Part 1, Stages 2&3, Project 4, Exercise 2 – Scratching

27 September 2016


Project 4, Exercise 2 – Scratching

I started by assembling a selection of “tools” which I thought might be useful for texturing a surface (see below)

I thought not just about scratching into paper, but also what implements might be useful for distressing softer materials, such a plaster, moulding clay and paint as well as harder materials like wood and rigid plastic.

For inspiration, I looked for artists who used scratching in their work. I came across an interesting example in that of Clyde Olliver, and artist from Cumbria who uses slate and stitch to create sculptures. In the book “Experimental Textiles” (Thittichai, 2009: 104) there is a photograph of a piece entitled “Study”, in which Olliver has scratched slate, applied surface pigmentation and drilled and stitched the surface. The scratching is an integral element of this piece and exploits the natural properties of the material to accept surface marks. The application of pigment is a valuable way of increasing the prominence of the marks.

At this point another artist came to mind. Jacob Dahlstrup is a Danish artist who uses a traditional tattoo machine to draw lines in paper using the tip of a non-inked tattoo needle (Sandu Cultural Media, 2014: 100-103). At first, I was not sure whether his work should be classed as puncturing, but reading the description it appears that he disrupts only the upper layer of the paper fibres and does not penetrate the surface, so it could be classed at scratching. Dahlstrup’s website contains a series of examples of this technique from the exhibition “On a Sailor’s Grave” (2011) (Dahlstrup, 2011)


SAMPLE 1: 220gsm cartridge paper (dry)

The photo below shows the range of marks which I made on the paper. I realise that it is difficult to see the marks properly on this photo, but if enlarged, it should be possible to read which tools were used.

I wasn’t able to use all of the tools on this sample, because some would have either cut right through the paper, and some would have made no marks at all. The most interesting marks were produced with the screw driver (see below), which produced parallel rippled disruptions in the surface. Very similar marks were produced by the serrated knife and scissor blade.

The photo below shows some of the other interesting marks. When I dragged the leather marking wheel across the paper, it produced uneven “rucks”. The metal bottle top was sharp and produced circle-shaped depressions which did not penetrate the paper. The skewer produced blunt indentations.

I also really liked the effect made by the pruning saw (see below)

It was one of the most textured marks, and I like the way that it included both scratching and tearing of the paper surface. Because the marks are quite deep, even though the photography is in natural light, you can see that there are shadows formed as a result of the indentations.

The course notes suggest thinking about the physical action and directional differences. I found however, that each implement tended to suggest a way of mark-making e.g. the round bottle top would probably have torn the paper had I tried to pull it across the surface in a linear motion rather than twisting it around. So I let the implement dictate the physical action, whilst being sensitive to the fragility of the paper.

I also considered how these marks might respond to say a wash of ink, or a rubbing with wax crayon (an experiment for another time, maybe, or I won’t finish the sampling!) 

Because the process of scratching had made the paper thinner in places, I thought about holding it up to a bright window and photographing it with the light behind.

The photograph above is the area scratched with the pruning saw. Despite appearing to be punctured, it is not, and the light areas are just very thin areas of paper. It is an interesting uneven surface.

Similarly, these areas scratched by the pin (photo below left), grout tool, leather marking wheel and serrated knife did not penetrate the paper.


My general feeling about these marks is that they rather rather subtle and not dramatic enough to excite me. The only image which really inspires me, is the pin scratching held against the window. This is a greatly enlarged image which helps to make it seem more dramatic.


SAMPLE 2: 220gsm cartridge paper (wet)

I was interested to compare how the same paper would respond to scratching if it have been soaked in water for 10 minutes. This make the surface softer, but also make the paper more fragile. It meant that I was able to include some new scratching simple laments (the washing up British and plastic comb, for example, which didn’t produce a mark on the dry paper). My the same token, however, I had to make marks with potentially destructive implements (such as the pin) more gently.

The photograph below is of the whole sheet of paper, showing a range of marks:

The most obvious observation is that despite extra care, it was not possible to avoid lacerating the paper with some implements. Of those which did not penetrate the paper surface, the marks were generally better defined. I was also able to make some very subtle marks with a washing up brush and plastic comb.

Holding the paper sheet against the window, there are some similar observations to sample 1 with regards to thinnest and thickness of paper and the passage of light through the sample.

The photo below left shows the effect of scratching with the pin, which is however very different to the effect on the dry paper. Below right show scratches with a screwdriver.

Finally below shows the scratches from a stick (left) and leather marking wheel (right). Again, neither implement has penetrated the paper.

My feelings are generally similar to sample 1. A bit underwhelming.


SAMPLE 3: Corrugated card

I felt that the corrugated card would make an interesting material to scratch because of it’s thickness, robustness and internal construction. The photo below shows the range of marks which I made:

It was possible to be a lot more brutal without puncturing the card (which I enjoyed). Consequently, the marks are more dramatic and exciting. However, a subtle yet interesting series of indents was produced by the serrated knife (top right hand corner).

I particularly like the effect achieved with the blunt end of my pencil (an implement which I had not used before). It had the effect of pushing the cardboard to the end of the scratch (see below). I guess this is similar to the less dramatic effect of the serrated knife, scissor blade and screw driver in sample 1. A close-up is shown below left. Unlike the screw driver, and scissor blade, it caused much less tearing.

Below right are the marks made by he pruning saw. The tearing (although it does not penetrate right through the card) speaks of violence and the pain is almost palpable. The way the marks are dissipated over the surface makes me think of scarring after a chemical attack.

I decided to sketch the blunt pencil scratches, as there were some interesting creases produced in the top layer of paper. I used a gel pen, which makes capturing tonal subtleties a challenge. However, it has the advantage of ensuring that the sketch can’t photo-realistic, encouraging a degree of abstraction and interpretation. Whilst making this sketch I noticed, in particular, the soft raged edges in the middle and along the sides of each depression, where the cardboard had torn. These contrasted with the very hard shadows of the forced concertinas.

The final mark I have chosen to focus on is the screw driver. I made an effort to make separate areas of vertical and horizontal linear scratching as well as circular.

On the horizontal scratch marks, the top layer of the card is depressed, revealing the undulations of the corrugated section below. The vertical scratch marks just result in tearing the surface layer. The circular scratch was difficult to execute because at times the screw driver penetrated the top layer of card, other times in skimmed across the surface, depending on whether there was a ridge or trough underneath. I don’t feel particularly excited by any of the screw driver marks and there was no special effect to be obtained by holding the sample up against a window.


SAMPLE 4: Leather

I chose a fairly supple off-cut of leather which did not have a lot of existing surface markings, and which was light in colour. However I didn’t have much success trying to scratch it. There was a tendency for the leather to ‘self anneal’, and for any surface scratches close up. 

I couldn’t get any scratches from the leather marking wheel – just small holes. I had to use the sharp (not flat) edge of the screw driver t make any surface impression and I had to be very heavy handed with the pin and the pruning saw. The metal bottle lid made quite interesting circular marks but they were again very subtle. I didn’t enjoy scratching the leather. It felt too much like skin on a live creature so provoked a negative emotional response. I also really love the natural surface qualities of leather, so scratching it felt as if I was damaging a beautiful surface. 

SAMPLE 5: Plexiglass plate

There is a rich history of cutting into and scratching plates in printmaking. Drypoint, for example uses different implements to make marks which are printed from. Etching relies on the chemical removal of material, but the principal is the same; to make a mark in the surface of a material to create an impression which can be printed from.

It was at this point that I considered the use of abrasives as a way of scratching a surface. I used fine steel wool and 100grit sandpaper in addition to the other implements I had assembled for previous samples. I was not able to make a mark in the plexiglass using the metal bottle lid.

This was one of the most difficult samples I have ever photographed. The marks are obvious when viewed with a human eye but through a camera lens, all that is picked up are reflections. The photo below was the best I could achieve. Against a background of black card and adjacent to a window (my hands and foot is still clearly visible!)

What is interesting is how different the scratches are with the same implements on plexiglass compared with paper. I was able to make two very different scratches with the scissor blades, for example, using the sharp edge and the flat of the blade. These were deep definite marks. The screw driver gave parallel scratch marks, which I had not seen on any other material.

I found the abrasives interesting. The steel wool had the effect of a fog or shadow, whereas the individual scratches of the sandpaper grains were visible. Linear scratching compared with circular rubbing gave very different results too.

Despite interest in these marks I can’t think how I would immediately use hem in a textile piece other than to print from them. I suspect that the sheet would give some fantastic textures with as an intaglio printing plate.

I thought that sketching these marks would be a challenge, but I am surprised how well my drawing turned out (see below):

Using just a white pencil on black paper, I was able to accurately recreate most of the marks by varying the sharpness of the pencil and the pressure that I applied. The only analogy which I am not content with is top left (fine steel wool), which is not sufficiently fine on my sketch – I just couldn’t make a line which was narrow enough to properly represent these scratch marks.


SAMPLE 6: Balsa wood

I purchased some sheets of 0.8mm balsa wood sheet especially for this module. I knew that balsa wood was soft, but I was surprised at just how pliable the sheets were. I got a range of really interesting marks:

‘Scratchy’ gouges were made with the wooden skewer, and wide parallel indentations with the serrated knife. The metal lid give fine precise circles.

I managed to get marks with the plastic fork and the edge of a credit card. The pin seemed to ‘pluck’ at the surface rather than gouge furrows (as the credit card and fork had done). 

The pruning saw gave continuous scratches rather than the ‘bitty’ marks it made in other surfaces (for example samples 1 and 3). Once again, I had the urge to define these marks by rubbing printing ink into them. I wonder if the wood grain would also make an impression when printed?

SAMPLE 7: DIY Filler

I mixed up some basic DIY power filler using water and spread it out on a sheet of cling-film to dry. Once dry, I scratched into the surface (which was soft and quite powdery). The photo below shows the finished sample. 

From left to right the implements used were: a pin, flat screwdriver, opened out paper clip and pruning saw. Unfortunately, the sample was very fragile and broke into several pieces when I lifted it. This meant I couldn’t experiment further with lighting and photography. In hindsight, plaster of Paris would have been more robust.

I like the idea of being able to take rubbings from a sample, which again was not possible because of it’s fragility. I also think that a similar sample made out of plaster of Paris would have the added potential for making holes through it during casting, which could be stitched in a similar way to Clyde Olliver’s work (Thittichai, 2009: 104).


SAMPLE 8: Acrylic paint

Scratching is a well known and established method of mark making used by painters to add texture and interest into their work (including watercolour, acrylic and oils). I wondered if I could push the boundaries by using some innovative mark-making implements as well as some of the more established ones.

Below is a photo of my sample. I chose a dark paint with on white paper to show up the scratches. I made all the marks whilst the paint was wet.

There are subtleties in the marks that are not obtained when scratching into a firmer, less malleable substance. The scratches are not as harsh because the material has been easily pushed aside with little resistance. The marks are more fluid,like a scribble rather than a gouge.

SAMPLE 9: Laurel leaf

I thought it would be interesting to scratch into a natural material, so I chose the laurel Leaf which is waxy, reasonably large and robust. Below is a photo of the scratched halves of leaf, next to the implements used to make the marks:

The marks were very disappointing, the skewer and leather marking wheel appearing insignificant, whereas the screwdriver punctured the leaf. The most interesting marks were made by the plastic fork, although even when held up against a lit window, there were rather underwhelming (see below)


Dahlstrup, J. (2011) On a Sailor’s Grave, Solo exhibition at Hans Alf Gallery, Coppenhagen 23.05-30.06.11 At: (Accessed 28 September 2016)

Sandu Cultural Media (2014) Paper works. Berkeley. Ginkgo Press. 

Thittichai, K. (2009) Experimental textiles (a Journey through design, interpretation and inspiration). London. Batsford. 


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