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What is Scratchboard?

Modern scratchboard was invented in the late 1800ís. It was developed as an illustration technique because the crisp, clean lines it creates worked perfectly with the printing press. While it is not frequently seen in the fine art arena, it is still commonly used by illustrators today. The medium is especially favored by nature and wildlife artists for its ability to capture detail, realism and texture.

Scratchboard is a fairly easy medium to work in IF you donít mind working backwards (from dark to light) and are patient and willing to spend time planning, because mistakes are difficult to correct.

Scratchboard Step by Step
Surface: Scratchboard begins with a board or paper coated with smooth white clay. The surfaces I use are Esdee scraperboard, a coated paper produced in England, or Clayboard, a clay-coated hardboard. Both of these products are available in the original white or precoated with black ink. Clayboard is available at most good art stores; Esdee is more uncommon and may have to be purchased online.

Ink Coating: Any black, waterproof, permanent India ink is acceptable. My preference is Speedball Superblack India Ink; it is an incredibly dark and rich black.

Scratching Tools: I usually use an Exacto knife because it’s very flexible and lets me use a delicate touch. But there are scratch tool kits you can purchase to experiment with. In addition, some art stores sell individual scratching nibs and holders to insert them in. It’s a matter of what works well for you.

Application: Most artists start with the whole surface inked black. But for me, the way I start my picture depends on the look I am wanting. I only coat the entire surface with ink if the picture is a mostly medium-toned or dark scene. In this case, I apply the ink with a large brush. If I want a softer effect, like water or mist, I often apply the ink through an airbrush. With either method, I may leave areas unpainted if I am wanting white or very light gray in that spot. I can go into that area with my same ink and a pen to get my light grays.

Working from a detailed sketch, I first trace the basic outline of the subject onto the board with soft chalk or pastel and fill this in with ink and brush (See Image A below). After letting this dry, I retrace the image on the board, this time filling in important things like body shapes: where legs, horns, eyes, and major shadows or muscles fall (B). Now comes the fun part: I use a sharp tool like an Exacto knife to scratch through the ink, exposing the white clay. I use a light touch and build up the light areas over time (C). Different strokes help suggest the impression of hair vs horn. When the image is finished, I lift off any remaining chalk lines with a kneaded eraser.
Examples of scratchboard surfaces

Smooth Clayboard (White) and Black (precoated with ink). Right Front: Esdee scraperboard.

Airbrushed clay board

Ink Outlined ImagespacerTraced ImagespacerScratched Image

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All images, graphics and content © Julie Fulkerson, 2005-2010. All rights reserved.