A scratchboard drawing of Towan, orangutan from Woodland Park Zoo, resting under a burlap sack. By Elizabeth Smith of rowntreestudio.com


posted in: Mammals, WIP | 0

It’s taken far longer than I ever intended, but my scratchboard portrait of Towan is finished.

Towan was one of Woodland Park Zoo’s beloved orangutans. He passed away this year and his keepers, fans and fellow orangutans are still feeling his loss. He was a wonderful ambassador for his people of the forest.

Orangutans are critically endangered, largely due to habitat loss. Palm oil plantations are a major threat, taking over land that used to be vibrant forest. I hope that this portrait of dear Towan will inspire people to learn about orangutans and take action to protect them. Here is a resource to start with: Gunung Palung Orangutan Conservation Program.

While working on this piece I recorded a couple of short videos and shared them on YouTube. Here they are:



Towan: Work in Progress Video

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In honor of International Orangutan Day, here is a short video of the Towan scratchboard in progress. I do most of my scratchboard work with an X-Acto 16 blade. I rotate the blade in my fingers and change the angle of the tip to create lines of varying widths.

You can read up on orangutans and the dangers they face at the Orangutan Conservancy website. These amazing animals are sadly endangered and need our protection.

wild rooster scratchboard rowntreestudio.com

Annual Small Works Show at Gallery North

posted in: Birds, Events, Exhibits | 0
Annual Small Works Show
Edmonds Gallery North

401 Main St.
Edmonds WA 98020

Opening reception: Sunday, March 8, 1-4PM
Third Thursday Art Walk: March 19, 5-8PM

Come see the Northern Saw-whet Owl and Wild Rooster pieces in person at this year’s small works show! The exhibit features 250 pieces of artwork from 70 artists and runs through the month of March 2015. I’m going to try to make it to both the reception and art walk. Please stop by and say hello!

  • scratchboard rooster by rowntreestudio.com

Scratchboard Rooster

posted in: Birds, WIP | 0

I’m having fun with inks and clayboard! Yesterday’s project was this rooster with a serious expression and an amazing hairdo.

This piece and others will be available for sale soon, possibly first becoming available at the upcoming Woodinville Craft Fair.

Scratchboard Demo: Northern Saw-whet Owl

posted in: Birds, WIP | 0

After all the work I’ve been doing on the albatross and wheat artwork I felt a need to do something loose and relatively carefree. I turned to clayboard and a few colorful inks.

Above is a video of some of the work I’ve done on this little saw-whet project. I’m working on a 4″ x 4″ piece of Ampersand brand Claybord and working with Ampersand Scratchbord Inks. They dry quickly and really stick to the board’s clay surface. I’m working back and forth between inking and scratching, adding ink, scratching back, adding more ink, and so on. It’s a fun way to work, and it isn’t limited to inks for color. People use this same approach with colored pencils and watercolors (and probably whatever else they can come up with).

scratchboard, ink, saw-whet owl, rowntreestudio.com

The tool I’m using for scratching is a number 16 X-acto knife blade. The edge of the blade can be used for shallow, wide scratches while the tip works for fine lines. By rotating your grip on the knife you adjust the scratch shape. The brush I’m using here is a small, inexpensive synthetic round brush. I’ve got water in a container too for washing the brush and for diluting the ink. My palette is just a plastic lid. The inks dry quickly so I don’t put more on the palette than I need for more than a couple minutes of work.

The other tool I’m using here is my camera. I haven’t done much with the video capabilities before so I’m experimenting with both that and Photoshop CS6 video editing tools. What do you think? Are you interested in seeing more work in progress?


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.

Work In Progress: Scratchboard Jaguar Cub (One)

posted in: Mammals, Vertebrates, WIP | 0

This is one of my current projects, a jaguar cub on scratchboard. I’m working from a photo I took at the zoo of Kuwan, an adorable male cub. At least I’m almost sure it’s Kuwan.

Scratchboard involves scraping through a layer of dry ink to reveal a layer of white clay underneath. White clayboard is also available so an artist can either put ink or other materials (like colored pencil or paint) down on a board and then scratch through that instead. The exciting thing about scratchboard is that allows one to draw in white over darks. Many drawing and even painting materials require darks to go on over lights, so reserving thin white lines is challenging if not impossible. Scratchboard is all about thin white lines, so it’s perfect for subjects with pale whiskers and tufts of fur.

For tools I mostly use a Speedball scratch knife 112 nib (a sharp metal point that’s a lot like a pen nib and fits in a pen nib holder), an X-Acto 16 blade, a 4mm diameter fiberglass brush that’s rather like a clicky eraser, and whatever other pointy things I have nearby that might work. I have a large soft paintbrush handy to brush scratchings off the artwork.

The following three images show recent progress on Kuwan. It’s slow.

Jaguar Cub
Scratchboard in progress.
Jaguar Cub Two
More lines are scratched through the ink layer.


Jaguar Cub Three
The current state of the drawing.