CASPER, Wyo. (AP) — The walls of the Casper gallery began to fill with images of people, animals and other scenes. Each piece was depicted in black and white, with intricate details that stopped some people in their tracks.
"Aren't these awesome?" gallery manager Susie Grant said. "These are scratchboard."
The work belonged to Darrell Stack, a 59-year-old artist and disabled veteran. He helped arrange and hang his first gallery show late last month at Art 321 in downtown Casper. His show will be displayed through August.
Scratchboard is a medium not often seen, compared with others like painting, photography and sculpture, Grant said. It involves scratching into a black ink coating on a white background to create lighter marks on the surface.
"This medium is completely different from those, and his work with animals and people, it's just beautiful, beautiful work," she said. "It's going to be a really unique show."
For Stack, art is a lifelong creative outlet, and it's even helped him cope with chronic back and neck pain.
"For me it's like therapy," he said. "When I'm doing something like that, the whole world just kind of disappears and I'm not thinking about it."
"I can't tell you why I do it, I just do — I just have to."
The variety of images in Stack's gallery show include portraits, western and rodeo scenes, steam engines, landscapes, a saxophone player, an old truck and many different types of animals.
One thing they all have in common: they've inspired him.
"I do know if I try to do something and I don't really feel it, it doesn't come out at all," he said. "It just goes in the trash, it's that bad. And when I feel an inspiration to do something, it comes out fine."
Stack has created art since he was a kid copying cartoons from the newspaper. He's worked with mediums including oil, acrylic and watercolor paint. He's even done some tattooing, though it proved too hard on his neck, he said. That was about the time he came across scratchboard art online.
"I can do that," he thought. So he bought some scratchboard and supplies, and it's has been his main form of creative expression for about the past seven years.
In high school, Stack took private oil painting lessons from a local artist in his hometown of Fremont, Nebraska. He couldn't have afforded lessons, but the man taught him in exchange for stretching canvas and framing artworks. The artist was about his father's age, but the two became lifelong friends, he said.
Stack joined the U.S. Army after high school. He injured his back in the service, and a dye used at the time for a myelogram X-ray of his spine caused further damage to his discs, he said. He's undergone multiple surgeries.
"When you have chronic pain it never goes away," he said. "Anything to take your mind away from it is probably the best medicine there is really."
Artists put themselves into their work and become lost in the moment, he said. Some of his pieces take 30 to 40 hours to create, thought he often doesn't keep track. The hours fly by while he's scratching into the ink and watching the images appear.
"Sometimes it doesn't feel like it's me doing it," Stack said. "You're looking at it and it seems like you're out of body looking at someone else doing it, and I'll go to scratch and it does something completely different than I thought I was doing. Sometimes two or three hours have gone by and it seems like it was just a minute."
With most drawing mediums like pencil or ink, artists add darker lines and shading. But the more marks you make on scratchboard, the lighter the area becomes.
"Everything is backwards," Stack said. "At first it really messes with your head, but you get used to it."
Different scratching techniques create different line qualities and shading effects.
"With only black and white, you give the illusion of shades," he said.
Stack starts by creating a drawing from a reference photograph. Then he makes his own carbon paper by covering a piece of printer paper in graphite, which he uses to transfer his drawing — or a least a few lines for guidance. Drawing directly on scratchboard with pencil scratches it too easily and doesn't allow for erasing or changing. Once you make a scratch, it can't be changed.
He creates the details of his images with various tools designed for scratchboard and even tattoo needles and a carbide tip a friend shaped for him. Some leave thick lines, while tiny needles leave finer scratches.
Some of the images in the show are surrounded in black, and for others he scratched away the ink to create a white background.
Sometimes it's the simpler images that take the most work, he added.
"I hope people enjoy will enjoy looking at my art as much as I enjoy making it," Stack said.
Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com
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