To begin with, this site has not been designed to sell Scrimshaw, but to promote and teach this unusual art / hobby so more people can learn.
I Scrimshaw because I love it. I like to create and collect it but beware; its very addictive. In this site I’ll show you what can be done and even better, how to do it. I’m not particularly artistic but I am prepared to work at something until I get the desired result, and so can you.
Over the years I’ve developed a variety of shortcuts that suit my particular style. Shortcuts are used by some Scrimshaw artists, but most still prefer to use hand tools, so don’t think every Scrimshaw artist out there is doing this.
I first became interested in Scrimshaw back in 1978 while travelling Australia on a motorbike when I pulled into a small town in Western Australia called Albany. While looking around town I came across the old whaling station – the building where whales were dragged up the slip way to flense and render the blubber. It had been turned into a museum. The old shed was full of whaling equipment and on one wall there were display cabinets full of whale’s teeth that had been Scrimshawed and turned into the most beautiful pieces of art. I was stunned, amazed and hooked.
It reminded me of the scene in The Godfather where young Michael Corleone meets his wife to be and is struck by the “Thunder Bolt”. He was a goner, and so was I. I’ve noticed the same effect when people first see my Scrimshaw cabinet, some walk past with just a glance; others are amazed.
As I left the museum I noticed two big cane baskets holding the doors open. Each was full of whales teeth and I bought four or five for about $2 each. I carried these teeth around for years until I finally moved to Cairns. Living here I met a French man named Michael Dufour who was doing Scrimshaw on jewellery and I asked him to create a scrimshaw for me. I was thrilled with the result but then he told me he wasn’t doing anymore and he gave me a book called “The Scrimshaw Connection” by Bob Engnath. It has a “How to Do Scrimshaw” section and I studied it in detail.
I started to practice and my first attempts were truly pitiful. I prefer the stippling (dots) method (its easer but takes longer than lines) but I couldn’t believe how long it took. After practicing for a while I contacted Bob Engnath and he told me about the “2nd Scrimshaw Connection” but by then it was out of print. Eventually I got a copy.Then Bob told me about a professionally made Scrimshaw stippling machine that a good friend of his Randy Philips was making. I bought one immediately and without this machine I would have gone mad many years ago.
I really admire those Scrimshaw artists who stick at it year in year out. I go through periods where I churn out quite a few pieces, then can’t stand to look at it for months. I never sell what I make, just keep it and look at it – the sign of a compulsive collector.
I started on whale tooth ivory because in Australia there was quite an active whaling industry which meant that there were a lot of whale ivory available. Then I discovered mammoth ivory from Siberia or Alaska and since then it has become my favourite Scrimshawing surface.
On this site I will show you:
• Where to buy one of Randy’s Scrimshaw machine.
• Where to buy mammoth ivory or how to find it on the net.
• Shortcuts to save you some time.
• The equipment to use.
• How to hold the ivory.
• How to make bases/ stands and name plates to display your pieces.
• The best books on modern Scrimshaw and even where to find the out of print ones.
I’ve had friends over the years who have been very keen to learn how to Scrimshaw so I started to teach them but sadly no one stuck with it for long. Scrimshaw is not something that happens quickly, it takes hours of concentration and is hard on your hands and eyes. So be warned this is a deep rabbit hole. But the reward is great.
Every time I start a Scrimshaw it seems like it won’t work out and on many occasions I feel like I’ll have to sand it off and start again. But then the picture starts to come together and all of a sudden… its great.
To become a skilled Scrimshaw artist you have to be prepared to put in a lot of time and effort (20 or more hours for a normal sized piece, and much longer for large display pieces). That determination is often more important than any inbuilt skill.