Scratchboard is a layer of black ink, over a layer over silver foil, over a cardboard support.  It is a subtractive/reductive process where you scratch off the black ink to reveal the silver foil underneath.  Because it is a reductive process you need to be aware that you cannot correct any mistakes–once you have scratched off the ink you cannot replace or repair it if a mistake is made.  Other than that, scratchboard is very similar to drawing.


You do need to be aware that when it comes to shading with scratchboard, all you have to work with is silver (white), “gray”, and black.  Grays are created by scratching off the black ink partially, a mix of exposed silver and black.  It uses hatching and cross hatching methods in order to create values.

Batman and Catwoman

The Topic

The topic for this assignment is surrealism or fantasy.  If you are unsure what is meant by surrealism, there is a lot of information available on the internet.  In short, we are looking for images that look like they come from dreams, nightmares, or are just plain impossible. My only guidelines are that the image must be school appropriate, and that the weirder it is, the better.  Surrealism can often have elements of humor or whimsy, and while it may be old as an art movement, surrealism is still alive and well in the realm of advertising.

There are several easy ways to create surrealism:

  1. Anthropomorphism
  2. Transformation
  3. Scale
  4. Context
  5. Breaking the Laws of Physics

Step 1:  Sketch

The first step will be to create a sketch of what it is you want to draw.  You want this sketch to be exactly what you want the final project to look like.  We will end up tracing this image to help you transfer your idea onto the scratchboard itself.

Your sketch also needs to record the values you want for your artwork, exactly the way you want them to look.  You should have a good balance of black, “gray”, and silver/white.

Step 2:  Transferring the Sketch

Once the sketch is complete and approved I will give you a scratchboard.  Tape the sketch onto the board using a single piece of masking tape, like a hinge.

Your coversheet will remain like this for the rest of the project.  The tape helps to prevent the sketch from moving too much while you are tracing.  It also allows the sketch to work as a cover sheet, preventing accidental scratches while you are storing your artwork.

Once the sketch is in place, trace the major contour lines using a regular pen or pencil.  You are just trying to make a faint indent that can be seen on the scratchboard.

Tracing a cover sheet scratchboard

Step 3:  Scratching

Now it is time to start for real.

The scratch pen has two parts:  a point and an edged side.

Using the scratch pen you will remove ink where you need to.  As you work, think about what values you need and don’t just automatically scratch ink off of all the lines.  The most common mistake is when a person scratches a line silver, only to then realize they need it black.

As you are working you may want to keep a piece of paper between your hands and the board.  Your skin naturally produces oils that will show up as dark finger prints on the ink–and these marks will never go away.

It does not take a lot of pressure to remove the ink.  In fact, you need a very light touch.  You do not want to accidentally scratch through the foil into the cardboard that is beneath.

If you find that you are having trouble removing the ink, try flipping the board 180 degrees, try using a different side or edge of the pen, or try a new pen altogether–they do get dull.

You also need to be careful that you are not reversing your values.  If it was white/silver in your sketch, then it needs to be white/silver on your final product.

Good Quality Scratchboards

  1. maintain a black line in places.  This is done by scratching out silver or gray around the lines you are trying to preserve, but not scratching the line itself.  And example of this can be see in in the image below.
  2. Scratches in a uniform direction for the object.  It is highly probable that the scratch pen will leave marks behind, so scratching in a singular direction, like in the example below, helps to keep things looking neat and as if it was done with intent.

Rudy Cantu


Student Examples

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