Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Color in November

November. When, even on a sunny day, I do not expect to be stunned by color. I was.

These birdhouses must be one of the secret treasures of Grand Isle.

And there are dozens more on either side of this section.  Whoever does this, I thank them.  Very few outdoor scenes are at their very best in November, but this one is.

P.S. This Saturday (17th) there will be a Closing Reception for Charlie Hunter and me at the Artistree Gallery in Woodstock. 6-7:30 p.m.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Two Really Difficult Weeks

There have been a number of deaths with which I am to some degree connected. These have all occurred within the last five or six weeks. The greatest of these has been the death of our family's matriarch--my cousin Grace Machia. She was born in St. Albans in 1926, grew up on the family farm in Fletcher and lived most of her life in Fairfax. Her mother and mine were sisters who both were raised on the farm which had been in our family since 1867. This was the homestead I was forced to sell a year ago.

Grace was a good woman whose main care in life was keeping the family together and I loved her very much. This is the end of an era.

Right now it is difficult to do anything. So, I am using my drug of choice--online games--until things settle down. I am grateful for my upcoming show with Charlie Hunter in Woodstock. That will be some positive medicine.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Charlie Hunter - Clair Dunn Woodstock show

At the artistree community gallery in Woodstock, Vermont. The opening reception is on the 27th from 6-8:30 p.m.

Charlie Hunter is a Bellows Falls-based Vermont artist, currently emerging on the national level. In 2012 he won awards at plein air painting events across the East, including Easton, MD (Best New Artist), Wayne, PA, Cranford, NJ and Plein Air Vermont. This show of paintings from Summer, 2012 captures Hunter's propensity for the drippy, begrimed and neglected.

"This is not the Vermont of fall leaves and covered bridges the tourists come to see, but the Vermont of abandoned Plymouths, lost industries and declining family farms. Charlie Hunter captures that everyday beauty with realism and sympathy, his eye eager for the telling detail, the unusual viewpoint, and the unexpected angle." – ART NEW ENGLAND

Clair Dunn sees Vermont in black and white. Her rural images often capture the result of abandonment while "rural urban" images depict the very human and very comfortable scale of Vermont's towns. The former are fast vanishing, the latter we still have time to think about. She lives and works in Swanton.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Painting Progress

I've quickly learned that when working in oil you need to have more than one painting to work on.

As all Vermonters know, they make jokes about us sitting around "watching paint dry". Well, I've not been sitting around. I've been reading and watching videos. Two of those videos were so inspiring that I decided to break out another panel and go to my image library.

Before I get to the nitty-gritty, I want to name the two most inspiring videos I may have ever seen: The first--The Art of Oil Painting with Charles Evans was by a British painter and teacher, well-respected and often seen on British television. They are lucky. The second is by Alywn Crashaw--Oils for the Beginner, Part I. I watch it at least once a day. Good teachers are priceless, and alas, all too rare.

After absorbing these two videos I went through my color shots, taken while I was out hunting for black and white subjects. I stumbled on one, taken of what used to be our pond across the road in early autumn. It was simple and clean and I figured it would be a good place for me to start.

And so I began--nervous and excited almost to the point of combustion. Here is the result. I have learned much--beginning at the beginning. This is not the way I want to paint landscape, but I need to learn how to mix, how to use the brush, how to do those two things to get what I want on the canvas. This time I wanted to get this image onto canvas. That's all.

Still Pond - Early Autumn, Fletcher, Vermont 8" x 10"

I learned much doing this. Especially about mixing oils on the palette. I also learned that one needs to leave well enough alone at a certain point. (I did purposely set out to make this brighter than the photo because the part I was most interested in painting was the sky and I wanted a greater contrast.)

And, to further inspire me, this morning on Vermont Art Zine there was a post with two oils by S. P. Jackson. They are wonderful! I wish I could get to Middlebury to see them in the flesh. If you can get there, please go in my stead. What he said is what I want to do:

"...The title of the show comes from the fact I am not attempting to record an exact representation of a particular landscape. It is the lingering impression, the fleeting memory, that I want to capture and hold onto as our lives speed by in time and space.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Swanton Under Rain

My second sketch is not as good as my first but it did lead me to discover something. So that makes it worthwhile.

It was raining and we were waiting for a pizza to be ready, driving around until I said "stop". And I did this sketch (admittedly while being very hungry). Fortunately the pizza was much much better than the sketch.

After we got the pizza in the car, I remembered that I wanted a photograph of the view I had sketched, so we drove back. Turns out we didn't stop in exactly the same place, but close.

The next day I looked at the sketch and the image and something about the two shapes of the pavement in the foreground triggered something and I immediately started drawing on a canvas board. A couple of days later I had this:

Swanton Under Rain - 8" x 10" oil on canvas board

What I learned is that sketches aren't blueprints. They serve a purpose beyond the visual. I think the simplicity allows imagination a free range. If they've done their job, the transmutation happens quickly in the brain. Something snaps into focus that is not the sketch, but is of the sketch. The act of sketching makes us focus for just long enough that the brain absorbs its own vision of what we see and mulls it over, "painting" it with other images, other feelings, other pieces of ourselves until it becomes what it is we (in particular) really see.

For me in this case, I can make some guesses as to what got thrown into this sketch: maps, aerial views, my love of shapes and colors, interest in roof lines, my fascination with the weather, among other things which even I can't now consciously remember.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Found Art

The images below are the two sides of a heavy piece of metal about 2 by 3 inches that I found on the tarmac outside a St. Albans restaurant. (Smoking does have advantages.)
Sometimes you get really lucky and see something like this. Its jewel-like qualities are obvious, but to have a "hard copy" of oil on puddle is quite remarkable. I didn't do anything to it except wash off the dirt, take the shots, and hang it on my bulletin board.

Friday, September 21, 2012

On the edge and on edge

Since my last post (which is an important one for "my teacher" to see), I've been experiencing serious unrest and upheaval about my involvement with color and with painting.

 The pairing of the two images below is indicative of the shift which seems to be pushing me out of watercolor and into some other medium. I can hardly believe I just wrote that sentence. I think I'm realizing that the color that I love is the color I see on the watercolor palette, not on the paper.

 The making of the 400 squares of saturated color offered a drumbeat of working with pure colors. The photograph of the squares in the sunlight threw some kind of a switch in my brain.

Here are the images which hold the key to my future work with colors. 
Left: two-color etching. Right: watercolor - backyard reduced to shapes

The image on the left was made decades ago when I was wholly enraptured by intaglio. I was at the time trapped in a school which only offered a future in lithography, a medium that had absolutely no appeal for me. (It was at this point that I went on to graduate school in literature.) So, here am I, almost 40 years on from that red, looking for my medium, a medium that will give me the color that I want.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

From Sketch to Painting

Working with the sketch I posted here I translated it into watercolor.

Palette: Permanent Rose, Transparent Yellow, Cobalt Turquoise

I then went back to my "assignment" and translated this to pure flat shapes.

Palette: Permanent Alizarin, Cadmium Lemon, Cobalt Turquoise

The first one is done on the same rough WC paper I've been using right along, and also with the same stiff brush. The second on is on Cold Press WC paper which, while not smooth, is considerably smoother. I also used a flat WC brush which is much softer and more flexible.

I think I'm quite interested in the second one. But looking time will have to pass for me to know what comes next. I know though, that I will try another triad with the same shapes. But where to move beyond this, I don't know yet.

I broke down and ordered a block of Hot Pressed WC paper. One of those things which artists have to live with: I can't afford it, but I have to have it.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

First Sketch

Given an assignment to "look at the shadow shapes and negative shapes . . . base a painting on the empty space between the 'stuff' . . . crop down to a few shapes:"

I've ignored most of that for now because I am still trying to deal with a previous assignment of sketching. For some reason I seem to be deathly afraid of sketching. I avoid it for days and weeks while the idea of it lurks in my mind, then today suddenly, I left the computer grabbed the sketchbook and lunged to the table on the patio. The image below is shot from the patio table after I made the sketch:

Unfortunately, my courage to sketch arose on a thoroughly grey day. So there are no shadows in the photograph. However, the sun broke through briefly as I was sketching so I had some idea of light.

Below is the sketch I made. It is the first real one I've done. (I got a very nice roof line in Stowe last week, but it was in pencil, and I haven't yet made it look good in ink.)

In a slight nod to the assignment above, I cropped a section which I think can stand by itself.

And then one more, which also works by itself.

I'm fixated on my rather uninteresting backyard I think because, since the move, I've lost the yard I loved my whole life and am trying to elevate this feeble substitute to something substantial. So, I continue to look at it.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Palette Squared II

A few weeks ago I posted an image of the start of my palette chart.

I finished it this week--all 400 squares. When it was done I saw it as a piece of art in itself--more than an exercise. I took it out in the sunlight to photograph and realized it could stand alone (beyond a technical photograph of the squares themselves).

Even though my camera takes a huge image, I like the smallness here which makes the colors on the paper seem to blur and the whole more of an organic piece suited to a natural environment.

And, below, is the workaday image of the thing itself.

In making this, my whole focus, of course, was on color. Some colors got me itching to see them side by side or superimposed one on the other. And this of course led me to thinking about color field painting. Something I've not thought about in relation to my own work. I may have some thinking to do here.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A tentative step in the right direction

Backyard I, 4" x 6", watercolor on paper

Something about working on the squares and looking at Dove again just pushed me to do this. This is the second attempt--too much was not right with the first. This is better, but after doing this I realized I was not happy with the brush I was using. So I spent some time trying out brushes. There will be another version, but for now I needed to get something up that pushes me in the right direction. Which this does.

I don't yet know how to get full intensity watercolor on the paper without it being mottled; that's why I think it's a brush problem. When I get rid of the mottling, I think I'll be happy.

The palette for this was Cobalt Turquoise, Permanent Alizarin Crimson, and Cadmium Lemon. There is a tiny bit of Prussian Blue in the deep shadows.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Dove, Marin, and Hopper

I decided to post about well-known artists that make me sit still and look. Three of them are American.

Arthur Dove: Sunrise, 1937

Arthur Dove: Untitled, 1942

How I found out about him is detailed in this earlier post.

Many years ago I saw Hopper's Nighthawks, and like the rest of the world, was stunned and fascinated by it. Since moving back into art I have educated that fascination and find his work mesmerizing.

Edward Hopper: New York Movie, 1939

Edward Hopper: Rooms by the Sea, 1951

And finally, John Marin--again revisited in depth where I discovered his landscapes as opposed to his bridgescapes and cityscapes.

John Marin, Big Wood Island, 1914

With the addition of Cezanne's landscapes and most all of the Canadian Group of Seven, these are images which swirl in whatever part of my brain works with visual things. As much as I still love Nighthawks, I think, as an artist, I am more fascinated by Hopper's Rooms by the Sea: the shape of the light outlined by the shadows is riveting, that shape made even more powerful by what seems a simulacrum on the wall of the next room.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Merging of Blogs

In the interest of "getting it together" I have merged three of my other blogs into this one. If you were one of the few followers of

Vermont Directions (my Art of Action blog)

Vermilion Hue (my painting blog)

Clair Dunn PHOTOGRAPHY (my, duh, photography blog)

Their contents have all been moved to White River (you are here!). I am posting this because I don't know if Google transfers the followers along with the posts. My artist's web site however remains the same at:

Underground and Surreal

Two stunning images appeared today on the New York Times site. Both are by Richard Barnes (for the New York Times).

Both are beyond words.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Progress Squared

This is what I'm working on. It's my palette "squared". The squares outlined in dark pencil (hard to see, I know) are the colors straight from the tubes. They run in a diagonal from top left to bottom right. Each of the other squares is a saturated mix of the two colors which meet at that square.

It is taking a lot of time, but it is fascinating and wholly instructive. I put this partial up here, in anticipation of when the paper is full. It should be truly splendid. I consider this my medicine which will make me better. And, to be sure, it is the finest medicine I have ever taken.

Thursday, July 26, 2012


I think it time to rejuvenate White River. I would say that approximately two and half years of my life have been framed by the act of selling my house and land and moving. Miserable, nerve-wracking, painful, agonizing, and finally wholly debilitating. Today is the one-year anniversary of the paper signing and moving.

As the process escalated my creative life declined in direct proportion. I cannot remember the last time I had a creative impulse that wasn't "faked" or created artificially while I tried to fool myself into believing I was still an artist.

I realized I needed help. I got it in the form of a morning with Shanley Triggs who gave me a lesson in how to begin a watercolor painting. VALUES VALUES VALUES. That was a week ago Wednesday. She also loaned me a book How To Make Colors Sing by Jeanne Dobie. As I listened to Shanley, I honestly felt something stir inside. After she left I ordered a palette like hers (a Pike's palette) and the Dobie book.

The next day Susan Abbott, on a two-day painting trip through the Champlain Islands, spent the night. We talked far past my bed-time about many things. The next morning I told her about Shanley's lesson and she asked to see my sketch. She got her sketch book and we stood on the back porch for 45 minutes while she talked and I listened. While she sketched and I watched. I felt fire in the belly at last. Onto the fire which Shanley had lit, Susan poured gasoline.

Now I am waiting for the palette, which has not yet arrived, so that I can set it up per Susan's instructions and with the colors on the list she gave me. I will be making a palette chart with saturated colors also per instruction.

I've given you the description of what has happened; for what my soul has felt, there are no words that are not overused, and I refrain from trying to embellish the simple word "grateful".

That black hole inside me is now being filled with colors again.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Virginia Woolf's Birthday

. . . is today. One of the major contributors to the advancement of the British novel. Master of language. Lover of words. Supreme craftsman. Brilliant critic. Born on this day in 1882.

CS101 at

Just signed up for Building a Search Engine. It's a 7-week course offered by one of the two Stanford professors who taught last year's AI course. That was a free course and a wildly successful experiment in Open Source Education.

One of them, Sebastian Thrun has since left Stanford to start Udacity. An online, open source university. I mean folks, this is gold on a platter. There are two instructors: Thrun, a Google Fellow, and David Evans, CS prof at University of Virginia and an MIT grad.

I've never used this term before, but two things are happening now to urge me to do it. The NEXT BIG THING. This idea and Raspberry-Pi. Two major efforts to educate those who want to be educated about computers. Doing the job our schools and universities are not. Sure, you can get a CS degree just about anywhere, but how about the youngsters coming down the pike? They show up in my community college classes knowing absolutely nothing about how computers work. Where will they get the spark that might set them on fire to learn, to experiment, to chase, to fiddle, to solve--to create, invent?

I'm not talking about students who pick CS as a major because it's where the jobs might be most available. I'm talking about the students who will dive into the field with passion, wonder, curiosity, and creativity. Those folks don't go after jobs; they go after knowledge and skill simply because they want to.

Monday, January 2, 2012

New Web Site

Starting the New Year with a New web site. I've moved all the contents of what was my personal directory hanging off to I cannot believe that I got this domain at this late date! My jaw is still dropping.

Anyway, it's got all the old stuff, plus new stuff as it comes along. Today I added a page for the Raspberry-Pi -- can't wait to get my hands on one. That is one page you need to check out!