posted February 11th, 2011; last edited May 1st, 2012 –– David Sibley

Ink on scratchboard technique

In a recent comment on the Art Gallery page, Rawlings asked about my use of scratchboard as a medium. I’ve done a lot of work in ink on scratchboard, and it’s one of my favorite media for drawing. Most art supply stores sell scratchboard that is “pre-inked”. The surface is all black and you use various scraping tools to reveal the white material underneath – sort of “drawing in negative”. That can produce some really interesting effects, but for my work I use white scratchboard and apply the ink myself.1.

A scratchboard drawing of Common Black-Hawk from the book The Wind Masters, published in 1993 by Houghton Mifflin Co. Copyright David Sibley.

A close-up of the eye and surrounding areas in the drawing shows how various scratching techniques work. Around the eye I brushed on a solid wash of ink, then scratched in a few white lines to define the eye. At the base of the bill I used a pen to draw cross-hatched lines of black ink, then gave those more subtle shading by cross-hatching white lines across them at various angles with the scraping tools.

Detail of Common Black-Hawk from the book The Wind Masters published by Houghton Mifflin Co. Copyright David Sibley.

Ink can be applied to the board with either a brush or a pen, and I often use both on the same drawing: brush for large areas, pen for details. Once the ink is applied it can be scratched off with your scraping tools, and that’s where a scratchboard drawing really differs from ink on paper! My technique is to apply the ink quickly with loose strokes, not worrying about being a little sloppy, because I know I can clean it up later. With the scraping tools I create white lines to add detail to the drawing. The fine white lines enable me to achieve a much greater range of “gray” tones than would be possible with ink and paper.

You can see more of my scratchboard drawings in the Art Gallery or in the book The Wind Masters.

  1. The brand of white scratchboard I use is Essdee Scraperboard and can be purchased at many artist’s supply stores []

7 comments to Ink on scratchboard technique

  • Rawlings

    Thanks for the information. I’ve done scratchboard but never thought of applying the ink myself. I like the pieces that use that as a medium but didn’t see how it would be practical to scratch off the entire background using the traditional information. Thanks again, I’ll have to give it a try!

  • I have several of your books but had no idea that you worked in my primary medium of scratchboard too! Always wonderful to meet other ‘scratchers’! Feel free to take a gander at my work if you are interested.

  • Marjorie Joy

    What kind of ink do you find works best?

    • Well, most of my scratchboard and ink work was more than 15 years ago, and I was using whatever ink was readily available at the local art supply shop. Higgins basic waterproof ink was often what I used. I did run across one brand (which I can’t remember) that must have been acrylic-based, because it dried to a sort of rubbery consistency and didn’t scrape away cleanly. Some other brands were less opaque, so brushing would require two or three coats to get a good solid black. You can see that in the Black Hawk drawing above – the inconsistency in the black areas. I’d suggest trying a few to see which one you like best. Happy drawing!

  • Lynn

    Wow! Beautiful work! Thanks for the close-up. I am always in awe of artists.

  • Deb

    What is the best book to buy on Scratch Board? That gives instructions on how to create a picture?

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