Monday, September 28, 2015

Ink and Scratchboard Technique

Here's an unusual technique that's effective for a backlit subject with edge lighting. It uses white scratchboard, a chalk-coated drawing surface that allows you to scratch through to white with a sharp knife or a scraper tool.
Typical Houses in Orange County, CA. James Gurney, ink on scratchboard, 4 x 6 inches

Here's the sequence:
1. Choose a backlit subject. Outline subject carefully in pencil to map out the placement of elements.

2. Block in the large gray areas with waterproof drawing ink and a large flat brush, covering the entire area from the roofline to the ground. This tone goes down quickly and can't be fussed with or changed. It's OK to paint past the lines in the sky because you can cut back to white easily.

3. Add in small black shapes and lines with a brush or pen.

4. When that's dry, cut the edge lighting back to white with the scraper tool.

Being able to cut clean, thin, white lines could be ideal for night subjects or for scribing white letters or neon on a sign, or for defining telephone wires, animal whiskers, highlights and things like that.

Scratchboard can be a bit expensive and hard to find these days, so I'm currently developing a way that I can prepare a surface with inexpensive materials and get the same results. More on that in a future post.

10 comments:

Steve said...

Interesting use of scratchboard. I look forward to reading about your homemade version. Both Dick Blick and Jerry's Artarama carry the Essdee brand of scratchboard, made in England since 1942. While still not inexpensive, their offerings are less per square inch than the Amazon link in the post.

Andrew said...

I wonder if you got a thick enough piece of illustration board and gessoed it, would it give a similar sort of result? If you were to scratch away the gesso you'd be left with the white of the board, but I'm not sure how well it'd take something like say, a pen nib to it.

James Gurney said...

Most kinds of gesso don't work too well for this technique. It's got too much emulsion strength. The clay layer on good scratchboard -- such as the Esdee that Steve mentioned -- should be dry and chalky and thick enough for the scraper to dig into it but not all the way through it to the board itself.

David J Teter said...

One great thing about scatchboard is its forgiving nature to get white back, at least selectively. How many times have we all worked some drawing in ink only to mistakenly cover some area meant to be left white!
Since I have been doing a lot of black and white lately I look forward to your development of a less expensive version James.

Burton Taylor said...

I have had some success making clayboard board with kaolin clay powder,and Elmer's glue. Apply in thin coats on Masonite panels and after six to eight coats, cover it with india ink. Voila, instan clayboard! I imagine that you could use a whiting agent such as chalk in with the clay.

yvonne said...

I don't find black scratchboard hard to find at all. It is readily available at various internet art supply stores as well as local craft stores like Michael's. Large areas of ink are easily removed with alcohol. Clayboard is easily available as well to ink as you see fit.

J. Anthony Stubblefield said...

Way back when, when I was at Johns Hopkins we would dilute the India ink and apply 2 or three very thin coats of ink. On the board we use, if you applied straight India ink it created too thick of a layer that would flake off when you tried to cut into it. We also conditioned the boards first with a pink pearl eraser and pounce to burnish the clay surface so that it was super smooth. Of course I have done this in over 25 years...

Blix Snix said...

Very cool! We just started a project in scratchboard in one of my courses. I'm excited to give it a try.

HNK said...

I am sorry to write on old post like this, but I cannot understand this technique. You do not cover the whole board with ink, but instead the subject only, add darker wash to the roof here, and then you scrape to white? And in the other illustration, like your renaissance high school monkey drawing, did you just draw with a pen or used this process? Thank you.

James Gurney said...

HNK / Nicolas, Yes, you can buy scratchboard either black or white. With the black, you scratch away all white lines. With the white, you add whatever black areas or lines you want, and then scratch white out from them.