Q&A with Shone Chacko: Scratchboard Artist on view in Fur, Feathers and Fins
March 4-24, 2016
During the opening reception of our March exhibition, Fur, Feathers and Fins, the Pacific Art League of Palo Alto presented a Q&A program with exhibiting artist Shone Chacko. The Q&A was video recorded and may be watched at PAL’s Facebook page at http://on.fb.me/24IvUlR. Below is a discussion between PAL’s Gallery Manager, Stephanie Amon, and Shone Chacko, conducted over email and during the reception.
Pacific Art League (PAL): How did you begin working with scratchboard? How did you become introduced to the medium?
Shone Chacko (SC): I used to be a graphite artist. Four years ago, one of my pencil drawings of a dog had a dark background, and two people asked me if it was a scratchboard! It was then that I first learnt about scratchboard art, and I tried the scratch art paper.
I then found the wet canvas forum, and learned more about scratchboard, and read a lot of tips and tricks there. I started using Ampersand scratchboards and inks and just loved them. I also participated in the first ISSA Exhibition in California, and attended the demos. I realized quickly that this is the medium that best suited me. I started with black and white. I had never painted before, and was scared of coloring boards. But somehow, it came naturally when I tried it, and I now almost always end up coloring my animals.
PAL: How do you see the relationship between scratchboard and drawing or printmaking? There’s a strong gestural element to your work, just like in those media. What is unique about scratchboard that draws you in? Do you work in any other media?
SC: I have no idea about printmaking. But I used to draw a lot, especially graphite drawings and scratchboards felt like a natural progression. I have tried other media such as graphite, charcoal, color pencil, acrylics, pastels and oil but have not been as comfortable as I am with scratchboards.
PAL: Can you describe your studio and working process? How long do the pieces take you?
SC: I have a small studio in my house where I have my stuff set up. I usually draw on a flat table and color with airbrush and inks. Each piece takes anywhere from four or five hours to twenty-five hours, depending on the tools and the drawing itself.
PAL: Where do you get your images? Do you work from photographs, or perhaps observe live animals at zoos?
SC: I work from photographs when I am not doing landscapes. I cannot get the realism I want without a good reference picture showing me the fur direction and the high lights. I work from my own photos as well as I have a few photographer friends who lets me use their photos.
PAL: In an interview with you that I found online, I read that you use surgical scalpels, fiberglass brush and nail buffers to create different scratch effects. Can you talk about your tools a bit?
SC: Scratchboard is a very sensitive medium. Anything that is abrasive can be used as a tool. I just found a new tool online which is an art knife and that has become my new favorite. It’s like an X-Acto knife. I have a lot of tools that I use which includes surgical scalpel, X-Acto knife, electric eraser, fiber glass brush, steel wool, sandpaper, nail buffer, tattoo needles, etc. Each tool makes scratches in the board in a different way and I use them based on the texture I want. If I’m taking off a lot of ink, I can use rubbing alcohol. So, there are many tools that I use.
Visitor: How do you protect them from being scratched now?
SC: I spray three or four thin layers of UV protective varnish on it, similar to a fixative. It doesn’t protect against deep cuts (I could still scratch it with a knife), but little touches you can then rub away with a cloth.
Visitor: What if you make a mistake?
SC: You can use black ink, but if you make a mistake you have to scratch on top of it or cover it up somehow because the texture will not be smooth enough to be part of the background anymore. But if you have an airbrush, you can smoothen it with airbrush. Since most of the scratchboard pieces I make are animals, it’s pretty easy to incorporate mistakes. Fur can go one direction or another! I’ve never had to trash a board because I’ve made a mistake. I can always fix it up in some way.
PAL: Visitors who saw your work in our January Members' Exhibition were often amazed by your fine lines, but confused about how you achieve coloring in final pieces. Can you describe your color application methods? How do you choose between working in color versus black and white?
SC: I like coloring my boards, but occasionally don’t end up coloring when I get sick of working on it or if the black and white version looks good enough. If I decide to color a board, I have to scratch out the black more than usual. I then color it with inks and a brush or airbrush. I started with ampersand scratchboard inks, but now use Dr. Ph. Martin's Bombay inks, Koh-I-Noor and Winsor & Newton as well.
I dilute the inks with water and apply them in layers. If the inks are applied undiluted, then I won’t be able to scratch again. Once the ink dries, I scratch again and then color again. I repeat this process till I get the desired depth. I usually get tired of it by the third iteration. :) Once I have enough layers, that’s when I stop.
PAL: I'd like to learn more about how you title your pieces. How did you come up with "Bridled Passion," and how does it express the final image?
SC: I wanted to depict the passion of the horse and still show how it is not free. My wife and others suggested that I should not be showing the boot of the rider, but I wanted it in there.
PAL: The name Motomo denotes altruism and empathy. How did you name the wolf exhibited at PAL?
SC: Motomo is actually the real name of the wolf. I loved the name and decided to keep it.
PAL: Three of the five works of yours that we have in Fur, Feathers and Fins depict big cats—predator species like bobcats and leopards. What is special about these animals to you?
SC: I love cats especially big wild ones. I do all kinds of animals, but somehow I see that people like wild cats more than other animals. When I started out, most of my work was of cats because of their eyes. When I color their eyes, I become very drawn to it. To me, no animal has as beautiful eyes as a wild cat. They are beautiful, exotic and at the same time dangerous. And scratchboard is a perfect medium to draw fur.
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