I am at art camp. The Claudia McGill Please Yourself Art Camp. What a place. The schedule is so wide open, I never know what I’ll be doing, although I should – I’m the camp counselor as well as the camper. Every day a surprise.
Today’s activity – scratch art. I planned to work on boards coated with white clay and then covered with a film of India ink – the idea being to scratch through the ink to expose the white clay.
Background on why this appealed to me. Plenty of reasons, starting with those fantastic pieces my son did in this medium in grade school. It’s been decades and I still think of them with pleasure.
Number two, block printing. I have done a good bit of linoleum block printing over the years. I love the sharp contrasts and hard edges the process produces. I learned about scratch art and it seemed to me that it could provide me with that same look but in a method that’s easier on my hands – they don’t handle the lino cutting tools as well as they used to.
So I got out the box containing the scratch art supplies I had accumulated – the polka dot top made it easy to find. I had some small boards and a beginner’s tool set.
I’d done some research on scratch art techniques and I’d tried it a while back with a couple of ATC’s, but this was the first time I was working on something this large, 6″ x 6″. I reviewed the instructions on the back of the tool container as I set things up on a table in my back yard.
I decided to work from photos I’d taken at various points in the past and had printed out a few I thought might be suitable.
Now, I don’t have any formal art training, and I came into art via fabric work and collage. I can’t remember drawing much in my earlier days (meaning up until maybe a year ago) except to sketch out ideas for wall hangings, collages, and sometimes paintings. I’ve gotten more interested in drawing recently and have been steadily filling pages in my little sketchbooks (I may like drawing because I love notebooks and pens? Something to think about…).
My aim is to represent the scene or photo as best I can and if things get squashed or moved around some, well, I don’t really worry about it. I do like the focus and calmness of drawing. I find the process slows down my mind, encourages care and attention to detail, and proceeds at a pace that encourages contemplation rather than fast results. I hoped to find that maybe scratch art would bring about the same feelings in me.
So I got to work. First up – a picture of a lady hailing a bus, one that I took in Pittsburgh about three years ago. Here are a couple of photos in process and then the final result.
I got very fond of the multi-line tool very quickly. Here is a (somewhat blurry) closeup of what the tool can do.
Next, I worked from a photo of two drummers, part of a Latin band playing at the Easton (PA) farmers’ market several years ago.
I went along meaning to leave the background black, but at the last minute I took it away. I had a moment of thinking I had ruined things, but I like the effect.
Finally, I portrayed a familiar scene – commuters getting on a train at one of our local stations, Glenside, PA – photo taken last summer, maybe.
You see a black blob in the middle of the image. Here’s what happened: I got tangled up in drawing the man’s arm and ended up with an unsightly spot. I couldn’t figure out what to do with it. Then I remembered reading about how to fix things – dab some India ink (being the same substance as the original black surface) on the ailing area. So I did. Now, I had scored quite deeply into the clay, and so the marks show (if you turn the piece sideways, it is especially apparent). But once it had dried (this picture shows it in the process of drying and fading), it did a pretty decent job of giving me a second chance.
I used this same process to fix several sections of the “drummers” image as well, including the pants legs and the fronts of the drums on the right. For me, it just didn’t bother me that things weren’t perfect – I consider the overall result more important, and I think it looks appealing. I hope that as my drawing skill grows, I would have fewer mistakes like this – and it also reminded me to take my time and consider my lines before I drew them. Not a bad lesson.
Finally, I cleared up my tools and materials, and I got out a spray fixative recommended for use with scratch art. It stabilizes the surface and allows the piece to be framed without glass, according to my reading. I did this spraying outdoors. It has a powerful, lingering odor – not for indoor use, in my opinion.
All right. Scratch art was a big hit with me. I will do this again and soon. I like how it fits into my desire to improve my drawing skills and I love the dramatic contrasts in the finished images. I have also read it is possible to incorporate some color, and I will study that idea further, but I do really love the black/white look and I’ll stick with that for the time being. My recommendation – scratch art – try it!