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THE SCRIMSHANDERS

Scrimshaw on fossil walrus ivory
 on rosewood, ebony, and mammoth ivory mount.
10"H x 3.25"W x 3.25"D

Private Collection

This piece is a tribute to the scrimshanders of old. They had none of the luxuries of a modern day art studio, but today's scrimshaw is still done in a remarkably similar fashion to those works created by our shipboard predecessors. The ivory must first be scraped, sanded and polished smooth. A design is drawn on the surface and then engraved with the tool of choice. The scrimshanders of old relied mostly on their jackknife or a sharpened sail needle. I use a #16 x-acto blade and a sewing needle in a pin vise. Once engraved, a pigment is rubbed into the engraved line. The excess pigment is wiped easily off the surface (because it's been polished) and the lines stand out strongly against the light ivory surface. The primary pigment used by the whalemen was lampblack. I use India ink. Here are two old salts working on some nice big teeth on the deck of a whaler. If you'd like to learn how a piece of scrimshaw is created, follow this link to the Technique page.

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