I’ve been thinking about scratchboard for quite some time. It’s a natural with a bunch of black cats, don’t you think? However, I kept insisting that I ink my own boards and I just wasn’t getting around to it. When a saw a package of pre-inked scratchboard sheets on sale, I bought them.
Scratchboard, at least the last time I did the technique some time in high school, is black India ink painted evenly on a smooth and/or glossy surface so that when you scratch the surface with a sharp instrument it removes the ink in the manner you’ve scratched it, as if you were drawing with a fine white pen. You are, then, drawing in white on black, and in a reductive manner instead of an additive manner as we are accustomed to—instead of making marks on paper to build the image you remove material to build the image. This can be disorienting as you try to draw something in like the little hairs along Giuseppe’s back when what you really need to do is just leave them there and remove the unnecessary inked area from around the hairs. Easier said than done. Kind of like Michelangelo saying he took the block of marble and removed everything that wasn’t the sculpture he saw inside, it’s a different approach to what you want to accomplish. When I create block prints I work in the same manner since I am cutting away all the areas that won’t be covered with ink to print and leaving those that will.
So I have been thinking of scratchboard since my cats are black, and thinking ever more heavily about it since I’ve had these papers, two or three weeks. Giuseppe and Mr. Sunshine were cuddling on my drafting table the other day, the sun streaming in the window onto the white surface, and I decided right then that the figures silhouetted against the table, and Mr. Sunshine’s features, furs and whiskers alight against Giuseppe’s black fur, would be my first scratchboard subject. I could see it as I looked at them. I took a reference photo and prepare to do the sketch.
But last week was the week that was and every time I settled in to do the sketch it was late, I was tired, my hands were tired, my wrists hurt, and I didn’t want to give it a try until I could give it my best. That gave me more time to decide what I would use to scratch the board and visualize exactly how I would deal with certain individual hairs and whiskers. And people wonder why I’m late for things. With such important things to consider, how do I ever get anywhere?
I opened the photo in Photoshop on my computer screen and lightly sketched the basic outlines in pencil so I’d have something to go by. Normally I simply enjoy just sketching onto the surface in whatever medium I’d chosen and letting my hand-eye coordination work it out so that I’m not constrained by guidelines that don’t permit my sketch to grow organically. In this case, however, with my first experience with a medium since high school, and even after practicing on the corners with a few test scratches unsure of how it would work with different angles and pressures I thought I’d give myself a little guidance and sketched on the outlines of Sunshine’s head and Giuseppe’s back and face. You can “erase” unwanted marks with a black marker, but that changes the surface of the paper and this would have a lot of delicate areas that I didn’t want to be disturbed, and a lot of subtlety. Where I typically like my sketchy lines that build an image, I only wanted the essentials here.
The background would be solid white as well, since that was partly what had inspired me about this—their silhouette against the white drafting table reflecting full sunlight. Highlights and textures are built with patterns of lines and dots with scratchboard, but when I finished with my series of fine white lines very close together and even added some cross-hatching in the “white” area I just wasn’t happy and wanted that contrast. I used the flat edge of the blade instead and, especially with the help of all those lines and crosshatches, completely cleared the surface of any black so that it was solid white. Perfect! Well, almost. I had scratched a little vigorously and the smooth surface was also scratched, and a bit of the ink residue from what I’d scratched off tinted those scratched areas. I decided on a little help from Photoshop for this and after I’d scanned it I went over the white background and erased all the smudges. But it’s just what I was picturing.
Now that I’ve done this once I have more ideas about how to do the next one. The tiny wood carving implement I began with was okay but not the best, and the X-acto No. 11 blade was too fine and at a bad angle to clear away the background, the No. 24 worked better for that.
Overall I’m pretty pleased with my first scratchboard in about 35 years, and I can’t wait for my next one.
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What else was I sketching on this date?
Mimi Graceful, 2013
I had started out with the idea to do much more than this, actually two cats, but I got this far and decided I liked it. So I stopped, the kitties got up and moved around and the moment was gone. I still liked it as it was.
I named it for Mimi because the shape immediately resembled Mimi, but it is not Mimi. Mewsette and Bean were draped over each other in the box, and I began with Mewsette.
It’s not surprising to me I painted Mimi in Mewsette’s place. Mimi and I had just spent some time out in the yard, just she and me and not even my camera, and I was thinking about how much I love her. She and Mewsette are very close, and while they have many differences in shape and size and personality, they are in many ways very much alike.
This is a tiny little painting! I was working on the very last page in one of my inexpensive 5″ x 7″ watercolor sketch books ($1.00 bin at Joann Fabrics), and I had to keep myself contained to stay on the paper, especially since I was intending to paint two cats. Unfortunately, this being the last page, I had some bleed-through from other paintings I’d done. I had thought I’d be covering more paper and I’d cover those up, but not so. I just tried to use them when I realized they were there, the blob below her extended arm and the blurred area by her hip. There was also a pale purple sphere over her head, but nothing a little Photoshop can’t fix.
And I’m not sure why all these little watercolors come out blue. Well, I do know why, it’s because I use blue watercolor paint, but I can’t figure out why, when I choose to do simples or silhouettes I use this shade of blue as in Blue Purple Cats, Indigo Nap and Bath, and Winter Light, though sometimes purple as in A Heart on Her Paw and Calming Purple Kitty. This time I actually tried to get myself to use green…just couldn’t do it, meaning I couldn’t visualize it in green, when I tried I saw nothing, but in blue I saw the painting I had in mind. Guess I’ll have to work on that. Or maybe not.
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Out My Back Door, 2012
Mewsette looks out into the yard, Giuseppe into the garden and Mr. Sunshine through the open space under the door for whatever is happening out in our back yard. I see swift little shadows of chippies and mousies and voles run right past the door, rustlings in the bean plants and all sort of birds and insects flying about in the yard. So much to see on a summer morning!
(Yes, I’m still quoting old pop songs.)
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Morning Shift, 2012
Mr. Sunshine, Mewsette and Giuseppe crowd together on the shelf before the front window to watch the early activities on a summer morning. I’ve always loved to watch all of my cast here through the years, simply enjoyed this activity of theirs. Cats love to watch out windows, it’s just a given when you live with them.
I sketched another the other day in marker with two cats, Morning at the Window.
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