Scrimshaw Art - New Bedford Whaling Museum

Scrimshaw Art

Scrimshaw Art

Scrimshandering, as the whalemen called it — making scrimshaw — was an indigenous and exclusive shipboard art of the deep-water trades, practiced mostly by whalers. Scrimshaw was an art form used to help whalers pass the time on long voyages. Materials used to create this art include whale bone and baleen. Try creating your own scrimshaw designs!


  • Cardstock paper, black crayon, off white acrylic craft paint, dawn dish soap, sponge brush, pointed tool (toothpick, skewer stick), scissors


  • Gain an understanding of how sailors used the resources around them when out at sea.
  • Create your own scrimshaw art

Guiding Questions

  • How does access to resources determine what we can create?
  • What other resources on a ship (or in your home) are available for you to express your creative talents?
  • Many scrimshaw designs were often inspirations of what whalers saw in their daily lives (ships, whales, open ocean). What in your daily life will you use as inspiration for your scrimshaw art piece?


  1. Color the cardstock paper all over with the black crayon.
  2. Mix some acrylic paint and Dawn soap (2 to 1 ratio).
  3. Sponge brush mixture over blackened paper.
  4. Let dry. You may need a second coat.
  5. Cut out the shape of the whale's tooth from the paper (depending how big, you could get at least 4-6 teeth from an 8x11 paper).
  6. Use pointed tools to draw on the tooth.
  7. Optional: punch a whole to make a bookmark (add yarn or ribbon through the hole).