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Carp and lotus leaves


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Horn of bull or buffalo is very special and interesting raw material. I'm always delighted with Lalique's adornment done from horn, tortoise-shell, ivory, he was a great jeweler!

One more magician was Kano Tessai. His dried salmons are true master-pieces! He created the technique of fish scales on horn surface.

Let's see how difficult or easy this technique is.

Better to use already pressed horn, rough horn will take too much and won't give any guarantee that the final result will be successful.

On-line shops sell a lot of different pressed horn, sometimes they are glued together, thicker. It is correct for carving.

Well, we should decide what kind of fish will be carved, that's why we need to gather some information about our object, for an example I selected some printed pictures of carp, some photos of real carps.





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Now it's time for carving. Take a piece of pressed horn and carve a fish. When your fish is ready, polish it. Everything has to be finished before bleaching and scaling. For bleaching, You need Acetic Acid 10%, Ammonium hydrate 6 % - for pressed horn OR Caustic soda (potash) 10% for rough horn, Hydrogen peroxide 35%. No metal things around. Use only grass or plastic cups, plastic or wooden pincers.

Cover the surface of carved piece with ammonium hydrate for 15-20 minutes and then put piece in he cup with hydrogen peroxide, the bleaching process will take minimum 4 days, for lighter color You

need to wait about a week or more.

I spent 4 days for carp and 7 days for the fragment of hawk. It would be perfect to put in this process a piece of horn for tests. While your fish and piece for tests are bleaching You need to make tools for scales, better to have three different tools. I made U-tools for different sizes of scales, 3 mm, 1.5 mm and 1 mm. When the bleaching process is finished we need to dry our pieces, better to use UV lamp to delete the rest of hydrogen peroxide.




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When pieces are dried, take a brush and a little bit water, make the horn surface for testing wet and wait for 15-20 minutes. Take a tool put it perpendicularly at the surface, press a bit than change inclination for cutting a scale, 2/3 or 3/4 of length of a scale. If You need flat scales, extract your tool, if You need raised scales move your tool back, perpendicularly, it raise a scale. Very wet surface and thin tools produce flat scale, half-dried surface and thick tools produce raised scales. When scaling process finished wait when it is almost dried, but not at all, take a polished stone (jade or nephrite) and smooth down all raised scales,

it won't put it back but it'll make scales curved, "carved effect".



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If a horn piece was forgotten in solution of alkali, it can be dissolved, first of all horn grows excessively, inflate. You need to put it in acetic acid 10 % for an hour or two, acid will turn it back if it is not too late.

If scales were raised to much, put a fish in water for 2-30 minutes and smooth scales, if to hold a scaled horn too long in water the scales will become flat, You won't raise it again.


When everything is finished let your fish to be dried, then You can cover it with any lacquers.

Horn can be whited in hot solution of Pb(NO3)2 for 3-4 hours and then to put it in HCl for 20 minutes. You can turn it back if to boil horn in water for several hours.

Horn can be colored chemically or using water-based dyes.

Horn can be curved if You heat it.

Horn can be done with Maki-e techniques.

When all processes are finished You can add inlaid details.

There is photo of finished carp, tools and a piece of pressed horn before bleaching.


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Netsuke "Carp and lotus leaves" - final view! The length of the carp is 6.2 cm, the height is 2.8 cm. Carp was carved from pressed buffalo horn, bleached, whited, colored with Curcuma, lacquered with Japanese Urushi lacquers, Togidashi - Maki-e technique, gold and silver flakes and powders. Thanks Bradford Blakely for this piece of pressed horn!












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Hello Russ!

Raw horn and pressed horn are not the same. Raw horn has to be boiled for about 2 hours. During bleaching You should use NaOH or KON, don't use CaOH - it makes surface very mat. You need to test a piece of raw horn before experiment with carved horn. :) It would be very interesting to see the result of your work! Good luck!

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Really nice carving, as always. Thanks for providing the great tutorial and all the information regarding raising the scales. I haven't tried horn, but I love the translucency of it, and unlike some stones which look similar, isn't it extremely tough and resistant to breakage? I don't like fragile things, probably because I invariably break them.


Thanks again.


Debbie K

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Hello Debbie!

Thank You! :) Horn is more plastic than tough, I think, only overheated horn after cooling can be fragile, because it lost water. But even sphinx can be broken! :) I know nothing about stones like horn, I think stones are very special and beautiful things, they can be so different! I like to watch the play of light inside of stones, to see wonderful ornament, colors.........magic! :)

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Dear Natasha,

It has been a long, long time since I do not post a comment on the Carving Path. I check it on daily basis but I never have the ime to post something or add a comment. The real purpose about this post is that I want to congratulate you for your pieces, you are always ahead...

As Janel and other gifted carvers around TCP, I think that you grasp what nature gives us everyday, the true beauty that is on every being and on top of that your willingness to share how you did it. I swear that I do not have words to express my appreciation for your work. Keep them coming to enlighten our way.



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Bryan, thank You very much for your compliment, I'm very glad that my explanation of this process is full and understood! :)

Lauri, we all are mortals, only Art is forever! :) Thank You!

Sebastian, thank You very much for so kind words, they inspire me a lot for creating! :) And I love celtic ornament very much, it is as a small magic of labyrinth!

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