Doodles in the margin from an artist living and working in the Scottish Borders.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

There's Nothing Like a Good Scratch

I have a distinct memory from school of trying scraperboard for the first time, and I liked then all the same things that I like now. There's the satisfyingly black blackness of the ink, the lovely contrast of the white as it's revealed, and the approach you need in your mind, nicely inverted from drawing, as you add the light areas light rather than shadow. The variety of effect is interesting, too - from big, chunky 'woodcut' finishes to very fine 'engraving.'

It has its limitations, obviously; if you're a bit energetic with the cut you can go through ink and plaster alike and end up cutting cardboard, and the white areas can be a bit mottled as the China clay underneath is yellowish - this is probably why scraperboard is more suited to images to be reproduced electronically as these imperfections can be removed. But the advantages I think more than make up for it; it's cheaper than engraving or woodcuts (if you get it wrong you don't maff up a tenner's worth of boxwood), and you've got that same variety of style available to you.

I started off using the standard tools, and the ivied oak tree was done using these. Perhaps inevitably my disturbingly anal interest in detail began to creep in, and I wasn't happy with the fineness of the line I could get with the ordinary tools, so I made my own. I used an ordinary pin and Araldited it into the end of an old ballpoint pen; it had a nicely cushioned grip and I can't begin to describe the pleasure of making the infinitessimally fine line in the black ink. Magic. I used this to do these two portraits.

It has disadvantages. The pins lose their sharpness quite quickly, and I had to use emery paper to restore the point. This means that the pin wears down surprisingly quickly, and if you've Araldited a pin into a pen you can't get it out, so don't use a pen you're particularly fond of. I tried hardening the next one by heating the pin in the gas hob, and this seemed to keep the point a bit longer, but also became brittle and snapped while I was sharpening it. Now I'm using the body of a disposable propelling pencil, seeing as they seem to be throwaway tools. I'd like to discover a method of replacing the pin without chucking away the pen. As soon as I know, so shall you, dear reader.

I did discover, though, that if you cock it up a little an area can be slightly rescued by re-inking with a drawing pen that uses an indian-type ink. If you leave it to dry, the ink can be delicately re-scratched, providing you didn't go through the China clay layer to begin with. I can't tell you how badly wrong I got the eyes on Wee Hughie there, but I managed to drag them back to something like respectability by these means.

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