Thursday, August 23, 2012


This entry is dedicated to my sister, who I know has always found unbounded delight in my ridiculous hobby.

Yes, it's true, I am someone who absolutely loves the art of scrimshaw. What is scrimshaw, you ask? Imagine this: you are a whaler from the 1800's. You spend months upon months aboard a ship, sailing into the deep oceanic waters, alone with your bearded, dirty, all-male crew, waiting to catch a glimpse of your ever-elusive and massive prey. And yet one of these days you finally see it, and you give it a hearty chase. Harpoons fly through the air and the water is thick with blood and lard. Your victim is caught, a floating massivore in the middle of the ocean. You join your crew as you hack apart this once-peaceful sea creature, knowing that its meat and fat will catch a handsome price at the nearest port. As you settle in for the night, you smile to yourself at the day's catch and look forward to seeing your wife, whom you left eight months before, still round with your unborn son.

But what do they do with all of those whale bones? You ask.

Well well, dear reader! Now that is a great question.

Having a lot of time on their hands and not wanting to necessarily waste parts of their precious catch, many whalers took up the art of scrimshaw, or the art generally described as, "elaborate engravings in the form of pictures and lettering on the surface of bone or tooth, with the engraving highlighted using a pigment."

What does that mean exactly? It means I enjoy art on the weirder side of things and when I have time on my hands this is what I do. (Yes, I understand that every time you imagine me doing something now it will never be quite the same).

Anyway, yesterday was the first time I was able to find the time and motivation to do scrimshaw in Finland. I was stoked.

I pulled out my tools and went to work:

Currently at the moment I'm a bit limited on materials, since it's whatever I shipped from the States with me (I've not been able to successfully visit an art store to save my life here...they all seem to be closed on Sundays...which is when I typically find the time to go shopping for anything), so I'm working with what I've got. Which is: my etching tool, waterproof black India ink, Q-tips, one mechanic's paper towel, and several pieces of material that I am willing to scrimshaw on (in this case various mah jong tiles made of bone, a plain shell pendant, and a necklace I'm interested in experimenting on). There is also a very small square of fine grain sandpaper, in case I make mistakes...but in general I'm not a fan of using it.

My first forays into scrimshaw started a little over a year ago, when I was introduced to the art at the Festival of Sails with my girlfriend Christine/Sue. I bought a starter kit and have since never looked back. Unfortunately my first project was tried on a glass pendant, which I couldn't successfully etch, so it turned into a pen and ink drawing instead:

Still cool, but not scrimshaw.

Anyway, my current projects have been more successful. Definitely more authentic. I am starting to feel the blood of the whaler calling within me...

(ignore the meanings, they're going to be gifts for friends):

I'm super excited for future projects. My technique is improving and I can't wait to get my hands on some larger materials so I can do more detailed drawings. These in reality are about an inch long (if that gives you any perspective).

Since I'm here in Finland I think my real mission should include befriending some hunters...I've heard antlers make a fine material for scrimshaw. :) I think my teammate hunts so maybe I could ask him for some...

But I digress. Just wanted to share some stuff that I'm doing, since I find it so exciting.



(And just for the record, the finished products:)

1 comment:

  1. Never knew this about you! Your final products are very pretty, mucho talent :)