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The Revealing Art of Scratch-boarding: What is it?

The Revealing Art of Scratch-boarding: What is it?

I received an email recently advertising the materials for a technique called scratch-boarding. I had never heard of it before but was fascinated by the accompanying images and thought, hey I might give that a try one day and thought I should delve deeper, here's what I came up with –

Pineapple by Clint Hansen

So scratchboard or scraperboard as it’s sometimes called in other countries is a technique where drawings are created using sharp knives and tools for etching through a dark black layer of Indian Ink to expose a thin layer of white China clay.

This technique is not a new one in fact modern scratchboard originated in the 19th century in Britain and France. As printing methods developed, scratchboard became a popular medium for reproduction because it replaced wood, metal and linoleum engraving. Scratchboard art allowed for a fine line appearance that could be photographically reduced for reproduction without losing any quality. It was most effective and quick to produce. Because of this it was ideal for use in black and white book as well as newspaper printing. The fine detailing meant it was one of the preferred techniques for medical, scientific and product illustration as well prior to computer generated images that we have today. In more recent years, it has made a comeback as an appealing medium for editorial illustrators of magazines, and advertisements.

So how do you do scratch-boarding?

Using a sharp, angled blade or scratch tool you make an outline on the surface of the scratchboard. As the scratchboard comes in either all black or all white sheets, the shadows and highlights are created by "scratching" away at the board. Artists using the white scratchboard paint or draw black areas onto it and then proceed to scratch into the black portions to create their drawing. Alternatively, the cleared portions of the scratchboard may be left blank for a stark black-and-white image. Various techniques such as hatching or stippling can be used to texture and detail the image even further. Depending on what the artist wants to achieve, several areas may be cleared out for layering with water-colours, airbrush or even acrylic paints. These layers are then scratched off one by one to create different shades of colour that blend into and highlight certain parts of the image. It can then be retouched with more paint as necessary. This technique can create an image that appears remarkably lifelike due to the fine and sharp detailing. Scratchboard can also be made with several layers of multi-coloured clay, so the pressure exerted on the instrument used determines the colour that is revealed meaning that a higher skill level is needed for this type of board as it isn’t cheap that’s for sure!

The actual ‘Scratchboard’ board itself comes either with a cardboard backing, or on hardboard. While the cardboard does have its uses, like being able to be easily cut to size, the hardboard is much superior, giving greater stability to the work, and being able to be corrected more often, as well as being able to be framed without the need of glass.

Several tools have been created specifically for scratchboard; however any sharp implement will do. It is good to have a range of different thicknesses in your blades so that you can remove more or less of the ink at will. You can also try the professional tools like the ‘Scratch Tool’ itself which is the preferred tool for traditional scratchboard art. It is an ergonomically designed and heat- treated metal scratch knife. The triangular shape of this particular tool provides increased control and a better grip while you work. The point makes fine lines, sides make broad strokes.

You can also use things like sandpaper or a fine steel wool which are useful for removing larger areas, as well as creating texture. I was interested to see you can also get colour, look at this awesome artwork by Clnt Hansen


To see more scratchboard information and this amazing artists work, check out this really cool site - http://www.scratchboard-art.com/

I personally can’t wait to give this technique a try. You can purchase the tools and board from https://scratchboarduniversity.com if you want to give it a go.

Posted: Tuesday 4 May 2010


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