Scrimshaw Etching




Introduction: Scrimshaw Etching

About: I'm a single full time Custom Knife Maker. I am the owner and operator of Dark-Wolfe Knives.

Scrimshaw, engraving, scratch art. Call it what you

like. While it is not actualy engraving, since i don't

use typical engravers tools. Most do not consider it

true scrimshaw, since I do not use whale teeth or ivory

for my work. Anyway, its an art form that takes alot of

practice. I have searched the internet to find similar

art as this, but nothing was found. I originaly started

on ivory from old piano keys and old pieces of bone. But

material like these of quality and quantity are far and

few. so i moved to plastics, cheap and plentiful. It

also helps clean the enviroment by recycling plastics

that end up clogging landfills or litering roadsides. I

actually have found plastic mugs and thermos jugs in

ditches along side a road that was perfectly usable for

decoration. (I wouldn't use them for food or drink, but

sitting on a shelf looking cool is ok).  (please forgive my typing skills, or lack thereof. i type with one finger and with a broken arm, and it hurts to often to truely care about punctuations right now)

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Step 1: Tools of the Trade

 The tools of the trade. I use a shapened pin, a

"marks-a-lot" black marker, rubbing alcohol, a rag, and

white plastic cups from the "dollar store". some tracing

paper will help but not required.

Step 2: Tools Continued

i get white plastic cups, tumblers, glasses (whatever

you want to call them) 4 small or 3 large for a buck.

pretty damn cheap from any view. Other colors will work

but gives a "muddy" or "dirty" look to the image.
the smoother the surface of the cup the better the

results. use cups that are smooth and shiny, do not use

"wrinkle finish, as the ink wont wipe away.

find a picture or drawing that you like and print it to

fit the side of your cup, or trace the design with the

tracing paper. tape the design to the cup using scotch

tape to hold it firmly in place.

take a needle and mount it into an exacto knife handle.

or carfully push it into the end of a piece of wooden

dowel. a metal scribe could also be used.

Step 3: Getting Started

find a picture or drawing that you like and print it to

fit the side of your cup, or trace the design with the

tracing paper. tape the design to the cup using scotch

tape to hold it firmly in place. following the lines of the picture or design, poke

gently but with pressure along the lines leaving small

pricks through the paper into the plastic. when all the

lines are covered (check by holding the cup opening to a

stong light source, you will see small holes through

your image.) carfully remove your paper design from the

cup and using the black marker, color over the small

dimples left by your poking needle. let it dry for a

minute. then dampen your rag wth a little rubbing

alcohol, and wipe away the black ink. you will be left

with a picture that resembles a childs dot to dot

picture. hopefully you did not press to hard, you only

want to barely be able to see them.

Step 4: Dot to Dot

Step 5: Connecting the Dots

next its time to connect the dots. firmly but very

slowly, scratch the lines connecting the dots following

your design. (im hoping you start with something very

simple in the begining, like a heart or stars)

hint: the harder you press for your scratch lines the

darker the line will be. you will need to practice this

for the shading parts, most shading is very light.

Step 6: Ink and Clean

after you are finished with your lines, use the marker

and color it again, then wipe off the ink, and you

should have thich black lines, outlining your design.

Step 7: Shading

now comes the real work, the shading. as far as im

concerned, just about anyone can trace a design, its the

shading that gives a picture depth and shadow, and

brings it to life.

by varying the preasure on the needle you can get

lighter or darker lines. start wth the lightes parts and

shade like you would with a pencil, really light

strokes. you can always go back over it if you want it a

little darker. you can not make it lighter. scratch a

little, ink it and clean it. go a little at a time. and

remember to practice. this is a form of art the takes a

really long time to master. i have been doing this for

over 10 years and i still make mistakes. so relax and

have fun.

Step 8: Shading 2

shading is one of the most difficult parts to describe. in this type of art, shading consists of alot of short lines parralel to each other, very close together, of varying depths and pressures. (like this: IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII ) i will try to get a photo of this, but the lines are so small, yhe camera does not pick it up very often.

dont forget to add the tiny details in your work.

Step 9: More to Come....

i will add more pics as i progress through this dragon cup. in the mean time, here are a couple other cups ive done in the past week. its a little hectic for me as im working on 3 cups right now and have just finished 4....

Step 10: More Pics of Other Cups I Have Done

 the skull cups i did this last week the other 2 were done a couple months ago. I dont always take pictures of them....

Step 11: Older Cups

 the king-kong cup gets daily use for over a year and has not faded or anything at all. remember the ink is in the scratches, below the surface of the rest of the cup. you would have to sand down below the scratches to make the picture go away...

the circle with triangle is on the opposite side of the baby picture.(same cup, i was just seeing if i could do portraits)

Step 12: Finally Finished....

 These are the pics of the dragon cup and the Great horned owl cup, that I just finished this evening. The dragon cup gave me a few problems because there are 4 different kinds on it, i kept losing my concentration going back and forth working on each. oh well, you live and you learn. the owl came out very well, and i am very pleased with it. 
  i hope anyone trying to do this will study my pictures and see the types of shading lines i use. practice simple things, like boxes and balls, try making them look 3-D. good luck to you all, and i hope you have fun...

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    18 Discussions


    5 years ago

    you musta done time. haha


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Echo tha paperclip32 echo that too the max. Kudos to Bishop-Jarney, will be doing this asap.


    10 years ago on Introduction

     just added the final pics. hope you all like them....


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    For a similar art form, Google 'Kolrosing"
    Nice work on the mugs, by the way.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    It looks great! My husband has some scrimshawed items, and I've always wanted to try out the technique. This gives me a chance to play with it. Thank you!


    10 years ago on Introduction

     Is the ink safe to use on drinking utensils?


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

     Yes. the permanent ink is safe, its on the outside of the cup. i don't recommend licking the outside of the cup, but it is most likely cleaner than most peoples hands.  


    10 years ago on Introduction

    i love the art work on your cups, where did you get the pics for your designs?


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

     surfing the internet. i am always looking for cool pictures that might give me a challenge trying to etch. mostly i take requests from people i know. these make great gifts. the cup with the 4 dragons on it, was sold for $30.00 to a neighbor, after only a description of it, sight unseen. i hope to have it finished sometime tomorrow evening. pics of almost anything you like can be used. pick a subject, then do a google search for images, you will find something useful. good luck....


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Really cool.

    How well do they hold up?  Would they be usable in any way(as a mug) or are they purely decorative?
    I imagine the ink would fade out pretty quickly if you were to use and wash them regularly.
    Have you ever tried to cover them with a clear coat to seal the ink in?

    I really like the look of them and would love to try to make one. I think it'd be awesome if it was fully functional. I'm just wondering if you, or anyone else, has any ideas on how to make them more durable.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

     its permanent ink it sometimes fades a little, but even regular use for soda and juice then through the dish washer, they still last. ive got a couple from 7 years ago that still seem fine. if it fades, just re-ink it..... hope this helps.


    10 years ago on Introduction

     I added 4 new pics under step 9. I hope you like them....

     and thank you for your wonderful comments... ;)


    10 years ago on Introduction

    that's pretty spectacular.... i love scrimshaw (the carving and the beer)'s a shame that most people claim it's not scrimshaw unless it's on a whale's tooth...i guess that's technically right but it's still the style that matters to me

    my grandfather got me a "craft knife set" (can't call it exacto because it's not by them...and the quality is pretty low)...and it's got 3 or 4 handles with interchangable ends...and it's got 3 "pokey jobs" that would work pretty well for this...might have to give it a shot