Drawn with a free hand: Ballpoint pen artist practiced while in prison

Pen pal: Guy Woodard’s detailed ballpoint pen drawings will be on display at the Greenpoint Reform Church through the spring.
Emerson Soto

This ex-con artist turned sketch artist!

An illustrator who honed his artistic craft while behind bars is showcasing his intricate ballpoint pen drawings in a Greenpoint church. The gifted penman says his criminal history forging documents really paved the way for his artistic career.

“To me, that was a way to be an artist,” said Guy Woodard, whose photorealistic ink renderings of faces and figures are on display in a gallery at the Greenpoint Reformed Church through the spring. “I hate to say it, but some of it may be my best work.”

Woodard creates his portraits by painstakingly shading the paper with tiny black dots. He took up the ballpoint pen because it was one of the few drawing materials available in prison, where he served time for charges related to forging and selling false documents such as identification cards.

Woodard says that his knack for mimicry with a pen stretches back to when he was a kid, expertly forging parental signatures for fellow students. He always wanted to be an artist, but became a forger in the late ’70s when his illustration work could not pay the bills.

His drawing process sometimes begins with looking at a photograph, but the work develops in original ways as the layers of ink progress. The work channels his artistic vision and his nearly obsessive-compulsive attention to detail, he says — but much of his work also provided a welcome relief from the bleakness of prison life.

“It was a way to escape where I was,” said Woodard.

The Milton Street church showing his work hosts a gallery funded with money from an anonymous donation, received with the stipulation that the gift must benefit the community in ways that are not overtly religious. The church used the fund to start the Hunger Program, which feeds hungry community members by serving free dinners and running a food pantry. Now the church is using the change to bring attention to an artist whose work is right at home in the house of God, said one of the heads of the parish.

“He’s an incredibly beautiful person, and his beautiful personality is really invested in his artwork, and as a result he creates beautiful things,” said Reverend Ann Kansfield.

“Look to the Rainbow” at the Greenpoint Reformed Church [136 Milton St. between Franklin Street and Manhattan Avenue, (718) 383–5941, www.greenpointchurch.org]. Wed, 2–6 pm, Thu, 8–11 pm, and Sun, 12:30–2 pm.

Reach reporter Allegra Hobbs at ahobbs@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–8312.
Skilled hands: Former forger Guy Woodard refined his artistry while in federal prison, and now creates lifelike illustrations with a ballpoint pen.
Emerson Soto

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