Here are many questions that I get asked frequently. If you have any questions that aren't answered, please contact me.
- What is Scrimshaw?
Scrimshaw is said to be the only true American Art form. The New England whalers would etch designs such as ships, maps, and whale scenes on the smoothly sanded surface of whale's teeth and whale bone. After scratching the scene onto the whale ivory, the sailor would rub lamp black or squid ink into the incised lines. The heyday of the Yankee whalers was also the heyday of scrimshaw.
Since then, artists and amateurs alike etch into many forms of ivory. Using a full array of inks, oils and acrylic paint, their work can be colorful, sometimes whimsical, and sometimes photographically realistic.
- What Material is used in Your Scrimshaw?
Though I use a variety of materials, ivory is my preferred 'canvas' to work on. Ivory has intrinsic value in its naturally beautiful qualities, and yields the finest detail. It etches cleanly, from preserving the boldest line of a ship's mast to the finest lines and dots of an individual feather. Natural materials are African elephant ivory (legal pre-ban C.I.T.E.S. 1972), mammoth or mastodon (extinct pre-historic elephant), fossilized walrus (see interesting information on this on "Birth of a Nation"), hippo and warthog. (These are legal to import/export. Hippo's are the #1 killer of people in Africa.) Other materials include tagua nut, (often called vegetable ivory), bone, horn, antler, and a variety of man-made imitation materials. Occasionally I will scrim antler and some imitation ivories. I do not use tagua, bone, micarta or Corian because I find it difficult to achieve the fineness of detail that I require with these materials.
- How Long Does it Take to Make a Piece of Scrimshaw?
Because of the variety of work available, the time frame can vary quite a bit. Each surface has to be sanded by hand and carefully polished before etching can begin. Once a design or subject is chosen, I do research to present the most accurate depiction of the scene or animal. For instance, I enjoy portraying each animal in a unique drawing, often one that illustrates its natural behavior or characteristics. I look for additional things to use in the background that better pictures its habitat. Each scene must then be drawn out on paper before I begin to transfer it to the ivory piece. I etch the preliminary lines, then ink and wax the piece; continually adding more detail with layers of etching, ink and wax. With each added detail the scene comes more to life.
The technique itself of scrimshaw is fairly straightforward, but I believe that the time I invest in the quality of the artwork is what gives my work such appeal. I also enjoy working with my customers to bring their own ideas and design to life in a unique manner that perfectly complements the purpose and shape of the piece. When you contact me with an order I will always give you an estimated time frame.
- How Do I Care for My Scrimshaw Pieces?
Care does need to be taken with each piece of scrimshaw. The scrimshaw art work is all done by hand with finely etched lines and dots. The color is applied to the inscribed area, and each color is sealed with layers of wax. You should take care not to allow anything to mar the finished surface, or rub against the surface causing wear on the etched artwork. Do not wear any scrimshaw into the shower or swimming as even the water can change and damage the ivory and ink. Heat is the number one source of damage to ivory. Sunlight and heat can cause both cracking of the ivory and fading of the inks. Do not leave your piece of scrimshaw in direct sunlight or allow it to be in severely changing temperatures. Though the inks are "permanent and color-fast", ultraviolet light can cause color changes.
Do not clean the item with any liquid. To keep the surface protected, you may apply wax, (such as Renaissance brand) a couple of times each year. If you have a jewelry piece, keep lotions or sprays from it, and always store it carefully to protect the surface.
- How Long Will Scrimshaw Last?
Many beautiful pieces of scrimshaw by the early whalers are still around. If you care for your item properly, you can expect a lifetime of enjoyment and have a precious heirloom to pass on to future generations.
- What is a Reproduction Piece of Scrimshaw?
The majority of my work is one-of-a-kind, hand crafted from start to finish. But because of so many requests for immediately available, affordable pieces, I began producing a few select designs in a line called Scrimshaw Images. I scrim an original design in ivory, and then have a very precise mold made from the piece. Copies are then poured from a high quality environmentally-friendly ivory colored resin. I hand finish each piece, adding detailing, and inks. They are available in black or sepia tones, and color. These are really nice pieces, still individually finished, and without the "machine-stamped" look of bargain store imitations.
- Can I Learn to Do Scrimshaw?
Yes! I have a Beginning Scrimshaw DVD available to teach you how to do scrimshaw. This 3 ½ hour DVD teaches you how to do scrimshaw in black and white. You will learn which materials to use, how to sharpen tools, transfer patterns, and work in both line and stipple etching. I expect to have a new DVD on Scrimshaw with Color available soon. I also teach hands-on courses at various venues around the country. Check my Events page Calendar to see what is available. If your organization is interested in having me teach a Scrimshaw course, please contact me directly.