Sunday, September 27, 2015

Getting started with scratchboard art: tools & steps

The purrfect day, 6x6" scratchboard

I'm new to scratch board art, but I really enjoy what it has to offer. While the process is super slow, where I scratch the soft clay off the black board with a needle, it is lots of fun. This art form lands itself naturally to drawing textured surfaces like fur, animal hair, feathers, or multitude of reflections, etc.

What's tough? The smoothest surfaces are hard to scratch out preserving the realism of a 3-D form. I'm learning a lot by trial and error and by looking at artwork of other scratchboard artists. Meanwhile I have to throw out the unsuccessful pieces. Nothing good comes out from my first attempts, and if/when it looks easy, I can assure you it's not.

I also try different tools. I find that the line quality greatly affects the overall feel of a piece. At first I bought the Ampersand tool kit that gives options in creating various types of lines and textures. The lines or wiped out areas often felt too rough or incomplete to me using this kit, and thus I also did scratching with the X-Acto knife that gave me more control over the scratching, but the blade dulled quickly. Then I tried the etching needle I used for etching the plates in printmaking. I find that the etching needle gives me a much finer line and a much better control over the process. But just like the X-Acto knife it often produces deep, unnecessary groves that are hard to mask, if they are a mistake. Remember, once you cut, it's there, and no eraser is going to fix a big problem. A few more pieces flew into my trash can. (Ha-ha) After that, thanks to the advice of Diana Lee, I bought a scalpel with #11 surgical blades on Amazon. The line quality is guaranteed now; it cuts nice and thin. And the dull blades are easy to replace.
Logic, 5x7" framed, available

Finally, I get to the coloring part. It's a pain. While I consider myself advanced in my understanding of the colors in drawing, the scratchboard coloring is a totally different animal to wrestle with. First, I tried the professional ink set by Ampersand. The advantages are supreme lightfastness, super high color intensity (these little bottles will last for many pictures); they dry transparent, and are easy to store. The disadvantages are the cost, very fast drying time, and problematic coloring technique.

Although the kit comes with the basic color mixing tips, it's far from easy mixing. Colors dry very fast, so fast they are impossible to remove if applied too thickly by accident. You must be patient to learn to dilute them with water just enough to get better control of the application process. As they dry fast on a palette too, quick application of the right color combination and transparency is necessary, and that requires lots of planning and experience. Therefore instead of using the inks, I often opt out to use the lightfast, water-soluble Neocolor crayons manufactured by the Swiss maker Caran d'Ache. I also dilute them with water and mix them with a brush, but they have a much slower drying time and thus I have better control over the color mixing itself. Some lightfast Pablo colored pencils are also good, and are the easiest to use coloring the scratchboards.

I also learned through my mistakes that coloring of the scratched out surface is not the end result. Because the first color layer looks just too crude, this surface requires more scratching out and re-coloring. Thus it requires planning and understanding how much to scratch out to color and then to recolor.

Finally, I fix my piece with three coats of professional spray fixative (Golden or Windsor & Newton) designed for dry media. It changes the overall look of the piece; all fingerprints and imperfections disappear, making the surface nice, semi-glossy, and smooth.

Therefore, I think beginners can try the scratchboard art, depicting animals or textured objects without any coloring. In fact, most images look more striking remaining black-and-white.

Materials I use in this demo

Materials: Ampersand scratchboard, 5x7", Loew-Cornell white transfer paper, 2H graphite pencil or a pen to use for the transfer of the lines, #11 scalpel blade, red pen ( is part of the Ampersand kit, but it’s also sold separately online), permanent spray fixative.

Steps I describe above.
Timmy, 5x7", commissioned piece

I accept commissions drawing your favorite pets. Cost of a 5x7” archival, framed piece runs between $200-250, depending on complexity and framing.

Friday, October 10, 2014

NEW Step by Step Colored Pencil Demonstrations

My new demonstrations in colored pencil & oil are available for download from

Portrait of Sasha, 12 step colored pencil demonstration

Yellow Rose, 6 step colored pencil demonstration

Still life with glass and shell, video and digital file bundle, 12 step colored pencil demonstration 

Thank you for your interest!

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Monday, August 4, 2014

About my recent paintings: what it means

Painting is like poetry. It reveals something that is usually hidden, hidden within the depth of our souls. Some call it “secrets,” others label it “privacy.” Whatever that is artists and writers have the guts to deliver it, some do it half-way, others all the way. As a result artists often become vulnerable.
My work is not about photo-realism or copying of reality, rather it’s about achieving realistic effects to believably convey emotions, ideas, and relationships between people.  My painting is always infused with symbolism, which is sometimes unknown to my own logical psyche until it’s complete. Asking the artist to explain his/her painting is like pressing to extract the essence from it, to deliver the “secret” that should be read by the viewer himself. It’s akin to asking writers to give out the book’s ending without trying to read it on your own. After all, painting is exciting while it remains unexplained. My works have multiple endings, sometimes hidden from my own self. Because this type of art is not decorative, it's destined to become part of some museum collection or a private one in the future.
For many my art is too edgy, weird, and unexplained but for some it’s beautiful and evocative of their feelings and experiences. I recently sold pieces painted several years back that communicated feelings of solitude I depicted in a range of blues, trees, and the Moons. They finally connected with the right person who found himself in the same place I used to be in. Although my work is different today, it still relies on the same principles of symbolism and emotion.
Why masks?
“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.”
Oscar Wilde
Masks deconstruct a person. They make it easy to imagine oneself behind it. There is no association with a “particular” face and the story becomes a priority. Masks also translate into something concealed and thus go beyond our obvious associations.
Why carnival figures?
I love elaborate dress code with as many elements in it as possible. My affinity for baroque style is obvious in works filled with detail, elegance, and beauty.  Several years ago I made arrangements to go to Venice, Italy during the carnival month to take pictures of dressed up people walking the streets of ancient town. Venetian patterns, masks and gowns provide me with infinite inspiration.  

Tenderness, oil on canvas, 26x34 inches
This work is about sincere feelings of love, affection, and care, which is depicted through the use of warm colors in the background and the sunlit fabric of the figure. Little birds, flowers, and ribbons signify tender, fragile state of the heart. Usually, female figures depict such feelings but I wanted to break away from such tradition and depict a male figure that could be as elegant and pure.

Promises, oil on gilded panel, aluminum leaf, 26x34 inches
This painting is about the early stage of relationship when many promises are given to each other.  Thus I have two figures facing each other. Red signifies love.

Keeper, oil on canvas, 48x36 inches

Keeper is about forces or powers that go way beyond our understanding or reach.

Hidden II, oil on canvas, 26x34 inches

Hidden I and Hidden II
This work is about keeping the key to yourself, your own heart, hiding from others your most vulnerable self.

Colored Pencil Drawings:

I am influenced by Baroque art that can be described as “over the top,” every corner of a painting or a church is taken over by incredibly elaborate set of information. While my colored pencil drawings are simply studies of light and shapes, they follow the principle of elaborate elegance. Drawings are based on my pictures taken in various churches, palaces and other beautiful places.

Chandeliers of Versailles

All drawings are about 9x12 inches, each took about 50 hrs to complete, drawn with light-fast pencils on paper (archival quality materials).

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Friday, April 4, 2014


I’m Russian soul without its country,
I’m an American without its soul.
I know that my youth is gone
And now I can only remember.

I remember when I was young
And everything seemed to be achievable.
Every day was there for me to live and I didn’t care how many I had.
I’ve been waiting for happiness to arrive
But only now I understand it was then.

I wasn't aware of myself. I lived unaware of the world.
It was the time of many hopes
And I was waiting for something great to happen;
When I walked the streets of New York and saw myself in stores’ reflections.
I carried canvas and books. I believed in miracles.

I didn’t know I was pretty and
Actions of others made no sense to me.
My reactions were involuntary and  
I had my needs half-met.
I wanted to be loved so badly…

I lived without clear purpose or direction
But I felt like everything was possible.
I wanted to touch and feel
Something that remained unattainable.

I modestly dreamed of success. I wanted to discover a gift.
Nobody understood me and I cared too much to fit in.
It was then when aspirations ran high.

And I was getting asleep, anxiously waiting for it to happen tomorrow…

Mirror, 8x10", oil on gilded panel, aluminum leaf

Saturday, March 1, 2014

How to set up a still life to draw and paint

If your true goal is to draw and paint realistically, get used to working from life. Pictures distort reality. We respond to information in front of us very differently as opposed to painting from pictures. (It’s getting easier to paint from pictures when there is enough knowledge and practice set in place by painting from life).
To set up your still life, make a shadow-box (see the pic.). The color of your background can be changed at any time by placing fabric, colored carton, or any other elements behind the objects. Place a direct light source (lamp) next to the shadow-box and play with the light looking at cast shadows and highlights on objects. To begin, dramatically lit still lives are easier to paint as opposed to subtle variations of color and tone. It’s also easy to control the light by placing objects inside the shadow-box.

If you have none and you are itching to draw like now, make a set up with simplified background space that cuts off all unnecessary information surrounding your still life. Here a small box is covered with fabric to prop the starfish.

Painting looks real when an artist has strong drawing skills. Drawing is essential to understanding perspective, proportions, scale and so on. Take a piece of sketch paper of the same size your canvas is and work on the outline with a pencil. When the outline looks correct, transfer the outline onto canvas using transfer paper and a pen.
Here two images show this process.
Creating the underpainting:
Mix your value scale (white+ black+ a touch of brown) with a palette knife. Paint in black-white only, paying attention to tones (values). Each color has its own value scale. This step helps recognize and interpret colors into values.
I normally have 2 layers of underpainting in my pieces. Each layer must be dry completely before proceeding to the next. Here the image shows the first pass of black and white colors.

Now paint in color. Here the image has 2-3 layers of color. Textures are added in the last layer. After a gazillion of hours spent on it, it's done! Let it dry for 6-12 months before varnishing your oil painting. VoilĂ !

Starfish, 8x10 inches, oil on archival panel

Creative Techniques in Colored Pencil, Graphite, and Oil Painting: Step-by-Step Projects for Teens and Adults  art book:

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