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The Tools of Scratchboard | Process Post

Updated: May 12


I get a lot of questions about my scratchboard work during art festivals and from art enthusiasts online, with the number one question being 'what the heck is scratchboard anyways?!', or some variation of that. The second most frequent question I receive from people is about the tools I use to create my wildlife pieces, so I thought it was long overdue to share that information (visually) with everyone! This may be more information than some of you want or need, but for my artists visitors, this information will be helpful if you want to take a stab at scratchboard, which I highly recommend! You can find information about the process of my scratchboard pieces here.

First, a little (brief) history of scratchboard! Scratching has been around for centuries as an art form - since people painted and scratched on cave walls and on stone. Historically, scratchboard art has been used in advertising and the publishing industry as an alternative to engraving for illustrations. Though it has a lengthy history as an art form, it was only recently that it experienced a resurgence and has gained popularity in the fine art world. It was only in 2010 that the International Society of Scratchboard Artists (ISSA) was formed with the aim of lifting the profile of scratchboard art internationally.

Okay, on to the tools! From left to right in the photo above...mini fiberglass brush, xacto knife, wire brush, pencil, scratchboard tool, scratchboard tool, four prong wire tool, india ink pen, fiberglass brush. Steel wool, sand paper, and really anything abrasive can also be used. I use the mini fiberglass brush and xacto knife on every single piece that I do. The others are used for very specific textures and effects. The pencil is for sketching the image onto the board and the ink pen is used to adjust minor scratching errors, add back dark details, and signing the board when it is complete.

Above, you can see the textures and scratches made by the xacto knife and both fiberglass brushes. The xacto knife can create parallel lines, cross hatching, and very specific patterns. I use it for very small areas and the final details, especially in fur areas. I use the fiberglass brushes for smooth textures and the initial base layer of most pieces. They are also really good for removing large areas of ink from the board.

Here we have the specialized tools - four prong wire tool, scratchboard tool, and wire brush. The four prong tool has four straight metal prongs that create four parallel lines, but can also be used to cross hatch or create wavy textures. The scratchboard tool can have different shaped heads and can be used in a similar way to the xacto knife, but is generally thicker and less sharp. The wire brush is great for large fur areas, as the wires are curved and set randomly.

I use Ampersand Museum Series scratchbord panels that are hand crafted with a ridged masonite hardboard, compressed white kaolin clay, and topped with black india ink. These boards have a smooth matte finish and the tools glide so nicely when scratching. Though these boards can't be found in all art supply stores, several different sizes can be purchased online through Dick Blick Art Supply or directly from Ampersand - where you can also order custom sizes.

Once the pieces are finished, I use an archival spray to protect the piece from future scratches, dirt, dust, moisture, and UV damage. This spray also eliminates surface blemishes (i.e. finger prints) from the remaining black areas of the piece. I use this particular archival varnish with a matte finish because I believe it maintains the integrity of the scratches (making them more visible to the viewer) and provides a similar finish to the original board.

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