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Scratchboard: What the heck is it?

Melissa Helene, scratchboard artist, scratchboard, ampersand, scratchboard lessons, techniques

If you’re new to the world of scratchboard, this post is for YOU!

Though an old medium previously used for illustration, scratchboard is not well known to a large portion of the general public and even within the arts community. It is experiencing a resurgence and gaining more acclaim in the world of the arts due in large part to the creation of the International Society of Scratchboard Artists (ISSA) in 2011 and continued work by individual artists.

So now, what the heck IS scratchboard?

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Masonite board is coated with white clay and then black India ink. Scratchboard is a subtractive medium that utilizes abrasive tools, including x-acto knives, fiber glass brushes, wire brushes, needles, sand paper, steel wool, and so on, to create an image. Scratches are layered on the board to create different textures and values. Scratchboards can be kept black and white or colored using a variety of mediums.

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Each scratchboard is 1/8th of an inch thick and can be framed without glass…that’s best to see the intricate details when displayed. An archival varnish is sprayed on the scratchboard to protect it from UV damage, dust, dirt, moisture, and minor scratches.

What if a mistake is made?

Once a scratch is placed, you can never fully 'erase' it…the material from the board is gone and you can’t just put it back. There are ways to ‘mask’ undesired scratches, however, by using India ink pens and ink washes or by simply scratching over the unwanted mark.

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I love the intricate details I’m able to achieve with scratchboard and the high contrast of the jet black ink and brilliant white. This unique medium is perfect for wildlife and all the different textures of the natural world.

There you have it...scratchboard in a nutshell. I hope that helped clear some things up!

Find your joy.


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