Learn to Scrimshaw, Even if You Cannot Draw!
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Learn to Scrimshaw, Even if You Cannot Draw!

A Beginner's Guide to the Art of Scrimshaw
5.0 (3 ratings)
Instead of using a simple lifetime average, Udemy calculates a course's star rating by considering a number of different factors such as the number of ratings, the age of ratings, and the likelihood of fraudulent ratings.
22 students enrolled
Created by Andrew Perkins
Last updated 7/2016
Current price: $10 Original price: $30 Discount: 67% off
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  • 1.5 hours on-demand video
  • 11 Supplemental Resources
  • Full lifetime access
  • Access on mobile and TV
  • Certificate of Completion
What Will I Learn?
  • Scrimshaw, using the "Whaleman's Technique"
  • Find many of the materials that can be scrimshawed on
  • Draw and scrimshaw a "stylized rosebud"
  • Draw and scrimshaw a "stylized ship in full sail"
  • Know how to achieve a mirror-like finish on many materials
  • Know how to shade using stippling and lines
  • Create a color scrimshaw with shading
  • Create templates using their computer to create their own scrimshaw
View Curriculum
  • Have 15 - 20 minutes a day available to practice.
  • A pen and paper to start,
  • Access to tools and materials covered in the course
  • A willingness to learn from every scrimshaw

Learn to scrimshaw, even if you can't draw! 

The Whalemen of the 19th century were not artists on a pleasure cruise, they were sailors and laborers on rolling seas in harsh conditions, far from home often for years. When they weren’t swabbing the decks or mending sails, they would spend their idle time with primitive tools and supplies creating useful devices from pie crimpers to complex swifts, then sell them when they reached home or a port.

The captains of the ships would often have a barrel or two of whale teeth and would hand them out to sailors so they’d occupy their time with something other than fighting or gambling.  Using the skin of sharks to sand and polish the teeth, then using their knives or sailing needles, they would set about creating their works of art, rubbing in lamp black to reveal their work.

Today, the art of scrimshaw is carried on by dedicated artists and craftspersons using 21st century tools and materials: iron needles replaced by tungsten scribes, whale teeth replaced by natural and man-made substances, and the catalogs replaced by images from the internet.

From the start of these lessons, you will learn how the whalemen fashioned their timeless scrimshaw. Thanks to modern tools and materials available, you'll also learn:

  • The best ways to sand your material to achieve a mirror-like finish
  • How to fashion and sharpen your own scribing tool
  • How to seal your material so ink won't go where you don't want it
  • Where to find your tools and materials (many are local!)
  • How to draw stylized subjects freehand
  • Shading using stippling and scribed lines
  • A list of possible scrimshaw projects for gifts, keepsakes and more

Learn to scrimshaw as the whalemen did using eco-friendly materials and 21st century tools to create your own timeless art.

Who is the target audience?
  • This course is for the beginning scrimshaw artist using basic tools available at most hardware stores.
  • You will need plastic, bone or legsl ivory, a scribing tool, a soft or aquarellabe pencil, India ink or oil, bright adjustable light and magnification. A printer is also helpful.
  • If cutting or sanding material, a dust mask and eye protection are necessary.
Compare to Other Courses
Curriculum For This Course
17 Lectures
Learn to Scrimshaw, Even if You Can't Draw!
3 Lectures 08:34

In this course you will learn to scrimshaw, even if you can't draw.  Starting from a simple "test", you will learn how the whalemen scrimshawed on rolling seas - a method still used today by many outstanding scrimshaw artists.  You will also learn of the different materials you can scrimshaw on, techniques for transferring your image to your materials, freehand drawing of memorable classic designs and more.

Scrimshaw, in it's strictest sense is any carving, artwork or device created by sailors on whaling vessels. In it's more modern definition, it is the incised or engraved artwork on ivory, bone or other material.  With the demise of the whaling industry and later with the threat of extinction of elephants, whales and walrus, most ivory is now illegal to sell.  Fortunately there are many alternatives including antler, bone and man-made materials that can be substituted.

The art of scrimshaw varies from rustic folk craft to refined and detailed art and everything in between. Black and white as well as full color scrimshaw is available and can be created on most hard materials, fashioned into jewelry, knife handles and other ornamental and useful items.

As a craft, it is simple to learn and is relaxing. Like a meditation you can become lost in your art, finally rising up to see time has passed, and the image you were working on is taking shape or done!

Come and learn the quiet art of scrimshaw: relaxing, timeless, and beautiful.


This course is based on the book "Scrimshaw? But I Can't Draw!" It is not a video form of the book: it has been rewritten and updated, with tutorials interleaved with practical advice and resources.  Feel free to pause the videos as you learn, since some of the processes can take longer than twenty minutes, and would be similar to watching grass grow or paint dry...

Preview 00:49

This is a simple "test". Follow along - it only takes about five minutes, a pen, paper and some guidance.  Added bonus: Talacre - Point of Ayr Lighthouse template.  Reported to be haunted by a lighthouse watchman in vintage clothes!

Preview 05:03

It doesn't take expensive tools to start scrimshawing: a simple scribe, a bright light, some magnification and some ink or oil paint are all the tools you need.

Simple Tools
Sharpening your scribe for the best results
2 Lectures 04:42

If you make your own scrimshaw tool or use one made of steel or the butt of a small drill, you'll need to sharpen it often. An uneven point will make your tool wander as you're trying to scribe a straight line on ivory or any other material. In this lecture I show you two ways to keep the point sharp and even.  

Two Methods for Sharpening Your Scribe

With a little guided practice, you can create a beautiful and timeless stylized rosebud, even if you can't draw. The shape is simple and elegant. With just a little practice you can create one yourself!  Added bonus: Rosebud template from CC photo by Matzuyuki.

Preview 02:32
An Overview of Materials
2 Lectures 20:52

You can practice the art of scrimshaw on many different materials, both natural and man-made.  I go over many of those materials here as well as some of the drawbacks of each. There's also a pdf of some of many places you can find these.  I didn't include paper micarta or ostrich eggs because I wasn't impressed with the former and have not worked on the latter, but they are two more materials you can scrim.

Scrimshaw Materials

This is a l-o-n-g video and involves many steps. Pause it frequently and let me know how I can make it simpler in the feedback. Within our freehand tutorials, this is the most complex.  Taking it step at a time, though - you should be able to create a ship in full sail. Bonus: The Auxillary Yacht Intrepid Template - Ship with it's sails down as a PDF Template

Draw a Stylized Ship Freehand
Sanding, Polishing and Shading
2 Lectures 11:06

The whale men used to polish the whale teeth so the pigments they used would not stick, except in the grooves or stipples.  Instead of using shark skin and ashes, we have many abrasives and polishes available.  Some materials such as acrylic you don't even need to polish.

Sanding & Polishing, Shading Basics

There are three basic types of shading in scrimshaw: stippling, scribing grooves or lines into the material, or a combination of the two.  In this lecture I have you practice the first two types on paper so you can see the differences.

Shading Basics
Sealing your Material, Stipple and Scribe Practice
3 Lectures 20:07

Using bees wax to seal your material is an excellent way to create a "resist layer" so the ink doesn't stain your work.  This is especially helpful on porous materials when you scrimshaw bone, antler or tagua nut.  Aside from beeswax, there are also hard commercial polishes available.  I tend to use "HUT PPP" wax on galalith, and have had the bar for over ten years now. The bar of beeswax is even older than that.

Sealing Your Material

Having a piece of bone, piano key or other material with stipples and scribe lines for reference can come in handy.  It's also helpful to experiment with different techniques on scrap pieces.  In the first video, I go over the stippling technique and show how the angle of your light will affect what you see on your scrimshaw before you add ink or pigment.

Preview 08:15

In this video I go over scribing or line scrimshaw, and a couple of examples for creating textures.

Scribing Lines - Practice on Material
First Scrimshaw - Moby Dick!
1 Lecture 05:56

This is the first scrimshaw project in the series on your material of choice.  Here, I scribe "Moby Dick" - or more truthfully, Moby Dick's tail.  Included in this section is the template I used for the light switch.  Lightswitch plates are great as practice material, and they can make great gifts as well.

I use a "Creative Commons" photo by Jesse Wagstaff (on flickr.com) as the basis for Moby Dick.  You can use the template to add a whale's tale into your own scrimshaw, too - with a ship in the distance or with Captain Ahab harpooning, etc.

Moby Dick
Second Scrimshaw - Ship on the Water - Freehand or Whaleman's Way
1 Lecture 03:59

In this lesson, you can either draw a ship freehand or use the whaleman's technique for transferring an image to your material. There are two pdf's attached to choose from: a ship in full sail or one with its sails down.

Second Scrimshaw - Ship in Full Sail, Freehand or Using the Whaleman's Technique
Color Scrimshaw Basics & Creating Your Own Templates
3 Lectures 12:47

Color scrimshaw is created progressively by adding colors from dark to light. Follow along by scribing a stylized rosebud, then stipple the bud, color it, scribe the leaves and add more color. 

Color Scrimshaw Basics

Creating Your Own Templates

What to scrimshaw on? Good question!  We give a partial list in the video and a bullet list of these plus more

What to Scrimshaw on?
About the Instructor
Andrew Perkins
5.0 Average rating
3 Reviews
22 Students
1 Course
Crafter and Scrimshaw Artist

A scrimshaw artist (scrimshander) for over 30 years, Andrew has sold his art in New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts and over the internet since 1998. His book "Scrimshaw? But I Can't Draw!" has been on Amazon since 2012.  His first Udemy course by the same name is based on this book but rewritten to fit the video format.  He resides in "the foothills of the Berkshires" in Western MA with his family, mostly scrimshawing during the winter.