TUPELO • When Blake Gore was a little kid growing up in Houston, Mississippi, he loved to draw. And, he thought he wasn’t half bad.
“But as I got older, my internal critic turned on, told me I wasn’t good enough,” said Gore, 41. “So I stifled my creativity.”
When Gore was a teenager, his family moved to Tupelo. He took one art class in high school, and that was the extent of his formal training.
“At Ole Miss, I was an English and political science major,” he said. “I never thought art was going to be a thing. So I stuck around and got my masters in counseling.”
Gore worked for a few years in the career counseling field at the University of Mississippi and at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Alabama, before taking a career coaching job at Vanderbilt University.
In 2018, while he and his family were living in Nashville, a museum in the United Kingdom posted a 30-day drawing challenge on Twitter.
“You had to draw a 1-by1-inch anything every day for a month,” he said. “People who know me probably weren’t surprised I would do it. I’m always interested in trying something new. It was a lot of fun. I got to meet people from all over the world who were doing it.”
On the first day of the challenge, Gore was trying to come up with an idea for something to draw. He’d recently been at a friend’s house playing Monopoly, so he drew a tiny little Monopoly man. The museum liked the drawing and put it on its website to promote the challenge. Then people started asking Gore if the drawings he was posting and sharing were for sale.
“It kind of just took on a life of its own,” he said. “If you do anything for 30 days and you like it, it’s probably going to become a habit. And it did.”
Gore likes drawing things he’s familiar with, so a lot of his 1×1-inch drawings are memories from Mississippi: an antebellum home in Aberdeen, a Methodist church in Oxford, Taylor Grocery, the water tower in Houston.
“It’s fun to be able to draw things that mean something to me and reconnect me with home,” said Gore, who lives in Christiansburg, Virginia, with his wife, Lori, and their four children – Ella, Hattie, Caleb and Vera.
Gore will bring his talent to the Double Decker Arts Festival in Oxford on April 23. His tent will be set up right outside Square Books.
“That’s my favorite place on earth,” he said. “In fact, Oxford is one of my favorite sources of inspiration. I’ve done the Courthouse, Square Books, City Grocery, Ajax, Proud Larry’s, Bottletree Bakery, the Lyceum, the Grove, the Walk of Champions, Rowan Oak.”
Gore will have 50 to 60 pieces of original artwork for sale, ranging from $200 to $500 each, as well as prints for $25 each.
‘Ink is final’
When Gore first began the drawing challenge four years ago, he chose pen and ink as his medium.
“I was able to find a pen that was able to give me a very small nib – a .15mm tip – so I could get a lot of detail in there. I also like ink because it’s final. If I could paint over something or erase something, I’d never finish anything.”
Gore honed his craft by watching YouTube videos and reading books.
“Never in human history has it been a better time to learn,” he said. “Google has a catalog of artists, and I’d just study them, study their strokes, and practice. Pen and ink is really just a bunch of dots or lines. You just have to figure out where to put them.”
The first piece Gore sold was a tiny maple tree with red and orange leaves.
“I sold it to a lady in Brooklyn, New York,” he said. “I loved that fact that a lady in New York City didn’t know me from Adam. She just knew me as someone who created art.”
In fact, a lot of Gore’s early sales were to people in New York and other metropolitan areas.
“They don’t have a lot of space, so my art is a good fit,” said Gore, who still works part-time as a career coach in Virginia.
Some of Gore’s drawings are the size of a pinkie fingernail, and the largest he’s done is a 2-by-2-inch piece, but most are a square inch.
“I love to experiment,” he said. “Most of what I do is pen and ink, but I have used watercolor, colored pencils, graphite and charcoal. I’d say half of my work is black and white, and half uses color.”
The first art show Gore ever participated in was Double Decker in 2019. His parents, Edward and Claudia, live in Oxford as do his in-laws, Randall and Amy Atchley.
“It was a risk,” he said. “You have to buy a tent and all that stuff, and I was a rookie. I had no idea how it would resonate. It was such a circus, but it was great. I’d told the kids if it went well, we’d go to Disney World. It went great, so we went to Disney World.”
Gore wasn’t able to take his artwork to shows in 2020 and 2021 because of COVID-19, but this year, he’ll participate in at least 25 shows all over the country, including Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Georgia, Tennessee, Washington, D.C., and everywhere in between.
“I also do a lot of commission work,” Gore said. “I don’t do a lot of people portraits, because it’s hard to get the detail you want in something that small. But people want me to do their homes or their grandparents’ home, their dogs, their favorite birds or favorite trees.”
The beauty of Gore’s work is that he can work just about anywhere, whether that’s in a corner of his bedroom in Virginia, or in a hotel room or a coffee shop.
“The great thing about being a miniaturist is everything is so small,” he said. “All I need is a little leather zippered notebook to keep my paper and pens in. I probably already have enough art supplies to use for the rest of my life. You’d be surprised how far one pen can go when you’re drawing in a square inch.”