Author: Cathy_Sheeter, Contributing Editor
|Welcome to the wonderful world of black and white scratchboard! This article is an introduction to this medium and specifically its use in drawing mammals. I hope you find it useful, easy to follow and enjoyable!|
|Scratchboard, also known as scraperboard in the UK, is a three-layer structure consisting of a either a heavy-weight paperboard or a thin piece of masonite (depending on brand) which is coated with white clay and then airbrushed with a very light layer of black India ink. When you first get the board, it is solid black and by the use of various tools, which will be discussed later, you scratch through the black to the white layer below. You can also purchase the product before it has been inked (the white clay layer is exposed) if you would like to ink it yourself. That product is usually called clayboard.|
|Scratchboard is a relatively little-known medium throughout most of the world, though increasing in popularity. It is easiest to get supplies in the US. There are three primary makes of scratchboard at the time of writing.
Scratch-Art is common in the US and is mostly a school-grade product. It is semi-glossy ink sprayed on paperboard. I do not find the quality of this product to be good for fine details as the black ink will at times chip off and heavy scratching can go through to the cardboard layer leaving an undesirable result. I do not recomend it for the serious artist.
Essdee is a British company and can be sometimes difficult to find in the US. It is a semi-glossy ink sprayed on illustration board. I have limited experience on this brand of scratchboard, though have taked to several respected artists that prefer it, as it has a slightly thicker layer of ink sprayed on it.
My prefered brand is Ampersand Scratchbord. It is a matte black ink sprayed on masonite, which will not flex or bend. The ink is sprayed quite lightly so it will pick up very fine scratches. I have heard other artists complain that it will scratch off with pressure from the hand if you have very rough skin (I've personally never had this problem). This brand has been picked up by the commercial company "Hobby Lobby" in the USA and can be purchased there or online.
|There are a variety of tools that are commonly used for scratching your board; however, with a little imagination even more can be found. Anything sharp will scratch through the ink layer, so trial and error can yield some fun and interesting results.
While ampersand does make a scratchboard tool kit with several tools in it, I prefer the ones pictured above. I do at least 95% of my scratching with an exacto with the #11 blade. This tool can yield lines from very thin to medium thickness depending on the angle it is held at and the amount of pressure applied. These tips can be resharpened many times.
I do use a couple of tools made specifically for scratchboard. Specifically, I use the #12 and #13 speedball tips. #12 is a sharp point, which yields medium to thick lines and #13 is a scoop-shaped tip that creates thick to very thick lines (useful for taking off larger areas of black quickly).
I occasionally use a small amount of oil-free steel wool (sold by Ampersand and comes in fine, medium and hard), which gives a soft, dreamy look that is difficult to achieve with any other tool. The down side is that the shavings from the wool can embed in your finger tips and it is difficult to be very precise with it in small areas.
Some artists also use a small fiberglass brush to give soft edges. I have never gotten the knack of this tool, but have seen it used with great skill by others. If you wish to try this tool, it should be used with gloves and a face mask as inhaling the particulates from the brush can be harmful.
|Not all photos make good scratchboards. Those with excellent contrast are usually the best for scratching. I like to convert images to black and white before I start, as I find it easier to see the shading and decide if it will make a good scratch. Often times increasing the contrast in a photo program can make a picture better for this medium. The photo also needs to be sharp so that the direction that the fur lies can be seen.|