The paintings for each of these books are rendered in scratchboard, a very labor intensive process. Scratchboard is a white board covered with black ink. The scratchboard nib―a sharp tool that resembles an arrowhead―is used to craft drawings by etching into the board. The scratchboard technique is percussive. It’s like playing an instrument as it makes a “chah-chah-chhh-ahh” sound while scratching. Luma dyes and gouache paints are then used to color the art. Each scratchboard painting takes up to twenty hours to complete.
Alvin Ailey is our first collaboration. To research Alvin Ailey’s signature choreography, we studied the Katherine Dunham dance technique, the style upon which Alvin Ailey’s choreography is based. Several days each week, we took rigorous dance classes with Ella Thompson Moore, one of the original Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater dancers who helped Alvin form his company in the late 1950s. This research ensured that, in the illustrations, the placement of hands, feet, and torsos is all correct, and the fluidity with which Alvin Ailey danced is properly depicted.
Alvin Ailey. Illustrated by Brian Pinkney. Hyperion Books for Children, 1993.