What is Scratchboard Art?



diagram showing scratchboard layers Scratchboard art is a form of direct engraving. The panel starts out solid black and then the artist scratches to expose a layer of white clay under black ink. The working surface is a three layer medium made up of a 1/8" masonite panel as a support (for ampersand scratchbord, which is what Cathy works on; the support may be different in other brands). The support is covered with smooth white clay followed by a thin layer of black India ink, leaving a solid black panel to start with. The artist then uses various tools to scratch through the black ink and reveal the white clay below. Every line, dot and dimple is created by hand all with lines and dots and variation in tone and value are based on how many lines are scratched in a particular area or how much of the white clay that your eye sees. Colored inks can be added to the exposed white areas of the work if desired or the board can be left black and white. Large and complex pieces can take hundreds of hours to be completed due to the many layers of tiny scratches that cover the board.

Is Scratchboard Archival?
The black ink used to create ampersand scratchboard (the type of board I work on) is carbon based and as a result of the natural properties of carbon, it is very resistant to fading from natural sunlight. For additional protection once a piece is completed it is also coated with a UV-resistant spray that adds extra protection to the work and prevents it from being easily damaged. Cathy work is also typically framed behind museum glass (except if shipped to shows where it may be behind plexi-glass for safer transport), which filters out 99% of harmful UV rays. If treated with care, you can feel comfortable that any scratchboard artwork that you purchase created by Cathy is created with top of the line materials. You can buy with confidence that you will be able to pass on Cathy's artwork to the next generations and it will look as good in the future as it did the day you bought it!

Why have I not heard about Scratchboard Art before?
While scratchboard has been around for many years it has never been highly popular. It is considered by many artists to be one of the most difficult of all mediums, as you can not take an eraser and fix a mistake. It can also be a very time consuming medium, as every line is done by hand and larger works can take hundreds of hours to be completed.

What tools are used for creating scratchboard art?
Scratchboard artists use a wide variety of tools to create different textures in the artwork. The primary tool is usually a standard craft knife or scalpel for line work and can be as varied as using sandpaper, steel wool and fiberglass brushes for various other effects. Most artists spend many hours on their work as all textures are created using only scratches! For a more in depth discussion on the tools I use please check out my article on scratchboard tools.

How do you color scratchboard art?
Scratchboard can be left as a dramatic black and white image but it can also be colored after scratching. Because the white layer is clay based and absorbent it will accept color mediums such as colored transparent inks, fluid acrylics and watercolor. Colors can be applied so that they look anywhere from subtle to vibrant. Cathy uses transparent inks to add color to my work. Once a layer of color is applied the artist can go back and re-scratch those areas to build up layers, but once color is applied they can never go back to just black and white. Coloring boards typically takes Cathy about twice as long as leaving a board black and white, so you may notice a slightly higher price on colored works.











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