Ink on Scratchboard
Learn more about scratchboard and
see a demo of Ann's drawing process

What is Scratchboard?
Scratchboard is a special type of drawing surface that consists of a board base (paper or wood) and a thick surface coating of specially prepared hard white chalk or clay. It was invented about 100 years ago to replace the tedious technique of wood and metal engraving for illustrations. Ink is applied to the scratchboard’s chalk surface with a brush or pen. The ink can then be removed where desired with any sharp tool, creating a white mark or line by exposing the white surface underneath the ink. Black scratchboard is also available - it’s the same surface, but it has already been completely coated with black ink.

Why Scratchboard?
I fell in love (I’m not exaggerating) with scratchboard when I took a workshop at an illustrator’s conference. The workshop was taught by Trudy Nicholson, a wonderful illustrator and fellow member of the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators (GNSI). I had been drawing with pen and ink for many years, and enjoyed it immensely - I liked the challenge of rendering a subject using just black and white. The problem with pen and ink, though, is that once the ink is on
the paper, it’s there for good. Changes are very difficult to make. If the drawing is for print reproduction, corrections can be made, but they’re still visible on the original. With scratchboard however, the thickness of the coating allows for many revisions. Using scratchboard as a drawing surface for pen & ink also allows for a greater variation of line and value and creation of finer detail than a paper surface does. For example, I can scratch a white whisker on a black area with the thin edge of a knife. Trying to draw that in pen and ink on paper would require drawing black around the white whisker to leave the paper showing through - that’s very difficult to do!

Scratchboard is a wonderful and forgiving surface on which to work, allowing the artist to make changes easily and to “interact” with the surface. Drawings rendered in pen & ink on scratchboard also reproduce very well; even though there are areas that appear gray, everything’s really in black and white.

The demo examples that follow are from a portion
of a drawing (in progress) of a yellow warbler in a willow.
For Steps 2 & 3, click on the images to see larger images
On white scratchboard, after transferring the image, I use a brush to apply black India ink to all the areas that will be medium to dark in value. I prefer to use white scratchboard instead of black scratchboard, because if I used the black, I would have to scrape the pre-coated ink away from all the areas that I want to be white or light in value. There will be very few completely black areas on the finished drawing, and nearly all of my drawings have a clean white background.

With an X-acto knife (#16 blade), I scratch away ink to create cross-hatch lines. This will start to change the values of some of the dark areas.

I then go back over these roughly hatched areas with
pen & India ink to soften the harsh pattern. I use both
quill pens and technical pens to achieve this effect.





I work “back & forth” with the knife and pen to achieve a
soft tone - scratching away black with the knife and adding
black with the pen. Although this is time consuming, it
would take even longer with the traditional pen & ink
“ stipple” technique. Actually, I really enjoy this part, this
is where I’m able to interact with the surface.

I soften the shadow in the leaf with the knife and add
detail with the technical pen.



Click here to see more samples of my ink on scratchboard art

Click here for info on ink on scratchboard classes

Watch my YouTube video showing the steps in creating this white rose drawing

Also visit the scratchboard forum on for tips, tricks and inspiration.


A Note About My Pet Portraits
If you've seen my pet portraits, you'll notice that many of them have graduated grey tones. To get that look I use a technique similar to that described above, but in addition to full strength ink I add washes of ink to the scratchboard. To get the washes, I dilute ink with water in various amounts to get 3 or 4 different shades of grey. I paint full-strength ink on the darkest parts and fill in the rest of the portrait with different shades of grey (even the white areas are painted a very light grey to provide some contrast for scratching in the whites). This provides my value study/road map. I then work over the portrait with a knife to soften and blend the tones and define the fur direction. Then I'll add more ink and ink washes where necessary. From there, I'll alternate between the knife and ink/ink washes until the portrait is complete.

is an example of the
ink/ink wash technique

click here to see more samples

© 2003 - 2011 Ann Ranlett - All Rights Reserved