Creative Tip #29
Having a whale of a time!
In the olden days (back when they wore woolen underwear and all the men had big mustaches), ships set out for months, sometimes even years, hunting for whales. We don't do that anymore, thankfully. But back then, the sailors would have a lot of hanging-around time on the ship, waiting for all the harpooning and mayhem to begin. Many of the rough and rum-soaked sailors used that time to do artsy things - all kinds of things with knots and woven bits, detailed seashell "sailors valentines" and of course scrimshaw. This is engraving onto the surface of smoothed whale teeth (or other ivory pieces). Who knows why it was called "scrimshaw" - not even wikipedia, apparently... but it's a cool word to say - say it out loud a few times (but not in a crowded place, or you might get some funny looks). Scrimshaw!
Anyway, this look is really interesting to mimic with polymer clay. You already know how to play with creating a clay blend that looks like ivory, right? (There are lots of tutorials out there - just google it!) My favorite is to layer white, ecru and translucent clays to get tiny striations of color that really look like ivory. (I've got a more detailed how-to in my "Woodland Creatures" book, if you have that!)
1. Ok, so make some ivory clay, cut it into a roughly whale-tool shape (pretty much a fat teardrop-ish shape). Form the clay with your hands to make it rounded - no smearing or you'll mess up the ivory stripes!
2. To make the whale tooth shape even smoother without smushing the lines, put a piece of plastic over the clay and gently rub it. (I cut up a ziploc bag and use that since the plastic is thicker than plastic wrap.)
3. Poke a hole through what will be the top end so you can wear it as a pendant. I usually slide a piece of thick, uncoated wire through the hole to keep the channel open while I work.
4. Use a sharp craft knife (I prefer a pointed Xacto-style knife) to make thin cuts in the surface of the "tooth" to create the design. It's important to use a sharp knife and not a needle tool or other thicker pointed tool. You want to create the look of engraving, which is thin-lined! The cuts don't need to be very deep.
5. Bake it! You know the drill - preheat oven, use a thermometer inside, bake for about 45 minutes, let it cool. Pull out the wire.
6. Once it's cool, use fine sandpaper to get all the rough edges and clay boogers off the surface. This really helps it look convincing. I use the wet/dry SuperFine sanding sponges - they're great! (I've got them in my online store, if you have trouble finding some.) Use a dry cloth or paper towel to wipe off any clay dust.
7. To make the clay look more like old ivory, use a medium brown acrylic paint (I use raw umber) to paint on the surface and then immediately wipe off with damp sponges. Wring alllll the water out of the sponges before you use them. This will stain the surface of the clay ivory, as well as get into the lines of the image.
8. Once that paint is dry, use a bit of black paint to intensify the design. Just like the sailors would have done. Well, they would have used soot or tobacco juice... but close enough!
9. If you're into polishing, you can give the finished piece a very light polish (don't rub the paints off!), or just use a little satin glaze (I used Sculpey Satin Glaze), rubbed onto the surface with a paper towel or bit of cotton cloth.
Fun, huh? And no whales were harmed.
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