Scratchboard Techniques


Scratchboarding is a drawing technique whereby you scratch or carve a design on the surface of a black board, revealing white underneath. It has the opposite effect of drawing with black ink on white paper. Since it is a reverse drawing method, it requires learning special techniques to master it.


  • A scratchboard has a base made of chalk, Koalin clay or oyster shells that have been crushed and pressed together. A dark coloring, like India ink, is airbrushed across the surface of the chalk base. As you remove the black surface, you create a white line for your drawing. Using this type of drawing board allows you to maintain a more consistent line.


  • Carving or etching tools are used to cut into the chalk base, instead of a pencil or pen. Some art supply stores sell tools designed specifically for scratchboarding, but you can also use an X-acto knife, razor blade or needles to etch out the form you desire. Any hardened tool that has a sharp point can be used on a scratchboard. The finer the point, the thinner the line you can make with your drawing. You may want to use different tools to draw different size lines in your drawing. A needle can be used to make fine lines, while a scratchboard tool can be used to make thicker lines.

Common Mistakes

  • One of the most common mistakes when starting with a scratchboard drawing occurs during the creation of lines. It is not like drawing with chalk on a chalkboard. For example, instead of drawing one line to outline the head, you have to scratch away the black surface to create a black line against a white surface. You scratch on either side of the line you want to remain, forming the line and then the drawing. Most scratchboard artists like to start with the whites of the eyes first, but it is not a requirement.


  • Most professional scratchboard artists draw images on a scrap piece of paper before creating them on a scratchboard. This gives you an idea of what black lines need to remain on the scratchboard. When drawing skin, use a cross-etching technique. Remove the black surface in small "X" shapes in the areas where the skin will be visible. Remove the surface ink in stages. It is always easier to remove more black ink, then it is to repair a scratch mark that was unnecessary. When drawing hair, practice on a old piece of scratchboard until you have the technique of drawing hair down. Each strand of hair must be done in a single stroke or the hair strands will look choppy.


  • After finishing your scratchboard drawing, you must clean the board to remove chalk dust or debris. Do not use water or soap. Use a soft bristle brush or cloth to wipe away debris and dust. After the scratchboard surface has been thoroughly cleaned, spray a sealant or coating on the drawing. Many scratchboard artists use Krylon spray. Remember to spray in light coats so the coating does not run.

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