Introducing legendary Master Scratchboard artist . . .

Norman Gaddini

Norman Gaddini was a well-known and respected professional artist from Sonoma County, California. Acknowledged as a Sonoma County (California) living treasure, he was vital and active, even at 96 years young, until his passing on June 1, 2007. Besides being a prolific artist whose extraordinary skill and technique was consistently evolving, he grew breathtaking fuchsias, was an active member of several organizations, and worked for hours maintaining his extensive garden every day. For more details about Norman’s life, click here.

If you had a chance to visit his home studio, you would have seen an amazing array of sweepstakes, blue, red, white and pink ribbons lining his walls. From under his European-style beret, he would joke and say he had no more room on his wall so he put his ribbons in a box; but, despite his years, he consistently continued to produce new work, and it was some of his finest.

What is so extraordinary about his art? Norman worked in several media: watercolor, acrylics, pen and ink, and scratchboard. But, it was his “scratching” that brought him the most recognition. It started in 1975 when Norman was the first artist to add full color to black scratchboard. Nowadays, his work graces collections around the world. Here at WORDSWORTH™, we feel very fortunate because Norman illustrated several of our products . . . and became one of our best friends.

Born in January 1911 in Healdsburg, California, Norman developed an interest in art at an early age. He studied cartooning instruction through correspondence and in high school. However, like many of his generation who came of age during the Great Depression, Norman was encouraged to pursue a more practical career. So, when he enrolled in the University of California at Berkeley, he took only business courses.

During a routine physical, a U.C. doctor informed Norman that he had a heart murmur. The young man was devastated as he was told that he would not live past his early forties. Despite what he considered to be a “death sentence”, Norman continued his studies until his father, a farmer, died in a tractor accident. Accompanied by his brother, Weaver, Norman returned home to run the family apricot and almond farm near Winters. The hard work apparently cured his heart, for the murmur disappeared as the years passed by.

Yet, he never forgot his passion. He painted and drew at every opportunity but was not able to pursue his passion for painting until he and his brother sold their farm in 1970 and he “retired”. He and his brother Weaver then moved to western Sonoma County. He then enrolled in art classes at Santa Rosa Junior College and pursued private instruction from several renowned local watercolor artists.

Norman began to develop his own style. However, a major turning point in his life occurred when he attended an art show at a park in downtown Santa Rosa and discovered scratchboard, a medium which was well suited to his love of detail and realism. Norman related:

As an artist, composition and color are of prime importance to me. I prefer realistic work and love details — the more, the better! I think of each new painting as an invention in which the center of interest must be loud and clear. My subject matter is drawn from my travels and my surroundings. Sailing, fishing, gardening, and the varied California landscape are some of the things that inspire me.

I enjoy working in pen and ink, and with acrylics, both in transparent ‘watercolor’ and direct ‘oil’ techniques, but my special interest, of course, is scratchboard. Many artists have worked in this medium but few have mastered it. When I began adding full color to the black scratchboard in 1975, I was, as far as I know, the first artist to do so. Only a few in the world work with the medium of scratchboard, and I am one of a handful who color it.

For years, you could catch Norman scratching and see his work at the oldest art gallery in Sonoma County, the Occidental Fine Art Gallery, which was open most weekends. He always had a piece of scratchboard ready to show anyone who walked into the gallery how to scratch. And, he enjoyed receiving telephone calls and letters from blossoming scratchboard artists and fans. He was glad to answer questions and generous with his advice.

Now, we are honored to have the remaining of his unsold original artwork for sale in our online gallery.
Please note that we do not have all of the artwork posted . . . but we will soon! And there is, for now, a good selection online.

To visit his Online Art Gallery . . . click here.

An Introduction to Scratchboard
by Norman Gaddini

 “Armstrong Grove”
24" x 30" Colored Scratchboard

Scratchboard is a relatively new art process, but its roots go back as far as Cro-Magnon man. Some of humankind’s earliest endeavors involved scratching pictures into rock or bone; more recent developments like etching, wood engraving, and scratchboard are continuations on that theme.

Modern scratchboard was developed in the late 19th century to meet the demand for illustrations for the rapidly proliferating books, newspapers, magazines and advertisements. Wood engraving was widely used to reproduce paintings and photographs for printing, but it was time-consuming and required working in reverse.

Several versions of cardboard coated first with chalk, then with India ink, were developed in England, Austria and Italy. Fine lines could be scraped or scratched through the ink, simulating wood engraving. These new materials eliminated the need to work in reverse, were easy to correct, and allowed artists to work on a larger scale, as the fine linework of scratchboard art could easily be photographically reduced for reproduction.

Scratchboard was widely used for advertising and editorial illustration from the 1920s to 1950s and has seen something of a renaissance in the last two decades. Scratchboard’s graphic impact, subtle shading possibilities, and ease of use make it a very appealing medium.

Materials Needed: One of the great things about scratchboard is the minimal amount of supplies needed. For many years, I used English scratchboard, which consists of a cardboard base covered with a thick layer of white chalk made from crushed eggshells. This white surface may be painted with black and/or colored ink, which is then scratched through to etch your picture. I am currently using a black-coated scratchboard made in Texas. It is called “Claybord”, and it is made of Masonite onto which the chalk is deposited. Both types of scratchboard provide a very thin coating for easier and cleaner scratching.

High quality scratchboard can be finely cross-hatched and will not flake. Less costly boards use thin cardboard, and due to their thinner chalk coating, a scratching tool will often penetrate to the cardboard, resulting in a ragged, rough picture.

Most art stores stock a sharp-pointed scriber for line work and a spoon type for wide, clean and quick removal of the black surface. I prefer a needle type, which I originated. I use a common straight pin, like you might use in sewing, and put it in a holder. Any holder will do. I have found that a common straight pin is better than any tool. You never have to sharpen it, and it works perfectly from the start. When it gets dull, you replace it. And, using straight pins are very reasonable; you can get hundreds for just a few dollars. A straight pin is easier to handle than most tools and it makes finer and more accurate lines and makes curves and circular motions more easily. I use my needle scriber and the spoon-type scriber exclusively.

The Basic Technique:

To Finish: I spray Gloss Krylon Crystal Clear Acrylic Coating over the entire picture. It dries to an excellent gloss in just a few minutes. It also accentuates the colors, deepens the black and reduces the visibility of any ink that might have strayed onto the black. It also gives some protection to the picture surface.


 1998 Sonoma County Harvest Fair poster
created by Norman Gaddini

Norman Gaddini participated in many shows and won numerous awards. His exhibitions include: the Floating Art Show at Pier 3 (San Francisco), Bank of the West (Sebastopol), the Q Gallery (Santa Rosa), Vigil Gallery (Nevada City, Santa Rosa), California Museum of Art (Santa Rosa), Santa Rosa Museum of Art (Santa Rosa), Vision Sonoma traveling exhibit (Sonoma Land Trust’s first juried competition), Negri’s Restaurant (Occidental), Golden Apple Ranch (Occidental), Bentley Gallery (Santa Rosa), and more!

He has lectured to the Art Workshop of Sonoma County, Santa Rosa Art Guild, and other groups.

He has won awards for his work at the following shows and festivals: SWA shows in San Francisco, California State Fair, Sonoma State University invitational show, the Atrium (Santa Rosa), Luther Burbank Rose Festival (Santa Rosa), Sonoma County Harvest Fair (plus being chosen as the poster artist for 1998 and 1999), Bodega Bay Fisherman’s Festival, the Rohnert Park Cultural Arts Annual Art Show, Sebastopol Apple Blossom Festival Art show, Statewide Art Guild shows, Lodi Annual Art Festival, California North Coast Grape Growers Annual Vineyard and Winery Art Show, Redwood Rancher Art Show . . . and much more! In addition, Norman designed the award-winning floriculture exhibits for the Fuchsia Society at the Sonoma County Fair for more than 15 years.

Norman was also chosen to design and paint the 1998 and 1999 posters for the renowned Sonoma County Harvest Fair.

Norman has completed writing a definitive book about Scratchboard Art.
It is available through our website! Click
here for details.

To see what Norman has created for WORDSWORTH™, click here.

To return to our main home page, click here.

To read a short biographical profile about Norman, click here.



© 1999 by Norman Gaddini and Margie Wilson. All Rights Reserved.
Page Updated: January 2018

NOTE . . . if you wish to cite this page, please click here.