Experiments with Scratchboard

Ink Eye
Ink on clayboard. About 1″ diameter image.

Although scratchboard work typically involves scratching through black ink to reveal a white layer, there are a variety of ways to involve color in the process. An artist can choose inks, watercolor, colored pencil or anything else they can dream up and either add it over the top of a scratched piece, tinting the scratches, or alternating layers of color and scratches for a more full-color approach.

Today I started playing around with colored inks on a piece of white clayboard. I started with a vague idea of what my cat’s eye looks like. It might have been a good idea to use a reference. I painted in a mix of ink, using a mix of black, sepia, green, yellow and blue for the various areas. I gave the ink a couple minutes to dry, then started scratching out highlights and lighter fur with a scratchboard tool.

Scratchboard Tools
A small bottle of ink, a brush, scratchboard nib, and a dip pen.

I went back and forth with the ink and scratching a couple times to fine tune the image, sometimes applying ink with a pen and sometimes with the brush. I can dilute the ink to wash over scratched areas without completely losing the scratched lines or paint over completely to rework an area. Once the ink is on the clay it doesn’t budge and every scratch changes the surface of the clay permanently, so I wouldn’t want to make any major errors working this way.

It’s a fun technique with a lot of possibilities. I look forward to working through a full project this way. The color really pops on the white clay and scratching is perfect for fur or anything with fiddly little highlights.

The ink I tried today is designed for scratchboard use. That primarily means that it doesn’t leave a noticeable residue on top of black inked areas. I applied the ink with a small synthetic brush (dyed blackish a while ago from repeated use with black ink) and a dip pen with my favorite nib, the Hunt No. 102. For scratching I’m using the Speedball Scratch Knife 112, pictured here, and occasionally an X-acto No. 16 blade.