In my Wednesday drawing class, we have just begun working with scratchboard. This illustration is a typical example of my students work.
Scratchboard is an excellent medium for learning how to see shapes. The high contrast between black and white, together with the compelling positive and negative shapes one can easily create with scratchboard is incredibly stimulating to both the eyes and brain.
Because one is removing black ink to reveal the white clay surface underneath in scratchboard, it very easy to become confused, mixing up the figure in the foreground with the background. Within this confusion lies one of the major keys to seeing like an artist.
The confusion one experiences while looking at these two illustrations on the left is referred to as a “figure-ground” reversal in visual perception. Notice what happens when you stare at these two illustrations. What do you see first? After a few moments, does your attention shift to see something else? Can you see both a face and a vase at the same time? For most people, seeing both at the same time is impossible, hence the sensation of bouncing that occurs.
That sensation of movement back and forth is actually happening within your brain. Notice how what happens internally affects your perception of the outer world. This is a true in drawing as it is when we visit other cultures and “see” from from a perspective which we are convinced is objective and correct. That couldn’t be further from the truth. How we “see” the world around us us is always affected by the images that dwell within us. This is true not only for artists, but also for anyone whether we are aware of it or not.
Visual processing is almost completely unconscious, except for those rare moments when we stop and try to really see. Drawing is a wonderful way to become more aware of the wonder and beauty of the world around and within ourselves.
One the the secrets of drawing well is learning how to see both the positive and negative shapes, in other words the relationship between the figure and the ground. If they are both interesting shapes, the entire drawing will be interesting.
Imagine what the world would be like if we were all able to become a little bit more aware of what we are seeing in the world, in each other and within ourselves.
Check back soon for more examples of scratchboard from class.