A local community-oriented artist designs prints from his own sketches that bring the town of Blacksburg and the Virginia Tech campus to cartoony life.
George Wills has lived in Blacksburg since he was in the third grade and has developed his own interpretations of his hometown as a full-time artist.
Though Wills has done fine-art pieces in other media, his cartoon-like prints of iconic buildings in the area have fueled his popularity among both alumni and townspeople.
Wills said that he applies a cartoonish and contemporary style to his artwork, because it’s fun and represents the memories people have of the town. He said that his prints are created as memory gifts, because they are mostly bought as presents.
He said that the creative and humorous aspect of them makes them conversation pieces, which is what people like.
“It seems a little more exciting than strict representational work,” Wills said. “They’re memory images, and that’s what people have an emotional connection to.”
Wills’ artwork is showcased in the Matrix Gallery. He also manages his pieces on an Etsy account, which he said is helpful for alumni who are no longer in the area and want a piece that captures their memory of a certain place.
“If it’s something special in their memory then it’s more than just a building,” he said. “It’s the fun aspect, the friendship aspect that the businesses hold for people, particularly for students who are only here for four years where they often have first dates or it’s where they hung out with their friends, I’m capturing the moment.”
The Lyric Theatre’s Executive Director, Susan Mattingly, said that local artists have a unique insight into the community and its culture, and Wills’ work especially has a sense of authenticity.
“It’s lively, and he just captures the essence of our community in a wonderful way,” Mattingly said. “He catches the iconic locations, and that is why his stuff sells so well.”
She also said that most Tech students are in town for only four years, yet they develop an affection for the local places, which Wills is able to preserve.
“It’s a snapshot, but it’s more than a snapshot,” Mattingly said. “There’s an artistic license that he brings, like putting aliens over the Lyric.
“It just captures the mood in this time and this place.”
As his work became more popular, Wills was given personal requests for places in town and on campus. He said that he originally only wanted to do town representations, but so many requests for Tech landmarks came that he began to do those as well.
Wills said that he would like to keep his niche as a Blacksburg town artist. He said that he enjoys the character of the old downtown.
“This would not be possible in a lot of other towns,” he said. “There has to be a history within the buildings to capture, and downtown has some unique qualities.”
Wills said his favorite place to sketch or do work downtown is Bollo’s Café and Bakery, because it is a unique spot that he can depict in many ways.
“I have a continuous gallery in Bollo’s,” he said. “They allow me a lot of leverage as far as the cartooning work I do in there.”
Bollo’s barista Filica Jackson said Wills started his sketches of their different coffee flavors, which has grown into a collection that hangs on their wall.
“We’ve always enjoyed them,” Jackson said. “Then as he started hanging those up and giving them to us, we started having other pieces of his work hung up.”
Jackson said that since Wills grew up in Blacksburg, he is familiar with the local businesses and establishments and has a sense for the people and places and how to represent them.
Though his prints are his most popular items, Wills said simple sketching and creating colors are what he enjoys the most.
No matter what media he is working with, Wills said that his work as an artist is always growing, and he has never had to take a step back.