Traditional Indian arts and crafts treasure trove is full of amazingly beautiful pieces of works and the stunning artistry of Indian bone and mother of pearl inlay work is another incredibly amazing jewel in this precious treasure.
For my exploration, I attempted a faux bone inlay project but before I share that with you, here’s a bit of history about bone inlay work.
Inlay work has been in practice since very early on in human history. In Byzantium in the west and in Egypt in the east, ivory was used extensively for inlaying. Ivory assumed great importance in Iran and Iraq, and especially in Omayyad Spain. On an ivory chest in the Paris, Louvre Museum it is written that it was made for Abdurrahman Salisinoglu El Mugirat, Caliph of Cordoba, and it is dated 968!! It is known that mother of pearl and tortoiseshell were used in India in the 1560's. In Indian Muslim objects however, ivory is predominant, and the gate of the Taj Mahal is a beautiful example of this.
Inlay work seen in India is the direct descendant of the Mughal era and shows a strong Persian influence. The technique of inlay basically involves making shallow carvings on the surface of wood or stone (generally marble), the shallows between the normal carvings are then filled either with metal or precious and semi-precious stones. The finished item is a profusion of patterns and inlaid material. A large number of products like: tables, pots, trays, boxes, etc have been endowed with beautiful inlay work.
Kashmir, Gujarat, Karnataka and Rajasthan are known for their wood inlay work.
Bone inlay has marked its presence for centuries in the art and architecture of Indian history. The finesse associated with this always brings to mind royalty, opulence, and richness. Regions in India exhibit proficiency in different techniques of working bone inlay products. Craftsmen from Rajasthan delicately shape fragments of camel bone into beautiful floral patterns to be set into resins of different colors to create visually stunning motifs and patterns. Karnataka was famous for ivory inlay worked into precious wood. Ivory comes from the tusks of elephants. Bone on the other hand is from the fibulae of large animals such as camels and cattle or from the ribs of water buffalos.
In the inlaying method, the surface which is to be decorated is marked with a sharp pointy tool. The grooves of designs which are to be embedded are opened with a fine chisel and the material is set into them. The motifs whose outlines are thus drawn are carved out to a depth of two or three millimeters using gouges and prepared for the bone inlays. Working together with woodworking art form results in beautiful pieces of carved wood inlaid beautifully with bone and other items.
My Faux Bone Inlay Project:
This simple shadow box had been lying around for a few years and was screaming for some adornment. To achieve my faux bone inlay look I choose to stencilling as the method. Some good quality acrylic paints, an assortment of stencils, and a simple stencil brush or a stencil pouncer tool. When choosing a piece to try your hand at faux bone inlay do choose a wood piece with large flat surfaces. It makes for a more dramatic stencilling and also you don't have to manipulate the pattern to fit small spaces as much as I had to.
Do remember the golden rule of stenciling; an almost dry brush. After you dip the brush in paint dab off almost all of it on a paper towel and then begin stenciling using a pouncing motion. If you are a stencil newbie trust me on this… It will save you a lot of tears! I learnt this the hard way. You can go over the stencil again later if you feel you need more coverage. For this project I did go over 2-3 times for full deep coverage. It also helps give a more even brushstroke-less look.
I taped off sections using crafter's tacky tape to get straight lines. I used a combination of stencils to get this particular motif and design keeping in mind my research and some common patterns in bone inlay work. I even made my own stencil for the top part. In addition to attention to the pattern I kept in mind some distinctive features of bone inlay. In inlay work, for borders and edgings, bone is cut and inlaid in sections resulting in that broken line feature. I made sure to break my border lines too! I do believe it’s the small details that make all the difference.
I cleaned up some of the smudges and sharpened some of the outlines using a small cotton ear bud. To seal my beautiful work, I sprayed the box with two coats of a satin sealant spray.
I do own a few authentic inlay pieces like a bone inlay box from Indonesia and a small inlay end table from Karnataka, and an ivory inlaid key chain. Original inlay pieces can be very expensive depending on the size of the item. A faux version is a simple affordable way to bring in a little bit of appreciation. This box originally purchased for a memory box project will now be used for housing and displaying some of my jewelry above my jewelry cabinet. But honestly this was super easy and I think I might this year attempt to faux inlay a much larger piece.
Furniture and pieces inlaid with bone are always personality pieces and even small pieces can add major impact. Bone is naturally reflective and the simple ivory color has so much depth and dimension. In bone inlay we can see the magic of this work combined with antique wood craft to create art that we can live, love, and appreciate.
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