If you’ve never heard of scratchboard, you’re probably not alone according to artist Cathy Sheeter. As a scratchboard artist and president of the International Scratchboard Society, an organization that started as an online forum, she admits, “We’re still a pretty small community.”
An art form that many children are exposed to in junior high — it was there that Sheeter first fell for it — it’s less common in the art world, but for her that’s what makes it all the more fun. “When I do shows, there are thousands of painters, but people tend to remember me because it’s a medium they might not have seen before,” she says.
Although Sheeter was enamored with art right away, she put it on hold during college. It wasn’t until picking up her first professional scratchboard in 2004 when she fell right back into it. “I pretty much didn’t look back after that,” she says. “I entered a few shows and scratchboard became my focus starting in 2008.”
Scratchboard is a three-layer medium with a masonite board as a bottom support, a white clay-based layer and a top ink layer. Using abrasive tools, the artist scratches through the ink layer to expose the white underneath.
A self-proclaimed animal-crazy kid, Sheeter naturally gravitated to wildlife art, focusing on anything from predators and North American big game, to birds and African wildlife. “I tend to be attracted to portrait type work, and I enjoy the focal point of the eyes,” Sheeter says. “I consider it the soul of the animal.”
She finds scratchboard perfect for realistic depictions of animals that many SCI art enthusiasts are drawn to and has entered work into the small works show at the SCI Convention. “I really like the line quality, the thinness I can get, the detail and the realism I can achieve,” she says. “Up close it looks like real fur, even through a magnifying glass.” Although a lot of scratchboard art is black and white, Sheeter adds color to a good portion of her work — vibrant hues on the wings of birds and muted tones to round out a landscape.
Sheeter is currently in the middle of a three-year residency at the Hiram Blauvelt Wildlife Art Museum in Oradell, New Jersey where she gives demonstrations and spends full days in the studio perfecting her technique. “With scratchboard, I like the drama emerging out of the background as it comes to life,” Sheeter says. “Conveying the animal’s natural behavior and landscape; it all really attracts me.”–Corrine Garcia