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Recreating Newtown's Main Street In Watercolors



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Sunlight on a small white page brought out a pink blush to petals painted alongside one Main Street façade - a scene resident Chuck Fulkerson rendered in transparent watercolors. Last May, he had an idea as he watched the dogwoods bloom and saw their pale splashes of color against the Matthew Curtiss House. He thought, "Blossoms against the deep red of the house were great." He started there with what has become a series of roughly 12 watercolors that he has done of Main Street homes.

"I thought that I would do a dozen, maybe a baker's dozen," he said. His plans for the paintings he makes? He intends to print note cards and a calendar. "I need snow scenes" to complete the work, he said.

In past weeks Mr Fulkerson has been a familiar sight along Main Street. With a sketchbook balanced on his lap, he adds watercolor to thick paper composed of rag that has been blended and poured by hand. There on his notebook canvas he has recreated iconic house fronts and lawns, casting them in gentle pastels.

He and his dog, Elmer, have drawn attention, he said. "A lot of people have said they have seen me and my dog, and generally like what they see." Elmer, "the babe magnet," has been with him frequently during his watercolor project.

But few people know the details of what he holds in his hands: a 20-year-old sable-haired brush. "You can load it with color, charge it with color and can still get it into a point," he said. "It's about the fluidity to it."

With his rag paper resting on his knees, he explained the nuance the page brings to his work. The hot-press page has a plate finish. "The paint doesn't soak in as quickly," he said. "I can still manipulate the paint." Flipping to one image with a tree dressed in autumn hues - burnt sienna, oranges, reds, yellows, he noted the layers of paint. "I like dropping color onto other color," he said. Rubbing the page and testing its surface, he said, "White paper shows through," his transparent paint colors and "gives it its vibrancy."

Why Main Street? He loves the history and the architecture, he said.

"I think that Main Street is an extraordinary time line of [more than] 200 years of American architecture." He names styles including Greek Revival, Victorian, and Craftsman, saying that Main Street "is really a showcase, and an exquisite one at that." Thinking of the lineage and legacy attached to the architecture, he said, "We are so lucky to have such a treasure chest of houses."

Each image "takes me about three sittings to do the paintings; they are small, but that doesn't mean they aren't very detailed."

He said, "Drawing and painting involves intense observation. Seeing things as they actually are and not what you have preconceived is especially tricky with perspective." Describing his work, he said, "You compare shapes, negative space, and if you don't get perspective right in architecture? It's vital." Mr Fulkerson's strength "is color, and I always say I can hide inadequacies with color, but I have gotten to draw pretty well after 50 years."

Each sitting lasts a few hours, as the light changes all the time, he said.

The watercolor project on Main Street began in May and Mr Fulkerson anticipates finishing with one of the darker façades and with snow on the ground.

His Pastime

"I draw and paint all the time concurrently," Mr Fulkerson said, from sublime - the houses on Main- to the ridiculous.He is also doing drawings and pastels of Newtown bar settings and the activity and people within.

"I started going to bars to watch [sports] and I like drawing in bars because people are drinking and talking and candid." He also keeps a painting diary "and I draw in it all the time and when I travel. I travel by train and draw people."

Also a hospice volunteer, Mr Fulkerson said, "I draw the people I visit."

From his car on Tuesday morning, November 8, he pulled out a lawn chair, a leash for Elmer, a glass jar full of brushes, and several books, one filled with images of bars and trains, pastels, sketches, and watercolors.

Flipping through his pages he noted local Newtown establishments and musicians, bartenders, proprietors, and patrons - poised with one hand on the tap, fingers on the strings, stein halfway raised, eyes on a baseball game, one another, or elsewhere.

He has been drawing people, "and they are intriguing; everyone is different and the poses change and they move around all the time and you build up a visual vocabulary." He said, "She has her chin in one hand and a beer in the other and probably won't stay that way long, but if you draw enough, you're used to the proportions."

He also likes trains, and turned a page to show a young man by a window: a picture of his son on a train overlooking a railroad bridge.

One the book's first pages is a hospice patient, one of several images where the subject was aware that Mr Fulkerson was putting them on paper.

He enjoys drawing contemporaneously, he said, and turned to a sketch of a series of postures of men removing docks from the water. Mixed into the book were images of Boston street scenes, more "subway people," he said. "I'll draw anything I get a chance to." Next he came to a Newburgh, N.Y., sketch of a waiter serving up a tray full of oysters. He and his son had been at the restaurant, he said. "It was $1 special on oysters." His son ate 18.

Page after page of boats in watercolor, beach scenes, and a last piece of trains over the Hudson River filled his book. Of the Hudson piece, he said, "Done on site."

His Background

Mr Fulkerson has lived in Newtown on Currituck Road for 25 years. He grew up in Waterbury and Roxbury and has an anthropology degree. "I wanted to 'Go west young man,'" he said, and attended Stanford University in California.

His paintings have landed in some prominent places. One painting of Main Street was on the cover of a Reader's Digest calendar, around the mid-90s. He has had many paintings in that calendar through the years, he said, "even though I was a writer."

He has been featured in The News Times and The Newtown Bee for his railroad books and the calendar cover. "I am a fanatic about railroads and I wrote and illustrated a book about steam engines," which was published by Parragon Books in roughly 2006, titled Great Steam Trains. He has three books - two for adults, and one of which he illustrated - which are available in the C.H. Booth Library.

A retired copy chief at Reader's Digest in the North American Promotion Department, Mr Fulkerson was employed there for 20 years. After retiring five years ago, he said, "I still do some writing and I do a lot of painting."

Early in his journalism career, in the mid-70s, he had taken a job in Wisconsin. He said, "They knew I was a painter and they asked me to paint or illustrate stories. That is where I got a start in illustrating, but that's a hard way to make a living, so I went into writing." He illustrated several articles and "got the bug from that."

Happy at home in Newtown, Mr Fulkerson said, "I have lived a lot of places: Wisconsin, Italy, California, but I love Connecticut." He said, "I consider myself lucky, I've got two great kids and a dog and a beautiful house and I like what I do and I have wonderful friends."

He said the

Reader's Digest "was high pressure" but that pressure is gone now.

Contact Mr Fulkerson at fulkerson1947@gmail.com or reach him at 203-270-8492 to inquire about cards or a calendar of his paintings.

Resident Chuck Fulkerson has been creating watercolors of Main Street facades since May, and with a confident hand, due to a background in illustrating. He spent time Tuesday morning, November 8, in front of 35 Main Street, one of roughly a dozen homes now in the pages of his notebook. He plans to make cards and a calendar out of the images, and is waiting for snowfall to complete the project. (Bee Photos, Bobowick)
Elmer wags his tail and appears to contemplate the front stoop at 35 Main Street, one of a dozen homes that resident Chuck Fulkerson began drawing and painting in transparent watercolors in May. (Bee Photos, Bobowick )
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