My scratchboard tools

Faber Castell Pitt pens are the newest addition to the tools I use. I remembered someone suggested them on and wanted to try them. In the past I have used other brands of pigment pens to make repairs and create textures and patterns by crosshatching scratch lines with ink lines. They have worked great, but the ink has a shine to it that sometimes shows up even after spraying with a clear matte finish. I picked up a set of Pitt pens today and so far I am pleased with the results. I tend to lay down a few lines and then pat them lightly with my finger to dull the shine.

Faber Castell Pitt pens

My most recent knife is an Olfa art knife (yellow handle). I like the short blade. It seems to give me good control and very fine lines. The knife with the black handle has a #16 blade. It comes in handy for wider scratches. The scratch width can be varied by holding it at different angles to the surface. The thicker knife with the silver handle is what I have tended to use for very fine work. It holds a #2 blade – very similar to the smaller #11 blade (the most common Xacto blade)
scratchboard knives.

The tool with the blue handle can hold a knife blade or a sharp steel point. It is a weeding tool for working with vinyl lettering, but with just a bit of extra sharpening (600 grit sandpaper) it works well as a scratch tool.


Russ McMullin – Another work in progress – Batatakin Ruin

I got inspired by Scott Seibel’s work and decided to do some sandstone. I think I was 9 or 10 years old when I hiked to this ruin with my dad. I thought it would make a great subject for a scratchboard piece. This is a 5×7 Ampersand board. Most of it is rendered with an Olfa art knife that looks very similar to an Xacto knife. Some of the scratches are done with a #16 Xacto blade, which lets me do fairly wide strokes.

Betatakin WIP


Betatakin WIP 2

Russ McMullin – More work on Charlie the Boston terrier – still WIP

I’m still working on this little 5×7. Once I get the boards in the background done I will work more on the details of the pup. The Olfa knife has been pretty nice to work with. The brass grip is comfortable.


Here’s an update:

I’m happy enough with how the boards turned out. A little more definition on the dog and I’ll call it quits for this one.

Charlie Boston Terrier WIP 3

Russ McMullin – Charlie the Boston terrier – WIP

My wife’s cousin posted a picture of her dog on Facebook and I thought he would make a good scratchboard subject. The image wasn’t the best quality so I’m doing some guesswork when it comes to the direction of the fur. I’m having fun with it so far. I’m allowing myself some freedom to deviate from the photo, although I’m trying to keep the likeness accurate.

This is on a 5×7 Ampersand board. I’ve been using a new Olfa knife which seems to work well.

Charly the Boston terrier

Francis Lee Jaques – My Wilderness – Yosemite, Half Dome and more

Quite a few years ago I found a little book at a used bookstore. It was entitled My Wilderness – The Pacific West, and Frances Lee Jaques was the illustrator. The images were black and white scratchboard, and gorgeous. The one that compelled me to buy that little book was a stunning rendition of Yosemite’s Half Dome. It is still one of my favorite scratchboard pieces ever. I love the way the snow is done in stark white without boundaries except where it touches the rock. The sweeping vertical lines are so effective in conveying the mass and height of the monument.


I found a nice blog post about the artist.






Russ McMullin – My very first scratchboard

I knew this was hiding under a bunch of other work, and I finally found it – the first scratchboard piece I can remember doing. It was for a class assignment. The specific topic eludes me, but I do remember this was inspired by my feelings for greedy college landlords.


This style was influenced by my art teacher at that time, Robert Neubecker. He was an excellent teacher and a very accomplished illustrator. His drawing style is deceptively simple and primitive, yet he conveys such powerful messages with ink lines and watercolor.

I had seen scratchboard work in books, but nobody I personally knew had ever tried it, except maybe in gradeschool. I proceeded undaunted. The only scratchboard available at the art store was thin, like a postcard. It helped forge my strong opinions about using quality materials in art projects. Working on cheap scratchboard isn’t nearly as fun as using a nice brand like Ampersand or Essdee. The difference is night and day. Use good materials and thank yourself for it later.

The feedback from the class was very positive. From that time forward I did mostly scratchboard work, eventually moving to a style with more contour and crosshatching.

Michelle Dick – Star tree, woman, and turtle

Michelle Dick doesn’t have a lot on her own blog, but other people have posted quite a number of her works. Her designs are solid and I like the patterning she uses. The way the star tree is rendered, it looks a bit scary at first glace – then it takes on the appearance of a wonderful fireworks display. The stark white of the woman’s robe makes a beautiful contrast against the variety of darker tones in the rest of the composition. I especially like the dreamy swirls on the turtle.

John Agnew – Desert tortoise

I found this image posted on a blog by Sam Lacombe but the name on the image said “C John N. Agnew”. With another search I found John Agnew’s site and discovered some really beautiful work. This desert tortoise is super cool. The catchlight on the eyeball sure makes it come alive. The image is pretty large. If you right-click to view just the image you can get some idea of the detail.