Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Dog Portrait - Scratchboard Tutorial pt 1


While I do consider myself primarily a black-on-white kind of artist, in some cases it can provide a welcome challenge to work in reverse.  Hence, my post today is about working with scratchboard!  If you're unfamiliar with scratchboard art, it is essentially the process of using a sharp tool to remove ink and reveal white on a solid black surface (typically on boards thinly layered with white clay and then completely inked over with black).  Thus your marks reveal detailed highlights instead of building shadow.  The wordless comics of Swedish artist Thomas Ott are prime examples, and highly recommended!

For my newest project I chose to illustrate this photo of my father's two dogs, Gizmo the blonde-haired labradoodle and Snoopy the white-haired poodle.  Scratchboard seemed the ideal medium for capturing their light hair naturally, and would give me a chance to play with the patterns within.



  • While there are some poor quality student grade scratchboards available, you really owe it to yourself to begin with a quality material.  Ampersand or Essdee or both make very high quality boards that are lightyears beyond the student grade alternatives.  One benefit of Essdee boards is that while sturdy, they are essentially a heavy cardstock and can be easily cut down to your custom size.  Still, I prefer Ampersand's Scratchbords (note the spelling of 'bords'), as they are coated 1/8" masonite and can hold up to a lot of abuse and are easily framed.  You just have to know which size you want to work with and buy accordingly.  Ampersand also has them available in a cradled configurations to hang on the wall gallery style, very nice!

Scraper Tool

  • You can use any sharp tool to make marks on a scratchboard, but there are some specific tools available for that purpose that will afford you the most control.  Most scratchboard tools come as a a nib point, which slots into a nib pen holder.  The two most common shapes are a pointed nib and a curved nib.  I like using the curved nib so that I can angle the edge for a wider mark, and it also keeps me from digging too deep into the surface as I sometimes do with the pointed tool.  There are other variations available that can make multiple lines at once or scuff up the surface.  Which is best for you all depends on your goals.  Even steel wool would work if your intention is to create a lot of texture all at once.  Personally, I like to keep control over every line, so I stick with the standard scrapers.

Printed Photo or Drawing

  • Whether you're working from a photo or another drawing, you'll want to print out a copy that's sized correctly for your scratchboard.  In my case, I'm working on a 5x7 board and printed my photo just a bit smaller.  Reason being, I anticipate putting the finished piece in a frame which will hide a fraction of an inch of my edges.

Masking Tape

  • Masking tape will hold the source photo (or drawing) in place while we transfer our image to the board.  Which brings me to...

Transfer Paper

  • Whether working on a white Claybord or black Scratchbord, so far I've been using Saral brand yellow transfer paper to put my images to board.  It comes on a tube in a box, similar to wax-paper, but is graphite based and can be removed from your surface using a standard eraser and washes out of clothes.  There are a number of colors available and I may try the normal graphite next time I buy supplies, but for now yellow is working fine.

In the next post we'll look at getting our image transfered to the board and begin marking progress on our final illustration!  Stay tuned... Continue to Part 2

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