Bly Pope’s ‘Corn Fields’

Corn Fields by Bly Pope, Pencil on paper, 10 x 13

This year I had the honor of serving as a juror for the drawing and pastels class at the 2021 Minnesota State Fair Fine Arts Exhibition. Each year, the Exhibition proves an amazing showcase of amateur and professional artists representing the diversity and talent of Minnesota artists. This post is to highlight the artist who I awarded a second place ribbon: Bly Pope and his drawing Corn Fields.

The judging process was divided into two phases this year. The first phase was online: as I viewed this landscape from my laptop, I was drawn to the preciseness of Bly’s work as well as the melancholy beauty of the gray toned corn fields and sky. The second phase of the judging was in person: I was amazed by the richness and contrast of the texture of the image and the almost sculptural quality of this tiny window looking onto a timeless and familiar landscape. I asked Bly about the drawing:

The drawing itself took 110 hours to complete, and is based on a corn field near Hudson, Wisconsin, where my twin brother Rowan and my folks and I used to live. I loved the sweep and flow of the clouds in the photograph — and the complexity of detail I saw in the field itself — and I knew I had to turn it into a pencil drawing. I had a feeling it was going to be a challenge before I started, and it ended up being the most difficult small drawing I’ve done in my life! 

I built up the graphite with a mechanical pencil in three layers  – the first layer involved adding light values with the pencil and blurring/smearing with a Q-tip, the second layer I added more heavy darks and expanded the details in the first layer, and the third layer of graphite involved more touch-ups and the darkest darks. 

Besides being a technical test or challenge for myself, I also wanted the drawing to convey the beauty, majesty and grandeur of nature, and seeing the world around us with care, reverence and gratitude — and our humble place within it.

The meditative quality of Bly’s drawing comes through as a richness of tones and textures that to me, seems like a metaphor for the richness and abundance of the farm land. The choice to use pencil strikes me as nod to historic black and white photos of countryside left largely behind as population shifts to more urban settings over generations accompanied by the timeless grandeur of the sky arching overhead.

If you attend the Fair this year, stop by the Fine Arts building at the corner of Randall and Cosgrove, otherwise take a look at the online catalog. Learn more about Bly Pope at and