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Former machinist turns out portraits with crayon

Former machinist turns out portraits with crayon

When former Rexnord industrial repairman, R.J. Gibbs, learned his job was fleeting fast, he decided to draw up a new business plan – not with pen and paper mind you – but with a 24 box of Crayola crayons.

R.J. Gibbs working at Gallery on the Square, 51 S Washington St., Danville, during Mayberry Days.

The lifelong Danville resident recently tapped into his artistic talent, a gift that always took a back seat to more traditional lines of work. The 56-year-old became a machinist by trade after high school. He also served four years in the Navy working on military aircraft.

“Basically society said that this was the way to do things, and being a natural with it (art), I never really found value in it. I figured anyone could do it,” he said.

Gibbs eventually learned this wasn’t the case in 2006. He was off work on medical leave and needed a way to make ends meet. So he returned to what he loved, drawing.

“I don’t know why but I was always fascinated with it,” Gibbs said. “Even as a kid, my parents would give me a pencil and piece of paper and I would draw for hours.”

Gibbs says crayons are difficult to use but create a uniquely beautiful portrait.

He drew a few portraits to cover his everyday expenses and then returned to work at Rexnord.

“I call it my kitty hawk,” he said. “It flew for 12 seconds, and then it landed. I had no money in the bank but the bills were paid.”

Fast forward 11 years and Gibbs is faced with a similar dilemma. With Rexnord jobs being shipped to Mexico, he has again chosen to rely on his artistic talent. But for the first time in his life, Gibbs is fully devoted to his artwork.

Gibbs is a self-taught portraitist with an eye for detail and accuracy.

Gallery on the Square, 51 S Washington St, Danville, has an entire wall of Gibbs’ work for sale. Co-owner Joan Kisner said one of his pieces recently sold for $500. Kisner, a retired Danville Community High School art teacher, had Gibbs as one of her students.

“I’m very proud of R.J. but I really can’t take any credit,” Kisner said. “We didn’t do portraits in class; that was something he taught himself.”

Although Gibbs always had a knack for drawing, he was inspired to develop his skills further after seeing a piece at the American Museum of Art. What Gibbs saw was a drawing done exclusively in crayon.

“I thought it was fascinatingly cool,” he said. “So I bought a box crayons thinking there’s nothing to it.”

“I was wrong.” Gibbs quickly added. “It’s the hardest medium I ever tried to pick up. It took me an entire year to learn.”

Gibbs said the crayons must be constantly sharpened to achieve the kind detail seen in his work. Also, shading and blending colors takes just the right amount of overlapping one with another. What’s the best brand of crayon? It’s Crayola by far Gibbs said. He learned this in part from working with the different brands.

Gibbs also discussed the matter with a Crayola representative. “I was concerned that my portraits might fade over time,” he said. “Crayola told me
that it has been in business for over 100 years and still make the same crayons. I figured they must be pretty good.”

What’s even better is that Gibbs can turn the $2 box of crayons into a lifelike portrait worth hundreds.

If you are interested in commissioning R.J. Gibbs, call (765) 719-3941, or contact him by email at draughtsman69@gmail.com.

Story and photos by Chris Cornwall

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