Andrew Perkins Scrimshaw
This is a piece or Galalith (synthetic ivory made by mixing Casein and Formaldehyde). It was sent to me by Andrew Perkins (www.scrimshaw.com) to test how it scrimshaws. This is a picture of Andrew I found on the back page of his book – “Scrimshaw? But I Can’t Draw! How to Scrimshaw Volume 1”.
I love to work on ivory – it’s the ideal medium for scrimshaw. For me, half the appeal of scrimshaw is in the ivory itself; but then I heard about artificial ivory substitutes. I finally decided to get a piece of Galalith and see what it’s like.
The first thing I noticed about the Galalith is that it has very fine scratches on the entire surface. They’re very noticeable while you’re working on it but they don’t seem to stand out or cause any problems. When you rub black oil paint on the surface, the paint leaves a stain that can only be removed with very heavy rubbing. I’ll discuss how it scrimshaws as the project progresses. It seems to cut and stipple the same as ivory except it has a dull feel, like cutting plastic. It sands and polishes quite well, it’s very compact and firm and it doesn’t bend.
I decided to scrimshaw Andrew to see how the Galalith is to work on. It measures 75mm wide x 100mm high.
- I’m using Randy’s stippling machine (see Shortcuts – Stippling Machine)
- A surgeon’s scalpel for straight lines
- Griffin Alkyd fast drying oil paint. I mainly use black, brown and white plus the four primary colours and mix them to get the exact shade I need
- A wooden skewer and fine paint brush for applying and removing paint
- Cotton buds (100’s of them) and a soft cotton cloth for applying or removing paint
I previously thought that using colour was only for expert scrimshaw artists so I stuck to black and white. Then Eva Halat – The author of Contemporary Scrimshaw, encouraged me to try using colour and suggested Alkyd fast drying oil paints.
Step 1: 20/08/2015
I started as usual by attaching the picture of Andrew that is on the back page of his book onto the Galalith and cutting around the outline and some details with the scalpel and stippling machine.
This is the Galalith with the outline cut out and Andrews’s hair and beard scrimshawed. It stipples quite well. The surface is unusual to work on and instead of chipping away like ivory to leave a clean hole, it pushes the surface up and becomes rough like a meteor crater. Once the paint is applied and rubbed in though, it acts similarly to ivory. I’m used to working on a curved surface because that’s how most ivory comes. That means you can only see the light reflected in the spot you’re working with one eye. Because the Galalith is flat though, it’s much easier to see everything.
Step 2: 21/08/2015
I just finished scrimshawing Andrew’s Jacket and I’ve found a problem with the Galalith. If it‘s stippled too hard in one area (which is necessary for filling in large areas) the surface becomes very coarse like 180 emery paper. When this happens, any lint or fluff that it comes in contact with sticks.
As I used cotton buds to apply the paint, they began to stick to the surface and leave behind wisps of cotton. Most came off when blown with compressed air, but as I continue to work on it, the surface will become increasingly contaminated. I’ll experiment with gentle stippling and see if I can avoid roughing the surface up too much.
This is a close up picture of the heavily stippled surface where you can see the lint and fibres sticking.
Step 3: 22/08/2015
The bookcase in the background is now finished. I’ve discovered that backing off the stippling machine so it doesn’t hit as hard prevents the surface from being damaged too badly. Unfortunately this makes the whole process take longer.
I also discovered that once you put a cut or stippling mark on the Galalith it’s almost impossible to remove, so you have to be careful not to make mistakes.
Step 4: 23/08/2015
The complete background and neck are now finished and I’m beginning to get used to using Galalith. Next comes the face, which is the hardest part to get just right especially since this is the first face I’ve done in colour.
Step 5: 1/09/2015
The chin and ears are now scrimshawed. Because I’m using an enlarged photo as a template, the details are blurry.
Step 6: 2/09/2015
Now that I’m onto the face, I’m beginning to see a problem. When I was scrimshawing the background with heavy stippling and solid colours, it worked quite well. Now that I’ve moved on to an area which has light skin colour, I’m not stipple as heavily. For some reason, instead of a smooth flesh colour it ended up very blotchy. It doesn’t look too bad from a couple of metres away, but up close it looks like he has a skin disease. This means that I’ll have to re-stipple the face. Luckily his neck and chin don’t look as bad because they’re smaller areas.
When you apply the oil paint it sticks to the surface and smears instead of wiping off easily. This means that you have to be careful not to leave paint on any un-stippled surfaces. You’ll also have to avoid wiping the paint out of the stippling by accident.
Step 7: 8/09/2015
It’s finally finished. I had to stipple the face again and add some pink which took a while to get right because of the shading and colour variations.
When scrimshawing portraits, if you don’t get it just right, it looks slightly warped or like someone else. Unfortunately, I haven’t had a lot of experience with faces. Sorry Andrew.
If you’re used to using ivory, Galalith is not the same. It has a different feel when being cut or stippled, it is very consistent one cut or stipple will be exactly the same as the next. I did enjoy working on it.
You can use the same tools and techniques on Galalith as you do on ivory, but you’ll have to work a bit lighter.
Overall though, it does scrimshaw very nicely and once you understand how to work on it, you can get some great results. It’s also very cheap – about $15 US for a 75mm x 100mm piece. If you can’t get ivory or don’t want to use it, then Galalith is a very good substitute. The main problem with using a synthetic material is that it has no real value. Because it’s not ivory, collectors won’t pay for it no matter how good the scrimshaw is. If you want to practice and learn scrimshaw Galalith is excellent. If you search for Galalith in Wikipedia, you can see exactly what it’s made from.
If you would like to try Galalith, contact Andrew at www.scrimshaw.com.