Scratchboard Knife

It's amazing to see how a simple scratchboard knife can create striking imagery on a blank board. Scratchboard has its origins in prehistoric cave etchings, which then influenced 15th century woodcutting. From there, it became a common method for early 19th century advertising, newspaper, and book reproductions, until transforming into today's exciting medium. Utilizing various tools and blade strokes, it's a distinctive art form practiced by everyone from hobbyists to professionals.

Unique Paper, Wood, and Clay-Based Canvases

The essence of scratchboarding is scraping against layers. There are several kinds of pre-made boards available at arts and crafts stores. A typical board has a black India ink coating over a sturdy, white clay-based canvas, although other materials can also be used. It's easy to make your own board. Choose a base such as bright white card stock and then apply thick, double layers of black acrylic, poster, or tempera paint. This produces white lines when scratched. Another option is to use glittery or decorative paper as the base for an interesting effect. Black crayon over bright crayons or oil pastels also achieves a striking look after scratching. Other options for DIY scratch art include boards made from wood and plaster of Paris or using white paint instead of black as the scratch layer.

Different Types of Scratchboard Tools

A personal scratchboard tool kit usually includes a combination of art implements and common household items. Fiberglass brushes, wire brushes, and wire tools are effective at creating textures, along with line tools fitted with medium to wide speedball tips. Some artists begin drawings using scalpel blades or straight-edge ceramic blade knives, and then apply different implements for shading and details. Sharp or rounded toothpicks, sandpaper, yarn needles, and paint brush and ballpoint pen ends are useful as long as they don't puncture too deeply through the scratch layer. Even coupon cutters can double as scratchboard tools. Whatever scratchboard art supplies are employed, it's a good idea to spray the finished piece with an archival-quality varnish.

Scratchboard Knife Techniques for Different Effects

Steel wool and nail buffers also make for effective tools, especially for younger artists. The heavier a tool impresses upon the top layer, the deeper the scratch. Markers, inks, or paints can then be applied on top of the scrapes for color. These are some of the different texture effects that you can create with your scratchboard tool:

  • Hatching: parallel lines
  • Cross-hatching: criss-crossing hatch lines, resembling the hashtag symbol
  • Varied hatching: not as precise as hatch lines, since they vary in direction
  • Contour hatching: lines flow according to the object's form
  • Stippling: dots

This "Scratchboard Demonstration" video shows some of the effects, the importance of value (dark and light shades), and how to use scratchboarding to replicate a pencil drawing. The recording is part of a class, but it's a brief and easy way to gain a better sense of the practice:


A Word About Your Scratchboard Knife and Safety

Art projects are meant to be expressive, inspirational, and, most of all, enjoyable. While experimenting with the wide variety of tools available, make sure you take safety into account, along with precision and quality.   For more information about Slice safety ceramic blades for scratchboard art, see Scratchboard Tools From Slice—A Welcome Addition to Scratchboard Art.

Produce Unique Scratchboard Projects

Scratchboarding is unique in its methods, and it has influenced many other mediums. For example,  sgraffito (literally meaning "scratched") employs the same premise on glass and pottery, with sharp tools scraping and etching details. Once you're comfortable using a scratchboard knife, design possibilities are endless.