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Sometimes referred to as scraperboard (especially in Great Britain), but usually called scratchboard in North America and Australia, is a form of direct engraving where the artist scratches off dark ink to reveal a white or colored layer beneath. Scratchboard refers to both a fine-art medium, and an illustrative technique using sharp knives and tools for engraving into a thin layer of white China clay that is coated with dark, often black India ink. There is also foil paper covered with black ink that, when scratched, exposes the shiny surface beneath. Scratchboard can be used to yield highly detailed, precise and evenly textured artwork. Works can be left black and white, or colored.
Modern scraperboard originated in the 19th century in Britain and France. As printing methods developed, scraperboard became a popular medium for reproduction because it replaced wood, metal and linoleum engraving. It allowed for a fine line appearance that could be photographically reduced for reproduction without losing quality. It was most effective and expeditious for use in single-color book and newspaper printing. From the 1930s to 1950s, it was one of the preferred techniques for medical, scientific and product illustration. During that time period, Virgil Finlay made very detailed illustrations, often combining scraperboard methods with traditional pen & ink techniques, and producing highly detailed artworks. In more recent years, it has made a comeback as an appealing medium for editorial illustrators of magazines, ads, graphic novels, and one of a kind pieces of fine art displayed in galleries and museums internationally.
Unlike many drawing mediums, where the artist adds in the mid-tones and shadows, with scratchboard the artist is working by adding in the highlights. The artist can use a variety of tools to begin scratching away the black ink and reveal the white clay that is underneath (see materials list below for tools). Values within the artwork are achieved by scratching more or less of the black ink off of the board. After black ink has been scratched away the artist may consider it completed, or may choose to color the work. Works can be colored with watercolors, airbrush, ink, color pencil or acrylics. Transparent mediums are generally used to color scratchboard, as they fill in the white scratches without affecting the black ink left on the board. After an area has been colored it can be scratched again, revealing more of the white clay. Sometimes the artist will color and scratch several times to create subtle shading or color variations. This technique can yield a very graphic image that can be very detailed. Artists that begin with a white clay-coated board will add their own ink to the surface, and then scratch away the ink in the same manner as described above. After completion many artists varnish the artwork so that it is protected and can not be as easily damaged.
Materials and Tools used
Scratchboard itself comes either with a paper (cardboard) backing, or a hardboard support. While the cardboard does have its uses, as it can be easily cut into size, the hardboard is much superior, giving greater stability to the work, being able to be corrected more often. It is more durable and easier to scratch into for cleaner, crisper details and lines. Several tools have been created specifically for scratchboard; however any sharp implement will do though a range of blades of different thicknesses allows the removal of more or less of the ink at will (see variety of tools listed below). Isopropyl Alcohol on a cotton swab or cotton ball, sandpaper and non-oily, fine, steel wool are also useful for removing large areas, and creating texture. Coloring scratchboard, black or white boards, can be done with many mediums applied with paint brush, air brush, and even cotton balls. Special scratchboard colored inks, made by ampersand, can be added to the white areas and then scratched again for additional highlights and volume for added dimension.
While some artists choose to make their own scratchboards, most artists work on commercially available materials. Brands of available commercial scratchboard are Ampersand(professional artist grade materials supported on masonite for rigidity - Products sold under the product names Scratchbord with black ink and Claybord white clay without any ink on it), Essdee (make in UK, lighter weight material backed on cardboard), Scratch-Art (light weight, student grade material on cardboard, can be purchased with colored foil behind).
Some of the tools professional scratchboard artists use for scratching through the ink include xacto blades, scalpel blades, tattoo needles, tips made by speedball (scratchboard tips #112 and 113), tips made by scratch-art brand, small fiberglass brushes, wire brushes, sandpaper, steel wool, parallel-line tool, ink erasers, and more! Various techniques such as hatching or stippling can be used to detail the image. The 14" X 18" scratchboard Sunflower And Silver by Diana Lee is an example of black scratchboard colored with transparent ink. An extreme close up lets the detail of the scratching be more easily seen.
Organizations for Scratchboard Artists
In 2011 an organization was launched to help promote Scratchboard Art as a fine art medium, as well as to help educate the public about this unique medium. The organization is called the International Society of Scratchboard Artists (ISSA), and is a 501c3 nonprofit in the United States. ISSA holds at least one annual exhibition dedicated exclusively to scratchboard art in a gallery or museum each year. It is an international organization with membership from across the globe. The organization has several levels of membership, with Master Scratchboard Artist being their highest level.
Notable contemporary illustrators who have worked in the scratchboard medium include David Klein, Michael McCurdy, Peter Blake, Virgil Finlay, John Schoenherr, Carmelo Ciancio, Gary Houston, Scott McKowen, Nicolas Delort and Amanda Brannon.
Some of the Master Scratchboard Artists (MSA), as recognized by the International Society of Scratchboard Artists, and working in the medium as fine artists include: John Agnew (USA), Lesley Barrett (Australia), Lori Dunn (Canada), Lorna Hannett (Canada), Diana Lee (USA), Sally Maxwell (USA), Karen Neal (New Zealand), and Cathy Sheeter (USA) (complete list of recognized Master Scratchboard Artists at: http://www.scratchboardsociety.com/master1.html)
- Merritt Dana Cutler, Scratchboard Drawing, 1949, Watson-Guptill Publications.
- Ruth Lozner, Scratchboard for Illustration, 1990, Watson-Guptill Publications, ISBN 0-8230-4662-1
- Merritt Cutler, "How to Cut Drawings on Scratchboard", 1960, Watson-Guptill Publications, ISBN 0-8230-2350-8
- Diana Lee, Starting From Scratch, 2012, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, ISBN 1-4775-5881-0