Scratch board artist, Holly Hughes, creates such dead-on portraits that they’ll stop you in your tracks. Literally. In fact, it was this portrait of Jon Snow that first got my attention at Denver Comic Con. Once I saw she was using a medium I’d only ever associated with children’s art projects my mind was completely blown and my awe twice as great. Thankfully I had the chance to talk to Holly about her art, her service and her fandoms.
First, I just want to say I’m in awe of your talent and I love that you use such an unusual medium. You mentioned that were in the service and found using scratch boards relaxing. Can you tell us a little about that?
Thank you so much! I’m currently serving in the United States Air Force and work 12+ hour missions. It can be really stressful sometimes (not to mention exhausting), but coming home and working on a project always takes my mind somewhere else and helps me leave that intense mindset that comes with my type of job. Art really has been an escape for me, as well as a way to express the feelings that I can’t always talk about or explain.
Thank you for your service and I’m glad you have found your art to be so cathartic. When did you first start dabbling ? And how did you come to settle on such a unique method?
Ever since I was a kid, I knew I wanted to do something pertaining to art (either that, or be a super hero that magically talks to animals….). I’ve been drawing for fun for as long as I can remember, but didn’t come across scratch art until I was in high school. While everyone else hated it, I definitely loved the challenge of working with such an unforgiving medium that required a lot of attention to detail. It wasn’t until many years later that I saw scratchboards for sale in the art stores and stocked up on them for my overseas assignment in the Air Force. It gave me something to look forward to at the end of a long and stressful day, and something to keep my busy during the weekends instead of thinking about how homesick I was. Learning this new art form truly was a blessing.
Does it have any particular challenges compared to other art forms?
YES! When I said it was “unforgiving” I absolutely meant it. Since it’s not typical paper or canvas, you can’t draw on it in pencil or pen to get your ideas sketched out. You also can’t erase… at all. So if you make a mistake, you either move on, throw it away, or make something out of your mistake. I actually have stacks of artwork in my studio that I’m still trying to figure out how to fix. It’s also challenging because you’re “working backwards.” With a normal drawing, you have white paper and a pencil. You use your pencil to add shadows and lines, while using the white of the paper to act as your light-source. For me, I’m adding the light-source instead of drawing shadows. I have to think of everything in reverse, and I think that’s what I love about it. Most folks have sudoku or brain teasers, but this is what gets me thinking and gives my mind and creativity exercise. It’s also a challenge working with the tools needed to “scratch away” the top layer of black on the board to reveal the white. I have a collection of little knives, razor blades, and even tools from my husbands garage that give me all kinds of textures to help me make an interesting piece. Oh, and did I mention that it takes me over 20-70 hours to do all this?
Holy Batman! I had no idea. The end result is worth it for your fans. Do you do other art forms?
I enjoy sketching in my notebook and am slowly but surely learning digital painting. I’m struggling with wrapping my mind around “layers” in photoshop and usually make stupid mistakes that take far too long to fix. I also recently got an offer to take up a tattoo apprenticeship to share my style of work with some amazing fans and other artists.
That’s so cool. Let me know when you’re ready to do some ink! What other artists inspire you or are you a fan of?
I am actually a huge fan of the old masters like Da Vinci and Michelangelo. It blows my mind how they created such incredible works of art with such limited resources and technology. To this day I get choked up when I stare at their masterpieces. There is something spiritually and emotionally moving about it, and it inspires me to want to stir the same feelings in people with my own artwork. My other big inspiration is Stan Lee. Not just because of the Marvel empire he built, but of his own struggles as a person that he learned to overcome. I read a quote about how he once felt that he was silly for drawing super heroes while other people were out there doing “grown up jobs” and saving lives. But then he realized that he does save lives in his own way. Entertaining people and making them smile helps people just as much as any hero. I felt this way for the longest time and wondered if me wanting to be an artist was “a real job” or if I should grow up and do something else. But being an artist is something that truly makes me wake up in the morning and want to create something. Wanting to share that feeling with others is truly what drives me.
I believe art, in all its forms, is healing and inspiring. Without it, we’d be lost. I’m happy you stuck with your path. Speaking of Stan Lee and comics, how long have you been doing comic/pop culture conventions?
I went to my first convention in 2014 in Richmond, VA. I got an email on my etsy shop from one of the creative directors at Wizard World Comic Conventions. He really encouraged me to sign up for artist alley and promote my artwork, regardless if I made any money or not. Of course I was pretty darn scared and didn’t think my work was good enough to be on display or that anyone would even want to buy it. Wizard World Richmond ended up being one of my best shows to date! I sold almost all my original pieces and was told by some artists who worked for Disney that this definitely needed to be my full time career. So it was definitely a confidence boost to say the least and got me started on my convention journey.
What’s the best, worst or weirdest experience you’ve had at a con?
That’s tough… the best experience would have to be meeting voice actor Christopher Sabat at Megacon in 2016 (I promise it has nothing to do with the massive crush I have on him). He was so nice and took the time to flip through my entire portfolio and gave his opinion on every single piece. As I was leaving, he yelled after me in one of my favorite character voices, “You draw me really pretty!” I was so red and trying not to fangirl that I walked right into a wall. As for worst and weirdest…. I can’t tell you how many times I run into someone who hasn’t quite grasped the idea of personal space or hygiene and wants me to make them a very detailed piece of artwork of their fetish or fantasy. One guy asked for a very twisted image of him and Alice from Alice in Wonderland. I had to politely tell him that “it’s a no from me.”
Yikes! That is what you call awk-waaaard. On the plus side, have you’ve met any other celebrities you’ve drawn? What was your favorite encounter? Or who would you die to meet?m
I have been incredibly blessed to meet and even work with cast members from Dragon Ball Z, One Punch Man, Sailor Moon, Attack on Titan and several others. I’ve definitely met a whole lot of voice actors and would really like to meet the cast of the Avengers next. I’m getting nervous just thinking about it. I think meeting Chris Pratt would be the ultimate experience. He liked my artwork of Star Lord on Instagram and I nearly lost my mind. But my favorite encounter will have to go to the time that I met Stan Lee for only a split second. He signed my Spider-man and Mary Jane artwork and said, “Oh wow, this is a really unique style,” then had to continue on his way. I have that autograph right next to my drawing table.
That’s incredible! Where can fans find your work and can they purchase it? Also, do you take commission work?
My facebook group is the best way to reach me. I sell poster prints as well as originals left in stock. I also work on commissions for people and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How do you keep fans apprised of your upcoming events so they may meet you in person?
I have a steady following in Instagram and my scerdyboards facebook group. That’s where I post about upcoming shows, current projects and where I get to hear what the followers want to see. It’s always so humbling to meet my followers in person!
Lastly, we at Talk Nerdy With Us celebrate all things geek, as a con-goer you’ve certainly witnessed fandom up close and personal. What do you nerd out about?
I nerd about so much it’s ridiculous. If you ever get the opportunity to enter my art studio, you’ll get a little taste of what I’m talking about. My walls are literally covered in shelves of figurines, artwork and treasures from all my shows. I’m also a Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon super fan and enjoy gaming in my free time. I’m not sure how many times I’ve driven my husband mad from binge watching the entire anime series from the 90’s or played my xbox for nights on end. He even bought me a 72″ tv because he knows how much I love it. I’m HUGE into the Assassin’s Creed series and attribute AC2 to my obsession.
Holly, thank you so much for sharing a little bit about yourself with us. I was thrilled to discover your work and I know others will be too.