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Featured Artist: Charles Ewing

Unlimited Possibilities for Depth and Detail

The most fascinating part of creating a portrait is the dialogue that grows between myself and the face emerging from my working surface. The image frequently shifts and changes throughout this dialogue, so I need forgiving materials. My typical medium is India ink, which may seem an unlikely choice, but used in combination with my unique support, Claybord, it gives me unlimited flexibility. Claybordis a clay-coated hardboard panel that has been sanded to a fine tooth. This ultra-smooth clay-coated panel stands up to wet applications of paint, multiple erasures, and all types of scratching and abrading tools. Claybordis also pH neutral and acid free, giving me the confidence that my work will last over time.

THe finished piece by Charles Ewing

Drawing with Ink

I begin my portraits by using graphite 6B pencil to sketch directly on the Claybord. I can experiment with various compositional alternatives simply by erasing part or the entire sketch with 00 or 000-grade steel wool and starting over.

Step 1: Drawing on claybord

Next, I settle on my light source and use small sable brushes and a medium dark wash of ink to lay in some of the “landmarks”—such as my subject’s eyes and distinctive areas of clothing. These landmarks ensure that I won’t lose important features when I go back in later with loose applications of ink or add textural effects.

STep 2: Applying ink

Now the fun begins. I dilute my ink with water to a mid-value gray and use a bristle brush or wadded paper towel to create my dark-value areas–often with a textural twist. For example, if I need a rough skin texture, I apply the ink with a paper towel. If I need smoother skin, I may use tissue paper. It’s a quick way of getting the feel of an area without drawing every little line with a brush.

Honing the Details

At this point, I’ve developed a mid-to-dark-value image with both physical and visual texture. Forms and highlights are beginning to emerge, so I further intensify the forms with a darker ink mixture. I continue through the painting refining the image by working back and forth, removing and adding pigment. If I need a highlight, or a defined edge, I scratch off some of the ink; if I need to darken an area, I simply add another wash. Once the subject is sufficiently rendered, I adjust various elements to better establish areas of primary and secondary focus. In the demonstration piece, for example, I thought the pup was completed, but found it was competing with the man’s face as the center of interest. To solve this problem, I used fine steel wool to gently abrade the image of the pup, then airbrushed lightly over the area with diluted ink to reduce value contrasts. Now in relation to the dog, the man’s face has greater contrast and detail, which immediately draws the viewer’s interest.

Step 4: Honing the details

The Final Touch & Advantage

One of the wonderful advantages of working on Claybord is that I don’t have to frame my work under glass. I apply three or four coats of spray fixative like Krylon® UV Resistant Clear Coating #1309 (Matte) or #1305 (Gloss). I can then place the finished artwork in a frame without glass! This is especially important with mediums such as pencil, watercolors, and inks that have been relegated to be framed with glass in the past.

“I use a variety of tools for abrading and creating texture. Here is part of my list: different grades of steel wool, sponges, toothbrushes, stiff bristle brushes, atomizers, airbrushes, burlap, lace, brayers, paint rollers, and even a handful of hair weeds dipped in ink will make really interesting patterns. You can also use Ampersand’s Claybord Tool kit which has some excellent tools such as the fiber brush, line tool, and wire brush; all excellent for removing pigment from the surface and creating texture and tonal values.”


To contact the artist or for more information, please visit www.charlesewing.com.