Columbus artist Evangelia Philippidis examines nature through scratchboard illustrations at Studios on High

The Greece native explores ideas around nature in scratchboard works currently on display at Studios on High Gallery in the Short North.

Joel Oliphint
Columbus Alive
"Serengeti," scratchboard illustration by Evangelia Philippidis

Years ago, Evangelia Philippidis was forced to become an illustrator at the Columbus Dispatch after working as a page designer. At first, the transition didn’t go smoothly.  

“For a month I did some horrible illustrations — good concepts, but bad drawing skills,” Philippidis said. “I panicked, thinking, ‘I have three months to either become better at the craft or find another job.’”

Instead of using black ink on a white sheet of paper, a coworker suggested she try scratchboard, a reverse approach to drawing that involves scraping away a waxy black coating to reveal the white paper underneath. Once Philippidis began experimenting with scratchboard, something clicked, and she never looked back. 

“I have no depth perception, so I see patterns and shapes before I see details,” she said. “I don't know what it is about taking away the black and exposing the white underneath that just resonated with me. I can see the patterns developing. I can see the movement in an image developing.” 

Philippidis stayed at the Dispatch for 22 years, leaving in 2009 at age 52. The experience not only developed her illustration skills, but also taught her about accuracy and storytelling. “How do you provoke people and challenge them to think and to look at the other side of the story?” she said. “As artists, we have that obligation to the world to say, ‘Look what's going on. Maybe you don't agree with it, but at least be compelled to look at it.’” 

In the last dozen years, Philippidis has had more time to concentrate on her own art. “Into the Forest I Go,” her current exhibition on view at Studios on High Gallery in the Short North, reveals the Greece native's love of the natural world, which began during her childhood spent outdoors on the outskirts of Athens. “I never saw television until I was 9 years old. … I was up on a mountain with forests and fields and goats and chickens and people that were raising pigeons,” she said. “When I was 6 months old, my mother threw me in the Aegean Sea.” 

Philippidis also grew up steeped in the ancient Greek idea that humankind is intrinsically connected to nature, and that philosophy carries through in her work. In “Serengeti,” two Maasai women recline in the foreground while lions, elephants, zebras and other animals fill the rest of the black-and-white piece. “Right now in Africa, women are the rangers. They are at the forefront of anti-poaching groups,” she said. “The Maasai call themselves the gatekeepers, and so the women are kind of a gate into this natural world.”

Philippidis also keeps a certain amount of whimsy in her work so as not to “hit anyone over the head” with a conservation message, she said. In the piece “Tangled in Love,” for instance, two giraffes intertwine their necks together in an embrace (two of their spots together even form a heart). But the lovey-dovey image also invites a closer inspection that Philippidis welcomes.

“Those are two specific giraffes, the Rothschild's and the Nubian giraffe, both of which are in extreme danger,” she said. “I want people to ask questions like, 'Why are the spots different on the giraffes?’ … I want people to look at it and smile and go, ‘Why did you do this?’ And then I can go into the story.”

"Tangled in Love" scratchboard drawing by Evangelia Philippidis