My art is a way for me to navigate difficult subjects and emotions, and as I work on each piece, I am able to meditate on, process and organize my emotions about the subject matter I am addressing.
I started really getting into art after finishing a five-year enlistment in the US Navy. I spent most of my time in the service overseas and felt completely lost when I returned to California in July 1999. I had few friends, no social life or hobbies, and an extremely difficult time finding work. I had a ton of anxiety, felt out of place, would go through episodes of depression followed by manic insomnia, and the only way I’d learned to deal with those emotions in the service was to drink excessively.
I wandered into an art supply store one day, looking for something to keep my mind busy and provide an outlet for my manic energy. I started with pastels and watercolor pencils. At first, I just did my own thing, with no direction, technique, or theme. I think that’s probably the best way to get into art. It’s what children do. And they don’t compare their drawing with the other kid’s drawing, they just draw. They don’t strive for photo realism either—if you don’t see the boa constrictor eating an elephant, that’s your failing because they drew it perfectly. I was only in this golden state of mind for a short time, though.
After going through several jobs in Bakersfield, and working two years in Dutch Harbor at a seafood processing plant, I bought a tiny, run-down mobile on the property next to my parents up in Bodfish, CA. I started painting with acrylics, and I took every art class offered at the local community college. I took classes in ceramics, sculpture, drawing, and painting. I also started comparing my work to my classmates’ work. People would compliment my paintings, but I was never happy with them. I loved the classes and instructors but hated myself. I got hung up on every stray mark or brushstroke. Instead of loosening up and becoming more expressive, I was hyper-focusing on the most ridiculous things.
Scratchboard, oddly enough, helped get me out of this creativity-destroying state of mind. I picked up an 8×10 Ampersand Scratchboard at the art supply store one day. I grabbed a hobby knife and started digging into the clay. But as soon as I made a mistake, I realized this medium doesn’t lend itself well to corrections, and promptly threw it away. Months later, I picked up another scratchboard. There was something about it I found really satisfying, and I wanted to keep working with this medium. I use Ampersand Scratchboards, and they aren’t cheap. So, when I made an errant mark with the knife, I reimagined the scene to incorporate the mistake. I slowly began to worry less about being as realistic as possible and began working from my imagination again. I also realized that I had retained much more technical knowledge from those art classes than I thought, and I found a few artists who were always willing to impart knowledge, advice, and encouragement whenever I needed it. Thank you, Chris Owen and Chet Zar!
Encouragement and acceptance from others definitely helped me to keep going. I practiced all the time. I studied how other scratchboard artists worked. Then, I would experiment with various techniques and different tools while developing my own style. I used my art to deal with difficult feelings and subjects that were triggering my depression and anxiety. Mortality, loss, kindness and cruelty, spirituality and purpose are all there, represented by skeletons, birds, flowers and cats.
One of the most therapeutic boards I did is Enoch’s Gone Home. I was caring for a colony of cats left behind when a neighbor died. She was a cat hoarder. It was terrible. There was one small kitten I named Enoch, who didn’t thrive. He always seemed weak. He wasn’t very assertive and often got pushed away by the others during meal times. I tried to help him, but I had very little experience with caring for community cats. One day, I noticed him looking really bad. He seemed listless and weak. I rushed him to the vet, but it was too late. I was unwilling to give up, however, so I brought him home and tried to give him water and food. Poor little guy died in my arms the same day. I felt so guilty. I took it personally. I Couldn’t stop thinking about it, so I started working on Enoch’s Gone Home.
Another favorite is this 24×36 scratchboard I did, titled, Meeting Death in a Forest. The viewer is looking up at Death, who is escorting a nest of birds into the afterlife. Everything from the perspective, light and shadow placement, and the direction of Death’s gaze is important to me. I use skeletons much of the time to represent Death, but not always. Sometimes they are not the personification of Death, but are symbolic of other human attributes or experiences. I also like to do a visual definition of a particular word as the subject of my work. Empathy and Feral are two examples. Again, everything from the feathers in Empathy to the tooth-lined tongue path leading to the cottage door in Feral is important to my definition of those words.
I take commissions, occasionally. Pet portraits are a popular request, and scratchboard is a favorite medium of pet portrait and animal artists, as it lends well to very fine details. I have seen some amazing, hyper-realistic animals on scratchboard. I think I may be the only scratchboard artist in the world who hasn’t done a lion, tiger, or zebra. But I have done human portraits—only a few though, and only of close friends and family.
I really enjoy doing studies of many different subjects. Anything that happens to catch my attention is a potential subject for a study or even a larger work. I’m constantly taking photos of anything I see around me that looks like it could be challenging, interesting, ugly or beautiful on a scratchboard.
I do not like to be limited on what themes I address or style I use in my art. If I forced myself to focus on only a narrow theme or style, I would feel stifled and claustrophobic. I never know what I’ll work on next (unless it’s a commission). It’s always a spontaneous decision for me. I may hear a word, see something, get a feeling or be overcome with some emotion or experience that I cannot separate myself from—and that will probably be the subject of my next scratchboard.
Kern Valley Museum- Kernville, Ca October 2016
Bakersfield Museum of Art- Bakersfield, Ca May 2019 Visual Arts Festival
Kern Valley Museum- Kernville, Ca June 2019
Work used by Ampersand Art to advertise Fall Scratchbord sale, 2019]
Arts Illiana Gallery “The Crow Show” February-April 2020
Publications and Reviews:
KRV’s Hidden Gems: Kernville Arts and Crafts Festival Kern Valley Sun, September 2019
Skilled Hands Bakersfield Magazine, February 2018 [No Link Avail.]
Artist Finds Focus Kern Valley Sun, June 28, 2017
First Friday, Dagny’s Coffee, November 2019
Awards and Recognition:
Best in Show, The Crow Show, Arts Illiana Gallery, Terre Haute, IN 2020 1st Place, Kern County Fair, Professional Scratchboard Art- Bakersfield, Ca 2019
1st Place, Kern County Fair, Professional Scratchboard Art-Bakersfield, Ca 2018
Alex Joya, La Costa Mariscos Bakersfield, Stockdale Hwy
Bakersfield Veteran’s Clinic, Bakersfield, Ca, Westwind Dr.
Kern Veterinary Hospital, Lake Isabella, Ca, Lake Isabella Blvd.
The Cyclesmiths, Kernville, Ca
The Starlite Lounge, Kernville, Ca