Art is a constant learning process for me. I painted "Scarlett - Red-Tailed Hawk" in a similar manner as I painted "Hair of the Dog," using transparent fluid acrylic paints on a small 6"x6" black scratchboard panel, but this time depicting feathers vs. fur. The photos of my work in process highlight some of the steps in capturing this majestic bird. The technical info in the second half of this post may be of particular interest to other artists who use Scratchbord® and want to benefit from my mistakes!

Photo of Scarlett - great feet!
Scarlett is a magnificent bird and I was grateful for the opportunity to photograph her closely. Her misfortune was my good luck; Scarlett was injured while in the wild and ended up in a captive raptor program with Tennessee State Parks. Scarlett now has a fine home at Harrison Bay State Park and joins rangers for demonstrations and other educational programs. Scarlett was starring in a birds of prey demo at an outdoor fall fair where I met her and her handler and took fabulous reference photos.

This is my second painting on Ampersand Scratchbord® and I encountered some new challenges this time. Fortunately, I was able to overcome the surprises and finish the painting as I had envisioned it. Some of my techniques may be unconventional; I haven't been part of the scratchboard community long enough to know if there are "purists" as with watercolors. The suggestions I've listed below might be second-nature to an experienced scratchboard artist, but I thought they might be helpful for newbies like me. (NOTE: Click on any images in this blog to enlarge them.)

1) Don't scratch to uncover big areas (like over 1/8") which you want to stay pure white until you are finished scratching black away elsewhere. The scratches in such areas can collect fine black dust and this can be tough to remove. In my anxious attempt to depict the highlight on the yellow part of Scarlett's beak at the start of my painting, I faced this problem. After the scratches filled with black, I tried to scratch deeper to get back to pure white and was unsuccessful. I was afraid to scratch any deeper. I tried wiping away the black residue with isopropyl alcohol, but that didn't work. Ultimately, I painted the small area over with gesso as one of my final steps to resolve this problem to recreate a pure white area.

2) It is possible to remove the black finish from an area on Scratchbord® without scratching or other abrasive methods… you can dissolve and wipe it off using isopropyl rubbing alcohol, as I did on Scarlett's eyes and places  I intended to paint bright yellow. Start by setting your panel on a flat surface, so the alcohol won't drip out of your targeted white area as it could if on a slant. The black india ink surface needs a little massaging with the alcohol to soften it. Since alcohol evaporates quickly, it is best to keep blotting off the blackened liquid as you work, with tissues or Q-tips, working small areas at a time. Dissolve, blot, dissolve, blot.
     I've used various ways to remove the black surface, working from a little cup of rubbing alcohol and rinsing off my tools frequently to wash away the black residue:
(A) The alcohol can be painted on carefully with a stiff brush. I use old brushes or a small "Fritch Scrubber", used by watercolor artists (available in different sizes). Small circular motions, using a soft touch to avoid disturbing the white clay surface, dissolve the alcohol fast.
(B) For a large area, individually foil-packaged pads of isopropyl alcohol are handy. Some are more saturated and thicker than others; I like the "Dukal" brand since it is a small thin pad and just slightly damp. As an alternative, fold a little square of tissue and dab it in alcohol to wipe with.
(C) You can mask off the area you want to be white. On a new scratchboard painting currently in the works, I used blue painter's masking tape on each side of a flower stem, pressed the edges down well, and uncovered the white layer quickly.

3) After doing a lot of scratching and abrasion of the black surface, fine particles of black can remain on your Scratchbord panel. After Step 6 as shown in my work-in-process photos above, I planned to start painting with transparent acrylics, so I wanted to be sure the surface had no fine black residue first. (BEWARE: don't do this if you have painted any areas with watercolors, since it re-wetting will disturb them.) I began wiping my Scratchbord surface with a dampened soft cloth (a sponge works too) and was surprised at all the black dust it picked up. I repeated the process several times, rinsing the cloth between. Black kept showing as I wiped, even though my work was a small 6" square panel. I finally decided to hold the board under the faucet and gently flow water across the face. One final wipe showed no more residue, and I placed the panel horizontally on a baking rack so all sides could dry thoroughly.

4) Small areas you wish were still black can be retouched, either with permanent black pens (I use Pigma Micron pens) or permanent black india ink brushed on.

5) When you are ready to sign your work, don't sign it where you've done lots of scratching… whether you scratch or use paint or a pen, your signature can become distorted on the irregular surface.

6) If you are sealing your work with a clear spray, be very sure to clean the surface of any residue, lint, or dust, particularly if big areas of solid black remain. I used a cloth made for cleaning eye glasses and hold the panel at different angles in front of a light source for final inspection. Also be sure that you do your spraying in a dust-free zone!

7) When using a protective spray coating, hold the can at a very slight angle, not directly over your work. This way, if a drip comes out along with the fine spray (which happened to me several times) there's less chance that the drip will fall on your artwork.

8) If you didn't do number 7 above and you get a big drip on the otherwise lovely surface, don't fret! I got a big fat drip in the bottom left corner of Scarlett, and thought I had ruined my work. I had used Krylon "Gallery Series" UV Archival Varnish aerosol spray in a satin finish. I knew that as an archival finish, the coating should be removable without harming the art. Info online said it could be removed with mineral spirits. WARNING: I also saw a comment by someone who removed it successfully with rubbing alcohol; the india ink surface on Scratchbord® will dissolve with rubbing alcohol (see #2 above), so that would be disastrous! I let my panel dry for 24 hours after I had sprayed on the Krylon finish, then used mineral spirits on a clean cotton rag and started to rub gently on the blob on my artwork. It slowly began to dissolve and I felt confident this was going to fix my problem spot. I had intended to just eliminate the lump and ignore the rest of the surface, but I goofed and got some little drops of mineral spirits on my black background. They might have dried and disappeared, but I ended up carefully rubbing off the clear coating from my entire panel. Now I can confirm to everyone that this Krylon UV spray is removable! Once my panel was thoroughly dry and clean, I very carefully resealed the surface with two fine coats. As described in #7 above, another big drip came out while I was doing the final coat, but it landed on the big piece of cardboard I had my panel resting on, so I was safe!

I hope these hints help my fellow Scratchbord artists.

I've Got Sunshine... and New Watercolors!

Continuing my current MO of experimenting with new art materials and methods in my paintings, I've completed another scratchboard, this time with a new set of watercolors. I've Got Sunshine is my first painting with QoR® (pronounced 'core') watercolors from Golden Artist Colors (read more about the paints at the end of this post). As with my painting "Jasper," I've painted this on Aquabord®, a white-surfaced scratchboard panel.
When seed drops from our bird feeders into the gravel below the porch, I allow the germinated sunflowers to grow. The lovely blossom in this painting was inspired by my own photo, taken with side-lighting from the morning sun. The close detail in my photo revealed the fine hairs on the stem and leaves, which I had never noticed before. I decided scratchboard would be the perfect surface for me to create these thin white lines. My goal with the watercolor paints was to keep the petals and leaves very transparent and luminous, while creating a dark mottled background for dramatic contrast. It would be a good test of the new watercolors.

After sketching the flower in pencil on a small 7"x5" panel of Aquabord, I dove right into painting. It was fun to depict the variety of shapes in the delicate yellow petals and the greenery on the underside of the flower. Sunflower petals are basically yellow, but you can see all the orange and green tones I used to make these look three dimensional. The leaf on the right was pale green from the sunlight, while the lower leaf was deeply hued with its veins backlit to appear yellow from the glow. The only tube of "green" in my QoR watercolor set was Viridian Green which is too blue to use as a leaf color, so I mixed my greens with Hansa Yellow and Ultramarine. You can see my test swatches below, showing the difference in greens blended from the two different shades of blue in my box, shown in the bottom row of swatches. Ultramarine combines with Hansa Yellow to create a natural green, where the Phthalo Blue mixed a green I can best describe as "high value" - too intense for this flower. Adding a bit of Alizarin Crimson to either green tones down the vibrance, since this red hue is the complement to green (opposites on a color wheel). The tiny swatches above the greens show this effect. Around the background, I dabbed random spots of mixed greens and Phthalo Blue, planning to create the appearance of distant shadows, with greenery and blue sky poking through the darkness.

The dark background color was created by mixing Alizarin Crimson, Viridian Green, and Payne's Gray - red and green, being complements, mix to create gray, and the Payne's Gray made the intensity deeper while adding a slight blue tone. Aquabord has a smooth surface which can make for hard edges when color is applied. I used a pointed small brush to carefully paint the dark background colors around the flower, leaves and stem. Working in one small section at a time so the painted dark outlines were still wet, I used a blotting motion to apply the background colors on the open areas, blending with a dry soft brush. You can see how a dark background makes the blossom appear more vibrant than a white background when you compare photo 1 with photo 3.

The final step, after the watercolors were thoroughly dry, was to use an x-acto knife and scratch through the thin layers of paint to create the downy fibers on the greenery. It was fun to see how alive such a tiny addition made the sunflower look!

I enjoyed working with the new QoR watercolors. Like Golden acrylic colors, these are pigment-rich, meaning I don't have to use much paint mixed with water to get rich colors. They painted on nicely and stayed transparent where I wanted that effect. On Aquabord, re-wetting watercolors lifts them easily off the surface, which is not always so easy when using watercolor paper, but with my own test on watercolor paper I found the colors lifted easily, which is a good characteristic since watercolor can be unforgiving sometimes! Because Golden's watercolors differ chemically from those of other manufacturers, I'm not sure about mixing them with other brands. I look forward to using QoR watercolors again.

Typically I use professional (artist) grade - vs. beginner or student grade - watercolors from companies such as Winsor & Newton, Holbein, Da Vinci, and American Journey. For years, my preference when painting with acrylic paints has been Fluid Acrylics made by Golden Artist Colors. Founder Sam Golden is credited with developing the first artist acrylic paint and many other art products. Not only are Golden products of superb quality, but this employee-owned US company is committed to excellence, innovative, supportive of artists, and socially responsible. Golden introduced their line of "QoR® Modern Watercolors" in 2014, but I only recently became aware of QoR. I assumed Golden's watercolors would give me the same fine qualities as I have enjoyed with their acrylics, so I decided to give them a try.

My left brain kicks in with a love of the technical aspects of artist paints. In researching QoR® I learned that Golden had developed them with their own patented binder (the foundation of the paint in which the colored pigment is carried) instead of using traditional gum arabic. While retaining the qualities of traditional watercolor, Golden describes QoR colors as more vibrant, luminous and lively, with more density than traditional watercolors. Their composition allows QoR watercolors to be rewet easily, even after a year dried on a palette… good for me since I often ignore my watercolor paints for long periods while I concentrate on painting with acrylics. The colors are described as staying brilliant even when they dry, where most watercolors fade a bit when going from wet to dry.

Golden created 83 QoR colors, including three iridescent colors. The QoR colors can be purchased in various sets (of 6, 12 or 24, in 5ml tubes) or in individual tubes. I decided to buy the QoR Introductory 12 Set, which included the colors shown in the top two rows on my swatch chart. It gave me a good basic color selection, to use the paints right out of the tube or for my own blends. Golden also offer sets of Earth Colors and High Chroma Colors. Bottom line - I like working with QoR watercolors.

It's Calendar Time Again

My new 2019 calendar is printed and here's a sneak preview. With one exception, the paintings I've chosen were created within the past year (not counting an inset of artwork I did at age 7). That's more painting than I've done in recent history, hoorah! Most of my newest paintings have been horizontal so they fit my calendar format perfectly. For the past few years  my calendars have found a great following, so now I have a challenge to fill twelve months with new artwork each year. It's a tough job, but I love it!

This calendar illustrates a variety of artwork, including watercolors, acrylics, and scratchboard paintings. Some are very realistic, others are representational but with vibrant colors. I even managed to get my newest cow painting into the layout just before sending it off for printing. Off course, my "star" painting this year - Eat Chicken - graces the cover. My calendars make great gifts - treat yourself, family and friends.

Each calendar retails for $15. I can ship orders in a rip-proof tyvec envelope via first class USPS, with $4 added for shipping one or two calendars, and $5.50 to ship three. Sorry, I am not set up to take credit cards, just cash or checks.

Painting has always been my "moonlighting" job, and this year I've managed to free up more time to devote to this passion. I've abandoned several other interests that normally occupy my discretionary non-work hours - at least temporarily. I didn't plant a vegetable garden this year, although I still get my hands dirty with my many gardens of perennial flowers and veggies (like asparagus), herbs, berries, and wildflowers. The Farm Stand at our nearby Mennonite Community sells a huge variety of gorgeous produce and they are just 5 miles from me, so that's satisfying my fresh veggie needs very well. I've ignored my fiddle and banjo, with no local fund-raiser performances, no jamming, and not even any practice time. My food blog has been put on the back burner (sorry followers), although I'm constantly cooking, baking, and developing my own recipes. Last but not least, my husband Rick has been doing his own extra-curricular activities, devoting time to our local Sheriff's Office. So more painting time for me.

I'll start working on the 2020 calendar now!

My Sunny Side

My art has been chosen for the juried Oak Ridge* Art Center 5th Annual Open Show 2018. "Sunny Side Up" was selected for this exhibition of all types of art media, with no geographical limitations for artists submitting entries. Juror Richard Mills, an accomplished artist and Professor Emeritus of Fine Arts at Auburn University in Alabama, was asked to select 90 works for the show. He found incredibly high quality submitted this year, and when he had narrowed the choices down to 105 he said he didn't want to eliminate any more!

The juror made this wonderful critique of my painting: "While I removed many florals from the exhibition because they are so familiar, this one is very refreshing with an unusual point of view looking up at or through the flower and leaves. This artist is painting at a very high level, displaying excellent skill level and sense of light and shadow. Really well done."

The show runs through November 24, 2018 at Oak Ridge Art Center, 201 Badger Avenue, Oak Ridge, TN 37830. For more info, visit the Art Center's website or phone 865-482-1441. This is the first time I have entered, and I am proud have my painting among some fabulous artwork.

Oak Ridge Billboard in 1940s
* For those not familiar with Oak Ridge, it is a city about 25 miles west of Knoxville TN. It has an interesting history: the site was selected in 1942 for a pilot plutonium plant and uranium enrichment plant, part of the Manhattan Project to develop an atomic bomb. In a race against time, a city emerged in the rural area virtually from scratch, with laboratories, complex plants, transportation, utilities, services and housing for employees and residents for the project - who numbered 75,000 in just 3 years. The area was quarantined, with guard towers and a giant perimeter fence, and the actual project was a mystery to most who were there. The site was dubbed "The Secret City." By the end of WWII, Oak Ridge was the 5th largest city in Tennessee. Two years later, Oak Ridge was relinquished to civilians. Scientific development is still a vital part of the city. Check online for museums and tours in Oak Ridge if you plan to visit.

Mor' Moo

Cows have been very very good to me - the ones I've painted anyway. When I initially got notice of my painting Eat Chicken being considered to hang in a children's hospital, it was the first time I ever thought about kids as an audience for my art. I had been toying with the idea of doing another cow painting, and the old nursery rhyme "Little Boy Blue" inspired the idea for my newest work, "Cow's In The Corn."

So I became more observant of cows while out riding around the rural area where I live. Always armed with my little point-and-shoot Sony Cybershot camera, I got some good photos of cow faces when my subjects were curious and came close to the fence between us. But I just wasn't getting a winning pose. So I went back through my digital cow reference shots, and ended up, once again, with those I had taken on my "farm day" visit to my friends Susan and Dave years ago. There was the perfect face - a photo I had emailed to Susan just after my visit, since it was such a happy-looking cow... and Susan's grandchildren had named her 'Happy' years earlier! Technically, this is not a female 'cow' since Susan and Dave raise males adopted from a dairy farm, but I'll use that term generically. I loved his thrown-back head, the prominent mouth, the textured muzzle, the bulging eye, the little horns behind the ears, and the areas of black and white fur.

I had noticed corn was ripening in the fields around town, and made a tour in the car one sunny day to photograph thick rows of corn in different lighting. Then I bought some corn on the cob and pulled off some leaves (carefully) so I could study them and incorporate one into my composition, to hang out of the cow's mouth. Voila, I was ready to get to work!

I wanted this new painting to be a companion to Eat Chicken, so I used the same primary colors of watercolor, the same size and weight of watercolor paper, and the same technique of pouring the colors and letting them blend randomly over my pencil sketch. You can see some of my pencil sketch through the paint in the top photo of my collage. I guided the wet paint away from some areas, or sprayed it with clear water to thin it, keeping pale or no color in some areas. I love the bright, clean color mixtures that this method creates, and aimed to preserve the luminescence as I painted. I also allowed little sparkles of white paper to remain in the top half of the paper, some of which became faint sunny twinkles in the final painting.

As usual with my animal paintings, I started with the eyes. This cow's right eye popped out as he rolled his head back, with the other only barely visible. I wanted to keep the black-white contrast there, which would emphasize his eye as the focal point. My reference photo included only the cow's head, so I added my own version of his body in profile, keeping it mostly as white fur to add more contrast with his face.

As I began to paint the corn in the top left, I decided I'd have to darken the cow's ears and lighten the white fur at the top of his head in order to distinguish him from the busy colorful background. All three primary colors mixed together can create a nearly black hue. I hoped to maintain some of the glowing color I had already painting on the ears, but much of that was lost when I darkened the fur, unfortunately. Oh well, you can't always get it right. You can see the difference from the 2nd photo to the 3rd in my collage. At least I fulfilled my goal of making him in better contrast with the corn stalks.

My watercolor paper is 300lb which is a thick heavy weight. This allows me to do some scrubbing and scraping without tearing the paper. In places like the top of the cow's head, I re-wet the area with clean warm water, rubbed it with a stiff brush, and blotted off the dried pigment with clean dry paper towel to reveal the white of the watercolor paper better. There was one corn leaf in the top left which kept distracting me, the one falling horizontally; its color varied too much from the colors around it. So I similarly removed some of the yellow/orange color, let it dry, then repainted it with blue-green tones so it would be more harmonious. The bright red spot left of the tail bothered me too, so I blotted away some of the color to make it more subtle.

As a final step I took my x-acto knife and scratched through the paint to create stiff whiskers on the cow's face, fluffy white hairs on the top of the head, bright whites in the eye and highlights on the nostrils and horns. I declared my happy cow painting finished, and emailed the image to Susan and Dave as the first to see it. They approved!

Eat Chicken has sold but I've reproduced it as giclee prints. I'm not so anxious to sell the original Cow's In The Corn, so I'll make giclee prints for sale also. I think the two images will make a fun grouping, hanging side-by-side.