Perfect for Print

Scraperboard illustration of a group of children eating sweets

William St. John Glenn

The ESB Centre for the Study of Irish Art holds a collection of original scraperboard illustrations by Belfast-born artist, William St. John Glenn. These works were created for an ongoing series in the satirical magazine, Dublin Opinion.

Scraperboards first came into use in the 19th century and were popularised in the 20th century, particularly from the 1930s to 1950s. This is largely due to their suitability for print-based media such as newspapers, magazines and journals. The were ideal for inexpensive mass reproduction and became an alternative to wood or linoleum engravings because of their simplicity and time-efficiency. Unlike their relief print cousins, there is no need for a reverse design and accompanying print, the clay surface is easy to cut, and corrections can be made with the application of additional ink. When complete, scraperboards can be photographically reduced for reproduction.

Aye, Mrs Simpson. She's the talk of Ballyscunnion.

William St. John Glenn created illustrations for the Dublin Opinion between between 1937 and 1969, the prime years for scraperboards in print-media. While Glenn's first cartoon of the series, "Aye, Mrs Simpson. She's the talk of Ballyscunnion", was a watercolour design, the following illustrations were executed as scraperboards. This perhaps suggests that the artist soon realised scraperboards were the more visually effective medium for mass reproduction.

Dublin Opinion

Below are Glenn's designs as they appeared printed in Dublin Opinion. When the watercolour reproduction is compared with a later scraperboard reproduction, it's clear to see why the high-contrast nature of scraperboards is better suited to print-media of the time.

Two illustrations side-by-side by William St. John Glenn as they were reproduced in the Dublin Opinion. A watercolour reproduction on the left depicts two women walking down the road and a scraperboard reproduction on the right depicts a group of children eating sweets.
 Left: "Aye, Mrs Simpson. She's the talk of Ballyscunnion". Right: "I'll be your Sweetheart", Ballyscunnion

 

While digital design methods have surpassed the need for physical materials such as scraperboards, the medium is still used by editorial illustrators and graphic designers today. Scraperboards are used at all levels of artistic practice from the classroom to fine art exhibitions in galleries and museums internationally.