Scratching an Artistic ItchDec 01, 2023 09:00AM ● By Kelly Stemcosky
Scratch, scratch, scratch.
It’s a sound Lynn Kibbe has produced likely upwards of a million times over the past eleven years. But, unlike the usual definition of a “scratch”—an action that’s absent-minded or thoughtless—each one of Lynn’s is purposeful. Each is carefully planned and thoughtfully placed, contributing to a one-of-a-kind masterpiece.
Lynn, of Trout Run, has etched out her place as a nationally recognized scratchboard artist. “There aren’t many people who do it,” she says. “Not many people know about it.”
You may have heard of “scratchboard art,” but these aren’t the craft store kits from your childhood, the kind that come with a plastic tool to etch flimsy black paper, revealing a hidden rainbow layer. Lynn explains the differences.
“The boards I get from online art supply stores are professionally made here in the states just for scratchboard. They have a layer of white clay over top of a masonite board. And then on top of that white clay is this black India ink, so when it starts, the board is completely black. You can also get a white scratchboard that doesn’t have that black layer on top. You would then put your own colors on it and then use the scratchboard techniques to finish it out. I’ve done both, but I prefer the black.”
The board doesn’t stay black for long, though. To etch out her impossibly detailed works, Lynn uses a variety of tools—a utility knife holder wielding a scalpel, sewing needles to create super fine lines, specialty scoops for etching out larger pieces, and new-wave ceramic blades.
When she’s beginning a new piece, Lynn starts with a reference photo, frequently found in Facebook groups dedicated to copyright-free, high-resolution photos. That’s one of the reasons she doesn’t often accept commissioned pieces; to achieve that scratchboard-level of detail, she needs the reference photo to be super detailed and clear. Lynn transfers the image onto paper the same size as her board, and then gets to scratching, passing glances between her reference piece and her board. She explains that when working with the black scratchboards, lighter areas of the photo require more layers of scratching, while darker areas are scratched less.
“This medium is totally reductive, meaning everything you do is by taking off or removing something,” she says.
Lynn made her first scratches over a decade ago while she was still practicing watercolor and oil painting. Scrolling through online forums for tips and critiques of her paintings, she came across scratchboard.
“When I saw it, I just fell in love with it. I couldn’t get that level of detail with my paintings. So, I just kind of dove in and started doing it and uploading my work for other artists to critique,” she continues. “Luckily, with all the practice I had at home during the covid times, I improved enough where I was able to achieve signature status with the International Society of Scratchboard Artists in 2021. That’s the thing I’m most proud of.”
Nearly every artistic medium has an international society dedicated to helping artists better their work, and recognizing those who master their craft. The International Society of Scratchboard Artists (scratchboardsociety.org) acknowledges levels of basic, signature, and master artists—she’s right in the middle. To get there, she simply had to practice and apply.
“Every year, they put out a call that you can apply for signature status, and you have to submit several pieces of your work online. And then, from that, they jury them and determine if they feel the quality is there for signature status,” she says, adding that she doesn’t plan on working toward master status, which has more rigorous requirements, such as hosting workshops. Lynn has taught a few beginner scratchboard classes, but she believes a two-hour lesson doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface, so to speak, of the medium.
“As long as these take to do, I feel like I’m not doing people justice by putting them in a two-hour workshop and saying, ‘Let’s get this done.’ I do enjoy working with people who are interested in it and helping them learn. But, I just wish we could do it in about two weeks. Maybe one of these days.”
Lynn’s own work is a huge time commitment. A typical piece measuring five-by-seven inches could take up to eighty hours over several months, and she’s completed more than 300 scratchboards over the past decade. Due to that, Lynne says, “pricing has been one of the worst issues of this whole thing.”
“I’ve heard from other artists they have the same issue with pricing, no matter what the medium is. So, what I’ve come up with is my own formula that basically goes by size. Now, I can add into it if I feel like it’s an unusually complicated piece. I add a little bit more if it’s in color, because then you basically are scratching the whole thing out twice again to get those tonal values built back up.”
The length of time to complete a piece doesn’t bother Lynn, though. She focuses on subject matter that means something to her, thereby ensuring she’ll never get bored. Her bestselling and favorite ones? “Wildlife. And some domestic animals such as horses are a favorite of mine, for sure.”
Lynn encourages artists of all mediums to do the same, to make art you’re passionate about, and to never stop practicing and learning. “To anyone not sure where to start, I say just do it. If you don’t just do it, you’re not going to get anywhere. Especially if you’re self-taught, go online and find every resource you can find. Then, just practice, practice, practice. That’s all I’ve done. I haven’t done anything special; I just keep doing.”
And, she keeps scratching. To view Lynn’s works for sale, find out about upcoming shows, to learn more about scratchboard art, or to make arrangements to view her collection at her home, visit lynnkibbefineart.weebly.com or find her on Facebook. If you’re in Wellsboro December 2 through 23, drop by the Gmeiner Art & Cultural Center where three of Lynn’s pieces will be on exhibit. And, contrary to what she says, she does do something that is very special.