A list of supplies to get started with scratchboard

A few people have asked me if I could suggest a list of supplies for getting started with scratchboard. I think I will post the information here.

  1. 3-pack of 5×7 Ampersand Scratchbord
    These are less than $8 at http://www.jerrysartarama.com. These boards are inexpensive, with a really nice surface. The size is small enough that it won’t take forever to finish.
  2. 1 package of Super Chacopaper
    This is the best transfer paper I’ve used. The lines go down just right – not too heavy, not too light. And, extra lines can be removed with a small, damp paintbrush.  Michael’s usually has Chacopaper for about $7 – less if you use their 40% off coupon.
  3. 1 X-acto knife with a #11 blade and a #16 blade
    You will want to have more than one blade per size. How often you change them out depends on how you work. I tend to buy boxes of 100, although they come in packages of 5. I suggest the two different blades to get used to the marks they make. Both blades are fairly easy to find. I haven’t priced knives or blades for a while, but they aren’t terribly expensive.
  4. 1 cheap ball point pen
    I use a very basic blue Papermate medium point for making transfers.
  5. Masking tape
    I use the tape to attach my drawing to the top edge of the board, like a hinge. This keeps the drawing from shifting while I’m doing my transfer, and it allows me to lay the drawing back down in the same position if I need to transfer more lines. I use either white artists’ masking tape, or green 3M masking tape because they are easy to remove when I’m done.
  6. Faber Castell Pitt Pen
    Mistakes happen, and the brush pen and size S are very useful for making corrections. They are also useful for crosshatching dark lines over light lines to create textures. I’ve used other pigment pens with good results, but the Pitt pens seem to make the color of the Ampersand ink and they don’t leave very shiny lines. I pat the corrected area with my finger to take the shine off. The last time I priced these pens they were a few dollars apiece

This would give you enough to get started. At least one of the boards would be for playing around with different scratch patterns and getting used to the surface of the board. The patterns you make really depend on your own personality and what you want to do. If you are looking for highly realistic work, you would probably end up using the #11 blade and working with finer lines to hold the details. If you want to do more illustrative work, the #16 makes bolder strokes easily. I generally start with the brightest areas first and work into the dark.

I remember being nervous to try scratchboard the first time. I think my best advice would be to forge ahead and just plan on ruining the first one while you figure out how it works. The 5×7 boards aren’t expensive so it’s not a big loss if you have to start over.

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

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.

Russ McMullin – Candy – pet portrait

I did this pet portrait a few years ago for an artist friend of mine in Australia. It was done on an 8×10 Ampersand board with a #11 Xacto blade. For some reason I thought this one would be a lot easier than it was. Keeping track of all those strands of hair was a challenge. In comparison, the nose and tongue were a piece of cake. Even with the challenge it was fun to do.

A new board by Russ McMullin – George Washington

No long ago I saw a painting by Gilbert Stuart from 1795 that inspired me to try a portrait of George Washington. I’ve thought about this before, but never got around to it. With Stuart’s portrait as a jumping off point I ended up with something I was pretty pleased with.

This is done on 8×10 Ampersand Scratchboard, using a #16 Xacto blade. Sakura and Staedtler pigment pens were used to touch up my mistakes.

George Washington in Scratchboard