John N. Agnew, featured in The Artist’s Magazine (July/August 2012) has made a name for himself as a scratchboard artist. “I enjoy acrylic for painting because it lets me work quickly,” he says. “I enjoy scratchboard for its ability to produce very precise detail and an etching-like line quality.” He cautions that the work is both tedious and time-consuming, however, requiring patience and staying power. “Sticking with it is the hardest part,” he says. “I set small goals (measured in square inches) and constantly remind myself of how great it will look when I’m done, and how this tedium will pay off in the end.”
In this free excerpt from the article, Agnew shares 12 scratchboard strokes to get you started.
By John N. Agnew
1. All of the effects in images 1, 2 and 3 were achieved by stippling—simply poking at the surface with the tip of a No. 11 X-Acto blade. (Some scratchboard artists prefer using a stylus or needle in a handle to using an X-Acto blade.) Varying the pressure of the blade, which changes the size of the dots and also the density of the dots, will produce light and dark tones. Leaving areas blank results in black.
2. Random patterns create uneven tones, which are useful for portraying rough textures or sand, but not smooth surfaces.
3. Regular patterns, such as short rows of dots placed evenly, will give you smoother tones. I do a few short rows of stipples in one direction, then change so that the rows are going in a different direction. This keeps the rows from forming distracting patterns. If you leave gaps or place rows unevenly, you’ll have to go back and carefully fill in the gaps to smooth out the tone.
4. You can vary the brightness and width of the lines or hatching by varying the pressure of your tool. Lines thinner than a hair are possible with a sharp instrument and very little pressure.
5. Using the sharp edge of an X-Acto blade perpendicular to the direction of a line results in a broad line. In this case you’re basically scraping, not engraving.
6. Cross-hatching to form even tones requires some practice. This works best when the lines are short and evenly spaced. Add more layers of cross-hatching to increase brightness (whiteness).
7. Rough textures and tones can be achieved with random cross-hatching and very tiny strokes.
8 & 9. Cross-hatching over stippling can give you very effective tones. Start with stippling over an area; then add highlights and shading by cross-hatching.
10, 11 & 12. You can employ line to create tone and texture: In Steady Hand, Studied Technique, I created the cypress bark texture by using line to suggest shape and texture. Use small strokes and run them in a direction that suggests the topography of the object.
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