosDawn Instagram rather than a daily blog post.

Okay, so what are warm-up paintings anyway?
They are an exercise I do before diving in to my “serious” work. Like stretching before a run, warm-up paintings help loosen my artistic muscles, get the creative blood flowing and awaken the Muse. The point with the warm-ups is to be loose and not get hung up on perfection. It’s less about the end-product and more about the joy of pushing around color and making marks.

With my warm-up paintings, anything goes — almost. For I do like to have certain parameters in place with any kind of series I’m doing, so with these warm-ups the parameters are:

— One per day

— 12″ x 12″ watercolor paper (I use Arches 150 Lb cold press watercolor block)

— Painted primarily in watercolor (I use Holbein) although some mixed-media is OK.

Artist Dawn Chandler's Holbein watercolors.

— Resist going back and working on previous day’s warm-ups (Going back is allowed, but slightly frowned upon).

Here’s something else though that I this is important about this daily practice: My watercolors aren’t in my studio. Rather, they are right in the middle of the major thoroughfare in my house. Which means I walk by them every single day. Which means I cannot NOT see them. Which means every time I walk by them, it’s an invitation — a reminder, a tease — to paint. Which means there’s absolutely no excuse to not paint regularly! Even if it’s just making one brush stroke on my way to the bathroom, and another brushstroke an hour later on my way to the kitchen to make tea.

Artist Dawn Chandler's watercolor desk.
Artist Dawn Chandler's watercolor set up near her kitchen.

As the brilliant James Clear advises in his most-excellent book Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones: If you want to start a new habit, Make it easy. If your watercolors are packed away in a closet, you’re never going to paint with them. If you guitar is in its case under your bed, you’re never going to think to play it.

Get your sketchbook, your paints, your musical instrument, get your journal, your notebook, your book you’ve been meaning to read, get your knitting, your stationary and pen and stamps, get your whatever-it-is that you’ve been kind of dreaming of doing but still haven’t begun and put it out front and center where you can’t avoid it.

And then — here’s the other thing: Just do your thing (write, paint, practice your instrument, read your book) for a few minutes at a time. No huge time commitment, just a few minutes.

This is what I’ve been doing with learning to play Native American flute: Five minutes per day. The flute sits on my coffee table beside my favorite chair, and every day I commit to playing it for five minutes. Usually that happens right before bedtime, when it serves as a peaceful form of mediation. Some days I play for five minutes first thing in the morning; other days I pick it up and play it several times throughout the day. Basically any time I sit in that chair I have an invitation to practice my flute.

Same when I walk by my watercolors: I commit to just one brushstroke. And, as you might imagine, often that leads to another brush stroke, and another. But just for a minute or two; then I go on about my other business.

So go get that thing that you’ve been wanting to do and pull in off the shelf or out of the closet or the drawer or the attic or the garage or the basement or the shed or the box and place it front and center.

Make a teeny tiny daily commitment.

Make it easy.

Get started today.

Dawn Chandler's watercolor table.

Do it!


And in the process, may you carve out a small bit of serenity and satisfaction.

New Mexico artist Dawn Chandler in her Santa Fe painting studio

And thank you for being here and reading my musings.
If you enjoy my posts and know others who might enjoy them too, please feel free to share this.

Find more of my stories, insights and art here on my website,, as well as on Instagram and Facebook. Peruse and shop for my art here. And please consider joining me for Tuesday Dawnings, my weekly deep breath of uplift, insight, contemplation & creativity. Learn more about it here.

Thank you again. Be safe out there.

~ Dawn Chandler
Santa Fe , New Mexico

one tiny enormous comment

Vintage photo of grocery store cans of Goya products. Goya Foods, Inc. Collection National Museum of American History, Archives Center

From the Goya Foods, Inc. Collection National Museum of American History, Archives Center

I just returned from the grocery store, to buy a jar of tomato sauce and some rice.

The grocery store was out of rice.

And toilet paper.

And countless other items.

I’ve never seen anything like it — whole shelves completely empty.

Where I live (Santa Fe) shortages like these are unheard of.
Though we’re sometimes threatened by fires (blessedly not for a few years [knock-on-wood] ), so far we haven’t had to worry too much about natural disasters like hurricanes that behoove people to stock up on supplies. The only shortages I’ve run into is that occasionally an item might run out during a sale or before a big holiday — like canned pumpkin at Thanksgiving, or ground cinnamon in December. But these are rare occurrences for non-essentials.

Yesterday and today though whole swaths of shelves were empty. And the supermarket was packed — way, way busier than a typical day. More like day-before-holiday packed.
Only this time it was eerily quiet. People weren’t in festive mode, they were in focused mode.

As the other shoppers and I carefully skirted around each other, I was able finally to find the last few remaining packages of pre-cooked ready-to-serve rice, and grabbed a jar of what looked like pretty decent tomato sauce. I then made my way to the back of one of the long lines at the check-out.

I recognized the cashier as a gal who’s been working there for a few years. We haven’t had many encounters and I don’t know her name, but she has always struck me as competent and efficient.

She looked tired. Really tired.

When it was finally my turn to check out, and she and I said the usual customer/cashier salutations, I said to her

Thank you for being here.

She stopped what she was doing, looked up at me, looked me in the eye and said,

Thank you.

She offered me a weary smile and added

I really appreciate that.

For in my few words — Thank you for being here — she heard what I really meant:

I see you.
I see you here working your ass off trying to do your best, as the shelves are emptying like nothing you’ve ever seen before and this line that I’m part of is just getting longer and longer and longer.
I see you here tired and trying to stay upright and upbeat and do your job even though you’d really rather be somewhere else.
I see you here surely worried for loved ones, worried about uncertainty, and trying your damnedest to tamp down your concern and do your job anyway.

I see you.

And I appreciate that you’re here.

As she handed me my change she looked me in the eye again and said,

Thank you again. Be safe out there.

And I knew with her few words she saw me, too.

Thank you for being here.

New Mexico artist Dawn Chandler aka 'Taos Dawn' in her Santa Fe studio.

And thank you for being here and reading my musings.
If you enjoy my posts and know others who might enjoy them too, please feel free to share this.

Find more of my stories, insights and art here on my website,, as well as on Instagram and Facebook. Peruse and shop for my art here. And please consider joining me for Tuesday Dawnings, my weekly deep breath of uplift, insight, contemplation & creativity. Learn more about it here.

Thank you again. Be safe out there.

~ Dawn Chandler
Santa Fe , New Mexico

what do you do after standing in front of that altar….

{ part 2 ~ why my new year began the last monday of january }

So what do you do after standing in a Museum before the altar of a magnificent Monet and you are just bursting with desire to be outside, be in the land, be bathed in color, be one with paintbrush and paper? But here you are, surrounded by people and enclosed walls and pavement and urban clutter and, for the first time in a very long while you are without any art-making accoutrements. (Well, not totally without art-making accoutrements: You’ve simply left you’re travel watercolor kit and large sketchbook back where you’re staying at your brother’s house and GOD, you just really don’t want to take the time to drive all the way across town to retrieve them.)

You are in the midst of what can only be described as an artistic emergency. ACK!
What to do?!

Well first, you dash breathlessly into the museum gift-shop desperately searching for anything with which you can draw or paint COLOR. There among all the Monet merch you purchase or yourself a ridiculous set of amateur colored pencils that are encased, no less, in a snappy decorative tin emblazoned with (quelle surprise!) Monet’s waterlilies.

Colored pencils bought by Dawn Chandler during a creative emergency at the DAM Monet show.

Then you drive yourself as quickly as you can through the city to the Denver Botanic Gardens, hopeful that, it being late January, you’ll have the brown and grey winter gardens to yourself.

Next you fill your thermos with coffee in the cafe and study the map. Then, with camera in hand, you take a deep breath and set out on an amble curious to see what beauties may reveal themselves to you.
Soon you are crouching among curled dead leaves, brown petals and seed pods.

The delicate colors of winter Hydrangea blossoms. Photo by artist Dawn Chandler.
Beautiful winter textures of the Denver Botanic Garden. Photo by artist Dawn Chandler.

Eventually you find the perfect secluded bench beside a sun-warmed wall that looks out across a small wave of short-grass prairie to a stand of white birches; music of nearby cascading water muffles the city’s sirens.

A sunny spot at the Denver Botanic Gardens in January. Photo by artist Dawn Chandler.
January birch tree, Denver Botanic Gardens. Photo by artist Dawn Chandler.

Here you pull out your tiny little notebook (gifted to you by a faraway friend along with its perfect hip bag he made for you, his “artist friend”) in which you’d scrawled your museum notes, and you begin to draw.

Dawn Chandler's emergency botanic garden sketching kit.

No matter that your new colored pencils kind of suck and that your notebook’s paper isn’t really dense enough for artwork. You’re just downright happy — thankful! — to be here, doing just this: quietly looking, quietly noticing, quietly drawing, away from the crowds.

Colored pencil sketch by artist Dawn Chandler of a January birch, Denver Botanic Garden.

After about an hour, you decide to get up and stretch your legs. And you see that over there where the sound of cascading water is coming from, there’s a wall between you and the falling water. Then you notice there’s also a bench beside the wall. You look around to see if anyone is watching, as though you are about to do something mischievous, and assured that you are alone, you step up and stand on the bench and peer over the wall.

And who looks back at you but a Cooper’s Hawk. Beside the water’s edge, her puffed-up grey body blends in with rounded river stones; she’s hidden in a tiny cove at the base of the waterfall, surely as surprised to see you popping up over the wall as you are to see her on the other side of it.

A Coopers Hawk hidden beside a stream, Denver Botanic Gardens. Photo by artist Dawn Chandler.

Your brown eyes meet her red.
You feel your whole being smiling.
You take a deep breath of gratitude and whisper: Be safe.

Back on your saunter you go.

A turn here…. a turn there…. noticing all the way….

Winter beauty spotted at the Denver Botanic Gardens. Photo by artist Dawn Chandler.
Nature's beautiful winter textures, Denver Botanic Gardens. Photo by artist Dawn Chandler.
Nature's beautiful winter patterns, Denver Botanic Gardens. Photo by artist Dawn Chandler.
Mesmerized by the koi, Denver Botanic Garden. Photo by artist Dawn Chandler.
Delicate and elegant seed pods, Denver Botanic Gardens. Photo by artist Dawn Chandler.
Snowdrop blossoms, Denver Botanic Gardens. Photo by artist Dawn Chandler.

Two days later you’re back home in Santa Fe.
Despite the excellence of your trip, you are just so excited to be home again, because you are so ready to get to painting in your studio.

And then you get some news that requires you to run an essential errand up to Taos the next day. You have no choice — you have to go the very day after returning home.
And you are cursing the Fates because after a week away you just really really want to spend the day in your studio painting and if you were fifty years younger you’d sure as heck throw a tantrum.

And then your Muse whispers to you The Obvious:

Go — Paint anyway — paint on your way.

Dawn Chandler's road trip watercolor sketches from near Taos, New Mexico
Dawn Chandler's assorted and various watercolor roadtrip sketches

Mostly abstract & playful watercolor musings, some inspired by Monet (center & on the right), others (on the left) inspired by the New Mexico landscape.

New Mexico artist Dawn Chandler aka 'Taos Dawn' in her Santa Fe studio.

Thank you for reading my blog and appreciating my musings!
If you enjoy my posts and know others who might enjoy them too, please feel free to share this.

Find more of my stories, insights and art here on my website,, as well as on Instagram and Facebook. Peruse and shop for my art here. And please consider joining me for Tuesday Dawnings, my weekly deep breath of uplift, insight, contemplation & creativity. Learn more about it here.

~ Dawn Chandler
Santa Fe , New Mexico

why my new year started the last monday of january

The first three weeks of the New Year I had been up to my eyeballs in office work — the soul-sucking mind-numbing numbers-crunching paper-cut-inducing head-banging end-of-year secretarial & administrative chores required of being a self-employed sole-proprietor small business owner.

But I promised myself if I could bear to stay out of the studio for a couple of weeks and instead focus all my energy on New Year administrative chores, then I would be free to dive — PLUNGE! — into art again.

At the end of three weeks of solitary secretarial confinement, my whimpering Muse was gasping for breath.

Art…. I… need…. ART.

FINALLY My Muse was resuscitated at 9:15am Monday, January 27th.

For that’s when I walked into the Monet show at the Denver Art Museum.

Artist Dawn Chandler steps into DAM's Monet exhibition.

And again on Tuesday, January 28th at 9:15 in the morning, yet more breath was breathed into my Muse. For that’s when I walked into the Monet show at the Denver Art Museum for a second time.

OH! What a luxury to get to see the show twice!
Honestly, I have to give myself a little pat on the back for being oh-so-clever as to anticipate that one visit wasn’t going to be enough to satisfy, and that really two trips two days in a row would be just perfectly luscious — especially if I could go early in the morning before the afternoon throngs.
Oh so clever indeed; my back is downright bruised from pats of self satisfaction.

But back to that first Monday and the supreme joy I felt walking into that exhibit.
That joy was deep, seeped in decades of warm memories of attending museum shows with my family. For museum excursions were as much a part of the Chandler Family modus operandi as backpacking excursions on the Appalachian Trail. My brothers and I were fed a steady, richly nourishing diet of museums, which continued — intensified! — into our adulthood. Any time we visited home, a family museum trip was always on the itinerary. Always. It could be any museum anywhere, but 95% of the time those trips were to New York, and 75% of those NYC trips involved a visit to The Met. (NYC was an easy hour train ride away.)

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City

Denver Art Museum, Denver, Colorado

The Denver Art Museum.

Here’s the exciting possibility — probability — of entering a museum with curiosity:
You’re going to learn something.
You’re going to be enlightened, you’re going to be enriched
Maybe it’ll be just a tiny soupçon of information that lodges itself into your head — a little fact that you didn’t know before but with which you’ll now wow your friends in a round of Trivial Pursuit later on.
Enter a museum with openness and you will be changed.


SO….. Brimming anticipation, I felt positively giddy walking into that Monet show at DAM because I KNEW I was going to learn something. I KNEW I was going to see some lovely, peaceful scenes. But even more I KNEW I was going to see lots of gorgeous color and juicy paint and I knew all THAT was going to intoxicate me. I KNEW I was going to exit that exhibit with my fingers twitching uncontrollably with the desire to paint.

Sure enough.

You know, it’s interesting about Monet. His work has become so popular — it’s reproduced ad nauseam on so much STUFF from posters and puzzles to umbrellas and scarves and bags, to coffee mugs and neckties and notebooks — that his work and the paintings of so many of the French Impressionists has become a sort of cliché. So many sweetly soft pastel colors, it’s enough to make your teeth hurt.
And so when a friend tells me he’d never really had an appreciation for Monet, I get it.

A better appreciation of Monet may be possible with a deeper understanding of his place in the history of western landscape painting. [Here is a terrific quick synopsis of the evolution of western landscape painting in the 19th-century.]

Essentially, when Monet began to get serious about painting in the 1860s, painting landscape en plein air [outdoors from life] was still a relatively new concept, thanks to recent inventions like portable paints in tubes, foldable easels and compact paint boxes.

Before Monet’s generation, landscape paintings were usually highly detailed, tightly rendered, and often highly idealized depictions that were labored over by the artist for months in their studio.

Claude Lorrain, View of La Crescenza, 1648-50.

Claude Lorrain, View of La Crescenza, 1648-50.

Camille Corot, Hagar in the Wilderness, 1835.

Camille Corot, Hagar in the Wilderness, 1835.

Theodore Rousseau, A Meadow Bordered by Trees, 1845.

Rather than getting caught up in painstaking details, Monet and his generation of landscape painters sought to capture the impression — the effects of light and shadow and color — of a landscape. And they felt the best way to capture the impression was to paint it directly from life, sometimes within the course of just a few hours. That was revolutionary!

Monet was particularly interested in conveying the atmosphere of a place. How do you paint air — or the envellope, as he referred to it — of a place? Monet was determined to figure it out.

And the idea of motif.

He returned again and again to the same subject, studying it in different seasons, at various times of day, it in all sorts of weather and light. This simply wasn’t done before — at least not to the extent nor with the obsession of Monet.

Claude Monet, painting in series: the haystack paintings, 1890s.

Claude Monet, painting in series: the haystack paintings, 1890s.

Just look at those haystacks above and how different the light and colors are!
Just look at all those gorgeous paintings below Monet did of Rouen Cathedral!

Claude Monet, painting motif, in series: Rouen Cathedral, 1890s.

Interesting to note that with the cathedral he painted it from the same angle every time (perfect example of a motif!) What’s changing, is the light, of course, depending on the time of day, and that in turn changes the color.
(Did you ever think one place could look so different depending on the light?)

A related aside: As I’ve been thinking about Monet’s paintings lately, it occurs to me that my first awareness of Impressionism — my first memory of noticing and being aware of an individual Impressionist painting — was of a painting I first saw in a book when I was a junior in high school. It was Monet’s 1896 painting La Grenouillere:

Claude Monet, La Grenouillere, 1869.

Claude Monet, La Grenouillere, 1869.

I remember being blown away by the water in that painting. I think I may have even audibly gasped. HOW did he get that water to look so wet, so fluid? What the heck colors are those? How did he mix them?
Disappointed though I was that La Grenouillere was not on display in Denver, several other of his paintings of water were, including some I had never seen before, as I shared in this week’s Tuesday Dawnings.

The paintings of Monet’s that I really wanted to see though were at the end of the exhibition — and that’s the main reason I planned on a second morning to attend the exhibit. On the first day I took my time, listened to the audio, read every descriptive placard, admired every painting, and generally walked slowly through the galleries among the crowd. But on the second day I bolted through the doors, jumped through the crowd, leaped down the steps and fled to the last galleries. Here were his later paintings and I wanted time alone to linger with these….

….his River Seine series…..

Monet's River Seine paintings at the Denver Art Museum
Claude Monet, Morning on the Seine, Giverny, 1897.

Claude Monet, Morning on the Seine, Giverny, 1897.

Claude Monet, Morning on the Seine Near Giverny, 1897.

Claude Monet, Morning on the Seine Near Giverny, 1897.

and these, his Waterlilies….

Claude Monet, Morning on the Seine, Giverny, 1897.

What moves me — what delights me — what fuels me with excitement about these paintings is how nearly abstract they are.

And that got me in a pensive state…..

Claude Monet, Water-Lilies, 1914-15.

Claude Monet, Water-Lilies, 1914-17.

Last year I had intended to focus intently on my abstract landscape paintings — my ‘textual landscapes‘ — which for me are my most deeply personal, satisfying and soulful work. But for lots of reasons I allowed myself to be distracted from that goal. I derailed myself. So much so that come year’s end I felt regret, like I’d let myself and my Muse down.

Maybe that’s why after pondering these paintings alone in the galleries, I felt a sharpness in my throat and kept blinking my eyes as I stood in front of this painting as though before an alter.

Claude Monet, Water-Lilies, 1914-15.

Claude Monet, Water-Lilies, 1914-15. (Details below)

I could so easily imagine myself in this artist’s shoes. Staring at this canvas I could smell the oils, the turpentine; I could hear — I could feel — the movement of my arm and wrist curving the brush across the canvas to carve those ovals, to push and scumble paint on canvas. I could breathe the deep breath of satisfaction and delight with the placement of each juicy daub of color.

I just so know what he was feeling when in the flow of painting….

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. . . . . . . . . . It’s a new year, a chance for new beginnings.


I am diving — PLUNGING! — in!

Artist Dawn Chandler's Santa Fe, New Mexico art studio

This week in my Santa Fe studio … prepping new panels for new paintings….

Claude Monet, The Water-Lily Pond, 1918.

Claude Monet, The Water-Lily Pond, 1918.

New Mexico artist Dawn Chandler aka 'Taos Dawn' in her Santa Fe studio.

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~ Dawn Chandler
Santa Fe , New Mexico