Scratchboard Art: Steady Hand, Studied Technique

With a scientist’s precision, artist John N. Agnew captures the textures of “lesser-loved” species and their habitats on scratchboard. His animal portraits in scratchboard are featured in The Artist’s Magazine (July/August 2012), including the following step-by-step demonstration of Maternal Instincts (below). And, don’t miss his article on 12 scratchboard strokes that he uses in his wildlife art.

Scratchboard Art: Steady Hand, Studied Technique

by John N. Agnew

After I’ve selected my image references—often those displaying interesting textural elements—and learned all I can about the subject and its habitat, I’m ready to begin work on a new scratchboard. I start by making a detailed drawing on vellum or tracing paper. I use my photos as reference because I like to include more detail than I could possibly remember—and it’s difficult to pose a live alligator in my studio.

scratchboard panel

1. I transfer the image to my scratchboard panel (a white clay-coated board, covered with black India ink) by chalking the back of my drawing, placing it on the scratchboard, and tracing over the lines carefully. Once this is done, I remove the drawing and gently wipe off the excess chalk, leaving behind faint white lines that are my road map.


scratchboard stippling

2. Using the chalked lines as a guide, I go over all of them with light stippling. This makes the lines permanent—the chalk is easy to wipe off. I then go over the entire image, establishing my base tones with stippling. Here you can see the traced chalk lines, stippled lines and tones, and the beginning of cross-hatching over the stippling.


cross-hatching with scratchboard

3. Once the stippling is complete, you can see that I go over parts of it with cross-hatching to make lighter tones and highlights. Areas that are to remain dark often go without cross-hatching. The cross-hatching sometimes requires several layers, depending on the brightness of a given area. Keeping your cross-hatching strokes very small will help make even tones. In this detail I’ve begun the background, using small line strokes to establish texture and to differentiate the background from the darker, softer tones in the alligator.


wildlife art, scratchboard, alligator art

4. Here’s my finished drawing Maternal Instincts (scratchboard, 11 x14), which shows a mother gator protecting her nest, with cypress trees and knees (woody projections of cypress tree roots that rise above the swamp’s normal water level) in the background.

Read the full article about Agnew’s scratchboard art techniques in The Artist’s Magazine (July/August 2012). And, don’t miss an issue when you subscribe!

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