Scratch Art Tools: a Craft Knife

With the correct board and scratch art tools, you can produce a unique portrait. It's easy to learn how to etch scratchboards, also known as scraperboards, and to hone skills with a variety of brushes and cutting implements, transferring your existing portraiture skills to a new medium. This is an interesting and innovative craft, which only requires a few key items.

Commercial and Household Scratchboard Art Tools

One of the appealing aspects of scratchboarding is that essential tools vary from those specifically designed for hobbyists to items commonly found around the house. Scalpel, straight blade, and ceramic blade knives as well as pottery scraping tools are ideal for outlines, while stainless steel wire and fiberglass brushes are great for conveying textures. Anything that can scrape against the scratchboard layers without ripping the paper makes an effective tool. Sewing and crochet needles, pushpins, skewers, toothpicks, tweezers, razor blades, and even silverware prove useful.

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Scratchboard artist Damon Powell demonstrates the benefits of Slice tools

Art for Everyone

Scratchboard art isn't just for adults, either. In addition to the Slice® Safety Cutter, which is considered one of the best art supplies for kids, craft or popsicle sticks, pencil stubs, and the ends of paintbrush handles also give younger ones a means to begin their experiments with portraiture. For smudges, softer edges, and other distinctive impressions, steel wool or squares of sandpaper are effective.

A few safety considerations will make scratchboard portraits more enjoyable. Always be aware of where your resting hand is when you're scraping, and keep long hair, dangling jewelry, and long sleeves out of the blade's way. Look for scratchboard tools that provide an ergonomic, textured grip, so you can keep working with your portrait for longer. Durability is just as important as utilizing correct cutting motions. Slice finger-friendly® blades, such as those found in the Precision Cutter, last up to 11.2 times longer than steel, retain their sharpness, and resist cutting skin.


Sketching and Coloring Techniques With Your Scratch Art Tools

Since board layers are delicate, practice different strokes and scratches on scrap paper before beginning a project. Always place a self-healing cutting mat between the materials and work surface. Keep in mind that once you're scraping the board, if you do make a mistake, you have to repaint the scratch layer and let it dry before going over the lines again.

If you've ever drawn a portrait of a person or animal with pencil or pen and ink, most likely it was on light colored paper, using darker pigments. Scratchboarding is the opposite: you're working against a dark background to create distinctive details. It may seem tricky to achieve the effects of flowing hair and certain fur patterns, which is why practice is important. There are several main techniques in scratchboard art lessons, such as stippling (dots), hatching (parallel lines), and cross-hatching. These can all be used to represent hair, fur, and shadows, based on how close together or far apart the shapes are. Play around with different stroke lengths, directions, and curvatures until you achieve the desired look.

Scratch art portraits are so intricate that it's better to use a photo as reference, even if you know the subject and could have them sit for you. Take a picture in black and white, or revert a color one into that format, so the value and space are clearer. Study the range of white, gray, and black graduations within the subject's imagery, and make a chart illustrating those shades. Understanding these shifts in shadow helps with producing realistic effects and incorporating positive and negative space within the artwork. These components create the definition needed. Transfer the photo to the scratchboard by placing it image side down on the board and rubbing it across with a stubby tool. Alternatively, you can use a cutting tool to lightly etch the image onto the board, copying it freehand.

For dabs or highlights of color, apply pencils to the exposed, scraped lines, or gently use an airbrush for more dimension. Remember to keep a tissue or piece of paper beneath your hands while resting it on the board so the surface isn't marred by sweat or oily skin. When your piece is finished, gently wipe away the dust, along with any fiberglass remnants left behind if that brush was used.

This video (beginning at 7:44) is a detailed demonstration of creating a drawing on paper and transferring it to scratchboard. It highlights some important techniques, and it's a nice reference when you're in the middle of a sketch:


Other Creative Scratchboard Art Ideas

Scratchboard compositions aren't limited to rectangular canvas or portraits. Just make sure you have a wax or china clay-coated base underneath the paint or ink, and that you spray the finished artwork with a protective varnish so it stays preserved. In addition to creating portraits, alternative craft ideas include DIY scratchboard cards and the following:

  • Gift tags
  • CDs repurposed for decoration
  • Wrapping paper
  • Coasters
  • Invitations

Explore a New Medium With Scratch Art Tools

Once you're familiar with scratchboard materials, develop your portrait skills to figure out what your signature style is. Whether you make your own boards or use prefabricated ones, see what subjects you gravitate toward, and have fun making the most of this particular method. Experiment with scratch art tools to discover which ones work for your creations.