Mark Summers creates incredible scratchboard illustrations that make you want to sit and stare. Introduced to the technique back in 1976 by revered political cartoonist Duncan Macpherson, Summers has been working hard at his craft ever since. With clients that include Time, The Atlantic Monthly, and Rolling Stone, there’s no doubt that you’ve already seen his incredible work on countless magazine covers.
What I can appreciate most about his work is the time and dedication that goes into creating each piece. The multi-step process includes sketching with a felt tip pen, scratching white lines with a knife, and finally painting with watercolor, oil and acrylic. In fact, though modern scratchboard originated in the 19th century, Summers take it to a whole new level not only with his technique but his fantastic imagery.
"Summers takes the illustrator's art back a century by enlisting the wood engraver's craft to the scratchboard medium. He gives it a thoroughly contemporary flavor, however, in the power of his imagery." – Walt Reed, author of “The Illustrator in America, 1860-2000.”
Perhaps the coolest thing about Mark is that he’s open to sharing his technique. Laying out step-by-step instructions, he teaches others how to create their own sketchboard illustrations.
Step 1: A quick sketch
To block out the final composition.
Step 2: The preliminary sketch
I don't always go to this extreme for a rough sketch- only if the piece is fairly complex or if the client needs to see some indication of where the exact light and darks will fall. I'm not sure how I wound up doing sketches in such a Byzantine fashion, but it is a quick way to determine the overall tone.
This is a simple line drawing, done with a felt tip pen. On tracing paper- I then spray mount it onto a light toned paper. The highlights are acrylic paint. Even after this step I will still tend to "fiddle." If I feel a hand is too small, or a figure too large I photocopy it to the proper size and just paste it in.
Step 3: The finished black and white.
Each drawing begins as a black square. After this, using a knife, I scratch white lines into the surface. I try to discourage clients from asking to see "the work in progress," as at any time there will be an entirely finished head here, a hand there, all floating in a sea of black.
I tend to work size-as (this drawing is 12" high- each face being approximately 2" high.) In a drawing such as this, I find it takes a full day to finish each figure. I then have the finished work scanned and printed onto photographic paper.
Step 4: Finished color.
A fast process, as the black and white drawing already defines the modeling. Simple flat tones of color are all that are really needed. I paint details with watercolor and then everything else with oil glazes. Sometimes I go in and smooth things out with airbrush. The final step is to paint in highlights with acrylic.
The coloring of this piece (below) took about three hours.
If you would like to see some of his newest work, check out the upcoming issue of Vanity Fair (August, 2010). He also has a piece in Los Angeles Magazine each month where he’s drawn the casts of Glee and Flight of the Concordes.