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Scratchboard Tool Feature: Inks

Updated: Jul 13, 2023

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Fixing Mistakes

One of the most common questions that I get asked, especially at art festivals, is about fixing "mistakes" on a scratchboard. I use quotes on mistake because it's artwork and it can be whatever I want - so mistakes are completely subjective. BUT I know what they mean is, how do you change marks that you've put down on a scratchboard if you can't erase them?

The short answer is...India ink pens and scratchboard ink washes.

The more in-depth answer

that I usually give at exhibitions and shows is as follows; scratchboard is a slow process. I make very intentional marks at a relatively low rate of speed, so the chances of there being a huge scratch that is completely unwanted is very low. Most of the time, the mistake is that I have over-scratched an area and it is now brighter or whiter than I want it to be. I can use the ink pens and washes to re-darken an area and then scratch over it, but those tools do not 'erase' an already existing scratch. The original ink can not be completely put back on - the pens and washes simply mask the original scratch, allowing me to re-scratch it in a different way. Most 'mistakes' can be incorporated back into the piece without much issue.

More Uses For Ink On Scratchboard

I also use both the India ink pens and scratchboard ink washes in several other ways in my work.

Diluted scratchboard ink can be used to help create a desired background effect, as demonstrated in this barn owl piece. Multiple layers of scratching and re-inking were used to create a subtle grey background for this bird. I gently scratched away most of the original layer of ink with very fine sand paper and then brushed on ink. I repeated this process several times, alternating a circular scratching pattern and diluted black ink, to create the soft background - using an abrasive foam sand paper for the final finish.

Ink washes can also be used on the main subject of your piece to darken certain areas that have been over-scratched or to darken the entire creature/object. Sometimes it is difficult to get a very subtle and dark area of a composition to remain dark and still achieve the desired texture - smooth textures are sometimes hard to accomplish without over-scratching, so ink washes are helpful to 'send them back' into the piece, creating dimension and depth.

I use the India ink pens to ADD marks to a scratchboard as well. The small black dots on the breast of the barn owl above were added back after scratching out the white feather details. These black details were then scratched over lightly to add texture and to create cohesion in the piece.

For animals with whiskers or other fine hairs, I will use the ink pens to draw the whiskers or other important detail hairs back onto the piece once the rest of the scratching is done. I have in the past, when I was first learning scratchboard and before discovering the pens I use now, scratched around the whiskers in an attempt to maintain the black lines. That proves to be incredibly tedious and not worth the effort, as you can imagine, so I use these tools to add them back at the end. Whiskers and other fine hairs help create dimension and interest in the work.

[Note the combination of both drawn in black whiskers and scratched white whiskers in the image above.]

Where To Find Them

The ink pens and diluted ink washes may seem like secondary tools in my scratchboard kit, but I use the pens on almost every piece that I do. They are helpful for finishing touches and covering up imperfections in the black background before varnishing. They are key to my success in creating photo-realistic work and I recommend them to any scratchboard artist.

The scratchboard inks can be found here - they come in a set of multiple colors that can be used to color your scratchboard work, if you would like.

I always get this set of Faber-Castell PITT India Ink pens - I find the different tip sizes very helpful depending on the size of the mark I want to make and the size of the board I am working on. I buy them from Michaels, but I'm sure they could be found at many other art supply stores.

Other Scratchboard Resources

If you still have questions about my tools, techniques, or processes, be sure to check out my other blog posts on the small fiberglass brush, x-acto knife, and Frequently Asked Questions.

As always, please let me know if there is a topic or technique you would like me to talk about in a blog post. Email me at

Join my community of animal lovers and scratchboard enthusiasts here!!

Find Your Joy

- Melissa

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