Lorenzo Chavez,"Tsegi," pastel, 14 x 22 in.

Lorenzo Chavez – Plein Air Painter of The American West

I’m always in awe of artists whose main body of work is made up of work they’ve done en plein air. Lorenzo Chavez, our guest this month, is one of those amazing artists who paints mostly on location. In fact, as I was starting to organize this blog post, I emailed a question to Lorenzo. He squeaked in a quick reply before heading off for a week’s painting trip to Utah and Nevada!

Lorenzo’s work expresses so clearly his love of the land, not just the grand vast scenes but also the seemingly ordinary corners of the sometimes scruffy landscape. The energy and life that comes from working on location pour forth from his paintings. Lorenzo works in both oil and pastel and here he shares some of his pastel work with us.

I wrote about two of Lorenzo’s pastels in past monthly round-ups. You can read what I had to say here and here.

Don’t know the work of Lorenzo Chavez? Here’s a teaser:

Lorenzo Chavez, "Here Comes The Sun," pastel, 24 x 30 in. Sold.
Lorenzo Chavez, “Here Comes The Sun,” pastel, 24 x 30 in. Sold.

Before I hand the blog over to Lorenzo, here’s a wee bit about him.

Lorenzo Chavez Bio

Lorenzo Chavez was born and raised in New Mexico. His first inspirations and foundation as a young artist were formed by the local landscape and the art history of New Mexico. Lorenzo and his wife Dolores currently live in Parker, Colorado. From here, he travels and paints the American West and Southwest.

Lorenzo has been an active professional fine artist for 35 years. He participates in many national invitational group exhibitions and has had a number of one-man shows including a successful show at the C.M. Russell Museum. He has been the recipient of awards from such notable groups as the Pastel Society of America, California Art Club, and the American Impressionist Society. Lorenzo’s work has been featured in a number of magazines including Southwest Art, Artists of the West, and Pastel Journal, and in books such as Pure Pastel 1&2 and Colorado Landscapes.

Read and see more on his website.

And now, here’s Lorenzo Chavez to take you on his art journey.


A Desert Journey

I was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico. My family has lived in this area since the mid 1600’s. I grew up looking at the vast landscapes and traveling through the high desert many times.  Living here has made an impact on the way that I see, and it was the inspiring landscape that was the catalyst for going into the fine arts.

Lorenzo Chavez, "Western Mesa," pastel, 12 x 24in.
Lorenzo Chavez, “Western Mesa,” pastel, 12 x 24in.

My first memory of why I connected with the pastel medium comes from first touching them and that gritty feeling brought memories of my childhood when I loved to run my hand into the soft warm dry soil of New Mexico. I feel the pastel medium is the ideal medium to capture the special quality of light and dusty feeling of the high desert region of the American West.

Lorenzo Chavez, "Arid American West," pastel, 16 x 20 in. Sold
Lorenzo Chavez, “Arid American West,” pastel, 16 x 20 in. Sold

I have also sketched out on location with oil paints and I find it be an ideal medium when one wants accurate color and value notes. The downside is in the desert I often get sand mixed in with the paint.

From the beginning of painting en plein air, there was a steep learning curve. Painting on location at different times of the year means concerns about the weather – the heat, the cold, the wind. Other considerations were watching out for insects or snakes as well as the blistering sun that burns lips which then chap and crack. All this on top of learning to paint from life with pastels in the fast-changing light with clouds drifting fast across the land.

Lorenzo Chavez, "Dinetah," pastel, 16 x 22 in. Sold.
Lorenzo Chavez, “Dinetah,” pastel, 16 x 22 in. Sold.

I love using Mars Violets in the desert country as it works well with the natural color. I also mostly use Canson Mi-Teintes “Moonstone” (the smooth side) as its warm light gray color lends itself naturally to the desert landscape.

Lorenzo Chavez, "Colorado Plateau," pastel, 10 x 12 in. Sold
Lorenzo Chavez, “Colorado Plateau,” pastel, 10 x 12 in. Sold

I have kept reducing my gear for maximum lightness. Doing this allows me to travel further and hike into locations where I setup and takedown my painting gear as quickly as possible. Things to be aware of in the desert are the heat and intense light and the need to dress in cool light-coloured clothing, work in the early morning or late afternoon, and bring plenty of water to drink. You must always be aware of your surroundings and watch for snakes, scorpions, and cactus plants. If you can find shade, then work in it.

Lorenzo Chavez, "Canyon de Challey," pastel, 11 x 14in.
Lorenzo Chavez, “Canyon de Challey,” pastel, 11 x 14in.
Lorenzo Chavez painting in the Canyon de Chelley.
Lorenzo Chavez painting in the Canyon de Chelley.

Thank God I was young, ambitious, and a little naive as to what was ahead as far as the challenges of painting with pastels, these incredible tools for creating. What I did not anticipate was the joys of being out in nature at all times of day and seasons, to be a witness to the many beautiful moments happening around me daily. To see the great moving forces of nature and to feel the emotion that comes from viewing and experiencing wild nature, is a rich reward. The many songs of birds, coyotes, crows, moving water, and wind sing to me.

Lorenzo Chavez, "Foothills of the Sandia Mountains," pastel, 16 x 20 in.
Lorenzo Chavez, “Foothills of the Sandia Mountains,” pastel, 16 x 20 in.

I have found lots of inspiration by studying the art of these living artists: Ned Jacob, Matt Smith, Walt Gonske and Clyde Aspevig. Some deceased artists who painted the desert and whose work profoundly inspires me are Maynard Dixon, Carl Oscar Borg, The Taos Society Artists, Edgar Payne, Georgia O’Keeffe, Frank Tenney Johnson, and Wilson Hurley. I find their paintings endlessly inspiring and informative.

Lorenzo Chavez, "Pueblo of the Ancients," pastel, 20 x 24 in. Sold
Lorenzo Chavez, “Pueblo of the Ancients,” pastel, 20 x 24 in. Sold

I am still learning and have fallen in love with the process of creating pastel paintings out in the field. It is still a very demanding, challenging, and inspiring way of gaining knowledge and painting experience. 

Lorenzo Chavez, "Canyon Light," pastel, 12 x 9 in. Sold
Lorenzo Chavez, “Canyon Light,” pastel, 12 x 9 in. Sold

Creating this way, I have learned patience and gained a feeling for the landscape and a firm understanding of natural light, atmosphere, and color. I also have a deeper appreciation for living in the now moments and for that I am very grateful.

Lorenzo Chavez working on site.
Lorenzo Chavez working on site.


Ahhhhh. Can’t you feel the landscape through the colour, light, and texture of Lorenzo’s work?!

We’d love to hear from you. If you have a question for Lorenzo Chavez or a reaction to his work, please do leave it in a comment!!

Until next time,

~ Gail

PS. You may like to watch this short interview I did with Lorenzo at the IAPS Convention in 2019

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30 thoughts on “Lorenzo Chavez – Plein Air Painter of The American West”

  1. Ahhh! one of my very favorite artists, because he captures the majesty of the SW landscape. Makes me homesick. And on Canson paper! Would love more info on how he uses it (dry rub in? how many layers do you typically apply?).

      1. I agree with Marsha’s comment above, and would love to hear more about his techniques on paper. His capture of texture is amazing. Also, does he use fixative as he works? Thanks for this privilege of seeing this stunning work.

  2. I became familiar with Lorenzo’s work when I first started painting about six years ago and I love seeing his work. The way he captures light is magnificent and I love his color choices, especially all the orange and violet values. Thank you Lorenzo for sharing your story.

  3. Lorenzo is a king of pastel landscapes. His art is amazing, inspiring, majestic and even spiritual. PLUS he is one of the nicest people you will ever meet.

    Thank you, Gail, for featuring Lorenzo, and for your How To Pastel posts, blogs and Facebook. I look forward to your regular emails. You almost always teach me something new or cause me to remember something important.

    1. Mark I agree with all you have said about Lorenzo’s work AND about the man himself!
      And thank you for your kind words. It’s so rewarding to know that the things I share are helpful!

  4. I am amazed at the beauty of all these plein air paintings — but also at the larger SIZE of so many of them! Large, for plein air, IMO……how does Lorenzo keep his paper/board steady in a breeze or wind, at that size? And such a beautifully large pastel box — he must lift weights to be able to carry all that weight out into the field! Thanks so much for sharing with us, Lorenzo, and thanks to Gail for bringing him to us. He is SOOOO fortunate to have lived his life in such an amazing landscape.

    1. I’m glad you picked up on the size of some of Lorenzo’s paintings Paula! And thanks for your great questions. I laughed when you talked about Lorenzo’s box – I thought the very same thing!

  5. I find the concept of plein air painting difficult on its own..so much to take in and the light is constantly changing. In Lorenzo’s painting, one sees the result of a lot of experience and also, clearly, a love for the subject. I love the colors he uses. I was a bit surprised by the quantity of pastels he carries in his box. I also know he likes to work on Canson paper and, to me, that would seems to increase the difficulty level. I would like to ask if he has any particular recommendations for making plein air easier(for example, how to minimize what you carry). Also, does he have any tips on how to quickly capture for yourself what it is you was to paint and to keep that picture clearly in your mind while you try to paint it. I know that a good thumbnail would be vital to get your composition and its values defined. Thanks!

    1. Hi Marlene, Thank you and great question. It is important to always strive to bring the least amount of gear as possible. I find that any light weight paint gear is so useful for the plein air painter. I recommend the Julian French Easel half box and a small box of pastels. I use Noton studies in black and white to design high contrast scenes into a simple strong graphic look.
      If the conditions are not strong light and shadows, I design the landscape using the four value plane principle taught by John F Carlson in his classic book Landscape Painting.
      You can see my supply list under workshops.
      I hope this helps.
      Lorenzo Chavez

  6. What a great read, thank you Lorenzo and Gail!
    Lorenzo’s work has always stood out to me, an artist who never fails to excite in my eyes, I adore his jaw dropping colour and compositions.
    His descriptions and connection with his subject are as magical as his paintings! I love the parallel of the dry and dusty medium with his locations – a complete contrast to the seascapes I paint!

    1. Thanks Gareth! And thank you for pointing out that great parallel that Lorenzo makes between his medium and his subject. And as you say, so different from your work of the sea. Nevertheless, both you and Lorenzo fill the viewer with the place you love.

      And for readers wanting to check out Gareth’s guest post, click HERE

  7. Thank you all so much for your nice comments. I would love to answer all your questions individually and I sure appreciate you taking time to ask and comment. I am sending Gail my answers to your questions and I hope they will be posted for all to see. I am getting ready to leave to teach a workshop in the beautiful San Juan Mountains in Colorado.
    Wishing you all much inspiration and love!
    Lorenzo Chavez

  8. Hi Gail, Really enjoyed your blog on Lorenzo Chavez. His work is new to me and it appears to be very demanding in detail work. Does he have to spend a lot of time on the site?

    1. Great to hear Sandy! I don’t have the answer to your question but I can say that with plein air work, there comes a time when the light has changed so much that it would be useless to continue painting the same scene!

  9. Hi everyone,
    Thank you all for your kind words. I do love the landscape where I have lived all my life and feel very grateful to call this area of the Rockies and southwest my home. It is so important to our creative efforts to love the subject we choose to paint. I love working out on location from small to up to 20″ x 24″ anything larger is usually done in the studio working from field sketches and photos and lots of accumulated memories of being out in nature painting in all kinds of light, seasons and weather conditions.
    I use a Julian French easel both full size and half size. My pastel box carries about 150 colors. I have arranged them in primary and secondary colors and divided them into 3 value ranges from dark mid values and light values. With these colors and values I can mix on the paper surfaces additional colors and values that help extent my palette.
    I do not work in rain, I use my oil painting gear during wet times.
    Wind can pose a problem so I find shelter behind solid objects like rocks, big trees, buildings or my car. they all can make effective wind breaks.
    When it’s very windy I will work at a smaller scale.
    I love Canson Mi-Teintes “Moonstone” and can get lots of interesting textures by scraping down pastel with a palette knife or spraying some Krylon Workable Fixative to the pastels on the paper surface.
    I use a lot of suggestion in my pastel work that can feel like there is more finish but is only hinted at.
    Light can change quickly so I try to pay attention to my surroundings and look to the sky for clues to how much time I might have.

    Painting in the field can be a challenge but that’s what brings so much energy and inspiration to the creative process.

    Thank you all for your questions I hope I answered most of them. I hope to see you at one of my landscape painting workshops soon.
    Happy painting!
    Lorenzo Chavez

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Gail Sibley

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My love of pastel and the enjoyment I receive from teaching about pastel inspired the creation of this blog. It has tips, reviews, some opinions:), and all manner of information regarding their use through the years – old and new. Please enjoy!

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