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Scratchboard Basics

Author: Diana Lee

This is a cross section of the basic design of a sheet of scratchboard and the principle of scratching through the black ink to reveal the white chalk. I use ESSDEE SCRAPER BOARD brand. It comes out of England and is sold in art supply stores. It is my understanding that some scratchboard artists have difficulty in finding scratchboard at their local stores. If this is the case you can find scratchboard in online art supply sources. One I know of but have never used is http://www.artsupply.com

The eye on the left is drawn with pen and ink. The eye on the right is done in scratchboard. The parts of the eye you want white are white in both and the parts you want black are black.

The technique used for scratchboard is opposite what you are probably used to using when you draw, however the tendency of most is to use the tool like a pencil and to scrape away lines that would normally be black. The result will look like a negative (as shown on the right) and that's not what you want.

I use these tools (shown here to the left) more than any other when working scratchboard. The 'nibs' can be removed from the handle and replaced, however I keep a whet stone handy and sharpen them frequently.

Other tools used are x-acto knives and razor blades. You really can use anything that will scratch. Try experimenting.


I use the pointed nib for fine lines and the broader nib for wider or broader lines. To scrape large areas I use an x-acto knife or a razor blade. You can get some amazing textures with a razor blade.

The first texture on the left is fleece made by scraping with a razor blade. The second is a crocheted hat done by using an x-acto knife and the broad nib. I got the wet shine on the dolphins back with a razor blade.

The three examples to the right, the coarse raccoon fur, the elephant trunk, and the wet otter fur, were created with the broad nib and then I used the fine line nib to blend.


The hair and the flesh were done with the fine line nib. The flesh is a series of cross hatching. The chess pieces were done by cross hatching with the fine point and then given a strong highlight with the broader nib.

Scratchboard can smudge because of natural oils and perspiration that's on skin. When I work on a scratchboard I rest my hand on a piece of tissue. (Do not use scented tissue or tissue treated with aloe or lotion). I also use tissue to wipe the picture periodically. If you blow away the chalk dust it gets in your eyes and attacks your sinuses so I strongly suggest wiping.

When you have finished scratching and you're satisfied that the piece is done, wipe it as clean as possible. Now you are ready to spray it. I use Krylon workable fixative. This will heighten the contrasts and eliminate any minor fingerprints or smudges. Remember it is better to spray several light coats then to try one thick coat.

Self portrait, Diana Lee
Diana Lee is an accomplished professional artist who works in a variety of mediums, including oils, acrylics, watercolors, and scratchboard. She is a contributing editor to WetCanvas! For more information on Diana, or to view her online gallery of works, visit her web site at www.dianalee.com. She can be reached via email at [email protected].