kentScratchboard or scraperboard was invented in the 19th Century in Britain and France, but it’s use was not popularized until mid (20th) century America, when it became a popular medium for reproduction because it replaced wood, metal and linoleum engraving. It allowed artists the ability to obtain near-photographic realism using only line art for reproduction without losing quality. It was most effective and expeditious for use in single-color book and newspaper printing. From the 1930s to 1950s, it was one of the preferred techniques for medical, scientific and product illustration. Rockwell Kent and Lynn Ward, while both accomplished wood engravers, used scratchboard occasionally.

wardTypically drawings are carefully preconceived on tracing paper and transferred to white or black (inked) scratchboard. By using a sharp blade or scratch tool, the black ink is scratched away to expose the white clay underneath….the reversal process of sorts….working dark to light…illuminating the darkness. It produced a richly detailed effect, that was perfect for single-color printing for newspapers and books, as well as quite graphical for advertising.

The Tailor

In the 1980’s, when Bill Russell first began creating editorial illustrations with scratchboard, only a handful of illustrators were using this medium. By the new millennium, scratchboard was usurped by digital forms of art-making and scratchboard was considered an antiquated process. Illustrators use computer software and drawing apps for the iPad to make art. Like many who read books and draw in pencils on paper, scratching is still a joyful, albeit ‘analog’ process. It provides that vintage look. The hand is present. You may call it old fashioned, but everything old is new again. You just have to live long enough to see it return.