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Clayboard is manufactured by Ampersand, whereby kaolin clay is coated in a thin layer over an archival masonite museum board. I apply additional clay pigments to this smooth surface making my works somewhere between 2D and 3D. It is sometimes referred to as scratchboard technique when done on paper. Over the past few years I have also been experimenting with surfaces, adding liquid clay to papyrus, handmade papers and other fine art papers. Working on kaolin clay provides me with a surface in which I can build upon inks and additional clay prior to scratching them away with razor sharp tools. This relatively new art process has roots that lie in some of mankind’s earliest attempts at creating art. The Cro-Magnons scratched pictures into rock or bone to tell their stories and thus I was drawn to utilize this natural clay (formed at the bottom of a lake) to relay visual narratives that relate to both our past and present human conditions.
Juxtopoz magazine wrote, “Executing her works utilizing the rarely used and very unforgiving medium of Kaolin clay, the 30 years Bleck has spent working with this medium has resulted in a mastery of the technique that could only come with a high degree of devotion and patience. By applying the clay to either board or canvas, the artist then paints the surface, at which point begins the process of carefully carving and scraping away the dark colored clay/paint mixture to reveal the white of the Kaolin beneath. This process of literally peeling away the darkness to reveal the light at its core is a powerful allegorical reference and one whose metaphorical relevance to the content of her work further lends itself to the depth in one of Cathie Bleck’s paintings.”
The process of scraping the inks off of the clay is my favorite experience in creating the piece. It is a performance that celebrates the articulation of lines. The movement of my wrist and arm are rhythmic in nature not unlike a performance of a drummer or a dancers fluid movement.
The first step in my process is making a preliminary drawing in chalk or graphite. I usually transfer this to my board with graphite paper under the sketch, retracing the preliminary drawing with a pen in order to preserve the motion of my unrehearsed linework. This pressure of pen to transfer paper creates an indentation in the board and a graphite image serves as a guide on the clay board. Next I paint with permanent colored inks and handmade pigments prior to scratching. My preferred tool for scraping is triangular in shape with a fine razor edge and various razors. Recently, my works are much larger in scale (30”x60”) and I have been getting beautifully crafted custom boards made with a birch trim cradle and back supports for stability. Upon completion of the piece I apply a coat of acrylic UV protective spray using the recommendation of a museum trained art restorer.
More about Clayboard: With the exception of my works on paper, all of my paintings are done on Ampersand’s Museum Panels. Both the coating and the bonding materials of Claybord Smooth are inert substances with exceptional lightfastness and physical permanence. The mineral-coated surface is pH neutral and acid-free. Ampersand’s patented Archival-seal technology means that the panels are: acid-free, eliminate support-induced discoloration, and are tested to last 200 years. These patented coatings are designed so that paint colors remain true and brilliant. Also, they are made with premium hardboard for a warp-resistant panel and all pieces over 40 inches in both directions have bracings ever 2 feet for extra support. Clayboard is endorsed by conservators.