Watercolor washes in Dawn Chandler's sketchbook

As a young art student I often heard that one color is especially hard to paint .

Care to guess which one?

For the untrained eye it can be intimidating to look out to a verdant landscape and figure out now how to differentiate and mix green.

Maybe that’s why a comment my Aunt Anne made to me more than thirty years ago was so eye-opening to me.

It was late May of my first year in grad school, and I had just arrived on Mount Desert Island to spend the summer living with her. The lilac were just coming into bloom in Maine — quite a bit later than down in Philadelphia.

Soon after I arrived my aunt gave me a tour of the island. At one point during our drive, she gestured to the trees ahead and said, “I love these soft greens of Spring; they’re so varied. By mid-summer the trees all become the same green and it feels heavy and oppressive.”

Watercolor sketches by artist Dawn Chandler celebrating the subtleties of spring greens.

I was struck.


How had I, an aspiring painter, lived into my twenties without noticing the variety of green before?
Was it because in my childhood the showy pinks, purples and yellows of springtime blooms stole my attention?

Or had I simply spent too many springs dreaming of being elsewhere?
Year after year of my high school and college years I obsessively yearned for summer. For summertime meant heading west for three months of adventure in New Mexico! In my youth, spring was something to get through till summer.

No wonder I paid no mind to spring subtleties; they were beyond me.

Watercolor sketches by artist Dawn Chandler celebrating the subtleties of spring greens.

In the decades since those youthful summer high-adventure obsessions, I’ve striven to become more present. I don’t know if that’s just me, or an age thing. But I do know that this year especially I’ve been even more attuned to the nuanced greening of spring. I’ve thought often of my aunt’s observation and how resonates for me still.

Watercolor sketches by artist Dawn Chandler celebrating the subtleties of spring greens.

I’m writing this in Summit County, Colorado. As I made the drive last week from 7000 ft Santa Fe to 9000 ft Frisco, it seemed I was traveling backwards in time. Spring is a longtime coming up here. As I climbed in elevation, I was let down to realize I’m too early for the aspen leaves. In late May the Rockies in these parts are cloaked with the drab brownish-green of lodgepole pine, and tawny grey curtains of leafless aspen glens. Snow still caps the surrounding peaks, and streams are edged in ice. The other day a hike up to my favorite aspen grove was an immersion into brown, black, white and grey, with nary a sign of green in the branches.

Watercolor sketches by artist Dawn Chandler celebrating the subtleties of spring greens.

But today?


Today all that seems to be changing. On sunny slopes the color of the Rockies is beginning to transform. Along a bright brook the first hint of green is exhaling among the aspens; brown buds are beginning to unfurl into young yellow-green leaves. As I pause again just now and let my gaze linger, I note subtle variations of green and think of how pleased my aunt would be.

And when I swirl my brush on my palette just now, I realize that, whenever I pause to really notice and consider the color in the landscape and on my palette, painting green isn’t so intimidating after all.

Dawn Chandler's watercolor palette.

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Stay safe. Be kind.

~ Dawn Chandler
Santa Fe , New Mexico

Me in my studio with my Watercolor Wanderings Series on the wall.