Drawing, Thoughts

Adventures with Scratch Board

(A long blog post in which I behave like a grade one idiot)

When I was little, my Grandma used to say I would grow up to be a nutty professor. This was because while I displayed gifts and talents in many things, common sense was not one of them. Time has not altered this one bit.

I’ve spent most of the last week working on a gig poster, commissioned by the B-Bar in Plymouth who are soon to host one of my favourite musicians, Alasdair Roberts. Needless to say designing the poster was an honour and a lot of fun. I’ve been sharing sneak peeks of the work-in-progress all week, and now it’s done! But not without heartache…

Alasdair Roberts at B Bar Plymouth

In my last blog post I promised to be honest, so it seems fitting to begin with a confession of complete idiocy, or perhaps if I’m being less harsh, learning from one’s blundering mistakes.

Scratch board is a relatively new medium to me. I started experimenting with it when working on The Crystal Mirror in 2013. It proved not to be the right approach for those stories, but I liked it nonetheless and intended to revisit it. When I sketched out the design for this poster it seemed like scratch board would be a good fit. I didn’t have any large pieces of white scratch board handy, and working to something of a deadline I figured that the large silver piece I had lying around would do. Ha!

A little bit about the process: I sketched the initial design on paper in pencil, and then outlined the main shapes with a Sharpie so the image would bleed through to the other side. Turning the paper over, I was able to trace the lines on the back in a soft pencil, creating a mirror-image. I then laid this flat on the scratch board, and scribbled over the right side to transfer the outline to the scratch board surface. Doing it like this creates a much fainter mark that is easier to erase than drawing onto the scratch board surface directly.

Alasdair Poster Process 1

Alasdair Poster Process 2

I then scratched away merrily for several days.

Alasdair Poster Process 3

I finished the piece in a flurry of pride and excitement on Monday, stuffed it straight into my scanner, and got this:

Alasdair Poster Process 4


At no point had it occurred to me that I might want to test the silver scratch board, the medium I’d never worked with before, perhaps see how my scanner captures it before committing hours to a piece of work that needs reproducing. At not point did it occur to me that iridescent metallic shininess might perhaps cause something of an issue. I threw all my photoshop skills at it, getting progressively grumpier, but to no avail. There was no way I could get a poster-quality print from that scan. so I tried a different tack: photography! There was much standing on tables, angling of lamps (and swearing, I’ll admit there was swearing). How do you capture a flat image of an iridescenty silvery shining thing?

You ask a professional.

The day was saved by the kind chaps at Spectrum Photo Labs, who had the tools and knowhow to take this fantastic photograph. All was not lost, and I have to say I’m rather proud of the completed piece. Next time I work on metallic scratch board I won’t have to factor in time for cursing, standing on tables and wrestling with lamps, just a little extra cost because I know I can’t scan it myself. And perhaps next time I use a new medium I’ll conduct a few test pieces first…

Alasdair Roberts at B Bar Plymouth

7 thoughts on “Adventures with Scratch Board”

  1. Ha! Great story. And the finished piece looks lovely. We all do these silly things. I once carved an entire lino forgetting to reverse the words even though I KNOW to reverse the words – just forgot on that day…Oh man did I feel stupid.

  2. So glad to have you back. You have been missed greatly. Enjoyed the long posting. Tea in hand. Your honesty is real and welcome. A huge fan of your work and written gems on life. Keep these insights coming. They are wonderful inspiration of a cover coming life handing crap and winning. Your timing here has made my day smile. Inspite of crap. Denise

  3. Wow, that piece is gorgeous! And I’m glad you found a way to work out the photograph. Making and reproducing art can definitely be a frustrating process at times. I’m off to write a new blog post – you’ve inspired me with yours!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s