Su Clauson-Wicker special for the Roanoke Times
There is something magical about Blake Gore’s miniature drawings, their intense, meticulously crafted focus on a small scene – a quality that invites everyone to see the world more closely. Creating designs that measure no more than 4 inches by 4 inches requires concentration and a steady hand.
“Every stitch, every little line matters so much, so it’s quite stressful,” Gore said. “On the other hand, it takes so much attention that I get lost in it. I enjoy the process.
Although Gore has only recently declared himself a professional artist, many locals have seen his distinctive little prints at shows and festivals, including Blacksburg’s Steppin’ Out, Christiansburg’s Christmas on Main, and Roanoke’s Sidewalk Art Show. What most don’t realize is that Gore picked up the drawing pen just four years ago, in response to a challenge on social media.
“La Maison de l’Illustration has launched a challenge on Twitter to submit a new drawing every day for 30 days. The catch was doing it in a 1 inch by 1 inch space,” Gore said. “It was super fun. I was dropping a drawing every day for breakfast. After doing it for 30 days, I kind of made it part of my routine.
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Gore, 41, spent 15 years in career counseling, at Vanderbilt University’s School of Management and most recently as director of Radford University’s Career Center until early 2021 He shoots on commission and sells his work at shows, online and locally at Blacksburg’s Original Frames. He continues a part-time career counseling business and says he follows his advice to students to be lifelong learners, take risks and follow their passion – which drives him into the world art.
“I haven’t taken art classes since my sophomore year in high school,” Gore said. “I wanted to draw when I was little. From time to time, I bought paint but I gave up halfway through a project, telling myself that it would be useless. I have been a perfectionist for 30 years.
Gore’s interest in art gradually faded. He said he felt compelled to specialize and put all his energy into his consulting work.
“I’m more of a generalist by nature. Now I give myself permission to dabble,” he said.
The challenge of drawing miniatures started his artistic process. Gore leaned into capturing fine detail but loved the restrictive scale.
“There’s not a lot of design you can do in a square inch,” Gore said. “You do it, you’re done, and you apply what you’ve learned to the next drawing.”
Although Gore is endlessly creative in his art, he is very precise, almost compulsive about certain parts of his drawing routine. He still uses a fine 0.15mm nib and greatly prefers fluorescent light or his mother’s highly directional sewing machine lamp to natural light. It never, ever uses magnification; it distorts. And although he occasionally uses watercolors within the limits of his ink drawings, he is not ready to try watercolors.
“I’m too tense,” he said.
Gore has honed his ability to focus, doing 75% of his drawing in the home he shares with his wife, Lori, and their four home-schooled children, ages 9 to 15. They also have a lively huskie hybrid, a dog that will really eat Gore’s “homework”.
“She chewed on my pen and splattered ink all over the room,” Gore said.
Gore says one of the advantages of working in miniatures is the cost. All he needs to take his work somewhere else is his zippered notebook and pen. His works are cheap to ship, easy to transport to shows, and inexpensive to produce.
“I’ve been through maybe a pen so far, not counting the one the dog has had. I don’t use a lot of paper; I also draw on acorns, tea labels, even wrappers of Dum Dums. My kids call me the cheapest dad in the world,” Gore said.
He passes on his low expenses to his customers. At festivals he is often squeezed between acrylic artists whose large paintings sell for thousands. He charges between $25 and $50 for his prints and his originals sell for between $200 and $750. Its rates for commissioned works typically start at $300.
“I want to keep my art accessible,” he said.
Gore will draw everything except people. He says he can’t get the facial detail needed to capture individuality in a miniature. He drew pets and houses, trees and wine bottles as well as bookstores, barns and birds. He drew many landmarks, from the Floyd Country Store and Burruss Hall at Virginia Tech to Duke University Chapel. He has done commissioned work detailing Paint Bank Lodge and designed beloved plush toys for college-bound teenagers.
Gore’s small works have received awards at the 2021 Boardwalk Art Show at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art and the 2021 Neptune Art Festival in Virginia Beach. He is represented in the current ‘Art of Laughter’ exhibition at the William King Museum of Art, Abingdon, through July 3, and will travel to 20 art exhibitions and festivals across the South and Midwest this year, including including the Taubman Sidewalk Art Show in Roanoke in June. .
See his drawings online at blakegore.com and instagram.com/blakegore.