Scratchboard | The Itch to Draw Animal Fur

Using blades, pen nibs, steel wool, fiberglass brushes, and sandpaper on scratchboard, you can coax furry animals into the light.

By Cathy Sheeter

In her June 2014 article, “The Itch to Scratch,” in The Artist’s Magazine, Cathy Sheeter explained her techniques for rendering animal coats in scratchboard and demonstrated how to create the short, smooth coat of a horse. In this online article, she shares three other demonstrations for different types of fur—that of a timber wolf, a mountain lion and a bear.

Short, Clumpy Fur—Timber Wolf

see the short, clumpy fur o

The Scout (timber wolf; scratchboard, 20×16) by Cathy Sheeter

Step 1. Short, clumpy fur is quite similar to long, clumpy fur, but is less tapered. (Long, clumped fur usually comes to a sharp point.) Loosely scratch out a general shape with an X-Acto knife. Make the clumps irregular in shape and spacing to create a realistic look. (See below)

Timber Wolf Fur Step 1

Step 1 short, clumpy fur

Step 2. Then scratch thicker, brighter lines with a Speedball No. 112 nib on the outer two-thirds of the fur clump. The part of the clumps closer to the body is shadowed, so only the part closest to the light is bright. (See below.)

Timber Wolf Fur Step 2

Step 2 short, clumpy fur

Step 3. Work carefully and methodically to increase the contrast of light and dark in certain areas. If necessary, to create shadow areas in the fur, you can apply diluted dark ink with a brush to darken specific spots. (See below.)

Close-up of Neck Ruff for The Scout by Cathy Sheeter

Close-up of finished neck ruff for The Scout by Cathy Sheeter


Dense Fur—The Mountain Lion

For dense fur demonstratio

Lion About the Weather (mountain lion; scratchboard and ink, 18×6) by Cathy Sheeter

Step 1. To create dense fur, lightly rub the scratchboard with fine-grit sandpaper in a linear direction, following the flow of the fur. Due to the nature of sandpaper, a bit of the black ink is pushed back into the scratches, making the area look gray instead of white (though the color can be taken to white with repeated scratching). (See below.)

Dense fur demo step 1

Step 1 dense fur

Step 2. Then, with a slightly damp brush, push more of the loosened black ink back into the scratches to make the area even darker. For soft, dense fur, you can stop there or go on to step 3. (See below.)

Dense fur demo step 2

Step 2 dense fur

Step 3. You can work with an X-Acto knife over the sanded area to give more shape and texture to the fur; however, the gray areas created with the sandpaper will still be visible and give depth to the fur. To create shadow area, you can apply diluted black ink with a brush back over the area if desired. (See below.)

Detail from Lion About the Weather by Cathy Sheeter

Detail from Lion About the Weather by Cathy Sheeter


Long, Clumpy Fur—the Bear

see long, clumpy fur demo

Bear With Me (grizzly bear; scratchboard and ink, 12×12) by Cathy Sheeter

1. Some types of dense fur are prone to create clumps, especially when they’re wet. Scratch out a general shape with an X-Acto knife. Notice that, even at this stage, the long fur comes to a point at one end and shadow areas are left between the clumps. (See below.)

grizzly bear demo step 1

step 1 for long, clumpy fur

2. Refine the work by additional scratching with an X-Acto knife or one of the Speedball scratchboard nibs—No. 112 (spear-shaped) or No. 113 (scoop-shaped) to give the fur edges that are brighter because of the direction of the light, but be sure to leave shadow areas cast by each clump. (See below.)

step 2 grizzly bear scratchboard

Step 2 long, clumpy fur

3. To look realistic, clumps should be somewhat random in size and width. Note: if you should scratch shadows areas too light, you can apply diluted black ink over those areas. (See below.)

close-up of long, clumpy fur of a bear

Detail of Bear With Me by Cathy Sheeter


Scratchboard Materials

Scratchboard: The only brand I use is Ampersand Scratchbord, as I believe it’s the best available. These boards are constructed with a 1/8-inch-thick hardboard panel as a base, which is coated with white clay and then topped with black India ink. This professional-grade material isn’t only archival but also allows for many layers of scratching without the ink’s chipping off.

Primary line tool: I most often use a standard X-Acto knife with a No. 11 blade. The blades are inexpensive and the knives can be found everywhere.

Other line tools: Sometimes I use Speedball scratchboard nibs Nos. 112 (spear-shaped) and 113 (scoop-shaped) affixed to a penholder. These nibs leave wider lines than the knife and are useful for very large boards or for thick lines, like whiskers. For the finest lines, some artists prefer scalpel blades or even a sharpened pin. Tattoo needles can be used with good effect for some textures; they come in a variety of shapes and sizes as well.

Non-line tools: Both fiberglass brushes and erasers are useful for giving a softer, more out-of-focus look to certain areas, as these tools don’t leave hard edges. Sandpaper and oil-free steel wool can also be used to create a variety of textures; they also come in several different grits/grades. Correction tools: In my toolbox I have black Sakura Pigma Micron pens, which I use for minor corrections (no, you don’t have to be a “perfect” artist to do scratchboard) and also to add dark hairs or whiskers on top of scratched areas. I also keep black India ink handy for major repairs. I use it full strength to take an area back to black or dilute it with water if an area is scratched too light and I want to make it darker.

Varnish: My favorite is Krylon Galley Series UV archival satin spray varnish. I apply between four and six coats on a completed board, spraying with the board mostly upright, rotating it 90 degrees, and letting it dry for at least 10 minutes between layers. Follow the instructions on the can for the best results. Varnishing prevents accidental scratches, makes the remaining black darker, and removes fingerprints and shiny areas.

Additional Resources

International Society of Scratchboard Artists ( is a professional society dedicated specifically to scratchboard art. It offers membership for different skill levels, sends out a quarterly newsletter, and hosts an annual get-together with an exhibition and demonstrations by experienced scratchboard artists.

Wetcanvas! Online Forum ( hosts a specific scratchboard forum. This forum is very active and full of tutorials and works in progress. Working artists are happy to answer questions about the medium or offer advice on your work.

My own website ( not only includes more of my work (most you can view at 100-percent to see the details and how I scratch), but also several tutorials on scratchboard art.

 The Author/Artist

Cathy Sheeter enjoys working in graphite pencil, oil, colored pencil, and pastel from time to time, but her preferred medium is scratchboard. She is a master member and one of the founders of the International Society of Scratchboard Artists (ISSA), a signature member of the Society of Animal Artists (SAA), and an associate member of the Women Artists of the West (WAOW). Her award-winning work can be found in private and corporate collections. Learn more on her website,


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