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……Home………About My Work……… • About Scrimshaw   

So…What is Scrimshaw?

Scrimshaw is a type of “belino” engraving art form, similar to metal engraving techniques. The surface is painted black with removable acrylic paints and the illustration area is drawn in 'negative' highlighting the shadows.
A sharpened metal scribe is used to engrave into the surface of the ivory, similar to scratch board illustration.
Then the black is removed from the overall surface and thinned black oil paint is carefully touched to the engraved illustration. When paint is properly thinned, the pigments travel the engraved lines and leave un-engraved areas the white ivory surface.
The Inuits and Polynesians traditionally added color to their scrimshaw creations unlike the Atlantic sailors who only had black lamp soot to color their artwork. To add color, areas are “scribed” between the black lines and color is applied with the same technique as the black paint.
The resulting piece is heirloom quality and because of the materials used, will be a treasure; handed down for many generations.

I am an award winning and juried painter, illustrator and a jewelry designer and made my living for years illustrating manuals, catalogs, magazines and childrens' books. Scrimshaw is the perfect medium allowing me to freely carry on those skills and incorporate my original artwork into beautiful jewelry.

I work from photographic reference and from my imagination and enjoy finding unusual antique illustrations and photographs to work from such as antique kimonos, Victorian publications, etc.

Commissions are always welcome. Many of my commission clients send me photos of pets and family to scrimshaw. I create scrimshaw cabochons for basket makers and woodworkers. If you are an artist who would like to incorporate scrimshaw into your own creations, please feel free to contact me. There are not many subject forms that I cannot illustrate.

All scrimshaw designs are accompanied by a certificate authenticating the art form and describes the scrimshaw art form. It also includes important care information so that your scrimshaw creation will maintain it's beauty and be an object that will continue to gain value and be treasured for generations to come. Also included is a certificate authenticating the mammoth ivory if the piece is made of that material.

About my materials…I use only LEGAL materials. For the most part I use re-purposed antique piano keys, fossil materials such as mammoth tusk ivory which is over 10,000 yrs old and walrus tusk that is over 8,000 yrs old, and meerschaum when I can find it. I also have found some amazing alternatives made from recycled plastics which mimic ivory amazingly well right down to the color striations and color variances. Most plastic material doesn't work well, so this material is a rarity. It is sometimes referred to as "American Ivory" and is used by many manufacturers of high end knives and pistol grips.
Meerschaum is a wonderful and interesting medium. It is a unique combination of minerals that float to the surface of the Mediterranean
Sea. Once hardened it can be intricately carved and engraved. I use antique meerschaum riverboat poker chips that I aquired. There is only a small number of these still in existence, so I consider it a "rare" material. The old gambling riverboats used the meerschaum chips because they would not warp like wood and they were thought to be able to float if they somehow ended up in the water. I don't know however if that is true. At any rate, these have a nice creamy "antique" look to them and they engrave very well and I am able to capture tiny little details without the medium chipping out as I go.
I love to "play" with the new "precious metal clays" (or PMC). They lend themselves to creating very unique settings for my scrimshaw, polished stone and fused glass. I attempt to make the setting part of the illustration when setting scrimshaw in the PMC, so they are more sculptural. I don't want to make them look manufactured and like the "ancient" metal look. I want them to look like they came from the jewelry box of a high class lady in Atlantis. I carve the elements in these sculptural setting in hard blue wax and then make a flexible mold of the carvings. The flexible mold material allows me to warp each and every piece a little to make it a "one of a kind" element.

I also enjoy setting my centerpieces in precious metal wire sculpted settings. Working with wire allows for some unusual and interesting settings. I have been working in wire for almost 25 years now.

About my construction methods…My bails are large enough to fit even the largest chains and magnum chains. The embellishments on my bails are my own signature design elements. I make my bail structure longer so that it extends down the back to the bottom of my structures for stability and so that the pendant doesn't "spin" when it is worn like some shorter bail constructions tend to do. This is also one of my own signature design elements. It takes more metal material that way, but offers a much better construction than shorter versions. Also, all of my bails are "closed". Bails that are open and just turned under in the back run the risk of the pendant falling off the chain when the wearer moves in certain directions. To me, that is not an acceptable construction.
My scrimshaw pieces are mounted on black enameled hardwoods or faux bone. I'd love to use re-purposed ebony, but the laws enacted against the use of ebony are so restrictive and confusing, that I don't want to inadvertently break those laws and so choose not to use it. There are no laws restricting the use of re-purposed piano keys thankfully.
I fuse my own glass for the "Cosmic Grapevine Collection" and the Dichroic Earrings shown. I polish my own stones for the most part - every now and then I find polished stones and purchase them from other stone artists. I do not facet stones and so purchase all of those from other artists.
I constantly "play" with my designs in an effort to improve my product and make them as stable and durable as they can possibly be hoping that they will survive as treasures handed down to future generations.


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All designs, all photographs, all material on this site © Denise C. Smith / JewelryArtSmith 2020. No rights or permission granted to reproduce any design, photograph or material
contained on this site for any reason without written permission or contract. All correspondence should be directed to: artsmith@jewelryartsmith.com.