Saturday, September 23, 2006

Scraperboard technique

Something I'm still trying to master. Scraperboard is a type of card, about the same weight as mounting board, but with a smooth clay surface. The technique involves inking this clay surface and then working into it with a scraperboard tool - scratching away the black ink with a blade, in order that a white underlayer shows through. The blades are available in various shapes. Scraperboard usually comes ready-coated with a black surface, but I prefer to use white board and apply the ink myself. This means that I can paint in the general framework of the illustration and there will be less ink to scrape away.

I get quite nervous before beginning a piece of scraperboard work. It's pretty unforgiving, in that once you've scratched a line into the surface some of the clay has been removed and can't then be replaced. This means that if you make a mistake there's not much you can do about it. It's similar to wood cut, or lino-cut, in this respect. Hours of painstaking work can easily be ruined by a slip of concentration. Sometimes you might get away with repainting the surface and trying to scratch through it again, but really once it's gone it's gone.

A far more effective 'cheat' is Photoshop. I still like to produce artwork by hand, but I then usually scan it into Photoshop. Here I can rectify minor mistakes, adjust the composition, put in extra bits, or take 'em away again...and of course add colour. It's a great facility. I feel fortunate in having had a proper grounding in traditional drawing and painting techniques - four years at art college in the sixties - but I'm also grateful for the modern technologies.

Sometimes I think that things have gone a little too far the other way. I occasionally lecture in colleges, and find there's such a heavy reliance on computer technology that I wonder if straightforward drawing skills are being lost. During one module that I was teaching, some firemen accidentally cut through the optic cables and all the computers were down. "Right then folks," I said to my students, "get your pencils out." Pencils? They all looked at me like I'd gone nuts. Was I kidding?

The little picture of a squirrel that I'm posting here is actually a reject. I'd originally intended that it would be one of the interior illustrations for The Various, but it didn't make it. My editor felt that the style was a bit too tight and formal compared with the rest of the pictures that I'd done. I still quite like it, and it's nice to be able to give it an airing.

UPDATE: You can see some of Joseph Mendes work HERE.


Edward said...

Hi Steve. My father was one of the finest commercial scraperboard artists in Britain in the 1950's and 60's and then in India in the 70's & 80's. His artworks were used for half tone production in newpapers and magazines, because printing technology at that time was not well developed as it is today. Some of the work he has done is absolutely mind boggling. Unfortunately, he never wrote a book on the topic, and is now too old to do so, or even pass on his expertise to others. It is painstaking work as you would have by now learnt. It was not uncommon for him to sit at his desk for 14 hours a day "scratching for a living" :-) I wish you luck in your quest to master scraperboard, if you have not already done so!

Steve Augarde said...

Hi Edward. What's your father's name? I'm in awe of true scraperboard artists, and feel that I've only scratched the surface (pun intended) of this technique. It would be a lifetime's work to master it - something that I'm sure your father achieved. Are there any examples of his work online?

Edward said...

Hi Steve. My fathers name is Joseph Mendes, but he used to be called "Joe" in the UK. Unfortunately, there are no examples online, as he was "out of the circuit" way back in the early 80's when printing technology improved, making scraperboard reproductions unecessary for advertisements. However, I will see if I can scan a few of his "jobs" from his "specimen file". If he were in better health, I am sure he would have given you some lessons - for free!

Steve Augarde said...

That'd be great, Edward. I'd certainly display them here - assuming that your father wouldn't mind. Scraperboard work desrves a wider audience!

Edward said...

Hi Steve. My father passed away on March 23, 2010. I have pulled out a bunch of his artworks for scanning, and will send them to you once I have them scanned.

Steve Augarde said...

Hi Edward. I'm very sorry to hear about your father.
If you'd like to email images of his work, then I'd be most interested to see them - and perhaps display examples here?