Artists’ tools of the trade

By Sam Major
Posted 4/15/21

What does it all mean to you?

The question can arise when taking in a work of art. It was posed more than once at the Mineola League of the Arts on Friday and Saturday during their annual arts show and sale.

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Artists’ tools of the trade


What does it all mean to you?

The question can arise when taking in a work of art. It was posed more than once at the Mineola League of the Arts on Friday and Saturday during their annual arts show and sale, where dozens of local artists of all ages entered their drawings, paintings, sculptures and photography.

One such artist, Shirley Gordon, has been painting only about five years and is not trained. She does not paint for realism and mostly does not use references.

Gordon tries to paint as loosely and fearlessly as possible and describes her process as “whatever happens to the face that finds itself in my paint. I just let them come out and tell their own story. Hopefully when people stop and look at them, it causes them to wonder a little bit about who it is and what their story is.”

Her piece “Genevieve” tells such a story. This year’s judge Linda Lucas Hardy agreed, awarding her work best of show, the top prize of all works displayed.

Mickey Newberry’s song “Genevieve” was in Gordon’s ears, and possibly her soul, while making her acrylic and charcoal creation of the same name come to life on the canvas.

Gordon describes the country musician’s song and lyrics as sorrowful and soulful, which she deftly captures in the pale blues and disheveled grays of Genevieve’s face.

Often underneath her paintings are a quote or lyrics written on the canvas itself, to be painted over, serving as a foundation she alone sees, imbuing the painting with meaning, undergirded by the words.

Newberry’s eponymous song opens “Genevieve, Genevieve, What does it all mean to you? Genevieve, Genevieve, my heart is breaking in two.”

You can see the pain in the deep eye sockets and lids Gordon drenched in darker hues, the sleeplessness and wariness of a soul torn into those heartbroken pieces. Her head-on stare is inviting yet confrontational, making it uncomfortable to lock eyes with Genevieve if one has felt somewhat similarly.

You can see Genevieve for yourself April 17-June 6 at the Winnsboro Center for the Arts, along with 29 of Gordon’s other works. There is a reception Sunday April, 18 from 2 until 4 p.m.

The league’s woodworking guild started in late 2018.

In their classes, members including Ray North teach such crafts as wood-burning, wood sculpture with a mallet and chisel or woodcarving with a knife and different kinds of blades.

North starts his own works with a sketchbook.

Much like Gordon, he does not go for exact realism, though one could be forgiven for thinking otherwise, given how full of life their works can appear and feel.

North says, “I can see you…I can draw a face that looks like a face…I don’t care how hard I try, I can’t make it look exactly like you.”

So, he iterates.

He will draw a bird several times, studying the shape, getting the angles just so, or study multiple sports photographs to figure out the posture and motion he wants to capture in carvings.

Once he gets the details how he wants, he moves to the wood itself.

North uses a tool he made out of an Exacto blade, rounded off into a bullnose, to do rough-outs, starting from a square block of wood, to take the corners off.

Then he uses gouges, U-shaped tools, for somewhat more detailed work, or similar tools, which are V-shaped, allowing him to create textures like hair or fur.

He uses his wrists, not arms, for safety. Using the smaller muscles yields finer control, to prevent cutting himself.

“Pretty soon, you get so you do this in your sleep, because you do it so often,” he softly speaks.

Then he moves onto knives to cut in the finer details, such as eyes.

“The eyes are a killer,” says North. Whether it’s animals or people, “If you get a good eye, the rest of it will come out okay.”

The proportions can be off elsewhere and it won’t be nearly as noticeable, but if the eyes are off, he claims, people will notice. If he doesn’t get the eyes to his liking, he’ll paint it simply and give the carving away.

For a woodcarving show on June 5 there are five professional, top-grade carvers coming to compete. North also wants all the beginners in the guild to participate, as well as the intermediate carvers who continue to improve.

The idea of a show and being judged is to learn, states North. Otherwise, one may make the same mistakes continually without knowing it, such as having the eyes out of alignment or off-plane.

He says many folks who don’t enter competitions still enjoy the process, which all makers do. The benefit of feedback from a judge is seeing where and how to improve.

When North started, it took him ten years to win an honorable mention, entering every year. “I was so tickled with that honorable mention, because that meant I was improving and getting better.”

Though it’s been three decades ago, he still lights up sharing about it. What it all means to him is clear.