Are you curious?

photo of Roger the cat"Curious" original scratchboard with inks © Judy Lavoie 2020I had a 4" x 9" black Scratchbord panel just waiting for the right inspiration, and my photo of a gorgeous young Persian kitty named Roger got me started. I liked his colorful eyes, tuffs of fur, and pink nose. His upward gaze had me pondering what to add that would appear to be attracting his attention - while simultaneously creating a work of art more interesting than merely a cat portrait.

Scratchboards are ideal for creating linear textures and, for reasons I can't explain, a ball of coarse twine came to mind. I rolled up a small amount from a big spool of natural fiber jute and set it in a few places to photograph at different eye levels. I let the twine unwind, which it did with a natural twist, unfurling at the end - all so interesting visually! I loved the fine fibers randomly shooting in every direction. For the background, an old cupboard we keep on our porch for storing pet items would be perfect. I'd make the twine ball look like it was sitting on top and use the aged wood as an unobtrusive backdrop. Each of these elements added unique textures which would challenge my 'scratching' skills.

I decided to position the cat's head off-center and cropped off the right side, giving it a tilt for added interest. The twine ball balanced the layout when positioned left of center. I let the unwinding strand fall just where you might imagine the cat would swipe at it. Voila, my vertical composition was coming together!

Collage of steps to create "Curious" by Judy Lavoie

I transferred my design to the black panel by tracing it through white graphite paper. The white image wipes away easily, so I made fine scratches to indicate the major shapes. Old wood is one of my favorite textures, and I started it with a new tool - an 'eyebrow' tattoo needle, which has a series of 14 sharp fine needles lined up so they all scratch at once. You can see how tiny these needles are in my photo. I bought them online; the needles come arranged in an arch, as the one I used, as well as on a slant, with various numbers of needles lined up. I insert this into a holder much like that which holds an x-acto blade, making it easy to use as a scratching tool. I dragged it lightly on the black india ink surface, drawing in the direction of the grain, leaving irregular black areas, and quickly establishing the wood's foundation. Scratches with a #11 x-acto blade followed, adding more variety to the graining pattern. I also used the x-acto to scratch the fibers of the twine, referring to my reference photo for areas of highlights and shadows.
tattoo eyebrow needles
Tattoo eyebrow needles

I worked on creating Roger last, knowing that I'd be adding color so I could reveal more white areas in his fur than he actually showed. Eyes are always a focal point, so I carefully revealed the lighter values in his, to emphasize the roundness, create highlights, and allow for the added color to bring them to life. For his soft fur, my primary scratching tool was a narrow fiber brush, stroked in the direction of fur growth. You can see a sample board of scratch marks made by various tools on one of my previous scratchboard posts, for "Mouse Trap."

In a few steps shown in my collage I used a black scratchboard ink sold by Ampersand Art, the manufacturer of the Scratchbord panels I love. The "Scratchbord Claybord Inks" set includes 3 primary colors, green, sepia and "black repair". The inks are water soluble but dry as permanently water-resistant, so they don't lift when re-wet. They are transparent and are specially formulated not to leave an ink residue in the black areas of the scratchboard. They go on thinly, so it is easy to scratch through back to white. The black ink perfectly matches the factory-applied black surface of Ampersand Scratchbord, so it can be used as its name indicates, for repair. I had mistakenly scratched the wood texture into some areas of the cat's fur, where I did not want those marks to show. Step 4 shows how I painted on the black ink, undiluted, on the cat's ear, and Step 7 shows it painted black onto one side of his face. I also diluted the black ink to various grey tones and painted over areas of the wood texture to de-emphasize the contrast and to add shadows to the wood shelf, twine ball and cat's face.
Ampersand Scratchbord Black Repair Ink

I custom mixed the colored inks for the cat's beautiful eyes, fur, pink nose, and purplish shades below his mouth. I carried some of the same golden tones into the twine, tying the elements together. These inks dry a bit faster than watercolor paints, so I mix small amounts at a time. I could have added color to the wood, but left in black/white/grey tones it is a good neutral foil to the cat and twine, but more interesting than a simpler background might be.

My final step was to use a Speedball nib, which makes a slightly wider scratch than an x-acto blade, and add whiskers and more white details to the scratched and colored fur. Once I declare a scratchboard finished, I carefully wipe the surface to be sure no residue remains from scratching, then apply a clear archival UV Krylon coating. I do an initial spray with matte and then three or more coats with satin. This finish magically blends the added black ink with the original black surface, hides fingerprints and smudges, and evens out the surface beautifully. Sealed this way, the scratchboard artwork can be framed without glass.

Roger's mom says he's grown much more furry and fluffy, so I think it's time for another visit and more photos!

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