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Angus Henry Chronicles - Sgraffito

Angus Henry Chronicles Part 1 Oils | Part 2 Sgraffito This is the second part of the series, Angus Henry Chronicles, the interview deals...

Angus Henry Chronicles Part 1 Oils | Part 2 Sgraffito

This is the second part of the series, Angus Henry Chronicles, the interview deals with Sgraffito (sometimes scraffito), this excerpt of its meaning is taken from wikipedia.

"Another use of scraffito is seen in its simplified painting technique. One coat of paint is left to dry on a canvas or sheet of paper. Another coat of a different color is painted on top of the first layer. The artist then uses a palette knife or oil stick to scratch out a design, leaving behind an image in the color of the first coat of paint. Sometimes a first coat of paint is not needed and the wet coat scraped back reveals the canvas. This technique is often used in art classes to teach the scraffito technique to novice art students."

Scraperboard is not a term many people would have heard of nowadays. What is it? Is it a technique or is it just the name of the medium ?

Angus Henry: It is just the name of the medium. The technique is sgraffito, which just means scratched work and is very old, from prehistoric times - it is used in pottery and house decoration, for walls.

Image copyright © Angus Henry
"The Cricketer" was an early general
exercise piece to convey some
variety of flesh and materials
Image Copyright © Angus Henry



What was it used for and why were you taught the technique ?

Angus Henry: Until computers came along ,the only way to print a photographic reproduction in a book was to print the photographs separately and bind them into the book, or paste them in.

The only illustrations which could be printed along with the hand composed or machine composed type were those which used the same relief process, like woodcuts and lino-cuts, mounted to the same height as the type font; i.e. no greys were available, only solid black or white.

With early photographic developments it was possible to photograph a black & white line drawing and process that into a relief block. Then process engraving was developed using the half-tone block - a photograph was taken through a fine grid of diagonally crossed lines, resulting in a picture made up of tiny dots - all black and white, but the eye made the illusion of shades of grey.

These half tone screens (still used) are in different degrees of fineness, very coarse ones used for newspapers, as on coarse paper the ink would blot all over fine dots, and fine ones for quality work giving much better definition.

You can see the separate dots if you look closely at the paper. However there is still a 'greyness' about such illustrations, and for a really emphatic result scraperboard was invented, giving the pure black and white effects and using a variety of hatching and dot techniques to give the effect of greys; it was used in commercial art a lot as it was cheap to do and the result made into a relief block with excellent definition.

It was usually white (plaster) on cardboard with a black surface, or sometimes just white and the artist painted on black indian ink as required; errors could be repaired within quite broad limits by painting over mistakes, but there has to be a layer of white plaster left to scrape through to, or the clean effect is gone forever. The scraping was done with a very sharp fine steel point.

Image copyright © Angus Henry

"The Vauxhall" A popular new model at the time, again the scraperboard was used to emphasise the clean, sharp technical lines of the item beyond what a photograph could do, for advertising purpose. 
Image Copyright © Angus Henry


Was it a difficult technique to master?

Angus Henry: Like all older art forms it required practice and manual dexterity - all the fine marks are made by hand without other help. You also had to decide how you were going to deal with tonal gradations, just as with a pen and ink drawing - stipple effects, cross-hatching, lines of varying thickness and distance apart, parallel lines or lines following the contours, etc.

What did you like best/worst about scraperboard?

Angus Henry: I enjoy the crisp, clean finish when it is well done, and appreciate the ability to patch a bit when mistakes are made. It is also a comparatively easy medium to use compared to others like auto-lithography, wood blocks, engraving etc which are very unforgiving of errors.

Worst? If not well done looks very cheap; and like ALL art forms requiring precise manual skills it can be slow and tedious, as opposed to splashing paint on a canvas.

Image copyright © Angus Henry
"Portrait of a Man" this is Maurice Chevalier,
the work is taken from a photograph,
the exercise was to translate a grey, blotty
photo into a crisp, attractive likeness.
Image Copyright © Angus Henry

Once mastered is it more or less time consuming than painting ?

Angus Henry: There is no simple answer - You could do a quick watercolour sketch in 20 minutes, the ceiling of the Sistine chapel took Michelangelo several years; a scraperboard would be somewhere in between!

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