Scratchboard Art

I currently work in two different mediums, scratchboard and soft pastels. I’m wanting to add oils to this and also have a background in pen and ink, but in this post, I want to concentrate on scratchboards, what they are and how to do them.

If you are English, you’ll probably know them as Scraperboard but for now I’ll refer to them as scatchboards. In America, they drop the ‘a’ to scratchbord and possibly the best manufacturer is a company called Ampersand who have two products, the black ‘Scratchbord’ and the white ‘Claybord’. I’ll try to deal with ‘Scratchbord’ in this blog and ‘Claybord’ later.

Scratchboards (generic term) are manufactured by taking a hardboard sheet (like general hardware store MDF) and covering it in a fine layer of white kaolin clay, and then spraying that with ink, black in the case of ‘scratchbord’ and white in  ‘claybord’. You can use various tools to scratch the ink off to reveal the white clay, which you can colour with a variety of media.

Let’s start this demonstration with the black boards using these two pieces as examples.


Lion Zambia (Small)

“The Elder Statesman”

African Man finished (Small)

I’ve used these two finished pieces to show that scratchboard can be used for all kinds of textures. They can even be used for landscapes or abstracts, so it’s a versatile medium.

I generally draw my design on a piece of paper the same size as the board I’m going to be using, and once I’m happy that all the elements are in the right place, compositionally and proportionally speaking, I transfer the drawing to the board with transfer or tracing paper.

For an example like my “Elder Statesman” above, I’ve used a craft knife and a fibreglass brush, both show below

Scratch tool


These are the two tools I’ve used here but I’ve also used nail files, steel wool, sandpaper and brass brushes in other pieces.

The fibreglass brush has been used to quickly clear the black ink from the background. A serendipity here is that as I was doing it, I liked the halo effect I got so I left the background like that on purpose. I used the craft knife to scratch the ink away in a cross hatching style and then used the fibreglass brush to fade the ink away a bit, especially in the highlight areas. This is an earler shot and a closeup to show the effect I mean and you’ll be able to see the process around the chin.

African_Man003 (Small)

African_Man_mouth (Small)

Scratchboard is a particularly good medium for renduring hair or fur and for the lion, I’ve used the same tools in a slightly different way, always trying to scratch in the direction of the fur. This creates the illusion of hair and helps show the form of the animal’s structure under that hair. Here are a few images showing the progress of the piece and a couple of closeups showing the direction of the fur and how I’ve done the eyes with a ‘stippling’ technique which involves bouncing the tip of the knife on the board which flicks off a tiny piece of clay with each bounce.

Lion_01 (Small)

Lion_03 (Small)

Lion_03_mouth_crop (Small)

Lion_03_eye_crop (Small)

Back to the original image, I’ve created the swirls of fur in the shadow behind the head using the brush, following the fur direction carefully, and then washed some diluted black ink over the result to keep the shadows.

Lion Zambia (Small)

There are many ways to create texture with a knife. In the man above, I used the cross hatching technique but in the man and chimp below, I’ve used what I call my ‘squiggly’ technique where I scratch in a random fashion to create the highlights


Chimp Abu (Small)

“No Fish Today”

No Fish Today (Small)

Here’s a closeup to show you that ‘squiggly’ technique which can be quite effective when not magnified like this.

No_fish_today_eye (Small)

With my next post, I’ll tackle colouring the white boards (‘Claybord’)

I hope this has been of use to you.