Friday, December 9, 2011

Scratchboard - Everything You Need



Scratchboard is a medium with spare necessities.  It is very portable - you can take it with you like your knitting.  All you actually need to create a black & white scratchboard etching is black scratchboard paper or clayboard panel and something to scratch it with, like an exacto knife. Done. 

Of course, since I love art supplies, I use several more tools in my scratchboard work. Even so, this is one of the least complicated mediums.  In this post I will show you what I recommend for making a simple black and white scratchboard etching.

THE SUPPORT:  I like to use Ampersand scratchboard panels, sometimes called black clayboard.  This is a rigid melamite 1/8 inch panel with a layer of white clay on it that is very, very smooth.  The clay is then covered with black india ink, which you will scratch off to reveal the white clay beneath.
You can also purchase scratchboard pages, the same idea as panels, only on a paper support.  Paper is what we all used in the old days before the panels were invented.  Paper scratchboard surfaces are easier to cut to size and etch but more difficult to manage and keep from being damaged.  I use only rigid panels now.  You can make your own panel either buy purchasing Ampersand clayboard and covering it with india ink or colored ink - or you can paint many white gesso layers on stiff paper or a panel, sanding it to a very smooth surface and then covering it with ink.  This is a lot of trouble, though, for not much savings.  I recommend buying the ready-made panels.


ETCHING TOOLS:  You will need a sharp tool to etch your design onto the clayboard panel.  There are scratchboard artists who only use one tool: an exacto knife.  I have tried making a whole etching with just that tool.  It is possible but I prefer using two or three more.  Shown below in red are the scratchboard tools which come in the basic kit sold at art supply stores.  There are several other tools available but I find them unnecessary. Save your money.
From top to bottom: a large carving tool for making deep gouges and scraping away large areas of black.  (I rarely if ever use this one. One slip and you've made a big boo boo.)  The curved scraping tool below it is great for making a variety of cuts from delicate to wide.  It is good for gently scraping away at an area to gray it down.  The bottom two red tools are the ones I use the most.  These make your regular cuts from medium to fine.  The metal tool at the bottom is an exacto knife with a #18 blade.  You can also use a standard #11 blade.  With practice, you can make all the cuts you need with an exacto knife but I find it faster to use the stronger red etching tools.
I've also tried pins, pens, knives and dental tools.  They work... sort of. 

DRAWING TOOLS:  If you want to draw your design onto the scratchboard before you begin etching, you can use a graphite pencil (I like mechanical pencils) or a stylus with a ball tip, which will leave an impression but not etch out a white mark. In either case, you will have to hold the board at an angle to see the sketch. I like this better than drawing with a white pencil, which, if you go outside the lines, will leave a white mark which cannot be easily erased.

Some people like to use graphite or white transfer paper to transfer a drawing onto your board.  If you do this, be sure to wrap the transfer paper around the board and either clip it around the edge or tape it to the back so it doesn't move. Never tape anything onto the black surface; it will leave a mark.

If you are going to make any straight lines, you will want to use a ruler.  The clear one is great for seeing where to put a line.  I sometimes use this to measure out a border and then mark it in pencil.  When you are ready to scrape the line, however, you really must use a metal ruler.  The scraper tools are little knives and will gouge into a plastic or wooden ruler and spoil the edge.  I like this metal ruler with a raised handle.  It is easier to hold in place.



OTHER THINGS:  Your etching tools are sharp, so please keep them in a sturdy box.  I've stabbed myself a few times, never mind accidentally scratching my board.


Gloves:  Your hands are oily, even when dry and will leave fingerprints and smudges on your scratchboard.  Some people protect the area under their hands by laying a piece of paper or plastic under their hand.  I find this cumbersome so I like to use fingerless gloves instead.  I use a standard glove (like the white photographer's gloves) on my left hand to hold the board. On my right (drawing) hand I wear a fingerless glove so my palm doesn't rest on the board and mar it but my fingertips are free to grip the etching tool.  You can buy fancy ones or just cut the fingertips off an old glove (the black one above.) When my hands are hurting from too much use, I use a therapeutic glove, which helps a lot. You can also use thin medical gloves to protect your surface while you work.


INK:  What I haven't shown here are tools to erase your mistakes. Regular erasures won't work.  Instead, you want to renew the black ink by painting over your mistakes or pencil marks.  You will want a jar of india ink with a fine-pointed round brush for broad areas.  You will also need a fine-tipped permanent black ink pen to repair fine lines.  Sharpie pens leave an undesirable  purple-black shimmery residue which shows up at certain angles. Instead, I recommend Micron archival ink pens or Staedtler Mars pro pens or any india ink pen.

Good luck with your scratchboard project! 









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