Scratching a Scratchboard Itch

The recent closure of The University of the Arts has set me careening down memory lane like a runaway train crashing into memories of my days at The Philadelphia College of Art. The Philadelphia College of Art mutated into the Philadelphia Colleges of Art when it merged with the Philadelphia College of the Performing Arts, and then it became The University of the Arts in 1987 because a university sounded so much more prestigious than a mere college and the tuition could be hiked accordingly. And now the university or UArts has closed its doors. Investigations as to why are underway although it sounds like the culprit is a combination of stupidity, negligence and financial chicanery. It made me wonder what my former teachers thought of the shocking collapse of the school. I did an internet search for the faculty that I figured are still with us

Sadly, the teachers I sought are not active on blogs or social media. If I found anything it was mostly mentions of gallery exhibitions here and there featuring photos of familiar looking people puttering around studios. Generally, most all of the work I have found was abstract which isn’t my taste, but I did find one work that came as a startling surprise. Former PCA teacher Ruth Lozner wrote a book, and it was about illustration! Actual, commercial art illustration!

For those of our readers who have wisely never set foot into an art classroom, here is the Wikipedia description:

Scratchboard or scraperboard or scratch art is a form of direct engraving where the artist scratches off dark ink to reveal a white or colored layer beneath. The technique uses sharp knives and tools for engraving into the scratchboard, which is usually cardboard covered in a thin layer of white China clay coated with black India ink. Scratchboard can yield highly detailed, precise and evenly textured artwork. Works can be left black and white, or colored.

Scratchboard for Illustration was published by Watson-Guptill Publications in 1990 and I was struck by the cover. Was this Ruth Lozner’s work? I think I may have had her as an illustration teacher in my junior year, and while I don’t recall a lot of specifics as to the assignments, I remembered that the class was somewhat of a slog. Admittedly, I was not the greatest student. I always wondered when the class work was going to get interesting or when we would get a project we could really sink our teeth into. Essentially I was looking for something like the cover of this book. Where was this artist? This piece was done in scratchboard? Amazing! Why was Ruth holding back?

Curiosity got the better of me so I ordered the book from a thrift seller on eBay. It cost less than $5.00 including the shipping. It was a bargain I couldn’t resist especially if the rest of the book was as good as the cover. What wisdom was Ruth going to impart in her writing that she didn’t in her classroom? I wondered if the local art supply store still sold scratchboard.

Then the book arrived…

…and so did the truth.

That fantastic cartoon cat was not Ruth Lozner’s work — it was Bill Mayer who I am not familiar with, but is that guy good with a scratchboard!

Ruth provided the back cover. Yes, this was the teacher I remembered.

I flipped through the rest of the book, and it does look pretty good featuring lots of examples of scratchboard art some of which are by the author. I will have to read it from cover to cover and I will review it here some time down the road. There does look to be a pretty good technique section, and it’s always nice to see something that is not digital. It’s also about a now obscure technique that is worth preserving.

This entry was posted in Illustration, News, Philadelphia, Pixels Versus Pigment, Technique and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Scratching a Scratchboard Itch

  1. Old NFO says:

    That is an interesting technique, and I’m surprised it has ‘survived’ the latest evolution of ‘art’…

  2. Joe says:

    It was a bigger deal during the analog days. Scratchboard was camera ready in that it’s either 100% black or white. It was the skill of the artist that made it seem as if it was tonal. Not necessary anymore

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.