Artist Profile: Tina Trites, scratchboard artist
When an artist works small, sometimes the goal is a more intimate experience with the artwork. And sometimes, as is the case with Sandwich artist Tina Trites, there are more pragmatic considerations. “I lived on a sailboat for 20 years,” she explains. “I did pen-and-ink drawings because that’s what could fit in the bunk during the day.”
From 1977 to 1997, Trites and her husband sailed up and down the East Coast on a 34-foot Polynesian catamaran they built themselves. “I always thought I was going to marry a cowboy, but I ended up marrying a sailor,” she says. They were constantly on the move, going as far south as Guatemala, Belize and Mexico. At each new place, they would go ashore and find jobs. “Once we were broke in St. Augustine, Florida,” Trites recalls. “I went ashore with my watercolors and started painting.”
The death of her husband brought Trites home to Sandwich in 1998. With time on her hands, she took her first art classes at the Cape Cod Art Association. They were just the boost of confidence and focus she needed. “I am mostly self-taught,” she says. “Classes with Christie Velesig and Zoe Albino were helpful in getting me going.”
Trites began showing her work and engaging in the online artist forum WetCanvas, where she first discovered scratchboard, a process in which the surface of masonite (with layers of white kaolin clay and airbrushed black ink) is carved away to reveal white underneath. Her recent works feature intricate, mesmerizingly detailed portraits of animals—everything from dogs and horses to tigers and rams. The animals often stand alone, regal and majestic against the pristine black of the scratchboard. It is easy and enjoyable to get lost in a sea of fur or a maze of wrinkled skin. For Trites, it’s an exploration of what she loves. “I’ve always been more attached to animals than people,” she says. “I love the textures, the colors of their eyes. Just watching a video of a horse running can make me cry.”
Despite 20 years on dry land, old habits stick tight and Trites still works small, with most of her drawings and paintings fitting comfortably in two hands. “I don’t really have a studio. I paint most of the time in the living room, with pieces on my lap,” she says. “My recent piece is a four-foot tall fiberglass starfish created for the Starfish Trail in Sandwich.”
Tina Trites is represented by Collections Gallery, 23 Jarves Street, Sandwich. More of her work can be viewed at ttrites.com. The Cultural Center of Cape Cod in South Yarmouth will present a solo show of Trites’ work October 4-15.