Updated: Jul 13
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Fine art scratchboard is a rare medium that most people are not familiar with in an intimate way like they may be with photography or oil painting or pottery or any number of more common artistic mediums. I've been showing my scratchboard wildlife artwork for five years and I get asked the same set of questions over and over as people at art festivals and galleries try to familiarize themselves with it. With all of you in mind, I decided to create this blog series to answer those very questions at greater length. Some of the questions and answers are featured on the gallery page of this website and others are questions I'm answering just for this series! I hope this gives you a clearer picture of how scratchboard artwork is created.
#1 What IS Scratchboard?
Scratchboard is a subtractive medium. A masonite board is coated in compressed white clay and black India ink. I use a variety of abrasive tools to layer scratches on top of one another. The top black layer of ink is scratched away to reveal the white layer beneath to create the desired values of gray and white. Different textures are created by various tools and scratching techniques with those tools. I use the fine art scratchboards manufactured by Ampersand.
#2 How do you get the GRAY values?
The gray in each piece is more of an illusion than anything else. Each individual scratch is indeed white. The gray values that your eye sees are created by the thickness of each scratch and how close together the scratches are. There is no gradient of gray to white under the black. The black layer of India ink is incredibly thin, so each scratch goes all the way through it. The depth of the scratch does not determine how white or bright it is.
#3 How LONG does a scratchboard piece take?
The time to complete each individual scratchboard piece is dependent on how large it is, the overall composition, the values and textures that are involved. A 5"x7" piece typically takes 6-10 hours. An 8"x10" piece takes on average 18-30 hours. Anything larger than an 11"x14" is very dependent on values and textures...a 10"x20" elephant takes about 3x the time a 10"x20" big cat takes. Values involved in each piece dictate how much actual scratching is required - white areas require more scratches, while an animal with dark or black coloring needs far less scratching to complete the piece.
#4 How do you get the animals to SIT for so long?
This one is almost always asked with a joking tone, but there is an underlining curiosity that is better articulated by asking, "do you use reference images or do you create these images from your own imagination?" The answer is that, yes, I do use reference images to help create my wildlife artwork. Scratchboard, the way I choose to work with it, is incredibly detailed and in order to achieve the highest levels of intricate detail, I do need to use reference images to ensure I have the hair growth patterns and major features correct - have you ever stared at the face of your dog or cat and really paid attention to the directions in which their fur grows? Probably not, but I do...all the time now, because it is so important to creating the most accurate artwork possible.
#5 Is Your Scratchboard Like the Kid's CRAFT With the Rainbow Underneath?