Connecting the dots
A local artist creates scratchboard art and teaches others this unique technique.
Anna Festa poses with some of her Scratchboard artwork at the Chelsea Art Center on East Silver Springs Boulevard in Ocala on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2023.
Anna Festa still has a picture of a horse that she drew when she was 10 years old. She remembers loving art and horses as a kid growing up in Brooklyn and Long Island, New York. She was in middle school when a substitute art teacher told her, “You’ve got talent.” When she thought about going to nursing school after high school, her mom reminded her, “Anna, you have a talent—you need to do something with it.” So she attended technical college to study commercial art and offset lithography.
Earning a living early in her career as a commercial illustrator and paste-up artist gave Festa a solid foundation in drawing, graphic arts and a variety of mediums. After marrying her husband, Paul, she left the workplace for many years to raise their three children as a stay-at-home mom. When she had more time to pursue her passion after her kids were grown, she explored fine art, taking classes in oil painting and teaching drawing to children and adults. Then, a few years ago, after moving to Ocala, she rediscovered scratchboard art.
“I’ve always loved scratchboard,” Festa said, explaining that the technique is a type of engraving on a clay board coated with India ink. “I did it as a commercial artist when I was younger, and I basically taught myself because there weren’t many people who did scratchboard. But, in recent years, it has become such an unbelievable form of art. I found out that there’s a world full of scratchboard artists, and I was blown away by what they did. And the workmanship is just superior to anything I’ve ever seen.”
At an art show in southwest Florida, Festa met master scratchboard artists and participated in workshops to learn the techniques she now teaches.
“These artists want this art form to be elevated and they are so willing to share what they know,” Festa said. “We had a group of really beautiful fine artists who really brought this to a higher level. It’s a form of graphic art, but in recent years, the International Society of Scratchboard Artists has elevated scratchboard to a level of fine art.”
Festa said scratchboard shares some similarities with pen and ink drawing, in that the image is created using many tiny dots and marks.
“All these dots come together to be able to create form,” she explained. “The closer the dots are, you get a dark effect. The wider they are or the farther apart they are, they create a light effect. You can create layers upon layers upon layers, and it is unlike anything else. It’s so much fun!”
Using tools such as tattoo needles and X-Acto knives, she makes intricately detailed pictures using hatching and stippling techniques. Although she doesn’t focus exclusively on wildlife, Festa said the textures of fur and faces “represent beautifully” in this medium, and her recent work includes horses, gorillas, zebras and her own basset hound.
“Horses are people’s lives here, and I do love horses,” she said. “I enjoy doing animals; it has to be something that’s pulling me in. It’s usually something that I feel passionate about. It has to evoke an emotion for me so that I hope to evoke an emotion from someone else. That’s always been my process.”
Festa, who currently teaches scratchboard classes at Chelsea Art Center, believes art is beneficial for everyone and calls it her “therapy.”
“It really is something that will build confidence,” she said. “In this technique, you learn about seeing things in lines or dots, so it’s not necessarily most important that you learn to draw first. I’m teaching you a technique to be able to create what you see. It’s just learning how to be able to see the shapes and getting out of the left side of the brain that says, ‘I can’t do it.’ The right side of the brain is your creative side, and we teach you how to be able to tap into that.”
Festa’s next scratchboard class will be a four-part workshop at Chelsea Art Center, 3305 E. Silver Springs Blvd., on Jan. 8, 15, 22 and 29 from 3:30-5 p.m. For more information about the class, visit chelseaartcenter.com.
To learn more about the artist and her work, follow her on Instagram @annafesta.uniquearts.