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Scratchboard Art

Stephen King inspired illustration by Bill Russell

Scratchboard art, also known as scraperboard, is the medium we’ve chosen to explore for December’s Smart Art Box. All the materials provided will set up the artist to dive into a beginners journey through this powerful medium. It will be a fun and inspiring creative first for our Smart Art Box subscribers! It’s important to note that it is definitely a medium that requires patience and wrist training! It can be exhausting on the hands to say the least. According to Wikipedia, Scratchboard is a form of direct engraving where the artist scratches off dark ink to reveal a white or colored layer beneath. This medium is used both as a fine art, as well as an illustrative art. Below we have two different examples. Sally Maxwell’s incredible “Lone Wolf” meets the fine art criteria, whereas Bill Russell’s illustration for WigWag magazine is a perfect example of illustrative scratchboard art. 


“Lone Wolf” By Sally Maxwell


        Bill Russell Illustration for WigWag Magazine

Other forms of this medium can involve sheets of foil layered over black ink, that when engraved expose a shiny contrast of design. It’s important to remember that a way to recognize scratchboard art is by its enormous amount of detail. Although prehistoric engravings can certainly be considered early influences of what was to come for scratchboard, it will take some time before the modern use of cardboard like materials and ink to become its own singular artistic medium. 

Originating in 19th century Britain and France, Scratchboard gained popularity by replacing old ways of printing and mass reproduction. As wood became way too expensive, and other forms of printing, this new alternative way of communication, expression and story-telling arose. Scratchboard was being used to tell narratives in newspapers and even medical and scientific illustrations. A notable scratchboard figure during the mid century was Virgil Finlay, considered one of the most “imaginative and memorable” illustrators for science fiction and fantasy according to Wikipedia. He also contributed heavily to graphic novel illustration. Once again, a trademark of his work is the attention to immense detail, as we learned is a trademark of the medium. Other notable Scratchboard artists include Gary Bullock (UK Illustrator), Michael McCurdy, Peter Blake, John Schoenherr, Gary Houston, Jos Sances, Russ Mullins, Bill Russell, David Klein, Mark Summers, Peter Kuper and Scott McKowen. 

An exciting part about Scratchboard that often separates it from traditional mediums is the fact that it’s design is not created by adding, but rather subtracting, in order to reveal highlights. As black ink is removed you are now able to choose to leave it white or add color.  According to, the first colored scratchboard showed up in 1975 when Norman Gaddini was the first artist to add full color to his black scratchboard. The tools used to engrave vary from knives, to razor blades to needles to name a few. 

Today we are going to highlight the amazing Sally Maxwell, whose work has an incredible display of animal life and nature. An important facet of Sally’s work is her ability to render not only the beauty of wildlife, but its emotion. Hailing from Illinois, and having honed her craft for over 53 years, she’s been able to share her work across the United States. According to her, she finds “intensity in nature’s quietest moments”. How beautiful her words, as they are quite a replica for Scratchboard in the first place. “Intensity in the quietest moments” would certainly be expressed like highlights revealed through black ink. Illumination in the darkness is the essence of this art. She is one of the pioneers responsible for defining the medium as a fine art, one of the two types of Scratchboard as mentioned earlier. Her naturally innovative and experimental spirit has given her the ability to produce a softer less linear technique, taking the form further away from the traditional illustrations first created in the 19th century. Again, more detail now appears as she is a walking example of scratchboard’s evolution. Find Sally at

“Watch The Birdie” By Sally Maxwell

Continuing the conversation of detail, we find scratchboard artist Diana Lee, whose works are often mistaken for photographs due to their incredible detail. From Diana’s earliest memory in 2nd grade doing her first scratchboard piece, until today, she etches everything from people, to still lifes to animals. Admitting some of her designs can take well over 100 hours to complete, her respect to detail makes her one of the medium’s greatest contemporary scratchboard artists. We hope you will take a fraction of her patience as you begin your own etchings at home this week. Not only will you need it, but it will pay off visually in your completed works, as well as serve as a kind meditation during this time of year! You can find her showcasing her work near the California area as well as across the United States. Find Diana at

     Sunflower And Silver By Diana Lee      

Self Portrait By Diana Lee

Moving on to the 2nd type of scratchboard art, we find that Smart Art Box’s December prompts delve into the style of scratchboard illustration. Naughty Egg has designed some amazing starter designs for anyone interested in dipping their toe into this exciting medium. The first Smart Art Box prompt challenge revealed is SNOW. All materials are provided to create this prompt, or simply put your own twist on this holiday classic. 

“Snow” by Naughty Egg

Another incredibly accomplished scratchboard illustration artist mentioned earlier is Bill Russell. Bill has been prolific in the field. Ranging from narrative art to editorial work to covers, he has been a freelance illustrator for over 30 years. Born in Oakville, Ontario, Canada, Bill Russell earned his degree from Parsons School of Design in New York. He’s also been a teacher at The California of The Arts in San Francisco and an illustrator for the San Francisco Chronicle, now residing in Marin County, CA. His work is described as bold, nostalgic and graphic, and he’s currently accepting custom commissions to create beautiful and effective scratchboard illustrations on time and on budget. Find Bill at


Illustration for Yiddish Book Center; Bill Russell     

Starting with SNOW this week, Naughty Egg will roll out his spin on all four prompts for December’s Scratchboard art box theme. We hope you will stay tuned all month long for our weekly prompts. Don’t forget to post your Scratchboard art creations and hashtag all month long in order to make it onto our official blog. And most of all we wish you an inspired holiday season amidst the safety of your home, and hope creative projects like these keep you inspired. Thank you for letting us be part of your season. Special thank you to all the artists we showcased in this blog, for sharing your work online and moreso, for leading the way in Scratchboard art. You’re amazing! 

December’s Smart Art Box materials include

  1. Ampersand Scratchbord 6" x 6" (3 pack)
  2. Metallic Engraving Sheets 8" x 10" (6 pack)
  3. Engraving Tools (4pk)
  4. White graphite transfer paper
  5. Strathmore Sketchbook 8" x 5"
  6. Faber-Castell Pencil Set (6pc)

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