Sgraffito is an Italian word meaning “to scratch”. It comes from the same root as “graffiti” which doesn’t mean that these drawings are doodles! The technique is ancient but the tools used today are definitively modern. Some of you may have seen it referred to as "scratchboard” or “scratch art”.
I use a commercially produced board that is coated in fine, smooth white clay and covered in a uniform layer of black ink. The ink layer is scratched or scraped off using a tiny knife revealing the bright white beneath. The result is highly detailed drawings with a magical chiaroscuro – another Italian word meaning light/dark that refers to the strong contrast between light and dark in an artwork.
The technique is slow and painstaking. There is also an added challenge in that no reference drawing can be made as any pencil marks or erasures mar the black surface and are distracting. The drawing grows out from a single spot and confidence is a must as there is also no going back. Once the black is scratched off, it can’t be put back so no mistakes allowed! Actually – I make plenty of mistakes – the skill comes in disguising them so they don’t wreck the finished piece.
I find Sgraffito particularly wonderful for drawing cows or other animals. Texture and sgraffito go hand in hand.