Rediscovered as an art medium in the 1980s, a scratchboard is a piece of paper or board covered with a white, chalk-like material and then coated with black ink. Lines can be scratched into the surface. Images in a wide range of styles can be executed with a scratchboard, from rough black and white shapes to realistic portraits and landscapes, using a spectrum of gray tones and a variety of textures.
History of Scratchboards
The history of scratching an image onto a surface goes back all the way to the rock and bone drawings of our ancient ancestors. Etchings and wood cuts continued this basic idea and in the mid-19th century the scratchboards were devised to fulfill the growing demand for quick illustrations; for decades, scratchboards were mainly used in print publications and in advertising. Today, the scratchboard has been rediscovered as a medium for fine art. Ready-made boards are available from art supply stores in a range of qualities and prices. Usually the less it costs, the thinner the cardboard and coatings. If you are just beginning to explore scratchboard techniques, go easy on your wallet and don't hesitate to get the cheapest one.
Stores offer various tools, from a needle sharp stylus to broad scrapers. Many artists use tools that they already have at home, such as pins, needles and thin knives. An easy way to make a scratcher is to insert a needle in a holder, such as a cork. Look for other types of sharp objects you may have around the house, especially if you use the scratchboard only occasionally.
Designing and Transferring an Image
Make a pencil drawing of your idea on thin paper. Gently tape your pencil drawing on top of your scratchboard and follow the lines of it with a pen so that the pressure will cause the scratchboard to indent and repeat the line. It will still be black but slightly visible in an angle. Another option is to place a sheet of white carbon paper between the scratchboard and your drawing. Follow the lines with not too much pressure and a fine white line will appear as your outline on the scratchboard.
After a successful transfer of your image, you can begin. Scratching, scraping or sanding away the black coat in targeted areas reveals the white coat underneath. Different tools create different textures. If you have some practice with other types of art, it will come to you quickly. Use a fine needle for intricate textures, a thicker one for a bolder expression. Experiment with cross-hatching strokes to create fine textures and shades of gray. Just remember that everything you do will result in a white area. If you want to create a black line, you will have to scratch the area around the line. If you over-scratched or made any kind of mistake, add a drop of black ink onto a brush. Apply it to the affected area, let it dry and continue.
Lines and Textures
Once you have perfected your basic drawing, you can fill areas with a variety of textures and shadings. A pointed tool can be used to create tiny dots. Placed close to each other, the effect will be a light gray and with more space in between the dots, it will be darker. This can be fine-tuned using tools with very thin tips. Strokes and parallel lines applied next to each other also create a light-dark effect that can be intensified in either direction by placing the lines close to each other or by increasing their distance. Cross-hatching is done by crossing those lines with other lines at an angle. Sandpaper, used with caution, can be applied to larger areas; you can also use it to create interesting visual effects along the edges of the board.
Colors and Fixative
Scratchboard art does not have to be black and white. Many artists use colors to enhance their creations as one of the last steps. Watercolors will work but colored inks are a better option. Acrylic colors are too opaque and would muddy the black sections. Apply the inks with a brush. To make your new piece of art last, use a clear acrylic spray fixative to add a protective coating; it will also increase the intensity of the colors.
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