by Bob Bahr
Texas scratchboard artist Sally Maxwell created excitement among TexArt participants with her one-day scratchboard instruction. We caught up with her at the Quick Draw and documented the steps in her process.
The artist had already completed all the steps in this stage before the Quick Draw. Maxwell begins by compiling the appropriate reference photos. For many of her compositions, this requires more than one image. Next, she assembles a composition. From that, she makes a graphite drawing. She scans and enlarges this drawing and prints it out. Maxwell traces this onto tracing paper and holds this up to her sliding glass doors. “This is just a cartoon,” Maxwell emphasizes. “I’m just getting the outline of the shapes, and the places where the light changes—the plane changes.” The pastel dust allows her to transfer the information to the scratchboard. Maxwell then scratches in the general shapes of the rough drawing, going over the outline with the tool.
Next comes the longest stage, in terms of time–scratching in the hairs. “This is painstaking work,” says Maxwell. “It’s what I call the gray stage; John Banovich calls it ‘the abyss.’ It’s the stage when you are getting depressed because it doesn’t look like anything yet, but it’s a necessary stage in any work of art. In mine, it’s also the stage when you are filling in between all those lines. The scratch nib is her primary tool in this stage, switching to the Fiberglas brush for the eyes, where she needs to to soften areas.
The next stage is sculpting the image with the scratch tools. “You are going to shade all those shades of gray into multiple shades,” says Maxwell. “You will end up with some white lines, and some grays. You are sculpting it into the tones. You are making the textures in the gray stage, but now your are sculpting the form. The scratched lines that are not as deep don’t take as much ink and they will recede.”
Now she paints. Maxwell mixes various colors of ink, blending color and diluting them with water to get the effect she wants. The dilution ratio varies, but she tries out the tints on watercolor paper to make sure she has the right degree of saturation and value.
Next she returns to her scratch nib and cuts back into the painted areas, which allows her to repaint areas in lighter ink where desired. She can scrape into the Amerpsand wood-based scratchboard up to eight times without getting down to the wood through the clay. Incidentally, the clay on this product was white and Maxwell air-brushed it with india ink. “I can get really rough with it,” says Maxwell. “You couldn’t possibly do that with a cardboard backing.”
Then she blends the transitions using the side of the nib instead of pressing down, straight on. “This is for softer lines, not highlights,” Maxwell explains. For the whiskers, she picks up a black India ink Faber Castell Pitt pen to draw in black hairs that cross over the white, scratched-in lines. Then she returns to the scratch nib to scratch out white whiskers over those black lines for another layer. This adds depth, as does his application of a tint of blue to some whiskers for variety. Finally, she adds the highlight on the fox’s eye. To protect the piece, she sprays it with spray varnish.
The completed piece: “Sly Fox,” by Sally Maxwell, 2016, scratchboard with ink, 8 x 8. Ω