1 (800) 822-1939   USA toll free
+1 (512) 322-0278   outside the US

All Things Ampersand

Claybord used as Scratchboard

Claybord™ can be coated with inks and used like a traditional scratchboard. The advantage to using Claybord as a scratchboard is that you can control the tonal variations unlike using a traditional black scratchboard. Claybord is also more forgiving than paper scratchboards. The surface can be scratched and painted many times without compromising the quality of the surface. Try this exercise and see how easy it is to do.

1. Begin by coating the panel with an even layer of India ink. The inks should be shaken and diluted slightly before applying to allow for even coverage. To achieve a very even coat of ink, an air brush should be used. If an airbrush is unavailable use cotton balls, paper towels, a sponge brush, or a large soft bristle brush to apply the ink.

2. Allow the ink to dry. You will see the ink absorbing into the surface. Your board will be dry in a few minutes.

3. Use a soft graphite pencil to sketch the image on top of the coated board. This sketch should be used as a pattern for cutting. It does not have to be very detailed.

4. Use a scratchboard knife like a pen to cut into the surface and remove the ink leaving crisp white lines. Additional scraping tools and steel wool can be used to render detail and create texture. Not much pressure is needed to remove the ink because it remains on the surface of the clay.

5. If necessary, more ink can be applied to an area to cover-up ‘mistakes’ and to allow you to begin again.

6. When finished, the board can be sprayed with a spray fixative like Krylon® UV Resistant Clear Coating #1309 (Matte) or #1305 (Gloss) and framed without glass!.

Written by Charles Ewing
More work and articles by Charles in upcoming blog posts.

Click here to explore the full selection of Ampersand panels and tools.

Scratchbord Demo with Sally Maxwell

Texas artist, Sally Maxwell, is known for her exquisite scratchboard drawings. Her enthusiasm for the medium led her to develop techniques for using color with scratchboard over twenty years ago. For more information about the artist, please visit www.sallymaxwellsart.com.  Below, I’ve shared an article that Sally wrote explaining her process for coloring Scratchbord.

Scratchbord™ is a smooth clay-coated hardboard panel that is sprayed with a heavy black coat of India Ink. Scratchbord™ was developed as an alternative to scratchboard paper for professional scratchboard artists. Its rigid structure and the quality of ink on the surface allows me to produce super-sized artwork in magnificent full color. Using several grades of steel wool and a fiber brush, I’m able to achieve the smooth value changes in black and white as shown in the exercise below. Try this exercise and see why I’ve chosen Scratchbord™ as my medium of choice for full color scratchboard work.

I do my preliminary drawing directly on the Scratchbord™ with pastel chalks. It can also be done the old fashioned way by drawing a study on paper and chalking the back to transfer the drawing to the scratchboard.

To start, using the fiber brush, I indicate all the edges, shadows, highlight areas, plus I scratch in directional lines, which give the piece its volume.

Following the directional lines, I sculpt the petals using gentle pressure on the fiber brush. I vary the pressure on each stroke, removing more at the top of the stroke and gradually removing less as I’m moving down the stroke. I blend and eliminate the brush stroke look by using the finest grade oil-free steel wool. When the drawing is completed, I clean off the black ink residue with a soft cloth or the clean dry palm of my hand.

I prefer using colored india (waterproof) inks to add color. In this case, I applied a wash of (50% scarlet/50% water) following the directional lines. To eliminate brush strokes, I apply an additional coat of ink with a dry brush. An airbrush can also be used to apply very even color. Some inks will leave residue on the black edges of the subject matter and can be difficult to cut if not wiped off quickly. For the final touch up, I apply black ink around the edges of the subject matter which will cover any left over residue and over-painting.

Once all my color is in, I remove the highlights where the sunlight is hitting the rose petals. This gives them volume and dimension. In this step I also lighten areas which are going to receive washes of shadow color. For example, a light wash of yellow will make one of the petals appear more transparent.

When I finish the removing process, I apply a wash of a shadow color (ultramarine blue+sepia thinned down to 25% ink/75% water) over the lower petal. I used a very pale yellow (10% ink/90% water) to wash over the bottom of the upper petal creating a luminescent glow. Last, I check the piece for any accidental over painting, and any scuffs in the black ink. Then, I clean the piece once more with a soft cloth and spray on 2-3 coats of spray fixative like Krylon® UV Resistant Clear Coating #1309 (Matte) or #1305 (Gloss). The fixative seals and protects the artwork and allows me to frame without glass!

All things Ampersand,
Karyn Meyer-Berthel
Artist & Social Media Specialist
Ampersand Art Supply

Click here to explore the full selection of Ampersand panels and tools.

Panel Painting Tips: Using Inks

Inks are probably the most versatile of all painting mediums when used with Claybord™. Claybord’s smooth absorbent surface eliminates smudging, bleeding, and feathering. The pigments in most inks are only absorbed into the top layer of the Claybord surface allowing them to be easily erased and manipulated. When finished, seal your artwork with spray fixative like Krylon® UV Resistant Clear Coating #1309 (Matte) or #1305 (Gloss) and frame without glass.

For best results, use an India Ink with a pleasing warm color undertone and a low acrylic content. Higgins water proof drawing ink, Black Magic, and/or Sumi inks are recommended. Or, try our already inked Scratchbord™. To begin, paint, airbrush or wipe on washes applying heavier ink in areas needing more darks. When applied, India or Sumi ink does not dissolve like watercolor. The India Ink will not lift or mix with other media when painting over ink washes or drawings. India inks work especially well on Claybord in mixed media compositions. Try applying oil or acrylic washes over an ink drawing. It is truly amazing how the ink drawing remains intact and is enhanced by the washes of color. 

Oil free steel wool or sand paper can be used to gently remove some of the ink to create soft tonal values. For best results, use a 0000 grade oil free steel wool or 400 grit sand paper. Using steel wool, India Ink and scratch tools, create a wide range of tonal values in your work. Painting and drawing techniques can successfully be combined using this method of adding and subtracting paint. Use our Claybord Tools or Xacto knives to cut into the surface to create fine white lines and sharp contrast where scratchboard effects are needed. Claybord can be coated with inks and used like a traditional scratchboard.

Work by Charles Ewing

In many cases, the same techniques using India Inks on Claybord can be used with colored inks. However, some colored inks contain a high dye content making them difficult to remove using steel wool. Test all colored inks on a small piece of Claybord to determine their staining properties before using them in a composition.

To see a full work in progress by Charles Ewing using ink on Claybord, check out the Unlimited Possibilities for Depth and Detail, where he demonstrates his entire process of creating a portrait with India ink and scratching techniques. 

All things Ampersand, 
Karyn Meyer-Berthel 
Artist & Social Media Specialist 
Ampersand Art Supply 

Click here to explore the full selection of Ampersand panels and tools.

Featured Artist: Jeff Leedy



It is rare to find a fine artist that works in oil pastels.  Rarer still to find one whose subject matter is humorous, drawing in the viewer with laughter and amusing captions rather than conceptual design, strong lines or photo-realism.  It’s not that Jeff Leedy isn’t a gifted draughtsman and designer, but his career has found a niche in bringing the public funny art, in oil pastels, on Aquabord™.

Jeff Leedy began his art career out of college, working for ad agencies as an art director for years before becoming an illustrator.  His path led him to working in freelance illustration for several years before starting to do shows, giving him the ability to be a full-time artist.  During his work as an illustrator, Jeff took a hiatus to Europe, taking along acrylics and oil pastels, enjoying the flexibility the pastel gave him.  This combination of mediums allowed him to draw and paint, work in layers and add acrylic washes to tone the substrate if needed.   It was the perfect fit for his style, and he has stuck with it.   Jeff chose oil pastels because they are the right match for his art, the same way he chose Aquabord years ago.

“Board Meeting”


Aquabord made its way into Jeff’s studio when it kept appearing in his favorite art supply catalogs.  After doing some research and finding out that Ampersand was close to his home in Marble Falls, Texas, he made a visit to the factory in Austin and got to know the company and their products.  He quickly discovered that Aquabord was the perfect texture and finish for his oil pastels.  Aquabord holds many layers of oil pastel and even allows for acrylic washes to tone the surface first. Jeff uses solvent and brushes without concern for overworking the surface. Not to mention, Aquabord provides him a rigid substrate that needs no glass or framing if cradled, even with oil pastel. Jeff uses a spray fixative, Sennelier oil pastel fixative, and then a final gloss varnish, Krylon, to protect his finished images and pop the color. Depending on the size and whether or not he uses a cradled board will determine if the artwork requires glass or not.  When using frames, Jeff purchases wholesale frames made to all sizes for his originals; when using the cradled Aquabord, Jeff paints the sides.

“Me? I’m just up here to help”


Besides working as a humorist, artist, and a gallery owner, Jeff teaches workshops and speaks to both art and non-art groups.  You certainly don’t have to be an artist or know about art to appreciate Jeff’s wit.  And if you are looking for an instructor who brings talent and humor to his classroom, look no further.

“I can still make par”


Jeff strongly believes in the power of good drawing, “Drawing like a Painter” is one of his most popular workshops.  He believes that the medium shouldn’t get in the way of learning to draw, nor should the subject matter.  If the subject matter becomes too difficult, the medium will seem harder to manage as well.  Jeff’s personal specialty in teaching is to help students overcome their “blocks” to creativity.  “My goal is to lift each student up one whole level of ability,” he explains.  He does this with humor, patience and with an understanding of the power of good drawing skills.  Jeff teaches his students by having them work alongside him, giving feedback along the way.  He is scheduled to teach a few workshops in Mendocino, CA this July and more in September in Marble Falls; you can find more details on his own website:  artthatmakesyoulaugh.com/workshops

Tips for Painting on Claybord™

“Lost Marbles” by Lorna Hannett, Claybord Inks on Claybord


Claybord™ is an extremely smooth surface, workable for both additive and subtractive art making.  Its name comes from the absorbent clay ground that is reminiscent of the clay gesso grounds, made with chalk and animal hide glue, used during the Renaissance.  Claybord has an archival finish, suitable for acrylics, casein, gouache, tempera, egg tempera, pen and inks as well as for mixed media techniques, airbrush, and collage.

Since Claybord is so receptive to watermedia, it is recommended for painting when an absorbent ground is needed.  

Some quick tips on painting with Claybord:

“Leaves in a Pool” by Lorna Hannett


  • In order to remove a mark, gentle strokes with Ampersand’s oil-free steel wool may be used.
  • Claybord’s coating is thick enough to use a razor blade or scratch tool to reveal the white clay beneath a layer of painted color to give detail and definition to a painting.
  • When painting in acrylics, if removal of paint is desired, consider painting in thinner films.  Acrylic dries to a more flexible, plastic-like film.
  • First layers of oil paint will dry rapidly to a matte finish, due to the absorbancy of Claybord.  Subsequent layers will dry more slowly and keep their luster.  In order to keep the oils from absorbing into the panel’s coating, consider using Gessobord or following these steps to prepare the Claybord for oil paints.  
  • Claybord is ideal for casein and egg tempera, considering the fragility of these ancient mediums. Both are prone to cracking when dry and need the stability and absorbency that only Claybord can provide.  Apply these paints in thin layers.
  • Softer leads with high pigment content work best on Claybord when using pencil or graphite.  Claybord tolerates repeated erasing without marring the surface and can be sealed and framed without glass.
  • Claybord works well with pen and ink as fine lines do not smudge and the ink dries rapidly; however, take heed to prepare the board by dusting and wiping down in order to prevent clogging of pens.
  • If you are interested in sealing your work in watercolor, ink or scratchbord for glass-free presentation, we recommend using the Krylon® UV Archival line of spray varnishes found on Krylon’s website.

For even more technical information about Claybord, refer to our website:  ampersandart.com/claybord.html

Claybord is now on promotion nationwide at discounts of up to 50% during our Ampersand Winter Sales Event. To find a participating dealer in your area, visit our Winter Sale Promotion page.

Paint On!