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How to Use Scratchboard

Author: Diana Lee

Photo: finished work, entitled Monica and Tatum

Scratchboard is a great medium to use for hide and hair. I love using this medium for animals. Black scratchboard is a thin board covered with a layer of chalk and then sprayed with a black ink. With a sharp tool you scratch away the black ink to expose the white chalk. If you want to add paint (like watercolor) you need to spray the board with a fixative after you scratch it because the black ink is water soluble and you could ruin your piece. Here are some basic steps to get you started. Have fun!

I start with a pencil drawing. This is probably the most time consuming part of the project for me. The proportions and layout must be right at this level, the scratchboard is where I put all the finishing touches to the sketch. It's important to have the picture broken down to only the most essential lines. Then I transfer it to the scratchboard using graphite paper.


Photo: The initial drawing

For scratching I use these tools most of the time They can be
purchased anywhere you can purchase scratchboard. However, I also use xacto knives and razor blades if necessary. I use ESSDEE SCRAPER BOARD. It really is the best and I'm fortunate enough to have a local art supply store that carries it ($25.00 for a 19 x 24 sheet)

Photo: The finished piece, with selected portions highlighted for discussion below.
With long hair and fur the only advice I can give is practice on a scrap piece of scratchboard until you feel confident enough to just get in there and do it. It really must be done in single strokes or it will look choppy. I start with the pointed tool and then work the highlights with the rounded, broader tool.
In any medium I am working, I always do the eyes of the animals and people first. If the eyes aren't right there is no point in going on.

With the face and the arm I have given some examples of how skin is simple cross-hatching. Always remember to scratch as little as possible; you can always scratch more later and it is much more difficult to remove scratches.

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 miner fingerprints or smudges. Remember it is better to spray several light coats then to try one thick coat (thick coats tend to run)

Hot Tip from Diana Lee: 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.

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].