Scratchboard, – What is it?
Scratchboard originated in the 19th century in Britain and France and became a popular medium for reproduction. It was often used in single-colour book and newspaper printing. There has been a resurgence of this technique in recent years but with a modern twist.
Scratchboard is a flat board coated with a thin layer of clay and then covered with black Indian ink. A scratch tool is used to scratch through the layer of black ink revealing the white clay underneath. You can buy board that is pre inked, called scratchboard or un-inked called ‘clayboard’. There are also boards that are coloured beneath the black ink.
You can use a variety of tools, basically anything that scratches. Nibs, steel wool, fibreglass brushes, emery boards or tattoo needles all have their uses.
The main tool of trade for most scratchboarders would be a fine nib like a No. 11 Exacto blade. Once a layer is scratched, diluted ink is layered over the artwork by brush and rescratched to create tone and form. This process of scratching and layering diluted ink is repeated until you build up the tonal range you want.
I prefer to use a fibreglass brush as I have found it is similar to using a graphite pencil. As I vary the pressure on the tool I get some tonal range. When it comes to layering to create form and tone, I use an airbrush as I have found it gives me a softer, smoother gradation quickly. ‘Quick’ is the motivating word for me as scratching can be a slow painstaking process. On the other hand it is a very forgiving medium; when you make a mistake you can brush or airbrush over the section with black ink and redo it.
When rendering animals, a fibreglass brush is a great tool to replicate fur, whilst a No. 11 Exacto blade, a nib or a tattoo needle is useful when rendering human, primate or reptilian skins.
– Rikki Fisher
Rikki often conducts workshops and demonstrations upon request. She is also available for private tuition.