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

Monday, February 16, 2015

Fixative Spray for Scratchboard Art

For the past several days, I have apparently been trying to pass (another) kidney stone. I have been taking Vicodin, which makes my head all fuzzy. I can't scratch, because the board looks blurry and my fingers don't work right. So in the absence of any new work to present, I thought I'd take this week's post to talk about framing scratchboards. I have a show coming up next month and I decided to do my own framing for it. I'm glad I did, because I'll be saving more than 50% over what I'd be paying the framer

Scratchboards, particularly those using Ampersand's boards, may be framed without glass. This is a huge money-saver, both for the cost of the glass and the additional weight for shipping, if necessary. Ampersand recommends using Krylon UV-Resistant Clear spray, which comes in either matte or glossy. I prefer matte, which has a product number 1309. You will hear many scratchboarders have a love-hate relationship with the spray. You love the protection it gives your work, but it can have disastrous results if not applied in ideal conditions.

So what are those ideal conditions? Krylon specifies below 60% humidity - the lower the better. I rarely have a problem with that in the high desert, but if you live along the East coast, you might have to time your sprayings to the weather forecast or get a dehumidifier. The can also recommends using only between 70 and 80°F. I have sprayed outside in temps as low as 50 without a problem, though I bring them right back inside to room temperature to dry. Ventilation is a must. I always spray outside, though for some people that is not possible. Make sure you have fresh air, because this stuff stinks and can't be good for brain cells. If you do go outside, make sure you are sheltered from the wind or you could get some dirt or pollen on your still-wet masterpiece.

I give my drawings five or six coats of fixative, letting them dry anywhere from a few hours to a day or two in between (mostly based on how busy I am with other things or how quickly I need the piece done).

Meanwhile, I can start putting the frames together. Next time, I'll go into detail about how I do that.

Monday, February 09, 2015


There are some animals that are hard to get unique references for. I would venture to say that a hippo is one of them. They rarely come out of the water, and when they do, they are usually eating or sleeping (especially zoo hippos). The open-mouthed hippo is also fairly common in photographs and art. So when a hippo at my zoo gave me this photo opportunity, I knew it would become one of my drawings.

hippo - base layer of tattoo needles and sandpaper

Last week my featured drawing was done using the finish-one-spot-then-move-on method. I worked small areas to completion then moved to a new area. Here, I used an all-at-once method, working the whole board. For the first step, I wanted to put in the base layer. I used flat shader tattoo needles and sandpaper to block in the overall shape.

hippo - adding wrinkles
Then I coated the whole thing with a diluted ink wash. This helps to smooth out the values and minimize brush strokes. I continued by adding lines with a dip fountain pen with black ink. These lines will become the shadow side of the wrinkles. And, since I couldn't help myself, I started adding highlights around the face.

hippo - more wrinkles
Here, I used a thick round tattoo needle for the highlight side of the wrinkles.

hippo - adding highlights
Finally, I used the curved knife blade to scratch out the bright highlights of the glistening water. I didn't like how the left side was turning out, so I scraped it down, re-inked, and started that part over with the sandpaper.

hippo - final
The in-progress photos were taken in more natural light, so you can see some marks where I wiped the dust away with a tissue, or the ink dust sitting on the board. This final image is the cleaned-up version, more in tune with the real final drawing.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Scratchboard Iguana

I am a couple days late posting this, because I wanted to make sure this drawing was finished first. This is the most labor-intensive scratchboard I have done to date. Each scale on this iguana, with the exception of the tiny side belly scales, consists of 3-5 strokes of a straight-blade knife. Some have a very light ink wash to darken them, some have an additional stroke of a curved-blade knife for a highlight. I decided to work each area pretty much to completion before moving on.

I wanted the tail to be a bit out of focus, so I used a base layer of short tattoo needle strokes followed by the fiberglass brush using very short strokes, almost stippling.

The iguana is mostly finished here. All that remains are bringing out the spines on the back and adding the ground.

finished iguana

detail photo of shoulder area
Next week, I will demonstrate building up a drawing all together instead of in parts.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Scratching Large Boards

"The Buck Stops Here"

I don't normally work big. Most of my scratchboards so far have been 8"x10" and 9"x12", and I've done a few 5"x7" and 11"x14". This buck is 16"x20". I know you can get scratchboards as large as 24"x36", but I can't imagine working that large (yet)! I chose a large board for this buck because I felt a small board wouldn't do him justice. He used to visit my backyard occasionally, and this drawing is based on one of my own photos of him. Sadly, I haven't seen him for several years.

Having a larger subject means you can include more detail. This drawing on an 8"x10" would mean the deer's head would only be about two inches high! Certainly not big enough for the kind of detail I like to do. On this board, I did not use the knife except to clean up edges. For the fur, I used fiberglass brushes and large tattoo needles (the photo is a bit dark so you can't see the body detail - trust me, it's not just black). I scratched and inked and rescratched the grass to get the layered effect, which might be hard to see in the photo above. The antlers were done primarily with a fiberglass brush and a diluted ink wash with a scalpel for highlights.

In all, this was not too difficult a subject for a large board. There is a lot of space left black, so it didn't take me eons to finish. A more complete background, including bushes and trees, would have taken significantly longer, though may have been more interesting in the end.