He’s been known to draw with his eyes closed. At the beginning of one of Michael Dunn’s sketch series called "Accidental Marks," he puts pencil to paper blind, allowing his hand and mind free movement. Then, opening his eyes, he begins to shade, making this line or that darker, or pulling a feature or a figure out of hiding, until something dream-like emerges.
Dunn says working on "Accidental Marks" is a way to unwind. When he draws the plan of a luxury home through Michael Dunn Design, his focus is much more precise and directed. He's helped restore the Rose Street Market and the historic Salvation Army building in Kalamazoo as well as many downtown storefronts. Dunn also specializes in designing single-family homes.
Dunn has worked as an architect since 1972, but he's also a painter, a printmaker, a photographer, a teacher, and a doodler. Dunn co-founded Kalamazoo Book Arts, where he's an instructor and past president.
“Everything around me inspires me,” Dunn says. “I just keep my eyes open. It’s usually about relationships. If I paint boats, it will be how the boats relate, how close they are, whether they are talking to each other, whether they are ignoring each other. Same thing with my chair series: the chairs are stand-ins for people. They’re metaphors, something more than just the obvious.”
Dunn chuckles when asked about how he became interested in art. He at first denies that he was raised in a family of artists. But then, after further thought, he admits that the Dunn family was a collection of creatives.
“Strangely enough, we never thought of ourselves as artistic,” he says. “My mother liked to do the standard craft type of work, like knitting or rug weaving. We didn’t have much art on the walls, but my sister turned into a writer, my brother is a creative chef, and I get to do these other things. And my dad, he had a job in a complaint department in a factory. He would have three-by-five note cards and doodle faces on them. I think some of the influence I have on my doodling is from my father.”
Dunn creates his "Accidental Marks" series, sketch by sketch, every day.
“'Accidental Marks' is more for a release,” he says. “It’s letting myself explore different ideas. I put a drawing on my Facebook page, called 'Accidental Marks,' every week. The interesting thing is that 70 percent or more of my followers are from Spain, about 20 percent are from France, and the balance are from England and the United States. For years, I never showed anybody what was in my sketchbooks, and now, I’m showing it to just about everybody.”
Dunn’s other love is photography. Much of his work with the camera involves extreme close-ups, seeking details the eye often misses in passing. He also posts his photographs online every day, gathering a following of admirers. The subjects are usually plants, small animals, and insects, or sometimes the dogs and cats in the house he shares with librarian and poet Marsha Meyer in Richland.
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