The search for an appropriate medium left artist Angie Cockle with little choice. She'd tried watercolor, pottery and pastel, but the mediums had no life.
"I've tried almost everything because I wanted to love what I did," she said.
Then Cockle discovered scratchboard. The technique consists of scratching animals into existence on clay and ink coated hardboard, one hair at a time. Literally.
Cockle uses a blade to scratch the ink away, line by line, leaving only clay. She then applies water-based paint for color.
"To me, this is alive," she said. "When I did this I was so impressed with it and I loved it."
Though Cockle's works sell -- they cost anywhere from $330 to $2,200 -- in some ways scratchboard is a labor of love. "Not many artists do it because you're literally working for $1 an hour."
Much of Cockle's work is derived from commissions. Pet owners often ask to have their deceased animal commemorated eternally -- outside of an urn.
"They've lost the cat or dog and they want it back."
Mick, Cockle's husband, says Cockle has the inexplicable ability to scratch life into an animal's eyes.
"I can spend probably a whole day on a set of eyes," Cockle said.
Mick said, "the gift she has is bringing them to life."
Customers often cry, the couple says, after picking up an image of the pet they lost. "When you do art for people and it makes them feel a certain way, you heal them," Cockle said.
Customers have paid her more than the asking price because they're so grateful, Cockle said.
"How often does anyone do that?"
Though commissions can impart pressure on the artist because of the accompanying high expectations, Cockle is a perfectionist. With her own expectations so high, she doesn't worry about meeting those of others.
Each piece usually starts with a photograph. She roughly sketches the animal -- and her subjects usually are animals -- before filling in the detail.
"I don't just do it from imagination," she said. When using a photograph from a book, she's careful to add in another element.
One scratched image of a zebra began as a photograph inside a book. Cockle's version features a butterfly to guard against copyright issues. "You have to be careful," she said.
She works on at least three pieces simultaneously. After working on one piece for hours, it helps to step back from it, Cockle said.
But for her, stepping back doesn't include sipping lemonade on the front porch. It means taking her scratching knife and sticking it in another canvas' ink.
"I get itchy or I get an inspiration," she said. Cockle says it's important to have that meditative time to relax and empty her mind completely -- save for the strand of fur by strand of fur scratching it takes to complete an animal portrait.
"I've even gone to bed and gotten up at 3 o'clock in the morning (to work on a piece)," she said. "If you get up in the middle of the night for no reason, there is a reason."
The twilight march of the clock, unwatched by the many asleep, belongs to those who listen to the voice of the great beyond that whispers inspiration.