Author: Geri Dunn

Western Graphite Artist

Defining the West – Artwork by Geri Dunn

“Tell me your story.”

Lately, I have been getting this a lot. If I wasn’t an artist and hadn’t already thought about this exact question, I wonder how easy it would be to convey my story. Luckily, I have put a lot of thought and focus on my story – and this is what it means to me every time I make a piece of artwork. To see my art, please visit my website.

Defining the West

Since a small child, I’ve loved discovering the history and the stories that defined the West. Looking back on my childhood, I feel fortunate to be raised in an area rich with history and culture, forming the foundation for my artwork. 

Growing up in the Santa Ynez Valley, steeped with a wealth of ranching and cowboy traditions, it ignited a passion for understanding the history that characterized our nation. Needless to say, I fell in love with the cowboy and the traditions surrounding me. These traditions fueled my imagination and desire to understand the American Culture.

In attempting to understand these traditions, I discovered how closely intertwined the Native Americans impacted American culture. Upon discovering a book “Ishi, Living in Two Worlds” it helped me immensely understand the plight and impact of our heritage as Americans. The book documents one of the last living members of the Yahi tribe, his story and what his story meant to Americans in the early 1900’s. His story symbolizes the disappearance of the Native American, the loss of a culture and the impact Native American traditions had in characterizing the West. 

While the Cowboy and the Native American inspired dreams of independence and freedom, the transcontinental railroad connected the young country. Ultimately, the railroad helped to fuel the dreams of hundreds yearning for a new beginning, with the unwritten promise of independence, excitement and exploration. These unwritten promises changed the lives of so many. Because the trains were the most modern industrial product available, the western frontier experienced dramatic changes. These changes came fast to our young nation, ultimately impacting the lives of Native Americans and the Cowboy.  

The crossroads from the expansion of our frontier with the lives of the Native Americans and the Cowboy depleted the resources vital for the longevity of these cultures. What remains has become the core of the American psyche, still fueling dreams of freedom and adventure. This is the foundation that has enveloped my passion for creating artwork, forming the roots that characterize my artwork. My hope is to convey my passion for understanding and appreciating the complex events that define the West. The artifacts, animals and stories behind each painting portray those stories in great detail. Ultimately, I hope my artwork ignites an appreciation for the events and people that defined the West. 


~ Geri


Better Together – the story behind the painting

How do I get the names for my paintings… and the story behind it.

So yesterday I posted a snippet from a song I really can connect with. If you missed it, it was titled “Better Together” by Jack Johnson. Here is the song, if you’d like to listen to it.

Better Together FinalI had just recently finished this painting and was waiting for a title to come to me. When I heard the song, I knew it was the perfect name for the piece. I can only imagine the difficulties and struggles living as a child on the big open prairies could offer.

Having explored the big open prairies along some of the old forts still in existence, the prairie is vast, and not much to see. One of the fort guides explained that the only thing you could see as you made your way West was the garrison flag. You could see it for 2 days out.

If you stop and think about that little tidbit … the only thing you could see out on the prairie was the garrison US Flag for 2 days… along with the wind-swept prairies, and any animals that might have dotted the horizon.

In today’s world, we see tons of buildings and planes and cars and endless other sites. To only see a flag for 2 days as you traveled West. The possibilities and promises of a better life would be endless.

The Story Behind the Painting

I find the story behind each painting is usually what jump starts my painting.  picturvfve1For instance, my newest painting – untitled and still  a work-in-progress on the easel – started from performing some historical research on mountain men.

In this painting, the map in the background is from an 1820 map of Louisiana, with markings of Native American dwellings, mountains and rivers, along with known trails and forts. The rivers have been marked in red where this particular mountain man has laid his traps and found success.

I am fascinated with history and how that impacted us today…

The Mountain Man

A mountain man required him to be very mobile, and have his necessary tools with him at all times. His tools included his rifle, his tomahawk, and his possibles bag. A possibles bag carried the mountain man’s necessities, such as knife and flint. He was free to travel long distances with the help of the horse. The pack horse carried supplies and beaver pelts. Wild meat was often their only source of food.

Mostly, living the life of a mountain man was a lonely existence. Some Native American tribes, such as the Blackfeet, saw the mountain men as a threat to their way of life. Mountain men did make friends with many other American Indian tribes. Mountain men also were able to connect with others during summer rendezvous, where they were able to trade and sell their pelts. 

After 1840, the beaver population drastically declined and the demand for beaver pelts decreased. This resulted in a change of lifestyle for many mountain men, who became guides or scouts for the traveling wagon trains heading to the West. The mountain man was the perfect candidate to lead the wagon trains to the best route to Oregon and California, because they had already explored its unknown territory and learned to survive in its hostile environment.

In my opinion, without the mountain man and his earlier explorations, settling the West would have been vastly different and much more challenging.


Why Art Programs in School is vital to Child Development

s7kt4vmq-1396412167When kids are young, every drawing is perfection – and it usually makes the ultimate location of the refrigerator.  Children are intuitive in their understanding of composition. They understand better than adults the simplicity of composition.

Once, art in school was an important tool taught and nurtured to our children. Research has shown that children who are provided the opportunity to be creative are able to process writing better, question scientific processes quicker and develop other areas of learning because of continuing the creative ability to draw and paint.

Children who draw before they tackle writing tasks produce better writing – it’s longer, more syntactically sophisticated and has a greater variety of vocabulary. It is likely this is because the act of drawing concentrates the mind on the topic at hand, and provides an avenue for rehearsal before writing – rather like a first draft where they can sort things out before having to commit words to a page.picthygjtgure1

We understand things more deeply when we see them from multiple perspectives. Drawing what you have understood from a reading passage, drawing the science experiment you have just done or drawing the detail of an autumn leaf are all examples of engaging with the same learning from a different angle.

For most children, this helps consolidate the learning but for some children it can be the key they have been waiting for to open the door to the learning. The confidence and self belief this gives them can change their attitude and engagement with other aspects of schooling. This is disastrous, not just for the Arts and all their intrinsic worth – but for the reading and writing skills we are so focused on improving.

Research from cutbacks to Art Programs in school are already having a huge impact on our education system. For more information, continue to Let Kids Draw .


My Top 5 Best Paintings from 2018

I got this idea from a fellow blogger who is a photographer, and thought it was really a wonderful idea.

A great exercise to do at the end of each year for any artist is to select your 5 best pieces of artwork. By doing this annually, you can (hopefully!) see improvement and growth. It is also a fun way to reflect on the year and look ahead to the new one.

One major challenge in selecting the “best” pieces of art is the artist own personal feelings that came with the creation of that piece of artwork. The common thread, as I selected each piece is the history that came with each piece. I really feel the history of the artifact tells such a huge part of the painting. The research itself is just as much fun for me as the actual process of painting.

2018 was a year of challenges, and I think this played a huge part in my growth as an artist. I did very few graphite drawings, as my time was pulled in many different directions. I plan on altering that this year.

Without further ado, here are my top 5 best paintings in 2018, in chronological order.

5. Vintage Saddle Pack

vintage saddle pack final

I saw this vintage saddle pack while delivering artwork for an upcoming art show at Museum of Western Art in Kerrville, Texas.

The detail from the saddle blanket looks itchy, and the colors are authentic from the era that this saddle pack would have been used, probably during the early 1900’s.

I was taken by this saddle pack. Just imagine the stories this piece could tell, the places its been and the miles logged.

4. Sun Kissed – Color Study sun kissed final

This is probably the only painting I did last year that was completely different for me. In early August, I took this reference photo. I loved the way the light bounced off of the flowers in the background. It really seems like the sun kissed these lovely little flowers, and the challenge for me was to see if I could recreate the effect.

I absolutely loved the way it turned out.


3. Hawk Bells

hawk bells finalWhat I discovered with this piece is the fascination the Native Americans had with simple items brought to America by the Europeans.

That is exactly the case with the hawk bells incorporated in this headdress. The Europeans utilized hawk bells to attach to their hawks and falcons. Native Americans incorporated them into a form of decoration. Hawk Bells became a “must have” and in high demand.

2. Sunday’s Finest

sunday's finest finalThis painting depicts a wonderful set of antique Garcia Spurs, spread across the mantle with a saddle blanket.

The story of Garcia spurs is straight from a page of Old West history. Learning his craft near my hometown in Santa Margarita, California, G.S. Garcia became a legend for the finest spurs available.

At the time these spurs were made  near the turn of the century, these probably were Sunday’s Finest.


1. Warrior’s Knife

warrior's knife final

What I love about this painting is… well… all of it.

I love the vibrant colors of the Indian blanket, the texture of the tiny beads on the hide of the knife sheath, the brass tacks that line the sheath and the texture of the antler and the blanket.

Painting red is an intimidating color, and it requires getting the bold color right, on each and every layer (there are probably 12 layers on this particular painting).  I was really happy with the vibrant colors, the textures and the mood of this painting.

And with that sums up my 2018. I learned so much, and am excited to see what paintings I create this year.

Paint Horse

Nash Final.png

I don’t think I could ever get tired of drawing horses. Not surprisingly, I get asked if I love horses. While I do love horses, and love horseback riding, it is not just the animal itself that I love.

The horse embodies the spirit of freedom. The horse embodies the wild passion that runs deep in all of us. The horse is the vehicle that ties us to the earth, and helps us to understand how to treat others in this world.

This drawing of a palomino paint horse named Nash belongs to one of my trusted collectors. It was a pleasure and an honor to draw such a beautiful horse.