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 What is Scratchboard?

Scratchboard art is a form of direct engraving on a specially prepared board. The boards consists of three layers of material. The base is hardboard that has a layer of white kaolin clay applied to it. The clay is then sanded smooth and a layer of black ink is applied over top. The image is etched one “scratch” at a time using an extremely fine tool such as a scalpel or exacto blade. The black is removed to reveal the white clay beneath.

These clayboard engravings are considered by many artists to be one of the most difficult of mediums to master. It takes a very steady hand to maintain the correct pressure required to etch each fine line to a particular depth. Mistakes are not easily corrected – they cannot be erased or painted over! It is one of the only forms of two dimensional media that is subtractive, as material is removed rather than added. Artists must work in reverse of classical artistic training in that they are rendering highlighted areas only. Tonal variations are achieved by the depth of etching as well as how much surface area is removed.

Many hours are spent on each scratchboard artwork and they may take months to complete. Lori Dunn uses professional grade clayboards that are completely archival, of museum quality and highly resistant to fading from sunlight. Finished works are sprayed with a UV resistant varnish to further protect the image.

Scratchboard produces unique works of art with a level of realism and detail that is unsurpassed by many other media. The absorbent clay can be colored afterwards using specialized inks or paints but many people prefer the simplicity and beauty of the black and white image. 

Photo courtesy of Stewart Stick
 Work in progress