I took this photograph in France and it looks great as a colour image, but I thought it would be a cool subject for scraperboard. However, the blossom surrounding the truck is very busy, so it could also present quite a task! So I’d Iike to suggest some helpful tips to simplify a complex colour image for scraperboard.
In this blog we will look at the following:
Step 1: The photograph
First I made a black and white version of the photograph – any image app will allow you to reduce the colour saturation to ‘0’ in settings, edit, tools or similar. A monochrome image instantly simplifies everything into areas of light and dark – useful when working with scraperboard. You could also mess with the contrast settings. Save the colour image as well, because it helps when distinguishing objects which have similar tonal values.
Another thing you can do is squint at the image – blur it with your eyes – this can also simplify a complex image into its main compositional elements.
I don’t want to create a photo-realistic reproduction of the image – if you are wanting to do this you need to read someone else’s blog! My aim is to create an impression which allows the viewer to do some of the work of imagination; after all, even a hyper-realistic picture is not real – it is a 2D version of a 3D object – a point made famously by the Belgian surrealist painter René Magritte:
The painting* says “This is not a pipe”, the point being that it’s not actually a pipe, it’s a painting of a pipe!
Step 2: Starting the image
I like to work roughly and quickly – with scraperboard it’s easy to correct mistakes with a graphic pen.
First, I drew a very rough sketch of the image onto the scraperboard showing the main elements only – no detail – e.g. the truck, the top line of the grass, patches in the grass and the bigger branches.
Then I started scraping the truck, the most important subject. My experience and confidence helps, but you may find it easier to use a grid which divides the image into sections. Draw one on the photograph (either on screen using your image programme, or on a printed version) and then repeat the grid on the board – it only needs to be 4 x 5 squares or whatever proportion works.
Doing it by eye
Personally, I like to use my eye to judge proportions, constantly comparing the sizes of elements e.g. the width of the foreground wheel is roughly the same width as the dark area under the mudguard, and if you mentally draw a line from the left side of the door, it hits a point of light under the mudguard etc.
Step 3: Adding detail
I’m not too concerned about pinpoint accuracy – perhaps with regard to the truck I’m more careful – but certainly I would work more quickly in the area around the truck whilst taking note of certain details, such as a rock by the front wheel or groups of leaves amongst the grass.
For the background I just went mad, scraping a kind of fuzzy mess, but with a degree of control so that the marks were unifrom in size. I then drew branches and leaves over it and scraped out the blossom; I needed to leave some black detail so that the blossom is visible. There is method in this madness – in the original photograph the light is coming through blossom and a web of branches and thin tree trunks – this creates that impression but also allows the viewer to imagine the detail.
Look at the image regularly, squinting to see if the overall appearance makes sense to the eye.
Things to consider
Spend more time on the object/s which are the main subject or focus of your image, refining details whilst retaining strong dark areas. The immediate foreground and background can be less detailed, but remember, although the viewer mentally fills in specifics you have only hinted at, you want them to be able to make sense of it by creating depth, and enough distinction between component parts.
How do you achieve this?
Foreground elements should be more detailed and darker as they would in reality, and background elements should be less detailed and more pale tonally. This can be achieved by having stronger dark areas in the forground, and more scratching to reduce contrast and blackness in the background.
To create an impression of the shape of the truck I scraped fine lines which followed the form of the bonnet or the mudguard. The blossom is pure white – no detail – whereas green leaves have some darkness left in them and occasional highlights. Be selective – leave some things up to the viewer’s imagination. Note the direction of the linear marks in the detail below:
As I mentioned before, we are creating an impression – be your own editor. If you compare my finished image with the original photograph, I have left out certain elements e.g. some background detail. I have also exaggerated contrasts so that the viewer can distinguish elements e.g. the shape of the truck or the shaft of sunlight hitting the grass.
Step 4: Finishing up
As you work on the image, keep looking at it regularly to check it’s progressing as you want it to. Add black back in and redo areas. Change the blade of your scalpel if it is getting harder to work with. Finally, when you think you have finished, leave it and don’t look at it for a while, and then view your work with fresh eyes the next day. You will spot things that you might want to change or which you have left undone.
Another thing you can do is to reverse the image using a mirror – it’s amazing what you notice when looking at your work from a new perspective!
Find your own way of working. I’ve shared what works for me but you may have a different approach to simplifying a complex colour image – please share by commenting! It’s important to develop your own style; mine is different from a lot of scraperboard artists who tend to use a more formal approach in their linework – I was inspired to work this way by seeing William Blake’s wonderful pastoral woodcut prints (see my scraperboard beginner’s blog). For me, the formal approach to engraving can look a tad mechanical, and I like those ‘happy accidents’ you get with a looser style.