Hurray for Scratchboard!

June 13, 2007

ferns on scratchboard

Here are various leaves and scales from six desert ferns, finished yesterday, drawn on a 5″x7″ piece of scratchboard (the same size that I used for the Ironwing Tarot originals).  They’ll be used separately but I cram as many as possible onto one board.  Scratchboard is a wonderful alternative to pen and ink on paper, since it allows for a wider range of techniques, greater detail – and you can fix mistakes!  I use Ampersand Claybord Smooth, a kaolin clay coated hardboard that comes in several sizes.  I use permanent technical markers (and even a plain old Sharpie) for drawing, and an x-acto knife blade for scratching white lines on black ink.

Is it art? Scientific illustration? An eccentric spiritual practice for natural history nerds?  Most people wouldn’t define it as art, and some cannot “see” it at all.  Scratchboard is rarely used for botanical illustration, so it strays from tradition there, too.  But I have taken “nature drawing” very seriously since I began to experiment with pen and ink when I was ten years old.  It was probably my first regular, conscious spiritual practice, and remains a precious way to stay connected with the earth.  When you draw something faithfully, trying to capture the truth of it on paper, you truly SEE it and learn about it on a deep level, and it becomes yours.  This is why drawing is a traditional tool for teaching natural history.  I still love drawing twigs, lichens, stones, and other bits and pieces of the “real world”.  I used to fantasize about leading a spiritual retreat (in some beautiful place, of course) for people who wanted to do this…except that those people are rare enough that there are only a few in each generation, and they learn to work in isolation.  The art that I’ve done of this type inspires strong negative reactions in many people who are not comfortable with realistic depictions of obscure aspects of nature (as opposed to greeting cards or “wildlife art”).  But whether people see it as boring or beautiful, “evil” or spiritually inspiring, it’s the underpinning of ALL of my other art.  Although the drawing above is intended to be technically correct, not artistically exciting, I’m sharing it here because it’s worth paragraphs of explanation of who I am.  And there’s a sense of adventure here too – for many of the ferns I’m working with, there are no published drawings of any kind, anywhere – just brief descriptions and perhaps a photo or two.  Maybe it’s because I’m walking near the edge of all the maps:  (Shown below:  U.S.-Mexico border in the San Rafael Valley, AZ.)


4 Responses to “Hurray for Scratchboard!”

  1. judithornot said

    I feel it’s art because it comes through you, and is therefore a mixture of you and the object. Yet it is real, because I’ve looked at the underside of fern fronds, and seen those spores you draw. I enjoy the line about it possibly being “an eccentric spiritual practice for natural history nerds.” One of the most difficult things for me in grad school was/is to bring spirituality into the things I’m being taught.

  2. Hemera said

    Hi Lorena,
    I love your blog and it´s nice to see your artwork! I like to draw plants with pen and ink and in my opinion it is most definitely ART 🙂
    I had no idea you have so many fern species in the desert! (And as you may remember, I am a plant biologist by profession:> *blushing*)
    The pomegranate in your entry earlier is awesome!

  3. ironwing said

    Most of our desert ferns are in a few xerophytic genera (Cheilanthes, Pellaea, Notholaena, Argyrochosma). Like many of our flowering plants, a lot of them are basically Mexican and reach the northern limit of their range in a few mountains in southeastern Arizona.

  4. Waverly said


    I would definitely sign up for a spiritual retreat with you that involved learning to draw plants, even though I am not one of those rare people you mention. I’ve been trying to teach myself about flowers and have found drawing to be one of the best ways to di that. I am particularly interested in forging a spiritual connection with the plants I’m studying.

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