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!

1 comment:

johnkiersten said...

Beautiful...just beautiful! One can truly appreciate how much work really goes into one of these pieces when you share the steps. Patience, determination, love for your work. It shows!