Blake Gore Interview

This pen-and-ink artist deals with life in miniature.

Though artist Blake Gore’s started out down the teaching career path,  he took a chance when he saw a Twitter drawing challenge, and it opened up a whole new creative passion and profession.

It started off with the daily drawing exercises of the challenge. But by the time the month was up, he didn’t want the fun to stop. More and more of his time was devoted to art and soon Gore decided to take to the road, to see what others thought of his miniature creations.

At the 48th Annual Neptune Festival Art & Craft Show in Virginia Beach, he earned an Award of Merit from the jury; this was followed by a Sand Dollar Award: Honorable Mention at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art’s Boardwalk Art Show. (And that was just the start.)

Demand only soared from there, with corporate commissions—from places like Visit Oxford—and group exhibits in Virginia and along the East Coast.


Konstantin Rega: So what brought you and your family to Virginia? 

Blake Gore: My family and I moved to the New River Valley about two years ago. And have just fallen in love. I mean, I don’t think we’ll ever leave. So we live in Christiansburg. And it’s been wonderful to be so close to the Appalachian Trail; we hike a lot and really enjoy the outdoors.

I initially came to the area to work at Radford University. During COVID I had a lot of time for that reflection, and then my art just kind of started to get a lot of attention. And I thought it was a good time to kind of step away from a career in higher education—which I’d been in for 15 or 16 years—and create a little bit more space to lean into my artwork. Increasingly, art has become more of a full-time gig.

And when did they kind of start taking off? 

Yeah, so the first time I started drawing miniatures, or really started drawing, was in 2018. I saw a Twitter challenge to draw one-inch-by-one-inch drawings every day for a month. I’d never really drawn since I was a kid. I just thought it’d be fun. So did it. After 30 days, it was just sort of fun. And people liked them, too. Then it just became a thing. 

So less than a year later, I was doing a show in New York City. The rest is history. I just started to pour more and more time and energy into it. And the reception has been good.

I spent most of my career in education. I always told my students that there’s never been a better time in human history to learn something. Really, all you need is an internet connection and just the time and willpower and that’s really what it was. I never had a single art class when I was a sophomore in high school, but I took advantage of YouTube videos and studied pieces of art.

So the obvious next question is: where do you draw your inspiration from (excusing the pun)?

My subject matter is pretty broad. I mean, I draw all sorts of things that I’m interested in, and I just happen to be interested in almost everything! But I would say things that tend to interest me a lot are bookstores; they’re really fun to draw. Just because there’s so many little details and I like trying to pack in as much as I can. 

Architecture is a lot of fun, too. And I like trying to recreate classic works of art. I’ve done a number of Van Gogh’s and a few Rembrandt’s. I draw a lot of nature, trees, wildlife, things like that. 

But I would say, the biggest inspiration, I think though, is just the challenge of working with that space constraint, and trying to create as much as I can, within a very little space, with very few tools. 

Most of my work is just pen and ink. And I can tell people, ink work is just a combination of dots and lines. You just have to figure out how you’re gonna lay them down. I feel like these days, there are so many things that are big and extravagant. But I like the idea of slowing people down to really focus in on something small. I think that helps put people into a moment. 

When I do shows, for example: a lot of people are walking about the festival and it’s easy to walk straight by or just glance at books without slowing down. But you can’t do that with my stuff. And I just think it’s cool that there’s this tiny little space that has this person’s full attention, at least for a few moments.

Have you done any larger-scale projects, like a full town?

Well, there’s a little neighborhood in Nashville where I lived for 10 years called Five Points. And I kind of did an aerial drawing of the streets converging and tried to capture the trees and buildings. But I would love to do, like, a larger city. 

The challenge for me is that it would have to be larger than a square inch. And one of the attractions of working really small is that I know I can finish them quickly. But with larger formats, and my obsession with detail, I would go on forever. So with that tiny space and working in a frenzy is just a great fit for my perfectionism.

So what are you working on currently?

Oh, man. I’m always working on something. So, right now I’m in the middle of show seasons. So there’s a lot going on in terms of making sure that I have enough original artwork to take to shows and I’m constantly doing a number of commissions. I do a lot of homes for people. Just waiting on the final go for drawing a Frank Lloyd Wright home in Ohio, which is really cool. The owners—I met them at a show recently—were interested in having a tiny drawing of that. Yes, there’s just always something going on!

Are there any favorites that you’ve drawn over the years?

I love the little independent bookstores I’ve done. I think they capture people’s imagination. I’ve drawn a few pieces of currency as well. So I drew a $100 bill, that’s about half the size of my pinky. And a $5 bill that’s even a bit smaller. The $5 one is actually exhibited at the William King Museum. And because of the area I live in, I’ve started to draw more local things like Lane Stadium at Virginia Tech. A lot of people really enjoyed that.

And I do a lot of artwork on tea bag tags. Oh, I would say those are probably my favorite types right now. And I think it taps into another thing that’s important to me: the idea of sustainability. By working with such a small space, not requiring a lot of materials, I like the idea of: creating a lot but not consuming a lot. And with the tea bag tags, there’s also the aspect of upcycling something. It’s kind of reimagining what “the canvas” is.

Have you ever thought about using other materials? 

Oh yeah. I’ve got hundreds of drawings on leaves and acorns, on candy wrappers, on my hand—anything that’s around me long enough is probably getting drawn on.

You’ve also designed the Virginia Festival of the Book logo. How was that?

That came about just because I’ve drawn so many bookstores. So it was a lot of fun working on that with them. The arch of books invites readers to take a closer look at what this festival really is—a mosaic of stories. Each book in the logo contains a unique narrative, yet all of them come together to celebrate a shared love of books and the people who create and enjoy them.

And so, for the viewer, what do you think they get out of it? Is there something specific that you want them to get out of a drawing?

I mean, some of it comes down to whatever the subject matter is. But I like the idea of surprising people with what’s possible. And people ask, “So do you draw these big and shrink them down?” And I’ll say no, of course. But I like reminding people that we can do things that maybe we didn’t think were possible before. 

It’s a really strange mix of being stressed out and an act that’s really calming and therapeutic in the sense that you’re so focused on this that you’re not thinking about anything else. You’re very much in the moment.

Where do you think this is taking you? Where do you want to go with it?

You know, right now, I’m on the road a lot. I did 20 to 25 shows last year. So it’s been fun to see the country and meet a wide variety of people. There’s a lot of commission work that comes in from meeting new people and getting the word out there. I’ve also started to explore the museum direction more, and we’ll see how that goes. Just a few years ago, I didn’t even do this. But I’m a sponge, just soaking it up and trying to learn something new every day.


Find more work on his website: BlakeGore.com

Konstantin Rega
A graduate of East Anglia’s renowned Creative Writing MA, Konstantin’s been published by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Poetry Salzburg Review, www.jonimitchell.com, the Republic of Consciousness Prize (etc.). He contributes to Publisher Weekly and Treblezine.
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