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October 25, 2014

My father's prized unique artwork

Scott Stockdale

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Although it's been a couple of generations since Rosemary Sabet's father Rupert Francis Summers produced his scraperboard works of art - a couple of which are in the Royal Academy in London England - the interest in them continues unabated.

In response to enquire from people in different parts of the world, Ms. Sabet – who taught drama at the British International School in Cairo for many years and wrote the book From Trafalgar to Tahrir, has been searching for more of her father's prized work.

Scraperboard or scratchboard refers to both a medium, and an illustrative technique using sharp knives and tools for etching into a thin layer of white China clay that is coated with black Indian ink. The ink is scraped away to reveal the white beneath.

This technique demands a great deal of concentration as shadows and highlights are particularly hard to create. It is very delicate and time consuming, requiring a lot of patience, as well as skill.  Ironically, Ms. Sabet said she thinks this is what intrigued her father about producing scraperboard works.

“He was interested in the detail of it. He loved detail and the challenge. Because it was such a difficult medium he would spend hours hunched over a drawing board trying to create shadows and light,” she said in an interview with The Canadian Charger, from Cairo.

The artistic technique – called hatching – used to create scraperboard artworks involves creating tones and shadows using parallel lines, closely spaced. When one looks at the drawings one can see how difficult it is to do.

“The thickness of the lines is most important. The main concept is the thickness and spacing of the lines. It affects the overall brightness and image,” Ms. Sabet said, adding that: “Once done, it can't be altered.”

In 19th century Britain and France, modern scraperboard – sometimes referred to as scratchboard - evolved out of “hatching,” which originated in the Middle Ages. As printing developed, scraperboard became a popular medium for reproduction, replacing wood, metal and linoleum engraving.

It allowed for fine line appearance that could be photographically reduced for reproduction without losing quality. It was most effective in black and white book and newspaper printing.

From the 1930's until the 1950's, it was one of the preferred techniques for medical, scientific and product illustrations. Very detailed illustrations often combined scraperboard methods with traditional pen and ink techniques to produce highly detailed works of art.

Ms. Sabet said she hadn't thought about her father's work for many years, but she recently discovered that hatching is used in a lot of illustrations.

In recent years, it has become popular as a medium for editorial illustrators of magazines, advertisements, graphic novels and one of a kind pieces of fine art displayed in museums and galleries around the world.

Rupert Francis Summers' prize piece, which was accepted and displayed by the Royal Academy of Art, was an etching of the trunk of a gnarled old oak tree. Ms. Sabet said he also did many architectural works, including some wonderful vistas of Rome.

She said she thinks her father inherited his interest and skill from his father, who as a German engraver. Although scraperboard is a medium of its own, it's closely related to engraving, etching, and wood carving.

“I don't think art can be taught. It's a gift; God’s gift.”

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