Studio Tour

Like any other artist, I simply LOVE seeing the creative spaces of others. Their space, studio, desk, easel, organization, accoutrements, etc. So today I thought I would take you on a quick tour of my home studio.

When my husband and I bought our home, we had one primary criteria during our search - a great space for art, whether that be a den, formal dining or 3rd bedroom. We both work in artistic fields, and most of our date nights are at our respective desks, right next to each other, watching a movie and drinking coffee while we art out. A lame date night to some, perhaps, but it's our most perfect evening. This house gave us two extra rooms that flow into each other. The first is our collective space, while the second room is all mine. 

My desk, above left, is where I create all of my art, from scratchboard to photography (my day job), and anything else I fancy.   //   Above right, is a board of important miscellany. Clippings of art that I love. A photo of my grandfather, who always looks over my studio, my daughter's drawings and pictures of my husband and I. My grandmother's Quilting Guild pin, and my favorite photo from my favorite photographer, Diane Arbus.

Above left, this is what 100 Xacto blades look like when dumped into an itty bitty bowl.   //   Above right, my toolbox. Everything I need for my scratchboard pieces.

Some scratchboards-in-waiting.

Above left, in the second room of my studio, is a very personal space. This is where I meditate, surrounded by art, artifacts, and family heirlooms that have been passed down to me. To the left of this space (unpictured) is a cabinet where I store my photo equipment, and to the right of this space (also unpictured) is the cage/home of Otter, my ferret. She keeps me company here when she's not free-range and causing havoc, as ferrets will do.   //  Above right, a little collection of vintage cameras.

Above left, my collection of vintage photographs, which inspired my first scratchboards ever and led to a deep love of all things historic.   //   Above right, one of my favorite pieces of art. I framed this deck of tarot cards (majors only) that were hand-printed in Italy. It is hung over my meditation desk.

Above left, my newest collection, "We Shall Overcome", framed, plaqued, and ready to deliver for the Creative Pinellas show on Oct 26th.   //   Above right, a sneak preview of what I'm working on right now (in progress). An experimental blend of scratchboard and oil.

Before you go, I feel I owe you transparency. A secret perhaps. So I will leave you with one final picture. It's not pretty but it is honest. Below is a picture of my desk, photographed on any given day - not just on the day I'm going to post photos to a blog. It is messy. It is chaotic. It is active and overrun. But it is loved and it is a happy space. This is how my desk looks almost every day.

The Buchenwald Project


This infamous photograph was taken in 1945 during the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp. This is an image I have wanted to complete for a very long time. About 4 years ago, I attempted this piece on a very large scale for scratchboard art - it was 18x24". I was overwhelmed by the size, and I wasn't happy with the results (see my previous post for a rundown of the Ugly before the Pretty), so I put it away for nearly 2 years. When I eventually pulled it out to finish it, I accidentally ruined the entire board with a batch of bad ink, rendering it complete and irreparable garbage. I cried. I stomped my feet. I threw it in the dumpster, all the while swearing I would never attempt this piece ever again. It was my white whale, and it had gotten away. It won. I lost.

When I received this grant from Creative Pinellas, my husband convinced me that it wasn't enough just to display a new body of work - I had to create a showstopper. At his urging, I agreed to give this image another go. But it wouldn't be 18x24" this time. It would be 36x48". (Thanks, honey.)

I don't know what I was thinking.

In order to look at it with fresh eyes (and an open little creative heart), I had to approach it differently. I decided to create this gigantic scratchboard in pieces. I purchased 35 6x6" squares - 7 across, 5 down - on which to scratch and then mount on wood. Basically, it will be a large grid, each square a fraction of an inch from its neighbor, all projecting from the board by about an inch. 

Below are some images of my progress so far. At this stage, I am just past the halfway mark with 19 completed squares. They are not scratched in order. In fact, I have purposely completed them in a random order so as to encourage small differences in shading or technique from square to square, only noticeable once fully assembled. This project has taken up a month of my life so far, and will likely claim all of September as well. It is exhausting. If it is a huge success, I will give my husband a big hug and kiss and thank him for suggesting it. If it is a failure, I will push him down and smack him around a bit. It's really win-win either way.

This is what 35 inked squares look like.

This is what 35 inked squares look like.

Some of the squares, taped and outlined with chalk.

Some of the squares, taped and outlined with chalk.

First finished panel.

First finished panel.

One by one, they keep coming...

One by one, they keep coming...

Finally at the halfway mark! This is what 19 finished squares look like.

Finally at the halfway mark! This is what 19 finished squares look like.

At this point, I figured I could start building the wooden panel they will sit on. Assembling the completed pieces onto the wood will start to make it look like a real image, and give a little light at the end of the tunnel.

At this point, I figured I could start building the wooden panel they will sit on. Assembling the completed pieces onto the wood will start to make it look like a real image, and give a little light at the end of the tunnel.

Half assembled, though not yet framed. The photograph it looks a bit flat, but seen in person, I have confidence this will be a great piece.

Half assembled, though not yet framed. The photograph it looks a bit flat, but seen in person, I have confidence this will be a great piece.

19 down, 16 to go...

19 down, 16 to go...

The Ugly Before the Pretty

  When I first took up this medium, it took me quite a while to get used to the ugly of it. Hours and hours spent scratching just for it to look, garbage. I gave up on many pieces in the beginning. I would have a grand idea, sketch it out, transfer it, scratch all afternoon, and it would go absolutely nowhere. I would toss it in the trash halfway done and start another one. (And that one would have a 50/50 chance of survival as well.) I cringe to think of all the amazing pieces I turned my back on. I hadn't yet learned that unlike a painting, which shows promise with a single brushstroke of color, or a charcoal drawing which starts to breathe life within only moments, scratchboard (at least the way that I create it) takes a long (long, long) time to emerge into anything resembling art.

I thought I would take this opportunity to introduce a piece I am working on for the upcoming show in October, and show its process in four distinct steps.

STEP 1, above:  This took me 6 hours to complete. Yes, this messy piece of crap took up SIX HOURS OF MY LIFE! Imagine spending six straight hours toiling away towards a final product of perceived brilliance, and at the end of that time, this is all you have to show for it. It's enough to make you want to slam your forehead into your (dirty, inky, lascerated) desk.

STEP 2, above:  At this point, 4 hours later, it is starting to look a little more like a real image. My heart rate has slowed and I'm not as twitchy as I was during phase one, although after a total of ten scratching hours, I am somehow always expecting more at this point. Nothing to write home about. Still ugly.

STEP 3, above:  Finally, I am getting happy. By the time this phase is complete, I have another 6 hours invested in this particular piece. That's a total of 16 hours, and although the image is clearly emerging, it is far from done. The shading is smooth, but flat. The highlights are still too gray, and there is little detail. Still plenty left to do.

STEP 4, above:  Completion! The first 3 phases have very defined goals as far as the scratching of lines, and the planning of shaded areas, but phase 4 is simply the best! At this point, I just scratch until it is finished. The final step on this piece took an additional 7 hours.

Above, the completed piece, finished, framed, and clocked in at 23 hours.
But damn, ain't she pretty?

The "Joys" of a Difficult Medium

I have sat at an art festival with my wares, watching as buyers and looky-loos admire the oils, watercolors and sculptures of my tented neighbors. I have watched them oooh over jewels and aaah over fiber. And I have watched as their faces fall—and puzzle, and sometimes even scowl—while they appraise my works on scratchboard. They seldom cross the threshold into my booth. They whisper to their friend, “what is that?”, and their friend shrugs and shakes her head. Then they move on.

It’s challenging to work in a difficult medium. Most people do not know what scratchboard is. They don’t know how it is created or how to categorize it in their minds. It isn’t paint. It isn’t pencil. It isn’t printmaking. So is it art? Scratchboard seems to baffle people. And people don’t like to be baffled. I have considered changing the description of what I do to “Ink Etchings”. This really is the closest approximation I can make in order to accurately title it. But at the end of the day, it is what it is, and I must be true to the medium. It is simply “scratchboard”.

If I could create my art in any other medium, for the comfort of art buyers, I might consider it. I have worked in everything under the sun, from pastel to oil to watercolor to ink. But nothing fulfills me quite like scratchboard. I suppose that leaves little else to say about it—scratchboard is my medium. Just like every artist must find their own vision, so too must they find exactly the right medium in which to interpret it. 

And therefore, my first official post on this blog will be a breakdown of what it takes for me to create a work in scratchboard. Perhaps you remember an elementary art class where you had the assignment to scribble colored crayons on paper, cover the scribbles with black crayon, and then scratch though it with a wooden dowel. That’s scratchboard! Many people did this in school, so when describing scratchboard to someone, I usually start with this example. What I do is the grownup version of that. 

I begin with a panel that has been coated with fine white clay, and then coated again with an opaque layer of India Ink. This is my canvas. It is black. And since it is black, I cannot draw the lines of the face, the eyelashes, the contours of the clothing. I can only reveal the highlights. This medium forces the eye to see things in reverse. Instead of drawing the iris of an eye, for example, I must create the whites that surround it, leaving the iris untouched.

There are more scratchboard artists than you may imagine, and most create their art using a variety of tools, such as steel wool, fiberglass brushes (yes, that’s a thing), metal scrapers, etc. But I have limited myself (purposefully) to using only a single Xacto blade. I work my layers, of which there are up to 12 or more in a single artwork, in very precise grid of crosshatching. I want my scratches to be visible when viewed up close. I am seeking a delicate balance between lifelike and graphic. From a distance, my work presents as a photograph, but upon inspection you will see the very distinct and hard lines of every crosshatched layer.

Scratchboard is unlike any other medium I have tried. It is confusing, difficult, laborious, and hard to explain. But isn’t that part of what makes it so interesting? What is an artist without a little dose of difficulty? Aren’t we, as artists, difficult people? How many bland and compliant artists do you know? I’m guessing not many. I feel lucky to have found a medium that suits me so well. In fact, I may go so far as to say my medium is an extension of who I am as a person—a dozen shades of gray, hard to understand, not everyone’s cup of tea, pretty from far away, but up close, a carefully arranged grid of chaos.

For one final consideration of scratchboard, think about this: every fully-rendered square inch of one of my finished pieces has an average of 352 lines that have been scratched through it. Yes, I have done the math (I have a love affair with numbers). Therefore, my average 12x16” scratchboard piece, which has 192 square inches, contains 67,584 individually scratched lines. 

You can see in the example I show above (which is, by the way, one of the pieces in my new collection that will be shown on Oct 26th, with thanks to Creative Pinellas) the difference between viewing from afar and viewing up close. This particular piece is 16x20” and contains approximately 112,640 individually scratched lines. Not that you were counting.

Artist Statement

My work is inspired by the human experience, as trite as that sounds, but I struggle to call it anything else. I am fascinated by the historic photos of generations gone by, and everything that their struggle laid forth for all of us—I am deeply rooted in the experience of nostalgia. I crave a deep and meaningful connection to those who came before, and my art is how I reach back through time to take their hand. By revealing the past, line by line, in black and white, I am trying to recapture a profound and life-altering emotion that was felt by someone I’ll never meet. With my scratchboards, I am honoring them and meditating upon them—it’s impossible not to when I’ve spent an hour crafting the bridge of their nose one scratch at a time.

There is an intense devotion that transpires when I am lost in thousands upon thousands of brittle white lines. The world goes quiet and still. There is an exchange of energy between myself and the work. An excitement when, after hours of whittling away the ink bit by bit, finally—finally!—the image begins to emerge. That moment is nothing short of magic, and is worth the dedication of a lifetime spent learning it.

I have lived in Florida for most of my life, and have dedicated the last six years to perfecting my own unique style of scratchboard technique. I have participated in a number of gallery shows and festivals, from Miami Beach to Seattle, and have had my work published in three anthologies of art, published by Out Of Step Books. I was also a featured artist, honored with an eight-page spread, in Emboss Magazine’s Black & White issue. I am a member of the International Society of Scratchboard Artists and American Women Artists.

Surrounded by an endless supply of pens, papers, paints, fabrics and clays, I grew up in the Florida Keys and was taught color theory and proper wheel-throwing techniques before mastering my shoe laces.

With the Emerging Artist Grant from Creative Pinellas, I look forward to exploring a time in our not-so-distant history that is still painfully relevant in our current society. Working from images taken at the Selma March in 1965 and the years encompassing that impactful time in our nation’s history, I want to honor the generation that rose against racism and segregation in America. By bringing these images to light in a new way, I hope they will serve as a celebration of what was accomplished, a reminder of what still must change, and a call to move forward, equal, together.