Sunday, June 1, 2014

ISSA Third Annual Scratchboard show

Hello folks!

I'm sorry my posts have been few and far between recently - I've been doing some veterinary teaching which has had to take priority in the past few weeks.  Fear not, I will be spending more time on my art and sharing some stuff with you in June and August.
For now though I wanted to show you a couple my most recently finished pieces.  These two scratchboards were accepted into the annual show for the International Society of Scratchboard Artists (ISSA) of which I am proud to be a signature member.

The show is going to be held this year at the Page-Walker Arts & History Center in Cary, North Carolina.  It is an amazing show - featuring the best of the best in scratchboard art.  For those of you who are going to be in the area the end of June I highly recommend you check it out - there is nothing like seeing these works in person!  And for any of you who are artists, there are fabulous workshops held in association with the show (check out the ISSA website for more details). 

(c) Pam Boutilier "Winter Cherries" 6x12" Claybord/Ink
The two pieces that I will have showing are both going to be available for sale.  "Winter Cherries" is a particularly meaningful piece for me that took me close to a year to complete.  I almost abandoned it several times but the guidance of a great mentor of mine, acrylic painter Martin Pryce, helped me hang on and see it through.  And you know what - I am so pleased with how it turned out.  I think this piece really shows some of the amazing things that scratchboard/whiteboard as a medium can do!
Here's a larger-than-life detail shot
The other piece that was accepted is 'Savannah Dreams' - this one also was a long time in the making.  That was mostly because I had created the warm abstract background when experimenting with my Claybords a couple of years ago, but for some time I couldn't find what art I wanted to put on the board.  I found the background so fascinating by itself I wanted to find a subject that would harmonize with it, but also that would not be overpowered by the background or compete with it.    I found myself looking at a photo of a lion I'd taken at the Toronto Zoo back in 2012 and suddenly it clicked - the angle and direction of the lion would work perfectly with the gradient of the background (at which point I was referring to that board as my 'leather background' because it reminded me of an old, beaten up leather trunk).  This lion is interesting because he does not grow a mane - so if you thought he was a lioness it is quite understandable!
I worked the lion in black and white and honestly didn't decide if/how much I was going to colour him until all the scratching was done.  Ultimately I decided to go with only a subtle wash of colour, leaving him somewhat stark compared to the background.
(c) Pam Boutilier "Savannah Dreams" 9x12" Claybord/ink
All the time I was working on this I kept thinking of him on his rock in the zoo, gazing over his rather limited domain in the middle of Canada, in the middle of winter.  My mind was filled with the contrast of his life compared to his heritage, which made me wonder whether his soul might ever dream of the dusty, warm, sun-drenched savannah.... hence 'Savannah Dreams' as the title.  That contrast, between his current life and his ancestry, also made me decide to leave him as a more stark black and white relative to the soft warmth of the background.
As an added bonus I will also give you a link to my timelapse 'speed scratch' on this one.  Now this was intended only as a practice run, so please keep that in mind when watching it.  I love speed-draw/paint/etc videos and have always wanted to do some of my scratchboards but I didn't know anything about the equipment, set-up or process.  This was a great learning experience and the next one that I do will have much better camera positioning, lighting, and so forth.  
Both of these pieces really gave me an opportunity to watch how the mental and emotional process I go through while creating a piece of art informs the decisions I make with it all along the way.  To a large degree you have control over what you're doing - but it's almost like you are the head of a committee rather than a dictator... you have to listen to input from the materials, your environment, your muse, and take those and incorporate them into the work as you go.  I have never been as happy with a piece that I planned and executed exactly according to plan as I have with a piece that I've allowed to grow and develop organically as I worked on it.
So there's the art, and be sure to check out the show if you get a chance!

~ Pam

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Spring cleaning, two-by-two!

One of the interesting things about living in the tropics is the lack of seasons - the only thing that really marks the passage of the year here is the amount of foliage on some of our trees.  The lovely flamboyant (or 'shack') tree in our yard is just now regaining some leaf after spending the last few months naked as a jaybird!  
I was worried initially that I'd done something bad and our tree was dying (I seem to have that effect on plants, which makes my persistent attempts at gardening all the more puzzling), but after a bit of research I learned that these are deciduous trees and despite 80F/27C weather and sunny skies they know that it's technically winter and they are quick to get nekkid.  
But now spring is here and the leaves are back and it's a time of renewal for everyone!  I am about to start a part-time teaching job and so suddenly I really need to get organized with my art - both studio time as well as how I manage online social media.  Much like the gardening, tending to Facebook, Flickr and this blog is something that I have enthusiasm for but seem to continually fail at nonetheless - perhaps an actual schedule would help with these things?  We shall see!
I wanted to share with you a few little scratchboards that I've completed recently, some of which have been posted on my Facebook page.  I discovered the fun of working on tiny 2x2" scratchboard when preparing an article for the ISSA and I previously shared with you the tiny portrait I did of my own kitty, Ginger.   The result of the contest mentioned in that post is here:
(Note that this may show up on your screen larger than the actual size of 2x2"!)
This is Charlie!  He's an adorable little mixed-breed dog who looks like he might have some Cavalier King Charles spaniel in him.  He belongs to Amanda, who happens to be my sister (there was no nepotism in the selection process I assure you - I assigned numbers to all the entries based on the order in which they were received and my husband rolled a die to randomly choose the winner... and yes, we have a die for any kind of number since we've both played tabletop roleplaying games for years :D).  Amanda has her own blog full of fun ideas and thought-provoking questions, check it out here:!
I've done a few other of these wee works in recent weeks:
The first one was just playing around with masking and layering ink and I ended up making a yin-yang shape with some fun, etched patterns.  I attempted to write my favorite line from the Heart Sutra and discovered just how tricky trying to write on clayboard can be!
I also did a small study for a larger piece and this one taught me that I might need a bit more magnification and a smaller tool to get the precision of detail that I was looking for.
That's when I borrowed my husband's surgical loupes and got a bit loupy!
The result though was that I was able to get more control over the fine details on the final work - this detail shot is about the same size as the 2x2" piece above.  It's also a SNEAK PEEK, because I'll be posting the final full image here soon!
I loved the tactile feel of these teeny boards which led me to an idea.  I have a relative who is going through some health issues and I came up with the urge to create a 2x2 that someone could keep in their pocket and pull out to look at when they needed cheering up - thus was born the Pocket Otter!
This first version suffered a bit of board trauma (related to that whole 'writing on scratchboard' issue I mentioned earlier) so it exists only in digital form.  But Pocket Otter 2.0 here is going to be headed her way the end of this week!
Those are all the two-by-twos I have to show you today, but stay tuned for some new art in my next post!!

~ Pam

Monday, April 14, 2014


I'm working on the contest prize today and will announce the winner and post it as soon as it is done!
In the meantime I wanted to mention that I'm attending the 4th annual Right-Brainers in Business Summit with Jennifer Lee.

I have been getting Jenn's newsletter (Artizen Coaching) for years, ever since 2008 when I rediscovered that I was an artist and started 'Cat-in-a-Box Studio'.  I got her eBook and went through her Right-Brain Business Plan.  I recently did the exercises again, and I've ordered (and anxiously await) a copy of her new book that just came out!

My little studio doesn't really feel as organized as an actual business - but all self-employed artists, freelancers and many other creative types really do need to think in terms of small business.  What Jenn really hit on that resonated with me (and still does) is that some of this stuff is hard, but you don't have to think about it all in the 'traditional' ways in order to be successful.  She talks about Right Brain Boosters and Left Brain Chill Pills and great things like that which make going through some of the tasks of organizing a small business much more tolerable (and tasks of just being an adult... like dealing with taxes).  I am learning (and have in the past learned) so much from Jenn and her 'tribe'.  I am by no means any kind of great entrepreneurial example, but the people that she's been highlighting in the series sure are!

It's free to sign up and I can say that there are useful and encouraging tidbits for just about everyone.  Some of the lectures have already passed, but if you get on board now you'll have access to all of the ones this coming week (or you can upgrade for a fee and get access to the entire conference).

~ Pam

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A stroll down memory lane... with my pets

Having this little contest has made me very nostalgic about my own pets.  When my husband and I got together we had a combined total of 8 pets (I won't own up to how many of them I brought to the table).  I had previously had other pets in my life as well (cats, horses and even a teddy bear hamster).  Since I'm asking others to share their stories I thought maybe I'd tell you about the pets that inspired the portraits I've made for myself!
Ginger -- Scratchboard portrait of her 2009 (c) Pam Boutilier
Ginger is the only pet that we have who is still alive and lives with us!  I got her when my first cat passed away.  We were living in an old farmhouse and actually needed cats around to deal with rodents - I remember being a bit resentful, my heart was hurting over losing Blackie and I wasn't quite ready to open it up to another cat.  I went to a friend's farm and selected two cats, Bagheera and Ginger.  I chose her because she was the last one still at the communal feeding bowls so I figured that meant she was healthy.  I must have been on to something because she is now 20 years old and the most regal old lady cat I've ever met!

Even as recently as last year she was still no-nonsense when it came to dinner time:

Dufus being a dork, and a Whiteboard sketch of him c.2013 (c) Pam Boutilier
Dufus was our heart-cat and the namesake cat of Cat-in-a-Box!  We are pretty convinced that he reincarnated from my husband's childhood cat, Hoover.  He was born months before I even met my husband (and I think it was a year before cat and husband-to-be met) and in spite of that Dufus was a total daddy's boy!  He loved my husband and would greet him every day like this (and because of 'Michael's Rule' he had to pick him up every single time):
We lost him last summer and I think that was perhaps the hardest pet loss we've had.  My husband wrote a lovely eulogy for him that I posted previously on this blog.  We are forever grateful that he lived 2 1/2 happy years after being diagnosed with heart disease, which was very good considering the nature of his condition - we cherished every moment.  He was both metaphorically and literally a cat with an enormous heart!

(Left to Right) Nessie -- Whiteboard portrait 2009 -- The Nessie bjorn (c) Pam Boutilier
Although she was a dainty cat, being a siamese Nessie was never afraid to voice her opinion.  When she got older she went completely deaf - and it so happened that I was working as a veterinary phone consultant at that time, if she had something important to say while I was on a call things could get... interesting (thank goodness for mute buttons!).  We lost Nessie just over a year ago to cancer.  Ever the lady, she was an elegant cat right to the end.  It was for her that we created the 'Nessie bjorn' - basically a large scarf that I could tie around my torso to hold her against me.  In her final months she wanted to be held constantly, and the Nessie-bjorn let me have my hands free for work and still hold her.

Michael and scratchboard portrait 2009 (c) Pam Boutilier
Michael was the most gorgeous and also one of the dumbest cats I've ever known.  He has always been a great inspiration for my art because of his classic beauty - I've done more portraits of him than any other single subject, he the even adorns my blog header!  However, it was what he taught us about life that had, by far, the greatest impact on me.
You see Michael died unexpectedly and of unknown causes a few years back (after lengthy discussion my husband and I chose not to have a post-mortem exam done on him).  He was only around 10 years old and had been perfectly healthy all his life, we'd even had bloodwork and radiographs (x-rays) done on him recently for some routine dental work.  I came home one day and he was on his side laying on a blanket, dead.  The shock of it was one thing, but was hit me hard and deep was that the night before he'd asked me to pick him up and I was too busy.

You read about stories like that - what someone didn't do or say to a loved one before they were unexpectedly taken away.  Our life was busy at that time, we had four cats and I worked from home so they were constantly around.  It was not unreasonable that I'd shoo him away because I was working on something... of course I wouldn't have if I'd known he was going to die the next day, but that's the point, you never know.  I can never go back to that evening and pick him up and give him the affection he wanted and deserved - but I can tell you that ever since that day I have never refused affection when a loved one asks for it.  We consider it 'Michael's Rule' - I hug and kiss my husband every day, even if I'm annoyed at him over something.  We both pick up or pat our pets every time they want it.  We don't have kids but this would apply to them too.

Our loved ones could be taken from us at any time.  Trust me, it's well worth the few seconds to pick up a kitty, pat a dog, or hug a person - seconds to acknowledge them before going back to your important work, seconds to let them know that you care.  This is what Michael taught me - and I value and remember this lesson every day of my life.

Emma, and Pastel portrait of her 2008 (c) Pam Boutilier
Emma was my husband's dog, and she was sunshine incarnate!  A street dog from Detroit she learned young that you sometimes have to bend the rules to survive - and though she was a very good dog (my husband had done great obedience training with her at a young age) she still had the most endearing and playful mischevious streak.  Emma was a bridesmaid at our wedding and a great companion to both my husband and myself for many years.  We lost her back in 2010 after a long battle with heart and kidney disease.  I remember carrying her up and down the stairs to our industrial loft (the metal grating was too uncomfortable on her feet and the stairs were too much for her heart at that point).  We knew it was time to say goodbye when fun-loving Emma just wasn't having fun anymore - sadly her rapid downturn happened when we were both out of the country and we weren't with her at the end (it wasn't fair to make her suffer until we could get to where she was).  The years have softened the loss though - and when I think of her I remember how engaged and excited she was about everything in the world around her, a lesson for us all!

Laurich c. 2008 - being in the snow, which was his favorite spot
Laurich is one of the few pets that I don't have a completed work of art on... hmm.. I'll have to remedy that.  He was a very handsome dog and best man at our wedding.  He was my first dog - and spent his early life patrolling the farm on PEI.  He was calm and steady where the other dogs were boundful (Emma) or explosive (Rosie), I don't know when his birthday was but I think I'd have to guess he was a libra :D.  He wasn't a dog to play with toys much, but for some reason he always needed to have a plush toy in his mouth when he greeted you.  He also was a chow-hound who couldn't be trusted alone with any food (I remember vividly the episode where he ate an entire BOX of tiny meal bars, leaving all the wrappers licked clean on the floor - then we had to drive with him in a car for five hours... that was... aromatic).  He was a good boy and we are so grateful for the 13 years we had with him before he passed away the year before we lost Emma.

Rosie and Ink portrait on hand-aged paper 2008 (c) Pam Boutilier
Ah Rosie!  She was adorable and LOVED people, to the point that you'd begin to wonder if she thought she was human.  Unfortunately she HATED other dogs, which didn't go over so well when Emma moved in and we all of us were living in an 800 square foot home!  Laurich was the one dog she did like - maybe because he'd stand beside the bed so she could put her front feet on his back and bite his ears when they play-fought.  Or maybe because if a strange dog approached the house she could stand with him towering behind her and tell the strange dog off - until she turned around and realized Laurich had gotten bored and wandered back in the house at which point, her 'muscle' gone, she would abruptly shut her yap.  She was a character!  Though I'm philosophically opposed to bulldogs, I was so glad to have our little adopted Rosie in spite of, or maybe because of, her foibles and flaws!

Charlie and Ben
(Left to Right) Ben and Charlie -- Pastel of Charlie 2009 -- Scratchboard of Ben 2010 (c) Pam Boutilier
My dear boys - a Shire and a Belgian.  The reason we lived in a run-down farmhouse while in PEI was so that I could have horses.  Initially 'horse' - Charlie, but I learned that there is little as sad as a solitary horse and so it wasn't long before we got Ben (we jokingly said that Ben was a Christmas gift for Charlie that year).  They were the sweetest creatures - but different as night and day.  Charlie was the ultimate 'earth' constitution - laid back, food motivated and with a high need for affection.  Ben was a 'wood' constitution - high-spirited, motivated and not going to do things someone else's way just because they said so.  Ben always loved animals more than humans - as a human you really had to gain his trust, but he was much quicker to befriend the cats, dogs and other horses he met.  Sadly because of career developments we couldn't keep the boys - but they each went to carefully selected homes where they had more horses and other animals to be friends with, and jobs to do, which I think was actually a better situation than lounging around our place while I studied all the time.

Blackie was the first cat I was truly friends with.  He lived 13 years - passing away from heart failure when I was just starting vet school.  There is something very special about the bond you have with a pet that is with you from childhood through into your 20's - they are with you through so many life changes that they become an integrated part of those changes and memories, I think they often help us grow up.   Blackie was a grump to anyone who didn't know him - he'd hide under the bed and attack people's ankles - but to me he was simply my buddy.  I was both introverted and shy, and Blackie was the friend who bridged the spaces between having human friends, the one who didn't demand anything, to whom I always knew what to say, and who grudgingly let me dress him up in Cabbage Patch doll clothes (when I was 10, not in vet school :D).

Cosette, Bagheera, Misty - and Ralph
(Left to Right) Cosette, Bagheera, Misty, Ralph
The three kitties who were in my life the shortest amount of time are still fondly remembered as was Ralph, my teddy-bear hamster.  My husband's kitty Cosette, who sadly ran away.  Bagheera who we lost to a coyote (sadly, one of the hazards of being a farm cat in PEI).  And Misty - technically my first ever kitty - a dilute tortie who was a bit of a spaz that liked to climb the curtains but could never figure out how to get back down from the curtain rod - I was too young to understand that was stressful for my working single mom and so Misty rapidly found a new home and was followed by the more complacent Blackie.  Ralph I had when I was very young - I seem to recall him driving my Barbie convertible... wonder where I got that idea?

There you go!  A heart-felt stroll through my pets (mostly in-memoriam).  Every pet touches us in some way, and some touch us in ways that truly change us.  This is at the heart of why I do pet portraits, and why when I look at a cat or dog (or horse or mouse) I wonder who they are, what's their personality, what friendships have they shared? 

And also why I'm running my little contest (for which you've got until Noon EST on Friday, April 11th to enter if you're going to!!).


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Would you like a free mini-portrait of your pet?

I'm having a little contest right now to give away a 2x2" mini-scratchboard portrait of someone's pet.  I've been playing with 2x2" miniboards recently and having so much fun with them that I thought I'd offer one in a little contest.  I started it on Facebook, so if you're active there please check out my page!
The reason that I do pet portraits is the same reason I got into veterinary medicine - one of the most important things to me is the human-animal bond, in all of it's manifestations.  Pet ownership is just one of those but to me it is the most important because represents such a deep and special relationship, and is one that so many of us have known.  I love hearing about people's pets - with every commissioned portrait I do I get to learn a little bit about the special animal that I'm drawing, and what they mean to their human companions who are requesting the portrait.  I always hope that my finished artwork will be something that people can look at for years to come and instantly relive some small part of the love and companionship they shared - just as I do when I look at the portraits I have of my own pets (of which there have been many), especially those who have passed on.  
And it's also the reason for this contest - I don't have any active commissions right now and this is a sneaky way for me to get a dose of heart-filling stories (always an alterior motive :D).  
2x2" miniboard of my cat Ginger (c) Pam Boutilier
I also know that not everyone is on Facebook, so I'm posting the information here as well:
All you need to do is post a picture of your pet and a short paragraph describing why they are so awesome.  All species are welcome, as are memorial stories if your pet has passed away.  You are welcome to enter more than one pet - but please do an individual post for each one.  You can post on Facebook or right here in the comments section below.
I'm going to randomly draw a name on April 11th and then post the winner both here and on Facebook. as soon as the artwork is completed.  The winner will receive their mini-portrait by mail (that means you'll have to give me a physical mailing address if you win).
Feel free to share this with anyone else that you think may wish to enter!

(And for you cynics out there - this isn't an April fool's thing, I didn't even realize the date until I previewed this post just now! :P)

~ Pam

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Blocked and Unblocked

If you follow my posts you know that I was away from home in January, and I got an incredible amount of work done.  It was great!  I completed pieces that have been 'in progress' for a long time, years in some cases.  I also came home and made some very big decisions about the direction of my career.  You know, the kind of decisions that make your blood vessels constrict just thinking about them.  This was followed by several days of glorious Flow working on some pieces that had been too large to take with me, taking up the paint brush and experiencing the physicality of acrylic painting and how it differs from my scratchboards, basically to put it in terms my sister uses 'falling in soft' with my art.  

It was great.

Then it all stopped.

I've experienced what I've called artist's block before - but never like this.  One morning I got up and looked at my paintings in progress, looked at my scratchboards in progress, went to get some coffee, wandered around and looked at the works again, checked Facebook and email, glanced at the painting on the easel beside me, refilled my coffee, ambled out on the porch and just stood there looking at the scenery for awhile.  

Okay, so I was having an off day - everyone's entitled to an off day if they have the luxury of taking one, tomorrow will be better!

But tomorrow wasn't better, nor was the day after that. 

I tried the 'work for 15 mins' approach which usually does lead me to get into the groove and keep working... but after 15 minutes I felt restless and would get up and find some dishes that needed cleaning, or laundry, or maybe I should have a snack or more coffee.  There was almost a strange undercurrent of desperation to physically not work on my art even though that's what I wanted to do.
Then I would stand on the other side of the room with my coffee looking warily at my works-in-progress (of which several had accumulated by that point).  I wanted to work on them, I just couldn't.  I would distract myself by thinking about them... 'how will I tackle the background on that one, where do I want the light source coming from on this one, what colour scheme will I use for this other one'.  All valid things to ask, and issues that truly did need to be addressed for each work.. but not necessarily at that moment, and not for so long, and not at the expense of actually working on the art itself!  They were becoming an excuse, a distraction.  Similar to the housework, which also needed to be done - but again there is a time for chores and a time when chores are clearly a procrastination tool.

This went on day after day.  Then, predictably, the fact that I'd not gotten really anything done for several days started to cause stress.  One very non-constructive way to deal with stress is to escape into video games.  When you're feeling unproductive firing up Skyrim is really NOT the best thing to do (although Jane McGonigal can probably explain better than me why this is precisely the kind of thing that we DO do when feeling nonproductive).  So of course it's exactly what I did, and for me the reason that it is not a good coping mechanism is that I do it with gusto (yes, a bit of diversion in Skyrim is cool... Skyrim until 4:30am is not cool), and then I berate myself about what I did until I feel so bad that the only answer is to eat pringles and go back to Skyrim where I can save the world and can't hear the voices in my head telling me what a lazy procrastinator I am (also not effective if you listen to Jane's twin sister, Kelly).
I'm not an artist, I am a great Enchanter of Things!
It reminded me a bit of depression.  That obstruction to feeling that one can have.  You remember what it was like to feel - happy, sad, etc - but there just seems to be a space between you and there.  I remembered how to do art, what it felt like, and yet there was this uncrossable chasm between me and that ability.  It is the strangest thing in the world to me to stand in front of my easel with a half-completed painting or scratchboard on it and simultaneously feel so strongly that I want to work on it and at the same time that I absolutely can't. 

My mind would say 'Pick up the scratch tool just do a bit!' and nothing would happen.  I actually had conversations with myself - 'Work on this a little, come on, you know you can do this, you know how good you feel when you are doing it, you know what nice artwork you can produce if you just pick up the gorram blade and do something!' (yes, apparently one of my inner voices is Jayne Cobb) to which my internal answer was a vague 'Yeah.... I know....' followed by, you guessed it, nothing.  As if my muscles just wouldn't respond. 

The cognitive dissonance of this eventually would make me have to walk away from the art, the situation, the whole thing - and find something to distract my brain that was now becoming distressed.  This is when some house chore would prove absolutely urgent to complete, or I'd remember that I had to go pick up groceries, or if none of the above were available I always knew that Skyrim or Borderlands were just over there waiting for me. 
Oh Gaige!  You seductive minx!

During this period I stumbled on something that I think really helped - it is a series of YouTube videos from Peter Draws.  In desperation I did 'Circles & Lines'...
 Which spontaneously spawned 'Stems & Leaves'....
Then I tried 'P or P' (Perpendicular or Parallel).... and little animals started to appear!
Bonus points if you can guess what animal is top and center (and where he's from)!
I'm not saying that my block broke immediately, but these exercises really did help.  Around the same time a friend of mine loaned me 'The Artist's Way' by Julia Cameron.  An old book, but one I've amazingly never read.  I'm working through it week by week now and it's just awesome!  I highly recommend it whether you're blocked or not, whether you consider yourself an artist or not.  I'd say ESPECIALLY anyone reading this blog who does not consider themselves an artist should read this book!! (I'm serious, do it!  Do it now!).

She discusses blocking in great depth, getting into the psychology of it.  Her exercises are very helpful too (I'm still working through her 12 week program).  And as my block lifts I do think this was a stepping stone in moving forward with my art - it was terrible while in it, but now I feel better than pre-block about what I'm doing.
Post-block ideas for tiny scratchboards - yes IDEAS!  And lots of them!
During the period of block one of the several works-in-progress that were suffering was a commissioned portrait of an amazing little dog named 'Banner'.  His portrait sat on my drafting table and stared at me, day after day.  Each time I put blade to board, though I was making scratches but I didn't feel that I was making progress.  The work was inconsistent and I didn't feel confident.  The nagging idea that I was going to screw up anything I touched was hard to keep fighting - I felt weary from it.  But being a commission there wasn't the option of just stopping so I pressed on, until one day I looked at it and realized I had to start over.  Yes, after more than 10 hours invested in the work I took out a new board and started from scratch.   
(LOL - I see what I did there!)
"Banner" first draft (abandonded).
In hindsight though, I have to wonder if the fact that I was so blocked, and so detached from my work, is why I was able to see the flaws in the above piece - and to learn some very interesting things that I knew but had always sort of done intuitively.  My biggest concern was that the crop was off - the face was slightly too large, his chin was going right to the edge of the board.  The other is that his eyes looked 'wrong'.  My blocked state meant that I spent much more time than normal staring at it and pondering why they looked wrong, and then it occurred to me - they are too human!
When a dog looks straight at you, as Banner was in the reference photo, their eyes will appear a little bit crossed.  Most dog's eyes are slightly on the sides of their head, as compared to ours which are front facing.  So the original portrait, in which Banner's pupil's were perfectly centered, was just plain wrong.  When I restarted the piece I was easily able to correct this - and the eyes in the final portrait turned out to be my favorite part!
'Banner' final image (c) Pam Boutilier
I wanted to share both this experience and my crappy, abandoned first draft because I want everyone reading this to know that this happens to everyone even though it doesn't ~feel~ that way when it's happening.  You look around and everything posted online by every artist looks polished and finished and gorgeous and you know that you alone suck, in fact you could be crowned the Queen of Suckitude.  In reality though every artist has bad pieces, things that didn't work out, things that they struggled with - they just don't generally post them on their website, which makes sense, but is easy to forget that when you're blocked or feeling down. 

If you're blocked, or the self-confidence gremlins are gnawing at your heels, or your inner critic just won't shut up - I highly recommend you sit with your sketchbook and do Peter's exercises.  Do them long enough and the gremlins will get bored and leave, the critic will fall silent and then your shy little artist will come out and you may find animals, or figures, or flowers - whatever it is that you like to draw - starting to emerge from the abstraction.

Art is not without struggle.  And being a good artist doesn't mean that you don't struggle, it means that you keep making art, you find a way through, and you forgive your inner artist if they hide from you for awhile. 

Monday, February 24, 2014


You all know about my scratchboard... mainly because I never shut up about it (and I do have a couple of new pieces coming up that I'll put on the blog soon! Yay!).  However, I do also continue to dabble in acrylic painting as well. I started it last year and blogged about it in my 'Finding your artist's voice' series of posts here

I love working in acrylic for many reasons that are very different from the scratchboard, and yet the things I learn with acrylic painting I find I take back in a translated form to my scratchboard work.  I think for an artist, work in any medium will reverberate onto other media and increase your overall skill and technique.  Truly no learning is ever wasted unless you let it be!

The things I seem to be drawn to in acrylic painting that differ from my scratchboards are:
Subject:  I love painting people, whereas in scratchboard I greatly prefer animals.
Colour palette:  For some reason I'm drawn to high contrast and opposing compliments, specifically blue and orange, for reasons I cannot explain.
Texture:  The more the better!  I will even used modeling paste to built up extra texture.
Tools:  I find that I actually prefer a palette knife over a paintbrush!
"Inner Thoughts" 16x20" acrylic, (c) Pam Boutilier
Even though those things are very different than my scratchboard work, there are some common threads.  One is incorporating bright and/or deep colour, another is my attraction to off-kilter framing or cropping.  An interesting trait though is that I love artwork that makes sense from a distance, but when inspected more closely you find there is actually MORE to see.  As much as I appreciate a good impressionist's ability to create the illusion of detail from value and colour, I like it even more when there's something new and different up close. 

With my scratchboards I try to have the detail just as impressive from 12 inches away as the overall image is from 12 feet away.  With my paintings I try to create depth and interest in the colour and texture that comprises the subject and their background.  There is detail in the directions of the palette knife cuts, in the shadows... some of which you can't appreciate unless you get up close and personal (and sadly does not come through very well in a photograph).

I'm just a n00b at this painting thing (really I'm a n00b at scratchboard too, but at least I have a few years of that under my belt) - but being a n00b is very exciting and in some ways an advantage.  The fact that I've not had extensive formal training with painting does mean I'm learning tonnes with every painting (and probably making mistakes, but at least I'm finding it very exciting).  However it also means that I'm too dumb to know what I shouldn't be doing, and sometimes that works out in my favour!

So I hope you enjoyed this piece.  I have a couple more paintings in the works that I will post in the next couple of months, interspersed with my scratchboards.  I welcome any comments on my painting ventures!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Progression of a Portrait

I showed a sneak peek of this piece a little while back and today I'd like to share the finished portrait with you - along with a bit of behind-the-scenes of how the it was made.  Say hello to Gracie!
This is a 16x16" portrait of a special doggie-in-law named Gracie.  This is my largest whiteboard to date, and one of the first in my new style.  The style reflects my goal for this year which I think I have condensed down to the word 'Integration'.  In this case integrating the softness and fluidity of a more painterly style (like Charles Ewing uses) with the more finely detailed scratching that I have typically done.
For anyone unfamiliar with the medium of scratchboard the classic board consists of a sturdy masonite backing with a layer of white clay on it, then a very thin layer of black ink on top of the clay.  The scratchboard artist uses various tools - from scalpel blades and exacto knives to steel wool and nail buffer thingies (NBTs... that's the official scratchboarder term for them) - to scrape away the black revealing the white underneath.  
Colour can then be applied to the exposed clay surface if desired, which is exactly what I did with the recently posted 'Schmettermaus' piece.  It started out as a black-and-white scratchboard, and then colour was added.  Typically this involves many layers of re-scratching and recoloring to get tonal variations, like the ones you can see in this detail shot:
Ampersand Claybord(tm) is what I like to refer to as 'whiteboard'.  It's the same as regular scratchboard but does not have the black ink - the surface is white clay, so you apply layers of ink first and then scratch, re-apply, scratch again, etc as needed.  What I've struggled with was combining the fine detail that I love about scratchboard with the more painterly look and freedom that I felt my pieces were sometimes lacking.   
"Petulant" 12x9" (c) Pam Boutilier
The methods I used for pieces like the one above didn't leave me much room for error.  If something was off it was difficult to get the corrected area to perfectly match the initial inking that had been applied in colour blocks.   I ended up using tiny brushstrokes so that I didn't have to deal with the sharp edges the ink tends to form on the board which shifts the work emphasis from the scratching more toward the painting aspect of creation.  My size of work was also limited because every single square inch of these is meticulously brushed and then scratched - the bulldog above is my largest whiteboard prior to Gracie and it is 9x12".
As much as I loved these pieces, I wanted to try something different - I wanted to try working more loosely, to keep the piece fluid as I went.  I didn't want to fear mistakes or be limited in my options for a background.  It started with a sketch, as always, but this time I focused on the areas I intended to highlight with scratching, leaving the rest a bit more vague than I usually would:
And then it was time to start... something new... something different....
I will fully admit to suffering 'blank canvas' anxiety.  I can be as excited as anything to start a new piece, but sometimes faced with a pristine, new board I get nervous... is this idea going to work?  Will I screw it up?  Would a different crop be better - maybe I should play with my sketch a bit more before I transfer it to the board, (etc, etc).  You can imagine where that kind of thinking leads... nowhere at all!  
For some reason it seems that the pieces I can psyche myself out of being stressed about turn out the best, so the day I started this piece I actually tricked myself by using a reclaimed board.  It was a 16x20 black board that I'd started something on that really was not working.  I really wanted to use a square format so I cut the board creating one 16x16" and one 4x16" then sanded both pieces with a palm sander.  It created quite a mess (definitely something you want to do outside), but the surface came out beautifully, just like a brand new whiteboard!  I used the 4x16" piece later to create Intensity and the 16x16" I started something new with.  
I transferred my sketch with graphite as I usually do and proceeded to start the colour blocking - but this time I didn't worry about precision.  I told myself this was a reclaimed board and we were going to see just how far we could push it.
I decided to play with some abstract work on the background...
I love making interesting patterns by blowing then blotting ink on the board.  This, however, can lead to lightheadedness and blurred vision - here is the technique.  Use it sparingly!
From initial colour blocking I started scratching detail into the key areas (eye and nose) and layering more ink to get some nice purple shadows in there.
This is followed by scratching and then laying down more ink, building layer after layer.  The intention with this approach to a whiteboard is to keep it loose and fluid, shaping the face and background at the same time - see how I adjusted the nostril position in the image above?  This looseness made the whole process more fun, less stressful and less rigidly tied to the reference photo.  I could get the expression and personality of Gracie to emerge and not feel bound by my initial colour blocking.
More scratching.... more inking...

Here I was playing with her neck (left side of the piece) and the foreground...
At one point I got really frustrated with her neck fur and sanded the board back to white, this allowed me to build up the scratching in the hair again and correct the direction the fur was falling...
One thing I've learned is that if I'm having frustration with white fur it's usually because my values are off.  With smaller pieces I'll often scan them and desaturate the image to check my values - since I was traveling and this is a bigger piece it wasn't so easy - but I finally figured it out and was able to get the neck to a place I was happy with.  And here is the final piece:

Which I am proud to say is completed and sprayed and just waiting to be framed.  I hope you've enjoyed this little mini-tutorial in my newer whiteboard style.  I'd love to know what you think - just leave me note in the comments!