Scratchboard: Starting from Scratch

The Frog Prince, Kylie O'Connor
The Frog Prince © 2015 Kylie O’Connor

Kylie O’Connor’s Frog Prince is a wonderful example of scrathboard illustration. She began by painting the basic components, – frog, hand, plants – with brush and ink on a prepared clay-coated board. The horizontal lines were added with a micron, an artist’s felt tip pen with pigmented black ink. She used a scratchboard knife, like the one pictured below, to subtract from the black areas to create a sense of form.

The Hunt's #112 knife placed in a Speedball pen holder.
The Hunt’s #112 scratchboard knife fits in a Speedball pen holder.

Here is a gallery of the best scratchboard images by artists in my Illustration Techniques class. I have 40 students in 2 sections this semester. This is a required sophomore level course for Communication Design majors. Not all of these students want to become illustrators, many will go on to do advertising design or interactive design.

La Llorona, a Mexican folktale © by Rafael Nunez
La Llorona, a Mexican folktale © 2015 by Rafael Nunez

What’s in a name?

This technique is called scratchboard, but we actually use a new material called claybord by Ampersand. It is a stiff panel covered with a fine coat of white clay. I’ve also used the scratchboard called Essdee. This fine product is imported from England, where they call it scraperboard. Essdee is harder to find, but can be ordered via Dick Blick.

There are other materials sold as scratchboard, sometimes referred to as student grade. Alas, these are so flimsy, it is difficult to get good results. It is possible to get the claybord pre-inked in black. I prefer to use the white board in my own illustration. It also makes for a better teaching tool. The second Image above is by Rafael Nunez. Rafael was born in Mexico, where they tell a tale of La Llorona, a crying woman who snatches wandering children. This is a much darker image in style and subject. Here Rafael inked up 95% of the board, but left the boy’s face and shirt pure white to indicate the glow of the lantern.

The Buddha © 2105 Rebecca Murray
Buddha © 2015 Rebecca Murray

Students were asked to pick any folktale, myth, or legend. I was pleased with the diversity of subjects this year.

Aesop's Fable, the crow and the fox © 2015 Sierra Fry.
Aesop’s Fable, the crow and the fox © 2015 Sierra Fry.
The origins of the Jack O'Lantern © 2015 Austin
The origins of the Jack O’Lantern © 2015 Austin Haas

Austin Haas told the class that the original Jack O’Lantern was not a pumpkin, but a turnip head. He drew the picture to prove it.

An Australian beast © Brook Metzger
The Turramulli, a legendary Australian beast © 2015 Brooke Metzker
Mackenzie version of The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Anderson
Mackenzie Delp’s version of The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Anderson
The Little Red Hen © Andrew Cygan
An original rendition of The Little Red Hen ©  2015 Andrew Cygan

There are a number of inspiring illustrators working in scratchboard today. Beth Krommes, of Emmaus, PA is a great children’s book illustrator working in the medium. The wonderful literary portraits on your Barnes and Noble bags are by the Canadian illustrator Mark Summers. If you have never tried it, an 8 by10 inch clayboard costs about $10. The scrathboard blade is about $2. It takes some planning, but the results can be impressive, like the work of these Kutztown students.

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