Art up Close: Chauncy Williams’ “The Cutting Edge” captures the everyday

In January 2021, Chauncy Williams was walking through his house in Winona when a weekly activity caught his eye and sparked an idea.

“The Cutting Edge” by Chauncy Williams captures his son, Deshawn, in hyper-realistic graphite. 📷 all photos by Zachary Correa

His then five year old son, Deshawn, was wrapped in a vinyl cape, midway through a haircut, as Willliams’ wife, Desiree, wielded electric clippers, working in sections.

Williams took a photo of the moment and began the painstaking work of creating a hyper realistic graphite drawing, “The Cutting Edge.”

“The Cutting Edge” is one in a series of Williams’ called “Perspective.” “I wanted to change the perspective of what portraits are,” said Williams. “When I think of a portrait, I think of somebody posed with their very best pose.”

Chauncy Williams’ portrait series, “Perspective,” includes graphite and color drawings of his son, Deshawn, in “The Cutting Edge” and his daughter, Danielle, in “A Woman’s Glory and A Father’s Treasure” — both getting their hair done by their mother, Desiree Williams.

Williams wanted to expand the idea of portraits to include informal moments. For Williams, those everyday moments stabilize an uncertain world.

“These are drawings people can relate to. There’s not a hidden message or hidden agenda. With things being so crazy in our country and world, we can look at this picture as something that’s normal and common,” said Williams.

Williams produced “The Cutting Edge” after he set some goals for himself to improve his graphite drawing skills.

“It’s so easy to get lost in admiring other people’s work and not feeling like yours is not good enough. I made a goal to maximize using graphite and charcoal to where my picture’s almost hyper-realistic,” said Williams.

Sitting in a chair for a haircut is a lifelong practice for Williams — one full of fond memories. 

“Growing up with three other siblings, my dad used to always take us to the barber. He taught us to always stay polished, always keep your hair cut, always look neat,” said Williams.

“My dad, he didn’t allow us to have crazy haircuts as long as he was paying for it. Now, I have a bigger appreciation for it. We were excited to go get a haircut. It just makes you feel good to have a good haircut.”

In addition to the pleasure of looking good, Williams recalls his childhood barber’s skills with admiration. 

Williams’ family resided in Deadwood, Texas, a community in Panola County near the Louisiana border. Williams’ grandfather, father and brothers regularly crossed the state line into Kickapoo, Louisiana, to visit Frank Whaley’s barber shop.

“Mr. Frank Whaley, he was so good at cutting hair. It was almost like you could go in and just watch him cut hair. [His clients] may look rough coming in, but he could make anybody feel good and look good when they left,” said Williams.

Although “The Cutting Edge” is primarily a study of hyper realism in graphite, Williams made the choice to add touches of color.

“I put color in certain areas, to just balance the composition out. If I chose to do everything in black and white, I would lose my message I was trying to get across,” said Williams.

“I wanted to really focus in on [Deshawn] with the graphite. As an African-American, that was a different way to send a subliminal message about black and white.”

Williams dry brush technique, shading and the help of a new tool achieved the drawing’s realism. “I taught myself the dry brush technique, using charcoal in areas that are really dark and then painting the leftover charcoal in different areas. That really makes it more three-dimensional.”

“I bought an electric eraser. I was able to get a lot of really fine detail in his eyes. Instead of using just a white pencil, I used gel pens for the pupils. That really makes it come alive.

“[I place] emphasis on the eyes, the lips and the hair. The hands were a challenge as far as shading and getting all the creases in the hands,” said Williams.

During the month-plus Williams dedicated to “The Cutting Edge,” he challenged himself to slow down and concentrate for hours at a time. 

Chauncy Williams uses a dry brush technique in his art classroom at Winona High School. Williams’ hyper-realistic graphite drawings demand hours upon hours of concentration.

“So many hours go into just focusing on one area until you’re just exhausted and you have to leave it alone and come back. It’s a strenuous process, hours upon hours, trying to shoot for that realism.”

Williams, an art teacher for Winona middle and high schools, sees the value of a good haircut for his students and his children, Deshawn and Danielle.

Chauncy Williams works in his art classroom at Winona High School, flanked by his two drawings featuring his daughter and son as part of his “Perspective” series.

“When a student feels like they look good, they seem to feel better about themselves. I never wanted my children to feel bad because of something that we could do or make better,” he said.

For the time he spends in haircuts every other week, Williams is pleased to see his son’s growing connection to his mom, who has a cosmetology degree.

“It’s a connection with a mom and a boy. He may be able to tell his mom stuff that he’s afraid to tell me. 

“I felt like it was a bond going to the barbershop; my son may feel that same bond with his mother,” said Williams.

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Jane Neal is the executive director of The Tyler Loop and storytelling director of Out of the Loop: True Stories about Tyler and East Texas. In addition to the Loop, she works at the Literacy Council of Tyler and attends Sam Houston State University remotely, where she studies sociology. Jane is a certified interfaith spiritual guide. She is a member of Leadership Tyler Class 33 and a former teacher of French at Robert E. Lee High School, where she ran a storytelling program called Senior Stories. Jane and her husband Don have four children.