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lovers leap: why i paint new mexico

by | Dec 9, 2014 | Uncategorized

lovers leap return (detail) - oil painting by dawn chandler

lovers leap return (detail) – by dawn chandler – oil on canvas – 36″ x 24″


New Mexico.

Colfax County.

If you’ve been following my art for even a short amount of time, you know that the beauty of the land is my greatest inspiration. Look a little harder, and you realize that the land of New Mexico, in particular, resonates for me. Go deeper still, and you realize that there’s a swath of land through the heart of Colfax County in the northern part of the state that appears again and again and again in my  landscape paintings.
That swath of land — some 215+ square miles — is the Philmont Scout Ranch. Owned and operated by the Boy Scouts of America, it’s the home of the largest outdoor adventure operation in the country, providing thousands of teens and adults experiences of a life time. Backpacking, horse-packing and lessons in leadership and group dynamics are some of what Philmont specializes in.

When I was a teenager, thanks to a little-known co-ed branch of the Boy Scouts, I got to go to Philmont. For two weeks I backpacked through the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of Northern New Mexico and witnessed my life changing before me. I returned the next summer for another high adventure backpacking trip, and again the one after that. For six more summers I worked on staff teaching backpacking skills, further deepening my love of nature and the outdoors.
And in the process I made some of the deepest friendships of my life.

No other place in the world has had a more profound and rippling effect on my life than Philmont.
It’s why I came to live in New Mexico; why I came to paint the land.

There’s absolutely no doubt that I am richly blessed — blessed to have a whole community of people who admire and appreciate — and sometimes even buy — my art. And of these patrons, a great many of them — indeed, the vast majority of them — have a connection to Philmont.

And so it is that I often receive requests from people to paint specific places on “The Ranch.” So it is that over the years I have looked at countless Philmont photos, as I try to paint people’s memories.
And what I can tell you is that it’s  darn hard to finding really good photos of Philmont. That’s because most people don’t really know what they’re doing with a camera; few have any sense of composition or of light and shadow.

That was trumped about a year ago when I received a request from a gentleman who wanted a Philmont painting for his office, but wasn’t sure what scene.. He had a number of photographs he’d taken himself — perhaps I could look them over and see if any of them spoke to me? “Sure” I replied, fully expecting to feel a little flat when looking at his photos.

W O W.

They were among the best photographs of Philmont by a non-professional I had ever seen.

Of his photos I chose six to paint as “studies”, with the plan that of these six, he would select the one for me to do as a larger painting. (Secretly I had my favorite — the one I’d hoped he’d choose for the large canvas — but I kept my opinion to myself so as not to sway him).
For the studies I used 16″ x 20″ panels and a very limited palette of just ultramarine blue, alizarin crimson, cadmium yellow medium, and titanium white. Thanks to the terrific reference photos, they were an utter delight to paint.

Then the moment of Truth: I emailed him images of the paintings….

He chose my favorite.

And here it is, the grande finale, Lovers Leap Return, by Dawn Chandler, oil on canvas, 36″ x 24″ (based on a photo by Russell Smart)

lovers leap return, oil painting on canvas by dawn chandler

lovers leap return – oil on canvas – by dawn chandler

And here are the “studies” which I think are some of the best paintings of Philmont — heck, the best paintings period — I’ve ever done. All of these paintings are based on photos by Russell Smart.
And all of them — including the two versions of Lovers Leap — are now available as prints. (Click here to visit my shop).


the tooth in the clouds - oil painting by dawn chandler

the tooth in the clouds – by dawn chandler – oil on panel – 20″ x 16″

the tooth from urraca - oil painting by dawn chandler

the tooth from urraca – by dawn chandler – oil on panel – 16″ x 20″


meadow below baldy - oil painting by dawn chandler

meadow below baldy – by dawn chandler – oil on panel – 16″ x 20″

new mexico morning - oil painting by dawn chandler

new mexico morning – by dawn chandler – oil on panel – 16″ x 20″

baldy from red river - oil painting by dawn chandler

baldy from red river – by dawn chandler – oil on panel – 16″ x 20″


lovers leap looking west - oil painting by dawn chandler

lovers leap looking west – by dawn chandler – oil on panel – 20″ x 16″