black and white
It’s 1:00 in the morning, and I have been roused from my bed by a haunting vision of two Belgian mares standing in a meadow. Seriously. These two mares were the subject of a photo shoot back in the spring of 2010, and one of the bargains struck with the owner (before he allowed me to go slogging in knee high mud through his fields) was that I would send him a print of one of the paintings I would create featuring his two lovely horses. “Tempest” was actually inspired by this photo shoot – although it looks nothing like a calm, placid 15 year old Belgian mare contentedly nibbling at her hay. I hesitate to send him a print of one of his mares looking like a wild beastie from a Walter Farley novel.
(Here is the finished “Tempest”, btw. Turn it on it’s side and squint your eyes, and you can just see a quiet, elderly mare with a slight breeze ruffling her mane. Such is the magic of art.)
“Tempest” © Joanna Zeller Quentin 2010. All Right Reserved. www.MoosePantsStudio.com
But, alas, the end of the year is fast approaching, and my plan of delivering a small painting to this gentlemen is in peril… because I can’t find the darn photographs. Here in my studio I have thousands of photos. Hundreds upon hundreds upon hundreds of shots – mostly horses (followed by birds and then big cats and then everything else), all sorted and catalogued by subject. Want a rodeo scene? Check. Want a picture of kids with their ponies? Got it. Want a Saddlebred just stepping into the sunlight with a glittering ribbon pinned to her bridle? Here you go! Jumpers and dressage and reining and lungeing, I’ve got them all. All reference shots, and all mine. But 23 pictures of two mares, a field, an old man who would have fit perfectly in the last century puttering around his farmyard, sweet shots of plowed earth, broken cornstalks and rich, heavy, black Illinois topsoil? I have no idea where they went. And now it will drive me crazy.
It does, however, give me an excuse to pull open my heavy filing cabinet drawers, grab a handful of pictures, and dream. Here’s a painting, and here’s a painting, and here’s an etching, a drawing, a watercolor. In my hands I hold the promise of so much great art! Magical moments where the light and shadow have come together with the action and the sentiment and the pure equine form – and somewhere buried in all of that is exactly what I’m trying to say with my paintings and drawings. Look at this creature, this thing, this miracle, this wild, four legged spirit partnered with man to do amazing and athletic things. Look at him jump and race and run. Look at him cut cattle or execute a canter pirouette. Look at him safely cart children around the field or step into the show ring before thousands of spectators in a world class competitive setting. And look at the relationship forged between man and beast. We can guide a half ton animal around with a piece of leather. We can ask him to jump over 5′ fences. We can watch him separate cattle from the herd or chase a ball around while his rider swings a large stick in the air. We can put him in a starting gate, throw the doors open, and expect him to fly down a dirt track, striving to vanquish every other horse on the field.
Painting after painting after painting. Photograph after photograph after photograph. Idea after idea after idea, until finally the idea becomes inspiration, and the inspiration translates to the art.
I’ve been taking a break from color lately and revisiting one of my favorite mediums. Scratchboard is the “red haired stepchild” to the venerable etching, one of the most popular reproduction mediums in the artistic world. Instead of requiring a metal plate, block of wood or (more recently) plexiglass and ready access to lots of dangerous chemicals, today’s scratchboard consists of a clay ground affixed to board or heavy paper and coated with india ink. You scrape away at the india ink to expose the underlying clay, and – voila! – scratchboard’s incredible detail. You can use anything to scrape away at the india ink- Xacto blades, specialized tools, steel wool, a dremel, an awl, a nail (I actually know a fellow student in college who did an entire board with a thumbtack), etc, etc – anything that will remove the ink without digging too deeply into the clay. I have been fascinated by this medium since high school, when my first attempt at a scratchboard of a girl and a row of 18th century buildings (it was very “Interview With the Vampire”) won a major prize in a regional art competition. As the years have passed, it’s a medium I have returned to often, usually with a sigh of relief and great enjoyment. My college thesis project was a full portfolio in scratchboard, and I will never forget the many comments made by gallery patrons (beware what you say in an art gallery – the artist may be standing right next to you!) as they all stepped forward to stare at the thousands of little hatchmarks that make up each image. I heard lots of things like “I would go crazy!” and “Who has the patience for that?” and “Who is insane enough to attempt 24 x 36 scratchboards?” I must confess I wondered the same thing as I worked on some of those damn pieces… scratch, scratch, scratching away frantically through the night.
To me, scratchboard is an exercise in zen. I can think of no other medium that is so meditative and soothing as you work, sitting with a shining black board picking away at details. Hair patterns, thread counts, textures, leaves, grass, fur, feathers – these things lend themselves superbly to scratchboard. I have found that by starting with a white clayboard and inking it myself, I have better control over how the ink will react to the blade, and I can get some effects that are harder to achieve on a commercially prepared board.
There are some truly legendary scratchboard artists out there who have pushed the medium beyond the traditional black and white by adding color or incorporating the technique into paintings, drawings and the like. Their innovation has inspired me to try new techniques, such as the one I am testing out for “Tempest”. Instead of using blades to remove the surface ink, I am using small bits of sandpaper, steel wool and fiberglass to “draw” through to the clay surface. I’ve only spent about an hour or two on it, but so far I am very pleased with the effect.