Paula Waterman
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Inkwell Studio

Scratchboard Technique

Note on Paula's Scratchboard Technique

Paula is not a purist about Scratchboard technique, except in the use of color; she considers it a black and white medium, preferring other traditional color media when color is necessary.

The appeal of the medium to Paula is the absolute extreme in contrast between the India ink and the white of the clay base. There isn’t a higher contrast medium. At the same time she enjoys the challenge of softening that contrast in areas to get away from the harshness the medium can sometimes exhibit. The sharp crisp lines are dramatic but, depending upon the tool used, the lines can also be made very soft by keeping them as fine as possible, spacing them as closely as possible.

Paula is fairly liberal about technique. While the pure Scratchboard medium is that of white lines scratched or etched out of black surfaced clay board, she will sometimes use ink wash, watercolor technique, spatter, or a combination, to get what she wants from the medium.

The beginning of an artwork is, of course, choosing a subject. When she has worked out all her mistakes on paper and gotten her subject drawn to her satisfaction, and worked out the composition, Paula then transfers the drawing in ‘real size’ (the size the subject will be on the finished work) to a clean piece of paper so she then has a nice neat outline. With her Scratchboard techniques she can make some alterations in depth of tone and so on, but cannot alter the drawing shapes to any significant degree once committed to the board, so she needs to correct any mistakes before getting to that point.

Next Paula will use a technical knife to cut out the subject shape from the paper, making a stencil. She sets the cutout shape aside for use in a later step.

Paula starts with Scratchboard that is not yet inked. She always applies the ink herself, and she always uses permanent India ink. She starts with an airbrush (an aerosolizer that sprays the ink in a fine mist) to coat the board with ink. She will spray until the board reaches the level of gray desired for the background in the particular artwork. This can vary from very pale gray to as black as a factory-coated board.

After Paula has the ‘ground color’ she uses the stencil she made in paper and places it where she wants it be on the board. Using her airbrush again Paula sprays the stencil to get a fairly dense black stenciled shape on the board. This dries virtually on contact because the aerosolized ink droplets dry as they go through the air to the board.

At this point she is ready to do the traditional Scratchboard technique of scratching, scraping and scuffing lines in the black ink of the stenciled subject shape. Paula uses stippling (a dotting technique with the tip of the point) and scratching at this point. The line work can include crosshatching, parallel lines, scooping with a broader knife to get a bigger white line, anything to get the textures or softness needed for a particular area.

When the subject is completely detailed Paula may go back with a thinned ink wash on a watercolor brush and re-ink areas in shadow to make them less bright or otherwise soften an area. She can scratch back into these areas to a limited extent if there is a reason to.

The next step (depending on whether it is suitable) is to texture the background inked area to define it as space, or surface, or grass, or whatever.

A final step might be to cut a new mask of the shape of the subject’s shadow and to spray ink lightly in the resulting stencil to create that shadow. This shadow would be actually planned at the beginning stages and would be essential to the entire composition.

This describes most of the techniques Paula uses in her medium. She doesn't use all of them in every piece but has them available if needed.

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