Leaf of the Day: You say Scratch, I say Scrape..Scraperboard Trial and Error.

I will be doing some retro posting for last week and trying to catch up but, as always seems to be the case, as soon as the word “time off” is uttered, along come the band of malevolent cold germs. Just why is that??? You know how it is, you carry on with work feeling perfectly healthy, and then, come the first day off, down you go!
I read this some time ago and it made me laugh. It’s about how to get over a cold.

“Use this time to de-stress by listening to your favourite music, playing a musical instrument, reading and other at-home leisurely activities. Take your mind off things that are currently worrying you and enjoy some time off.

Hmmmm…but it was taking the time off that brought the cold on in the first place … I should just keep working.

Well I have not been completely idle. My decision to go back to scraperboard work (“scratchboard” here in the USA) has meant finding some boards and then getting some practice. That has meant having some debate with various suppliers here about good old Essdee British Scraperboard which I used to use. After many phone calls and emails and some bad temper it seems that Essdee Scraperboard in its excellent professional grade form is no longer available. It is still sold but without this, the old logo on the back and only in one grade.

So what arrives are some thin anonymous looking sheets, which is not very comforting and they are not even wrapped. They tell me it is just as good. I am not entirely sure about that but don’t have any of my old boards here to compare. I see that professional artists are using Ampersand clayboards so that is probably the way to go when these not very good Essdee boards are finished. But, if anyone finds they have any of these old boards lying around, let me know, especially the thick professional grade in white!

If you are interested in the techniques there are quite a few tutorials on the Internet. Many just involve copying photos of animals with every hair faithfully portrayed which is not really what I am interested in, but, in essence it’s all about tone, and getting a balance between black, white and greys. The greys are achieved by working into the black areas and many different techniques and tools can be used to arrive at these tonal areas. I only normally use a couple of tools but made the big mistake of ordering some Scratch Art ones which are terrible.

This panel shows some techniques for shading from a short tutorial about scraperboard here

I have had two attempts at ordering the board, one company sent me black instead of white which I like even less but am using it for practise, and my goodness I need it.. I wasn’t quite sure what to practise on but found these old sketches of grackles from last year which I thought might do.

I am fascinated by the grackles. There is nothing quite the same in the UK, maybe magpies, for their strutting walk and attitude, and maybe jackdaws for their glossy iridescence but they are curious to watch, endlessly marching up and down and throwing their heads back to cackle raucously. I had made these scribbles of the grackles which come and sit on the deck here by the lake. I keep a very small sketch book with me which comes in useful just to jot down ideas and I had thought about the possibility of some designs with the grackles some time ago.
So here are my rusty experiments, a couple of grackles and the moorhen chick from last spring, all based on sketches so not true to life at all!
The moorhen chick seems to be having a bad hair day!

Scraperboard Experiments

Leaf of the Day: Back to my Black and White Roots

Some things you can only see in retrospect, like the pattern your life may have taken, and how early influences both good and bad have shaped your path and direction. While having this short break I have been considering what and why I started drawing and what influenced me..and still does.
Also revisiting my grandfather’s story made me remember my first favourite books. Some of them were his books and although he died long before I was born I would read them at my grandmothers house. Favourites were Kipling’s story of Riki Tiki Tavi, in the Jungle Book and the Just So Stories. There were Joseph Jacob’s Old English Fairy Stories, and Sherlock Holmes and Dickens and M R James Ghost Stories.
What these books all had in common were black and white illustrations and that is how I started drawing, copying some of the engravings and pen and ink drawings from these and old art magazines. I have said before in the blog how much I feel that black and white work is underrated, I love black and white photos, am drawn to black and white design, and I started my art career working in pen and ink.
So if last year was getting back to the basics of observed drawing maybe this year is revisiting some favourite subjects and techniques.

Some years ago I worked in scraper board which I had played about with for as long as I can remember. Its clean, crisp, black and white quality was used extensively in the early part of the 20C for advertising illustration. You would see much product illustration drawn on scraper board, for some reason I mostly remember shoe adverts, and at one time it was a very popular technique for medical and scientific illustration. One of the finest exponents who kept this style alive was Bill Sanderson you can see his wonderful work here

I made a few samples pieces for commercial advertising including this one,

and this was for an advert trying to persuade people to relinquish the messiness of real fires for the the virtues of gas heating.

I went on to work in scraper board as well as pen and ink for quite a few years, returning to it from time to time if the job allowed.
My favourite job was a lovely poetry book called “Chasing the Sun” which showcased poetry from around the world. I had liked the woodcut type feel I could get with scraper board. Here are some examples from the book.

The Village School by Judith Nicholls was lovely to do as it is about the county where I grew up and, yes, we too had slates in our very first school class.

Two poems by Roger McGough.. This first one likens the smelly Durian fruit to a small animal.

and I didn’t know the Aardvark was such a good mimic.

Dancing the Anaconda by Mike Johnson

And one of my favouitres from the Greek section by Simon Pitt

Poetry is really rewarding to illustrate and has got me thinking of some possible projects.

So February is going to be black and white month.. I will be exploring some of my favourite old techniques and artists and I will be continuing with the leaves and botanicals too with maybe a small book in mind.