What is Scratchboard?
For those who are wondering what scratchboard is, well, you’ve seen it before even if you might not have realized it. Scratchboard was first developed by English printmakers in the late 1800’s who were trying to come up with an alternative to both woodcuts, which can be time consuming, and steel engraving, which is not only time consuming but also expensive. The trick would be to have the look of an engraving or woodcut, without the cost. What they came up with back then hasn’t changed all that much; they took a sheet of thin board, either cardboard or wood, and covered it with a thin layer of white clay. Ink is applied to the clay surface, allowed to dry, and then all you do is take a sharp pointed tool and scrape off the ink, revealing the white line of the clay below. The end result can look anything like a regular ink drawing or as elaborate as a woodcut or steel engraving. The most popular version of it today is marketed as Clayboard™, from the Ampersand art supply company. Clayboard™ comes in two varieties, either with the ink already appliedor with the clay-only surface which gives the artist a little more versatility, allowing you to put the ink on wherever you want to. As for scratchboard tools, you can get them in a collected assortment,
or they can be bought as individual tips to insert in a fountain pen handle.
All artists will steal tricks from one another and from those who have gone before. I confess to studying some artists working today who have spearheaded a miniature Scratchboard Renaissance, such as the always amazing Mark Summers,
and Steven Noble.
And for the REALLY adventurous, scratchboard can also be used as a canvas for the use of paint, particularly acrylic and gouache. Using a clay-only surface, you can apply the paint in whatever way you choose, and then scratch out all the white areas. Here’s an example
by artist Susan Donley:
If you’re interested in reading more about scratchboard, there are several books out there that do a fine job of laying out all the how-to specifics. The one that started me out is Scratchboard for Illustration, by Ruth Lozner. Now out of print, used copies can be found on Amazon. A couple of newer books that are quite good as well are Mastering the Art of Scratchboard, by Norman Gaddini,
and The New Scratchboard, by Charles Ewing. Again, Amazon can be your friend for finding a good used copy. I hope this has been useful. If there are any questions feel free to send me an email.