Wednesday, April 22, 2009

What is that scratching sound?

Scratchart is a wonderful medium that I was just getting into before my art hiatus. I had a couple of pieces started that were in the works (and are still partially finished) - however as I work back into my art I need to 'stretch' so I've started with some 5x7" boards with the goal of just finishing the works and not getting hung up on whether they are 'perfect' in my eyes. And this little mousie is the first!

So scratchboard, for anyone not familiar with the medium, is basically white clay on a board coated with a thin layer of ink. Whiteboards are available as well which are worked a little differently (and I have a few of those kicking around here too, maybe that can be a future post!).

With the more common black scratchboard we use a number of tools to scrape away the surface ink, revealing the white underneath. Working in scratchboard is really an excercise in values - although you can add ink color later, the bulk of your work is trying to emulate the different value gradations in your picture. It is like inkwork in reverse. I found a really nice online tutorial if you are interested in more detail on this medium:

When I got my first boards I started with a test board - just working out values and some different scratching techniques. All I had at that time was a #11 Xacto blade (I currently favor scalpel blades, they seem to hold their point a bit longer and I have an easy supply of them).

For the little mousie I started with yellow transfer paper. I have used graphite and chalk transfers in the past, but this was suggested by a colleague and so far I like it. The basics of the image are drawn freehand in pencil so that it transfers through in yellow on the scratchboard. Then you can either work from the yellow lines or make some very light scratches in the board as guidelines and then erase the yellow (this is rapidly becoming my preferred method).

Though the #11 blade is still my favorite I've been trying to use my other tools. From top to bottom we have the #11 scalpel blade, the fiberglass brush, steel brush, and well - I don't know what that last tool is technically called, it's your standard 'scratch blade' - though it seems most hard-core scratchers don't use this tool (I, for one, don't use it often).

This is the yellow line transfer, it is intended only as a guideline to keep the proportions in place as you work. I'm experimenting with more vs. less guidelines - they can be helpful but I find the fewer I make the easier it is to keep focused using my reference picture to guide me.

This particular piece is a bit of an exercise in trying out new things - so I used the fiberglass brush mostly for the hand. It creates a soft, cloudy look. A little bit of ink washing was necessary to fix my values when I got a bit overzealous.

After the ink wash I went back and made some fine detail in the fingers with the blade (fingerprint sworls and such). The hand was really just the backdrop for the mousie (ie I didn't feel like dealing with human skin which is tricky at best on scratchboard). This of course lightened my values too much so after this I did some more ink washing to bring it back. And finally, I start on mousie... the tip of the mouse seemed a good spot to begin.

Working on the mouse himself - in this case my eye position was off in the original drawing, I'll fix that later. Also mousie's head is more narrow and tapered than the reference photo but again my point is to run through some work, not to nit pick on details - these are practice pieces after all - so I'm leaving his head the way it is.

More done on the mouse - I've fixed the eye with some ink, working on the fur and all those tiny little hairs on the ears! He is so tiny and delicate, a perfect subject for scratchboard!

And the finished picture -

I've gone back and adjusted some values, tweaked a few things and then did my favorite part - the whiskers!!! In this case I scratched the white whiskers and drew back in some black ones with an ink pen.

I hope you've enjoyed my little mousie, and my first step back to getting into my art. I'll be sure to post my next one (also a scratchboard) when it's done!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

I'M BACK - Apologies for my abrupt absence

First I'd like to start with an apology to anyone who has been following my blog and suddenly found that February rolled around and... nothing.

I didn't die. I didn't get hit by a truck. Nor did I get abducted by aliens.

I got a new job.

It is interesting that I had a post started regarding finding balance between my two worlds - art and veterinary medicine. It was on the back burner because I couldn't figure out how exactly I wanted to present it - but writing the drafts was helping me to see that some of the best times in my life were when I was striking a balance between art and science. But how the heck to do that? Well - about this time things were getting pretty tight financially and out of the blue I got a job offer.

As many of you reading this know (especially if you are in the US right now) a job offer is nothing to sniff at. I looked at my fledgling art studio and realized that changing careers and trying to make a business profitable in it's first 6 months of existence was a bit ridiculous. So I took the job, and it's a good one.

Remember my earlier post about Discipline? I have to say I haven't so much used it as a guiding beacon so much as an occasional tool for self-flagellation. And when you move from 24/7 art-time to having a 40 hr/week commitment you really need that Discipline if you want to try to achieve both.

I had lofty ideas - I'll juggle dual careers, yes - I'll set studio hours around my work schedule and grow my business. I think deep down I still harbour a bit of that non-artist prejudice that says it's 'just drawing, how long can it take?' (ah, there's a topic for a future post). Well, it takes time.. and when I tally how many hours I actually spend at the easel on a particular painting that is one thing. But what I've realized in the past two months is how many hours I spend thinking about my paintings - observing light, form and color in my environment, planning composition, practicing different techniques, and then the technical side of matting, framing, shipping. I ran out of fingers.

So when I left for job training the beginning of February I took some scratchboards with me - one that I was somewhat eager to finish, as it is a gift, and I'd hoped to post it here on the blog after it was given. Well training was hectic and exhausting - traveling is tiring too, so no surprise I didn't get any scratching done that week. Okay. But then why is it that now, two months later, that same unfinished scratchboard is still sitting here staring at me?

And this is where the doubt creeps in - over the past two months I have not done more than an idle doodle. I can tell from my doodles that I'm out of right-brain mode and I know from past experience that it takes some time and practice for me to get back 'up to speed'. So now I'm feeling the slightest worry about starting to do art again - can I do it? Is everything I draw going to look like crap? I know it's the left brain talking, because that's what the left brain does. The worst thing about the left brain is that it likes to predict... the right brain just does it's thing, it doesn't try to put things in time sequence or imagine the possible outcome. The left brain, however, loves to look at past experience and current situations and predict that I'm going to suck if I try to go back to my art. I don't know why I listen to it... I know my right brain can do it, if I just give it a chance, but the right brain is sitting there silently and patiently waiting for me while the left brain chatters in my ear.

So self-doubt keeps me away from doing art. But it's also easy to get involved in day to day activities and forget about the bigger picture. Thus enter the fear of complacency. Even though I'm more L-mode than I was a few months ago it is nowhere near where I was a year ago. But this is the first step along that pathway - I didn't get to where I was a year ago overnight, it took years of neglecting my art to do it. But it was such a miserable state that one would think I'd do anything to avoid it. As humans we're not good at avoiding insidious misery are we? We know we're eating too much, in a bad relationship, not going anywhere with school/job - and we so often just let inertia guide us rather than taking charge. It's nice to blog about the virtues of discipline - it's a whole other deal to change ingrained habits and, frankly, to put in the effort.

It's so easy to forget about what will happen long term - already I'm falling into a complacent contentment with this new job. Taking each day as it comes, hopping weekend to weekend. I'm sleeping okay - which is the big hallmark.

But something is missing.

First there is a joy to creating - to looking at a finished piece of art and thinking 'I did that', of working through the technical and creative challenges to get to that point. But there is also something that I didn't really anticipate losing, the artist's eye - that perspective of viewing the world that spills over into the rest of your life, sharpening your senses. Sometimes it was overwhelming - especially at first - I would see so much that was beautiful, interesting and unique and make plans for future artwork, more than I could ever possibly complete. But after a time I learned to just observe and enjoy - I started keeping a journal of ideas so that I wouldn't lose them, but once I freed myself from the notion that I had to bring each idea to fruition I as able to relax and appreciate the beauty around me. As I slip further away from my right brain my senses aren't so acute... I walk around, as I did last year, in a bit of a fog. I have lost some of the mindfulness that the art brought me.

And I want it back.

So this is my official first post in my new lifestyle. To achieve what I want to I think I have to add a new guiding word - in addition to Discipline I must also strive for Balance. And I have to try to actually use these words and not fall prey to inertia.

Part of that balance is resurrecting this blog. I won't be able to post as often as I did in the past, but I will strive to at least post consistently -even if I start with once a month.

Thank you to anyone who has hung on, and welcome to anyone who is discovering this little blog for the first time. By next month I will have some art to post, that's a promise to you and me!