"Blue" Gouache on board © Joanna Zeller Quentin 2009.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Inspiration, meet brick wall. Problem.

Every artist goes through this.  Heck, EVERYONE, artist or not, hits this point once in awhile - where nothing seems to work and the creativity batteries are exhausted.  One of the benefits of a professional education in the visual arts is that, as a student, you learn to push through those blocks.  Don't feel like drawing?  Too bad.  Your job is to show up, sit down and produce credible work.  It may not be a masterpiece (or it might) but it will at least be passable.  Plus, (insert artist here, as everyone seems to have "heard" this from a different source!  I thought it was Picasso, but, alas, no verification) once famously said that every artist has 10,000 bad drawings in them.  So, even if what you are creating is fit only for the bottom of the bird cage, at least you are slogging your way towards drawing #10,001.
I know this.  I realize it.  I embrace it and expect it and know that if I just grit my teeth and push through, I will eventually be rewarded by a return to some sort of spark of inspiration. But in the meantime, and it IS a MEAN time,  I have half finished artworks watching me from all corners of my studio and precious little desire or desire to work on them.
The only consolation (small one, to be sure) is that I have spoken to a few friends (and fellow artists) recently who have all confided to having the same "lack of momentum" problem.  One of them is a bestselling novelist who stated simply that the book in her head wasn't "ready to be disgorged on the page yet." She finished with one word, which I think sums it up nicely: "Problem."

Fellow artists, how do you keep your motivation on days (or weeks) when things just aren't happening?

Here is where Tempest stands at the moment.  Notice the ink wash(es) and then the scratching out... ad infinitum.
"Tempest" WIP ©Joanna Zeller Quentin 2010.  All Rights Reserved.  www.MoosePantsStudio.com

and here is a new little portrait, just playing with color.
"Poised" WIP © Joanna Zeller Quentin 2010.  All Rights Reserved.  www.MoosePantsStudio.com

Sunday, August 1, 2010

"Want to come up and see my etchings?"

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.
"Tempest"  WIP

And, from the box of "Works in Progress" in the studio, I unearthed a little scratchboard I started back in early 2000 as a demonstration piece.  It seems that every equine artist has at least one "horse eye" painting or drawing in their portfolio, so here is my contribution.  I'm keeping this one on the dining room table downstairs so I can work on it at night while watching tv.  There's no big pressure to get this one done, and it's pure pleasure to curl up next to my dh and scratch, scratch, scratch away.

"Twhorled" WIP