I'm new to scratch board art, but I really enjoy what it has to offer. While the process is super slow, where I scratch the soft clay off the black board with a needle, it is lots of fun. This art form lands itself naturally to drawing textured surfaces like fur, animal hair, feathers, or multitude of reflections, etc.
What's tough? The smoothest surfaces are hard to scratch out preserving the realism of a 3-D form. I'm learning a lot by trial and error and by looking at artwork of other scratchboard artists. Meanwhile I have to throw out the unsuccessful pieces. Nothing good comes out from my first attempts, and if/when it looks easy, I can assure you it's not.
I also try different tools. I find that the line quality greatly affects the overall feel of a piece. At first I bought the Ampersand tool kit that gives options in creating various types of lines and textures. The lines or wiped out areas often felt too rough or incomplete to me using this kit, and thus I also did scratching with the X-Acto knife that gave me more control over the scratching, but the blade dulled quickly. Then I tried the etching needle I used for etching the plates in printmaking. I find that the etching needle gives me a much finer line and a much better control over the process. But just like the X-Acto knife it often produces deep, unnecessary groves that are hard to mask, if they are a mistake. Remember, once you cut, it's there, and no eraser is going to fix a big problem. A few more pieces flew into my trash can. (Ha-ha) After that, thanks to the advice of Diana Lee, I bought a scalpel with #11 surgical blades on Amazon. The line quality is guaranteed now; it cuts nice and thin. And the dull blades are easy to replace.
|Logic, 5x7" framed, available|
Finally, I get to the coloring part. It's a pain. While I consider myself advanced in my understanding of the colors in drawing, the scratchboard coloring is a totally different animal to wrestle with. First, I tried the professional ink set by Ampersand. The advantages are supreme lightfastness, super high color intensity (these little bottles will last for many pictures); they dry transparent, and are easy to store. The disadvantages are the cost, very fast drying time, and problematic coloring technique.
Although the kit comes with the basic color mixing tips, it's far from easy mixing. Colors dry very fast, so fast they are impossible to remove if applied too thickly by accident. You must be patient to learn to dilute them with water just enough to get better control of the application process. As they dry fast on a palette too, quick application of the right color combination and transparency is necessary, and that requires lots of planning and experience. Therefore instead of using the inks, I often opt out to use the lightfast, water-soluble Neocolor crayons manufactured by the Swiss maker Caran d'Ache. I also dilute them with water and mix them with a brush, but they have a much slower drying time and thus I have better control over the color mixing itself. Some lightfast Pablo colored pencils are also good, and are the easiest to use coloring the scratchboards.
I also learned through my mistakes that coloring of the scratched out surface is not the end result. Because the first color layer looks just too crude, this surface requires more scratching out and re-coloring. Thus it requires planning and understanding how much to scratch out to color and then to recolor.
Finally, I fix my piece with three coats of professional spray fixative (Golden or Windsor & Newton) designed for dry media. It changes the overall look of the piece; all fingerprints and imperfections disappear, making the surface nice, semi-glossy, and smooth.
Therefore, I think beginners can try the scratchboard art, depicting animals or textured objects without any coloring. In fact, most images look more striking remaining black-and-white.
Materials: Ampersand scratchboard, 5x7", Loew-Cornell white transfer paper, 2H graphite pencil or a pen to use for the transfer of the lines, #11 scalpel blade, red pen ( is part of the Ampersand kit, but it’s also sold separately online), permanent spray fixative.
I accept commissions drawing your favorite pets. Cost of a 5x7” archival, framed piece runs between $200-250, depending on complexity and framing.