Note: Still working on the book.
In my heart, I have a very soft place for engraved artwork.
I respect the tremendous degree of skill – a third drawing, a third etching, and a third sculpture – required to create it. I admire the way in which line density is used to create the illusion of tonal depth. But most of all, I love the texture. Unlike other forms of art, you can both look at and feel an engraved image. (I’ve often wondered if this is why people love the feel of a newly printed dollar bill.)
For most of life, I’ve wanted to learn to engrave. Unfortunately, though, this will probably never happen. To learn engraving requires specialized equipment, time to practice, and the presence of a master who is willing to teach.
I have access to none of these.
But even though I will probably never learn to engrave, this doesn’t mean that I can’t create images with a similar quality and texture. One technique that shares much in common with engraving is the scratchboard.
When using a scratchboard, drawings are created using knives and other etching tools. You work on a thin layer of white China clay that is coated with black India ink, and carefully, you remove the ink to reveal the image within. For the past few weeks, I’ve been planning a project that might work well on a scratchboard, and for that reason, I’ve been busily looking into it.
While trying to learn more about scratchboard, I’ve come across two artists who specialize in it. Their online are beautiful examples of what you can achieve via scratchboard, but even better than the images is the insight into their work process that both artists share.
Below, you can find information about the artists, examples of their work, and a description of how they go about creating beautiful art.
The first artist is named Kent Barton.
Barton is a freelance illustrator who lives in North Carolina. He’s worked for the New Yorker, Time, The Wall Street Journal, Time, and Reader’s Digest. He works in both traditional black and white scratchboard, as well as sepia.
He describes his work process like this (taken from his Behance Network Profile):
In the beginning stages of an environmental work, I try to find out
as much as possible about the space it will occupy and how people will move through that space. Historic timelines are often involved, and I try to obtain all the visual material that inspired the client. I begin my own research, both visual and textual, immersing myself in the fashions, furnishings, materials, fabrics, crafts, artists of the period, anything and everything that may spark an idea. My wife, a teacher, writer, and family historian, is an invaluable aid in this process.
Once I have all my visual reference, I begin sketches. If there is a timeline, I organize the flow of the visual elements to take the viewer through the progression of years in a clear and easily understood way. Mixing portraits of pivotal or iconic individuals with scenes and architecture from the period, I try to move viewers into the art through varying perspectives, guiding them around the entire composition as they follow the order of the timeline. For example, The Settlement of The West mural flows from right to left, or East to West as the points on a compass, and all the visual elements are composed to move the viewer’s eye in the direction followed by western migration over 150 years ago. The Gunfighter mural does the same thing. Both may be viewed either from left to right (most recent to oldest), or right to left. Elements are grouped in sections, inviting viewers into the art, encouraging them to linger in one period or another as they choose.
My sketches are made up of many layers of tissue paper, as I alter sizes and move elements around until I achieve an effective balance and composition. Once I have a rough idea of the overall flow, I render tighter tissues of all the elements, taping them together for final approval by the client. I try to resolve everything in the sketch stage, as scratchboard is not a medium that lends itself to changes at the finished stage. In working into the board I always attempt to convey the look and ‘feel’ of the surfaces I am rendering. I enjoy trying to convey the differences between metal and flesh, silk and wood, soft and hard, shiny and dull, etc.
The line work of the scratchboard, usually done in black or sepia, becomes the foundation for the color, which is applied at the final stages of finishing the art. I often tend to mix media throughout the entire process, scratching, painting, fading back and ‘aging’ with steel wool, drawing and inking, pasting in type, even resorting to collage at times. When I’m finally satisfied, the finished piece is brushed with clear acrylic.
The second artist is Mark Summers.
Like in the case of Kent Barton, Summers is also an illustrator. But whereas Barton has a more realistic style, Summers is known for a distinctive flair that borders on the edge of irreverence (without ever crossing the line).
Summers says that he has a four-step work process:
Step 1: Quick Sketch
To block out the final composition.
Step 2: Preliminary Sketch
I don’t always go to this extreme for a rough sketch- only if the piece is fairly complex or if the client needs to see some indication of where the exact light and darks will fall. I’m not sure how I wound up doing sketches in such a Byzantine fashion, but it is a quick way to determine the overall tone.
This is a simple line drawing, done with a felt tip pen. On tracing paper- I then spray mount it onto a light toned paper. The highlights are acrylic paint. Even after this step I will still tend to “fiddle.” If I feel a hand is too small, or a figure too large I photocopy it to the proper size and just paste it in.
Step 3: Finished Black and White
Each drawing begins as a black square. After this, using a knife, I scratch white lines into the surface. I try to discourage clients from asking to see “the work in progress,” as at any time there will be an entirely finished head here, a hand there, all floating in a sea of black.
I tend to work size-as (this drawing is 12” high- each face being approximately 2” high.) In a drawing such as this, I find it takes a full day to finish each figure. I then have the finished work scanned and printed onto photographic paper.
Step 4: Finished Color
A fast process, as the black and white drawing already defines the modeling. Simple flat tones of color are all that are really needed. I paint details with watercolor and then everything else with oil glazes. Sometimes I go in and smooth things out with airbrush. The final step is to paint in highlights with acrylic.
The coloring of this piece took about three hours.