Wednesday, March 23, 2016


"Glistening" hippo, 8"x8" scratchboard
"Hippopotamus" means "river horse." The fact that hippos spend most of their time in water lends credence to part of that name, but other than being quadrupedal herbivores, I fail to see the resemblance to horses. Hippos belong to the order Artiodactyla, or even-toed ungulates, which also includes deer, sheep, and bison. However, their closest living relatives are actually whales and dolphins.

Hippos actually have very little fat. Their rolls and wrinkles are formed by their very thick skin, which serves as a defense against predators. The skin produces a natural sunscreen, but still must be kept wet to avoid drying out. Hippos spend most of the day in the water, but emerge in the cool parts of the day to graze.

While hippos tend to graze alone, in the water they form loose groups. Females stay near other females and calves, young males stay with other young males, and the dominant bull stays nearby on his own. Battles for dominance use the hippos' long, sharp front teeth.


Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Musk Ox

"Arctic Soldiers" 12"x16" scratchboard and ink

The musk ox is a phenomenal creature, perfectly adapted to living in the harsh Arctic year-round. Their dense fur traps heat and blocks the wind. Their native range is northern Canada and Greenland, but they have been introduced into parts of Alaska, Russia, and Scandanavia. Musk oxen are part of the Bovidae family, making them related to bison, buffalo, sheep, and goats.

During the rut, males excrete a strong, musky odor to attract females. This, of course, is their namesake. Males butt heads to determine dominance and mating rights. Dominant males will make off with a harem of females, while the subordinate males will spend mating season alone or in bachelor herds. After mating season is over, herds recombine for the winter.

For this drawing, I used a large clayboard, which I airbrushed with black ink to create the background shadows and basic ox shape. I then went in with a paintbrush to paint the details of the animals. I used the fiberglass brush to scratch the fur, face, and snow details. Photo references from the USFWS (public domain).


Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Red Phalerope

red phaleropes, 8"x10" scratchboard and ink
Phaleropes are shorebirds, related to sandpipers. They eat insects and small crustaceans from shallow waters. About 6-8" long, they spend their summers in the Arctic and migrate to the tip of South America or Africa for winter. In the drawing above, the individual on the left is actually the female. The females have bolder colors, defend territory, and seek out mates. She lays three to six eggs, which the male incubates while she starts her migration.


Thursday, March 03, 2016

A Return to Blogging

It seems it has been almost a year since I posted anything here. I keep saying, I need to update my blog! I need to write more posts! But somehow, it has not happened. This time, I am determined to get back into it routinely.

This being World Wildlife Day, I made a decision. Beginning next week, I will write a weekly post called "Wildlife Wednesday." I will write a post about some uncommon species of animal, whether or not I have actually drawn it. This will be in addition to posts about my completed work.

To get things rolling again, here are a few scratchboard drawings I completed in the past year.

"Was That You?" great grey owls, 12"x16"

"Silverback" western lowland gorilla, 14"x11"

"Sol" turkey vulture, 7"x5"

"All About Attitude" green iguana, 9"x12"

"Alone in the Universe" snow leopard, 20"x16"

"On Target" leopard, 10"x8"

"Reassurance" tiger 9"x12"

Monday, March 16, 2015

Portfolio Book

Today I am going to plug my new portfolio book, Scratchboard Artwork of Heather Ward.

sample page

The 7"x9" book consists of 33 of my best scratchboard drawings, each on its own page, with captions as in the sample page above. It is available from for $24.99 (plus tax if applicable and shipping).

Monday, March 09, 2015

Drawing Local Wildlife

I missed posting last week because I have been so busy preparing for a show. I have one drawing left to do and I hang my work in two weeks. For the past several months, I have been putting together a body of work dedicated to only wildlife local to my area, the Pajarito Plateau in the Jemez Mountains of northern New Mexico. Choosing to do only local wildlife gives me the opportunity to use my own reference photos (which I try to do anyway, but most of my local photos are of wild animals, not zoo animals).

So how do I get photos of local animals? I have a 400mm telephoto lens on my DSLR, so I can take clear photos of animals from a distance. I used a removable camo tape to cover all the non-movable parts. The bright, shiny white would have been a major "Hey, Look at Me!" to all animals. Sometimes I will drive around the mountains to see what I can find. I have been able to photograph deer, elk, rabbits, and coyotes this way. I also hike. Hiking with this camera in hand makes for a good workout, especially on the hills and in canyons around here. On my hikes, I take photos for backgrounds and natural textures like rock and tree bark. I don't often see animals larger than a squirrel while hiking. I am fortunate to get mule deer behind my house, so I can often photograph them from my porch. Sometimes, and this is something I want to do more, I pack up all my camo gear and find a hiding spot. I have a blind, a ghillie head piece, a little tripod seat, an electronic caller, and a hand-held elk caller. I have only used this setup once or twice, but I was able to get the interest of a couple coyotes. I realize that the hunters know what they are doing, so I am reading hunting techniques, but instead of shooting the animals with a gun or arrow, I am shooting them with my camera.

Canon EOS Rebel T3i with 70-400mm IS telephoto lens

In my limited experience, I have not been able to find what I call the big three of my area: black bears, bobcats, and the holy grail, the mountain lion. I got a bobcat on my critter cam once, but it was a dark shot. Oh, to see a wild one in person! This is when I take a trip to the local wildlife rehab center. They have several unreleaseable animals, including four bobcats, a few gray foxes, and many raptors. Captive animals will have some differences from their wild counterparts, such as being a bit chunkier, but these animals, the birds in particular, at the rehab center, often have physical deformities that prevent their release. The peregrine falcon, for example, flew at top speed into a power line. He has neurological damage and one wing droops permanently. Several of the birds are missing an eye, or have wing fractures that prevent them from folding their wings in correctly. These things need to be taken into account when drawing them.

Even then, there are animals I cannot find there, either. This is when I turn to the internet. Sites such as and offer royalty-free photos for artists to use. The danger with this, however, is you don't always know where the photos were taken. Bobcats, for example, have a large range, and one from my area will not have the same color coat as one from the northeast US. Coat color and texture often changes with the season, too. It helps tremendously to research your animal before planning your drawing or painting.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Framing Scratchboard Art - Glass or No Glass?

Last week I wrote about sealing a scratchboard with protective spray finish. Now I'd like to cover framing. If you put enough coats of fixative on the board, you can frame without glass. This is a huge plus for me. Glass is heavy and expensive, and if it breaks it will scratch your board up. That being said, you may choose to use glass, and that's fine, too - only make sure that the board does not touch the glass. Why might someone choose glass? I have a portrait of one of my cats I framed behind glass. I keep it on a wall next to the kitchen, which tends to get food or smoke particles airborne (particularly broiled meats). It is much easier for me to clean that stuff off the glass than a naked board. I had a couple purchase a board I had framed without glass, and they chose to add glass because their dog was prone to jumping around and they didn't want it damaged that way.

Now let's look at the flip side. Glass may be easier to clean, but sprayed boards are pretty resilient. They are essentially waterproof, so all that is needed is a lightly damp cloth (not paper towel, because that will leave paper towel dust all over it). But perhaps the best reason that I prefer no glass is, quite simply, you can see the drawing better! I float my boards in the center of an off-white mat (if it is a color piece I might choose a different mat) with a simple black wood moulding. This way, you can see the whole board, sides and all, which makes it more like a painting on canvas than a drawing. It stands out, and makes you want to touch it. In fact, last fall I participated in the local studio tour, many of my visitors made that very comment.

Below are two photographs of my framed work. The first is behind glass, the second is not. For best comparison, both pieces are the same size, photographed on the same wall in the same light conditions. Ultimately, the choice is yours.

framed with regular glass

framed without glass

closeup of frame without glass