Meet Jed Dunkerley, the talent behind the COVID-inspired home learning program from Burke Museum, Drawing Wild Washington. Kids (and adults) are invited to learn how to draw Washington native plants and animals via this engaging new video series. A new episode is released each Monday and Thursday on the Burke from Home website, plus free printable coloring pages, focusing on topics like Puget Sound Wetlands, Temperate Rainforest, and more.
Hi, Jed! Tell us a bit about your drawing background.
I grew up in Nashville, Tennessee, and while my parents encouraged and supported my drawing tendencies, they didn’t themselves draw, and the cultural niche I grew up in was devoid of strong visual arts institutions, gallery culture, home collections, or professional ambitions. My elementary school art teacher and high school art teachers were amazing, and kept the fire quietly burning.
Later on, I studied geology in college, but realized that I had chosen fields of study (paleontology and geomorphology) that relied heavily on visualizations, and I ended up enjoying the illustration more than the science. Fast forward two years to 1997, I ended up in Seattle, and I enrolled at the Art Institute of Seattle and got an Associate’s in Applied Arts degree, which I parlayed into a job at a local animation studio doing low level work for kids’ video games. After four years in the animation world, I decided to try my hand at teaching. That was 16 years ago.
What have you been up to since beginning your teaching career?
Since then, I hosted a regular weekly figure drawing class of my own for 7 years at Canoe Social Club- an artists co-op on Capitol Hill, co-founded an arts collaborative group called PDL, helped out with arts programming for a place called Smoke Farm, worked with Greg Lundgren supporting the annual Out of Sight art show at King Street Station, and got involved with showing my own painting at Linda Hodges Gallery in Pioneer Square.
Describe your drawing style in ten words or less:
Subtly cartooned realism informed by underlying geometry and practiced observation
What is your favorite media to make art?
It’s a tie between acrylic paint and ink/gouache.
How did you get involved with Burke from Home during quarantine?
An old friend and collaborator from Smoke Farm days, named Kate Fernandez [contacted me]. The Burke wisely hired her as the Director of Interpretation, and she has used her knowledge of and relationships within the local arts and crafts scene to bring an infusion of local talent into the museum programming. It started with me drawing a temporary T-Rex mural on butcher paper to hide the prep room while they loaded in the T-Rex skull two years ago. Kate had seen a mural I had done at Canoe Social Club, and knew I was a dinosaur buff. [Next] I did a big natural history timeline mural in a classroom at the old Burke that kids could paint on top of, like a giant wall-sized coloring book. Then [I did] the ecosystems mural this past fall. [Drawing Wild Washington is] building on past successes and my basic desire to do anything that the Burke asks…I’m a natural history museum groupie, of a sort.
Which aspects of the Burke Museum connect with your style of art making and/or your artistic interests?
Definitely the connection between culture and nature, due to their cross-focus on anthropology and natural history. I didn’t grow up with the fine arts in my family or culture, did more technical illustration in science labs than I ever did classical painting. I come to art from more of an empirical background- using art to communicate specific ideas, as an illustrator, and having my art be very observation-based, like a scientist. I pride myself on technical clarity, detail-work, and a very familiar graphic style, moreso than being innovative, or having a style that’s uniquely recognizable. I like to tell stories that are easy to understand; more function over form. I think it fits the mission to have art communicate information in an educational museum setting.
How do you think the program, and art & drawing in general, is helpful during this difficult time?
I think, for me, this break from the usual routine has allowed me to slow down and notice the basic forms beneath our busy cultural noise. I’ve always been opportunistic about taking on more and more projects and collaborations, in this incredibly rich network of makers and doers in Seattle, that I wouldn’t ever give myself the gift of slowing down. I realized that in slowing down a bit, you notice things you would normally walk right by, or take for granted. Doing these videos, I had to externalize that process, and explain it, and I realized it actually took some practice and rehearsal. I couldn’t just ‘wing it’ because I had to explain what I was doing. It’s helped me, and I hope can help others, focus more deeply on the little things all around us, in nature, that we take for granted. And, in doing so, it’s made me see that I don’t need to have a travelogue of trips around the world, and full social calendars, and promises of bigger and more and better, I just need to take stock of what I already have around me, look more intensely at the details, and be thankful for its tremendous beauty and wonder. So, in that way, the quarantine has been a gift that I wouldn’t have ever given myself.
What have you learned through the process of Drawing Wild Washington?
That my hair isn’t made-for-TV … just kidding. But really, that letting myself be ‘real’, rather than fretting about every second of every take, and how my voice sounds funny, or how my fingers look weird, or how I messed something up. In other words; just being a little vulnerable and rolling with it, was kind of just a metaphor for what we’re all doing these days … trying to make the best out of something hard, and not expect perfection. [We live in a time and society in which] people curate their social media images meticulously, and professional video crews re-shoot scenes dozens of times to get every little thing perfect. Doing this yourself, with limited resources and time, requires you to get over it, and hope people can relate to the authenticity of the instruction. If that [idea] can ripple through our culture more; [the idea] that kids can [take risks and] make and produce their own things, even if they’re not the best in their class, or headed to Hollywood. [The hope is that young people] can connect to the experience they’re having, learn while being productive rather than just consumptive, and strive to keep being inspired by interacting in new ways with the world around them. Those are great things that I learned by doing this, and hope others can too.