Scratch-N-See: Vandalize Your Photos in the Name of Art


We love Josh Poehlein’s photography portfolios, “Unstill Lives,” and “Ghosts” because they don’t show us everything.

Wait, what? Sure, photography’s all about revelation. But sometimes the best photographs are of the things you can’t see.

Poehlein takes this one step further by taking one step back. Let us explain: he scratches off the emulsion from his prints in order to add another image, often of what you’d imagine would be in the photo but isn’t. A stream of water from a dry showerhead, birds in an empty nest, a giant boat in the distance of a still lake.

The results are even more awesome if you can draw. Which we can’t. Still, we had fun making our own scratch-n-see works of art. And they turned out pretty great, if a little amateur next to Poehlein’s genius. (That’s our monster on Coit Tower, in case you couldn’t tell by the, ahem, difference in skill.)

Scratch-N-See: Vandalize Your Photos in the Name of Art!

(via Taylor McKnight)

Why Scratching is Cool

It’s the only way to get rid of an itch. And the only way to see what’s beneath all them purdy colors on your photos. No surprise, it’s only white under there, but white goes with everything.

Scratching your photos allows you to add details you thought about but couldn’t capture in the original photo. It’s embellishing by way of vandalizing. It’s also cool because you’re adding a third dimension, something outside the photo that couldn’t, for whatever reason, have been there in the third place. You become a small-time sci-fi director.

What You’ll Need

scratch_ingredients_zoom1.jpgNot much.

  • An X-Acto knife with a thin tip
  • Pencil or pen
  • A printed photo
  • Some drawing skillzz

Step 1: Pick

In picking a photograph, we recommend simple, colorful photos that aren’t afraid of a little embellishment. That empty bench in your favorite park. Your gleaming toilet seat. Your best friend’s too-short haircut. We also recommend picking a photo that can be reprinted in case you screw up, which you will. (It’s hard, people!)

Step 2: Print

You can have your photo printed at your local photo shop, but we’ve found the scratching to work great on photos printed from a photo printer. The paper is generally thicker and can stand a bit more abuse.

Step 3: Sketch

scratch_pencil_thumb.jpgWith a sharp pencil or thin-tipped pen, plan your attack. Sketch straightforwardly, keeping in mind you’ll do it next with a scary-sharp X-Acto knife. (You might also convince your artist friend to sketch something for you.)

Step 4: Scratch!

scratch_step4_zoom1.jpgUsing the tip of your X-Acto knife, with small, feathering motions, and pulling the knife toward you, scratch over the pencil drawing. Straight, perfect lines will challenge the perfectionist in you–they’re tough to get just so. Embrace it! It’s art, baby.

Step 5: Admire

scratch_monster_thumb.jpgStep back, check it out. Your drawing will undoubtedly look better from a distance.

Now What?

  • Send your masterpiece in a clear mailer.
  • Print your photos wallet-sized for custom business cards or mini keepsakes.
  • Scan your scratched photo to style-out your website or blog.

A Higher-Tech Alternative

It’s probably obvious, but there’s always Photoshop (or Illustrator) if you’ve got the technical drawing know-how. Select the tiniest brush you like, draw away. We prefer the 2.0 method because scratching is so satisfying. And because each piece is original. Either way, we love the simplicity of this project and its whimsical results.