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Scrimshaw - Authentic American Art Form - Basics and How-To - LIZ PURCELL

Scrimshaw – Authentic American Art Form – Basics and How-To

Scrimshaw is a process for creating artworks be incising on a polished surface- traditionally it is ivory that is used- and putting pigment into the resulting incisions. The process is similar in technique to engraving a plate for making art prints. Of course ivory is now rare and only verifiably antique ivory, which is costly, can be bought and sold. For the person interested in exploring the medium, this shouldn’t be offputting as most plastics will accept the technique adequately.

You’ll need a few basic inexpensive tool to begin: A machinist’s scribe, an engraver’s scribe or just a piece of steel sharpened to a point and affixed to a handle. Sailmakers’ needles are authentic to the medium’s Yankee whaling roots. For making longer lines I recommend an X-acto knife, specifically a #11 blade in a #2 handle. You’ll also need an all surface pencil to draw your plan for your design onto the polished surface you’ll be working on. These are available at art supply shops, most brands will suffice. Finally, a small bottle of India ink to rub into the scribed incisions to make them visible- whaler’s used soot from their oil lamps. You’ll also need a magnifier of some sort, whether a magnifier on a gooseneck or binocular-type jewelers style you wear on your head That’s it really, all told it will cost almost nothing to try scrimshaw out yourself.

A good first piece to practice on is the back of a white plastic picnic spoon. Draw a simple design you’d like to try on the back surface of the spoon using your all surface pencil. Take your scribe and try to follow the drawing, either by looking at the light reflected from the spoon’s surface or by seeing the white plastic exposed through the pencil marks as you scribe through them. You might also try smearing a drop or two of the India ink on the back with your finger until the surface you will be inscribing has a thin layer of dried ink on it. You can then see your work as a scratchboard artist would, but what you see as white on the black ground will of course be black on white when you wipe away the ink and it only adheres to the burr of the incisions you’ve made. After having at least got the outlines and shapes incised, put another drop of ink on the surface, rub into the incision until dry and then wipe away with a bit of moist paper towel or cloth. What you’ll see is the first step in creating your project. By repeating the above steps, you can add detail, shading, darken the lines and shapes you want etc. to achieve the look you want.

Obviously one can employ more sophisticated techniques such as cross hatching, stippling and even polychrome color to achieve more technical and realistic representational effects but the simple techniques I’ve described above will with practice enable you to explore your’s and the mediums potentials in combination.

I’ve been an artist in this medium for over 35 years, have been displayed in fine galleries around the US and sold a lot of work in that time. Honestly with practice almost any design you can imagine can be realized in this medium. Your imagination is the only limit.

Immobilienmakler Heidelberg

Makler Heidelberg



Source by Kurt Sperry

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