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!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Year of the Horse

I'm not sure why, but I seem to have an affinity for Chinese culture.  I have no Asian lineage, and I've never actually been to China, however I still am really attracted to it.  As mentioned in a previous blog post I decided this year to use the Chinese New Year as my 'turn of seasons' marker instead of January 1st (because I love China, not because I'm a procrastinator... really!).
Year of the Horse (6x6" Whiteboard/Ink) - (c) Pam boutilier
We have entered the lunar new year!  2014 is the Year of the Horse, and further it is a Wood Horse year.  The Horse is the most Yang member of the Chinese Zodiac - they are Fire, all about energy and movement.  The Horse has traits of being gregarious, action-oriented, independent, industrious, and sometimes flamboyant, impulsive, stubborn or unpredictable.  Wood (denoted by the colour green) represents growth, progress, industriousness, energy, and a pioneering spirit in the Chinese five-element paradigm.  The imagery that appeals to me of the Year of the Wood Horse is that of a running stallion.  Powerful, motivated, confident and in motion.
The solar new year (li chun) starts on February 4th this year (apparently some consider that the actual start of the Year of the Horse).  Since I don't know enough about Chinese Zodiac to choose sides, I'll consider this period between the lunar and solar new years (Jan 31st through Feb 4th) as my period of transition from Water Snake to Wood Horse. 
The year of the Snake is passing.  According to this article "Snake years tend to bring unexpected changes into our lives".  For me 2013 brought a complete change of career and moving to a different country with a drastically different climate (from Canada to the Caribbean) and all the other changes attendant with that... and it was most certainly completely unexpected.  However the Snake is leaving now and the Horse arriving. 
Out with the Old (Digital painting) - (c) Pam Boutilier
The next few days are my time to contemplate what the Wood Horse means to me.  I am a Wood Rabbit, which has the typical aspects of Rabbit (clear-sighted, affectionate, quiet, spiritual) but compared to the mean has been described as 'less ambitious, peace and naturalist lover, gentle'.  I can be very nonconfrontational, noncompetitive and quite empathic (sometimes too much).  Being an extremely Yin type of person perhaps I need to embrace and harness the Yang of this coming year and not let myself be trampled or intimidated by it.  I need to work with the Horse and use his power, read his quick responsiveness to the environment around him, observe and learn from the ways in which he is so different from my little Rabbit.  At the same time I must remember not try to fence him in which would cripple his strengths, not try to impose my will on him, and not expect from him the quiet and deep 'contemplation for contemplation's sake' that I might gravitate toward naturally.  
A more Yang type of person may need to be cautious about letting the Horse gallop away, or the Fire burn too brightly (I think my natural tendencies will automatically keep those things in check - but it's not a bad idea to be on watch for them).  Compared to the 'typical' Horse type, the Wood Horse is supposed to be more stable, better at finishing what it starts, and better at making decisions.  These seem like great traits for starting or growing an enterprise this year.
So as I continue working on My Plan for this year (which I actually am working on, amazingly enough) I will keep the idea of the Wood Horse in my mind.  I will push myself to involve other people more, to be more active and less contemplative, to be more assertive and confident, and to take risks.
Wood Horse (Graphite sketch) - (c) Pam Boutilier
So what is your Chinese Zodiac type?  How does the prospect of a Wood Horse year affect you?  What if you took a moment to think about how you are different from the Wood Horse, what could you learn from the Horse?  If you are a Horse type, think about how this year can accentuate your strong points but what you may need to be cautious about and 'reign in'.  Share your thoughts in the Comments!

If you want to know how the Year of the Horse affects your type look here:

And if you're just interested in reading more about the Year of the Horse here are a few interesting articles I stumbled across:

If you want a super detailed breakdown of your Chinese Zodiak sign look here:
(I confess, I don't understand much of this - except my lucky element is Fire so this Horse year could be lucky for me!